Scott Hutchings brings us an outline of how a Federal United Kingdom would look
The first step towards a federal United Kingdom would be to create an English parliament and government along with devolving the majority of domestic policy covering areas such as health, education, tax, spend and borrowing powers. The English parliament would be elected using proportional representation in the form of STV, while the government would comprise a First and Deputy First Minister along with a cabinet.
The second step would require devolving any remaining powers over domestic issues to Scotland matching those that I advocate being devolved to the other constituent nations within the union. These powers would build on the proposed increased powers as advocated by Sir Kenneth Calman in his 2009 report and as adopted by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in their upcoming Scotland Bill.
The third step would require the upgrading of the Welsh Assembly into full-parliament status to match that of Scotland and England and with it greater controls over domestic policy to include justice, tax, spend, and borrowing powers. This would build on the upcoming referendum on granting primary legislation powers to the Wales in April 2011.
The fourth step would require building on the gradual normalisation of Northern Ireland as witnessed in 2010 with the transfer of justice powers to the Northern Ireland government. The eventual goal would be to transfer the remaining powers held by the UK government to Northern Ireland allowing all nations within the union to have equal competences.
The fifth and final step would lead the UK to formalise its relationship with its overseas territory paving the way for a breakdown in the different types of overseas territory, the respective powers they hold, opening the way for their representation at Westminster in either the lower or upper house. In this endeavour we would simply be following in the traditions of other nations such as France and the Netherlands in defining our relationship with our far flung territories that we still hold.
The sixth and final step would be adjusting the role of the UK government and parliament Additionally we would need to reduce the size of the two houses of parliament and the government due to the reduced responsibilities that they will hold. The powers held by the UK government after the implementation of federalism would include foreign affairs, the economy, defence and energy policy and some powers over welfare and transport. With the introduction of federalism, funding arrangements to the constituent nations would need to be redesigned, with financial support being provided to the constituent nations by an independent body working in a non partisan manner.
So with these basic steps taken the next task would be to secure the federal style of government through the introduction of a written constitution complete with preamble and bill of rights and the ability of amendment only through a 2/3 majority in both houses of parliament and the holding of a referendum which would require a threshold of 60% to pass. Such an ammendmant would be essential to secure the future of the federal system of government and to block any attempts to reverse or dilute the process of reform. This is necessary due to the potential for opponents to reverse the process in a country without a written constitution such as the UK at present. The next task would be to enhance the role and powers of the Supreme Court so as to ensure that the court was the final arbiter and guardian of the constitution and the basic rights enshrined within it concerning the role of the federal, constituent and local entities.
The final task would be to create a framework that allows the federal and the constituent governments to work in an effective and harmonious manner. This would be achievedthrough the introduction first of a national body in the guise of a Department of the Nations and Regions that would allow the UK government a body to operate both its reserved powers and conduct its official relationship through. This body would be an official department of state with a secretary of state sitting in the UK cabinet representing the views of the constituent nations to the UK government.
This would be augmented by the introduction of a body to represent the First Ministers of the constituent nations allowing them the chance to meet on an annual basis to discuss issues facing their respective nations and to discuss areas that they wish to address with the federal government/parliament. This could be expanded to include inviting the Prime Minister or senior cabinet ministers to meetings when they wish to discuss items with him or a separate body could be introduced that would seek to bring together the Prime Minister and the First Ministers in regular meetings. These latter recommendations for a body bringing together heads of government both within and for the UK are taken from similar bodies that exist in other federal nations, with particular examples taken from Canada and Germany.
Taking these steps together the process of moving towards federalism will ensure the survival of the UK, by allowing the constituent nations the flexibility to pursue policies in areas such as health, education and transport that suit their nations and not the whim of the UK government ruling from the distance of Westminster. The process of devolution that Labour started in 1997 for the Celtic nations of the UK would be extended to all nations throughout the union and on an equal basis, all granted parliaments and governments with equal competences and finally with an equal relationship with the UK government and parliament. The programme that I envisage would finally set the nation on a path towards a viable and lasting union that would build on the work not only of the devolution legislation of 1997 but also previous attempts of devolution in 1979 and the several attempts at home rule for Ireland in the late 19th century and early 20th century. This is the way forward and hopefully the merits of my argument will in time gain greater traction with those who hold the power to affect such change.