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NEWSLETTER NO 132

Wednesday 10 September 2014

 


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This week:

Highlighting news stories important to the Civic Republican view,
particularly those that are overlooked or little covered in the main media.

All these newsletters will be catalogued on the website


REGIONS

  • Westminster suddenly discovers "Federalism" - but it is all too late


Peter Kellow, DRP Leader, writes

Westminster is nearing a state of panic. As the idea of a Yes to Scottish independence next Thursday looking like a real possibility many are grasping around for a constitutional resolution to a Rump UK or an enfeebled UK as a result of a narrow No.

If there is a Yes vote it may well be propelled by the current disgust with Westminster politics

The word on everyone's lips is federation for the UK for that would be the means of making sense of a losely held Scotland.

The problem is that no one has got a clue about federations. Federations are complicated beasts and you cannot devise them on on the hoof. You need to know what you are talking out in theory and to have investigated on the ground the realities of separationist and centralist tendencies. A federal constitution has to accommodate many different forces.

Your correspondent at the Newsletter can claim form on this. I have been advocating a federal structure for Britain for many years. Here is my letter printed in the Guardian on 6th August 2000.

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The following is the text that is on the current DRP website. Powerful Regions within One Nation is one of the five key policies of the DRP.

This description of a federal Britain is informed by research into the theory and practice of federations.

Our current politicians come nowhere in understanding federations. They need to read this piece but of course they won't. In any case it may be too late. They have missed the boat in reacting to the seccessionist tendencies in the UK.

Thanks to a malign politics we are drifting into chaos. This coalition is noted for its lack of Plan Bs. It is not going to be pretty watching the establishment scrabble around.

Should the Scot vote Yes or No? If they vote Yes it will be out of total disenchantment with the current centralised state - particularly a Tory one. But as discussed in DRP Breaking News No 11 they will confront a disastrous fiscal position and they will probably seak a way out by becoming a tax haven - hardly a morally elevating move and one that will bring the new state into disgrace

They could follow the economic principles set out on the DRP website but there is nothing in the pronouncements of the SNP leaders that indicates they have the least idea about the radical economic reform that could enable an independent Scotland to succeed.

We are probably entering a period of economic and fiscal anarchy with no one to direct events.


From the DRP website

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The Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is suffering major stresses and strains and has been for some time. So bad has the situation become that one member of the union is soon to hold a referendum on outright withdrawal from the union.

The Kingdom throughout its history has tended to become more and more highly centralized towards London. This tendency exists even more strongly now as pressure to develop London and the Home Counties continues unabated.  

The other regions suffer consequently and their character, their problems and their economies are little understood in the metropolis, even if it cares. The metropolis meanwhile suffers desperate problems of overdevelopment.  

The emphasis on London is due in part to its operation as an international financial centre and the economic activity that this creates has resulted in successive governments biasing their concerns towards it. 

The North of England and the Midlands have long had more of a bias towards industry. Other areas such as the West have a bias towards agriculture. Both industry and agriculture have been more and more neglected by the government in London to the point often of hostility.  

But the main reason for centralization on London is the desire for power and control by the central government. By restricting development of the regions and the countryside and allowing them to become relatively impoverished, power has concentrated in the centre.  

At present the constitutional relationship of the different regions to the central government varies across the country. Wales and Scotland have achieved a degree of “devolution” with their own parliaments but the powers they have assumed represent simply the minimum that the central government thought possible in order to preserve the Union.  

This is made clear by the fact that they unashamedly and blatantly have been given totally unequal remits! If the principle of devolution was thought right, why else would two roughly similar regions be given different powers?  

Meanwhile, England is thought not to merit its own Parliament at all. To try to paper over this disparity New Labour sought to impose a series of “regional assemblies” across England, but such is the fragility of constitutional arrangement in the Kingdom that the Coalition simply dismantled them and dismissed their staff without putting anything equivalent in their place.  

To make matters more complicated, London has the London Assembly headed by an elected mayor.  

Meanwhile Northern Ireland has a quite different power sharing arrangement that corresponds to none of the others. 

To summarise we have the following. For London an elected mayor, for Scotland a Parliament with useful but limited powers (not including tax raising), for Wales a Parliament with very little power, for Northern Ireland a power sharing assembly , and for England nothing at all unless you want to count the erratically distributed development agencies that the coalition created 

An appropriate way to describe the regional government arrangements of the Kingdom is as a hotchpotch. If such a hotchpotch existed in any other European state, East or West, how would we regard it? With disdain surely. 

The reasons for having such a disparate collection of arrangements for the regions is clear. The central government has in each case given away the minimum of power and autonomy that it thought it could get away with.  

There is no rationale to the different arrangements. They are purely an improvised set of diverse relationships resulting from politicking and horse-trading. A modern nation such as Britain should be ashamed of the image this gives to the rest of the world 


There is no other major country in world that is not constituted as a proper federation of regions. The regions they each have may go by the names of “states”, “autonomous regions”, “Lander”, etc but the principle is always the same: the regional entities have a degree of self government within an overall nation state.  

