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REPUBLICAN PARTY NEWSLETTER
For a Civic and Constitutional Republic
Issue No 78 Friday 26 August 2011
Highlighting news stories important to the Civic Republican view, particularly those that are overlooked or little covered in the main media.
Peter Kellow writes
Book review: Comparing Federal Systems. Ronald W. Watts
I have to preface my remarks by saying that I have only read the second edition of this book. The third edition of 2008 has 208 pages whilst the second of 2000 has 138. Quite a difference, although the “Look Inside” for both shows the same second edition. The blurb tells us that the third edition has been expanded to cover emergent federations such as Mexico, Spain, Brazil, Russia and South Africa, micro-federations such as Micronesia, federal-confederal hybrids such as the United Arab Emirates and the European Union, and post-conflict federal experiments such as Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Whilst these are very interesting in themselves I wonder whether their inclusion will help in coming to overall judgments about federations in general. I rather doubt it.
The subject of federations is one that is of relevance to many nations of our time. As regional and minority groups emerge, often the solution to their problems and grievances can be accommodated in a federal solution. This is no longer a subject only for constitutional "anoraks".
(The word “federation” is also spoken of in relation to supranational organizations, most notably the European Union. The EU is referred to as already having some federal characteristics, but, as constituted currently, remains a confederation not a federation.)
The issues that federations have to deal with: distribution of revenues, right to collect taxes, regional or central decision making, cultural identity, language, become very alive when you are faced with regional or even secessionist demands. In the UK, in view of, in particular, Scotland and the success of the secessionist Scottish National Party, problems of allocating power and resources to either the centre or the region become hotly debated and highly contentious issues.
Being better informed about how federations work and how they can vary will help us deal with centripetal tendencies in the United Kingdom and approach them with a useful perspective. No doubt the same can be said of many countries with regional groups with special interests. A beginners' guide to federations is thus specially needed and Comparing Federal Systems by Ronald L. Watts admirably serves this purpose.
This book is produced with an eye to helping Canadians advance their particular federal problems and these surround mainly the status of the predominantly French-speaking Quebec. However, this should not in any way deter those from any country from reading this book. The second edition is mainly about federations in other countries worldwide, USA, Germany, India, Spain, etc. It excludes many federal countries, for instance, those in South America, but the spread of different federations is quite sufficient for the comparative method to work and yield insights and conclusions. It has particular conclusions for Canada but these in themselves have applicability anywhere.
As a relative beginner in the subject of federations, I found Mr. Watts's book a paragon of clarity and concision. He covers all the aspects fully but without getting bogged down in detail. Tables are provided that likewise contain exactly what the non-specialist wants to know and little else to complicate the picture. The language is non-technical, the style elegant. A problem with many books on political science and political philosophy is that they are written by academics for academics and inter academic issues and rivalries can cut across attempts by the general reader to penetrate the subject.
This book may be by an academic but it is not just for academics. This may well be because it has to serve the immediate practical political purpose of deciding the future of Quebec and so it is interested in illumination rather than tussling over special points. That said, the arguments for and against any ideas are admirably circumscribed. And don't imagine by reading this book you will inadvertently become an expert on the minutiae of Quebecois politics. You won't.
There are few voices to be heard in the United Kingdom for a federal solution to the aspiration of different regions. There should be many. What we have currently is a hotchpotch of improvised arrangement for different regions: a parliament for Scotland, an assembly for Wales, a mayor for London, a power-sharing assembly for Northern Ireland and, for England, a collection of badly drawn regional assemblies - except they are being abolished. This mess is the result of successive governments dealing with each region in isolation giving away to each the minimum of central control. The "f" word of course does not enter in the Westminster vocabulary.
We are told that we now live in a globalised world. But we also live in a world where many people search a localised or regional identity. Surely it is in the interests of everyone that cultural identity is not lost in the rush to globalization. Federations above all are about accommodation of regional differences within a unified state and so they are an important aspect of future nations. They can also be about creating new unified super states as in the EU. Whatever our position on these developments, being informed on the nature of federations is going to be vital. Few subjects are more relevant to the politics of our times.
Anyone interested in politics could benefit by being better acquainted with what the idea of federation means. This book will tell most people as much as they need to know. It presents the subject so attractively and enticingly that many will take it as a starting point.
Michail Crahart asked the following question on Facebook :
Peter Kellow replied as follows:
The short answer to that question is No.
August 22 at 11:13am
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