I write as one who would not have disturbed the union and see devolution as the most pernicious and reckless act amongst many already perpetrated by the Blair government . But it is done and cannot realistically be undone. So the question the English must now of necessity address is not how to put the union back together again, but how best to guard their own country and interest. This is a matter of urgency, indeed self-preservation, for Labour have made it clear that English interests will not merely be casually neglected by this government, but placed under active attack.
The sense of national identity and the political power of the Scots and the Welsh is enhanced by devolution. It gives them considerable control over their domestic affairs, strengthens their ability to deal directly with non-British agencies such as the EU and, most importantly, provides assemblies for the expression of their national aspirations.
England, on the other hand, merely loses by devolution. As things stand, she will continue to pay heavy subsidies to the Scotch, Welsh and Irish; Scotch, Welsh and Irish members will continue to vote on all English matters and Scots, Welsh and Irish ministers will help to determine policy which affects only the English. On the other hand, English MPs will be denied an opportunity to vote on many important areas of Scots, Welsh and Irish legislation and English ministers prevented from forming policy on domestic Celtic matters.
What would be the most stable solution to this mess of devolution? As the UK is comprised of four peoples who think of themselves as nations, the only devolved system with any hope of long term survival is a federation in which each constituent part is legally equal and responsible for its own domestic affairs. (It might even be possible to bring the Republic of Ireland within such a federation).
How would it work? There would be home rule in each of the four home countries and expenditure on all domestic matters in each country raised from within each country. The federal government would be restricted to general matters such as defence, foreign policy, the issuing of currency and the servicing of government debt. Payment by each country for these matters would be proportionate to the population of each country. Any other system, which in effect could only mean England subsidising the rest of the UK must mean one of two things: English political dominance, which would incite the age old Celtic hatreds of England, or ever growing English resentment of the Celts. Both would be a road to the dissolution of the UK.
There would be no need for additional politicians or hideously expensive new Parliamentary buildings. Indeed, the number of politicians could be reduced. This could be achieved by the Commons being used as the English Parliament and the members elected to the English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish Parliaments coming together in the Commons (or the Lords) when federal matters were discussed.
However, the devil as ever would be in the detail. For example, in our present circumstances it is only too easy to see the quislings who rule us offering a deal on the funding of federal matters which would be unfavourable to England, for example, England taking a disproportionate part of the burden of funding the UK national debt and defence.
The other problem with a federal system would the inability of any of the Celtic Fringe nations to maintain a First World style of living if they had to live off their own tax receipts, a position considerably worsened if they took a proportionate share of the UK national debt. Even if Scotland had control of their part of the British oil and gas reserves, it is dubious whether they could keep up a reasonable standard of living; Wales and Northern Ireland definitely could not. If the Celts had to pay for a share proportionate to their population of (1) the UK national debt, (2) the funding of the banking bail-out, both that which has happened and may happen and (3) the federal expenditure such as defence and foreign affairs together with taking responsibility for the PFI/PPP funding and local authority debt in their own countries it is probable that their economies would simply collapse.
It is important to understand how dependent the Celts are on England ) Approximately £15 billion a year extra goes from England to the Celts each year because the per capita Treasury funding is around £1,500 higher than that given to England. Not only that, but tax receipts in the Celtic Fringe are per capita substantially lower than they are in England. In addition, the Celts have much higher proportions of their national GDPs deriving from public service employment . This means that more of the tax collected from the Celts is simply a book-keeping measure because tax deducted from public service employees’ wages is simply moving money from one government ledger to another. It is only the tax taken from wealth which is freshly generated which really counts. ( for references to back the assertions in this paragraph see on this see https://englandcalling.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/celtic-hands-deep-in-english-taxpayers%e2%80%99-pockets/)
To these easily quantifiable benefits may be added a disproportionate Celtic share of government subsidies to bribe firms into setting up factories on inappropriate sites and a large share of public jobs not related to domestic Celtic affairs. Scotland, for example, administers much of England’s social security, PAYE and schedule D tax and has a disproportionate number of army regiments; Wales plays host to the Vehicle Licensing Centre; Ulster contains the Short shipyard.
The benefits the Celts receive from their association within the UK extend to the intangible but inestimable advantages of free trade with England and the assurance which being part of a prosperous and advanced nation state of fifty eight million gives foreign investors and companies. Most importantly for small peoples, the Celts receive the protection of the British state, which would be nothing without England.
The removal of English subsidies would significantly reduce expenditure immediately. Companies would be less likely to situate themselves in Scotland because of reduced grants. Public service jobs would reduce as England repatriated work dealing with English people and issues. Defence expenditure would be concentrated in England. The result would be increased unemployment and soaring welfare demands. It is also probable that the more able and better qualified Celts would emigrate, largely to England.
An equal federal system would indubitably seriously disadvantage the Celts, but it would still preserve the benefits of being part of a long established and wealthy state, which gives diplomatic clout, military protection and assurance of political and commercial stability. This should impress upon the Celts the reality of their situation, namely, that they have long been pensioners of England and that if having home rule might be hard, going it alone would be much worse. Hence, a federal system in which each of the four parts of the UK was granted the same powers and responsibilities could cement the Union, because it would force the Celts to a realisation of what full independence could mean. Sadly, I think it would be impractical.