This means democracy has to work on two levels. People vote for leaders of the regions and they vote separately for the leaders of the central government.  

To imagine that federal constitutions are easy to construct would be wrong. This is because by their very nature they are a compromise between regional and central power – not forgetting that the local power of towns, cities and parishes also has to be taken account of.  


But fortunately we now have plenty of existing models to look to for guidance in deciding the appropriate federal structure for the British republic. 

First of all, we must also lay down some principles to decide on how to draw up the different regions.  

  1. Each region must correspond to a long established identity that means something to the people who belong to it.   
  2. The economy and demography of each region should be of such a nature that it admits of governing as a unity with a degree of autonomy within the Republic representing its own interests and traditions. 
  3. The size of each region should be such that it represents a credible unit able to balance the power of the centre, accommodate the power of the counties and local authorities and offer effective support for and dissent from the centre and the counties as it sees fit.
  4. The regions must be of very, very roughly comparable weight, in terms of population, area, size of economy, number of counties and the existence of large cities, allowing for the fact that this principle will inevitably be compromised to an extent by principles one, two and three. There should not be a glaring, unsatisfactory disparity between the sizes of regions as this would deny principle three.
  5. Each region must have its own regional capital with its own regional parliament which should be an existing city which is already considered a natural focus

With these principles in mind we propose the following autonomous regions as indicated on the map:

  • Scotland
  • Wales
  • Northern Ireland
  • Northern England
  • The Midlands
  • The South West
  • The South East

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The regional capitals should be respectively: Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and London.


Although the idea of English nationalism is often talked about, England as a region in the federation would go against the last three principles. It would be far too big in relation to the others and so would inevitably dominate.

Furthermore, some would question whether it satisfied the crucial first principle that people identify with England as a whole.

The reason for the weakness of the English identity is that there are very powerful regional identities within England.

For instance, although the equating of the north with industry and science might be facile and an over simplification, it contains enough truth to permit us to see that the north could benefit by having its own degree of autonomy, at last free of the constraints of London and the south, and able to decide in great degree its own destiny and rediscover its own character and strengths.

And of course the North's identity is also formed by its cultural output thoughout the centuries which is of worldwide renown. You cannot imagine the Bronte sisters, for instance, without their northern identity

It is easy to imagine Northern England taking on a natural role as a powerhouse of industry and culture. It has been, and still is, this to a certain extent. But with a new independent capital of Manchester freed from domination by London we would see a drive to a new dynamic prosperity and development that we can now barely glimpse. 


Having decided on the geographical divisions of the new regions, we should lay down a vital basic principle applying to the federal constitution.

Each region must have the same arrangement to the centre as every other. In this way, people and businesses will understand how their nation as a whole works, and each region will be equal before the others. And also the relationships between the regions must be the same.  

In the terminology of federal theory, it is said that there is “symmetry” amongst the regions. 

Furthermore, each region must have a degree of fiscal control, that is, it must have tax raising and spending powers. Without this real power will not be deferred from the centre. 

The dispersal of power to the regions will be a major advance for democracy as power is brought closer to the people wherever they live. The federal republic of autonomous regions is a central part of the creation of real democracy for Britain, 

But whilst saying that we should recognise that a federal nation should not encourage undue competition between the regions for there may be different factors favouring certain regions and not others. For this reason, it is usual in a federal nation to have a mechanism for monetary transfers between regions so that they continue to operate within a national framework in spite of disparities. 

In addition to the new federal constitutional arrangements, the regions would be greatly assisted by the small chartered banks we will create. Some of these will benefit from for instance a regional remit which will favour the keeping of regionally generated wealth within the region. There will be disincentives to dispersing regionally created wealth the to far corners of the globe as currently happens without restriction. 

This will create a virtuous spiral whereby the region will prosper and benefit from its own achievements. 


In a federal system the central government must clearly retain certain powers which only it is capable of assuming – foreign policy and defense are obvious areas.  

The central government must also set standards of healthcare and education across the nation as well as making other national policy decisions.  

Britain is at present practically devoid of national strategic planning and this is something that a democratic republican government will introduce. The whole nation will be conceived as having a direction and future in which each region will assume a role and be properly served within the nation state 

For this reason the constitutional integration of the regions into the central government constitution must be put in place.  

We can look to the way this happens in the two biggest western federal government, the USA and Germany, for our lead. The principle is the same for both: the second chamber of the legislature is determined by the regions and voted for on a regional basis ; whereas the first chamber, the Commons, is elected from the nation as a whole - as it is now.  

In the USA, the Senate is made up of representatives from the individual states. In Germany, the Bundestat is determined by representatives from the various Lander. 

These models, particularly the German one, can provide precedents for the design of the upper house in Britain.  

A democratic republic cannot accept having an upper chamber of hereditary or appointed members. 

The new upper house, to replace the existing House of Lords, will be part of the federal settlement, bringing power of the regions directly and decisively into the heart of central government.


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