Following the Scottish Independence Referendum it is generally agreed that how we govern the United Kingdom needs to be overhauled and dragged into the 21st century.
David Cameron thinks that it can all be stitched up neatly by a Cabinet committee. However it only takes about two seconds of thought to understand that his proposal for “English votes on English Laws” (EVEL) is nothing but a piece of low politics, designed to make it difficult if not impossible for the Labour party to form an effective government.
As Vernon Bogador (Professor of Government at King’s College London) says:
“But the British constitution is not the private property of the Conservative party or, for that matter, the Labour party or the Liberal Democrats. A constitutional settlement, if it is to be lasting, needs the support of all parties, and endorsement by the people as a whole after measured debate. It is hardly suited to the hurly-burly of the hustings.
His article on the subject essentially demolishes Cameron’s plans.
Ed Milliband and the Labour party propose a constitutional convention, which if it isn’t used as an excuse to do nothing, is the way forward. With a bit of luck we might even come up with a proper constitution; i.e. a written one, at the end of it
UKIP, I think, wants to re-build Hadrian’s wall. I can’t find any official Liberal Democrat policy, the only thing I can find is this on the Liberal Democrat Voice blog (not an official outlet) which says “Err… not sure…let’s hold our horses”
Here are my ideas on what we need to do about re-ordering the way we govern ourselves. The first draft of my submission to the constitutional convention if you like.
In my opinion we need to move to a federal system of government. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already have their own devolved assemblies. Some have proposed that England should have its own assembly as well. England’s population is around fifty million. It is too large and too London-centric to have an effective devolved government covering the whole of the country. In my opinion power needs to be handed down to smaller areas to provide an effective local devolution I would suggest looking at how the German Länder system works, or, if we want to stick to the Anglo-Saxon world the American, Canadian or Australian systems would be suitable starting points.
Some have proposed that power be devolved to the cities, Each of the major cities should have its own assembly, possibly modelled on the London assembly complete with elected mayor. The problem with this is that it leaves those parts of the country that aren’t major cities with a bit of a democratic deficit. Others, have proposed devolving greater powers to the counties and unitary authorities. I feel that they are too small to wield power effectively.
My proposal is this:
The nine regions of England, the North East, North West, Yorkshire and Humberside, East Midlands, West Midlands, East Anglia, London, The South East and the South West, have very roughly similar populations. They should each be given their own regional assembly with powers at least equal to those of the Welsh assembly. They would be funded initially according to the Barnet formula. The members would be elected by proportional representation. I would think that each regional assembly would have between 50 and 80 members.
The Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Assemblies would obviously continue as they are.
The North East rejected a regional assembly in 2004 and some people argue that this shows that there is no desire for regional devolution in England. However what was on offer in 2004 was not devolution but a regional talking shop. As the Newcastle Journal says in an editorial:
The North East rejected the creation of a new regional assembly in a referendum in 2004.
What was on offer then was NOT devolved powers, but a talking shop with no authority.
Devolution is not about creating a new class of politician. It’s about bringing powers and control over funding to the region – so that we can set our own priorities for training, education, health services and more, and carry out vital infrastructure projects without going cap in hand to Whitehall.
There needs to be a debate about who would exercise these powers, but there is already a tier of local government involving councils working together in a combined authority.
Our MPs must also play a role – and their voices must be heard at Westminster, too.
But let’s be loud and clear about one thing, so that the message reaches those in the Westminster bubble. The North East did not reject devolved powers in the assembly vote. The powers were never there.
I think that there is an appetite for genuine devolution in the regions of England.
Reduced size House of Commons
With Regional Assemblies in place doing most of the spade work of governing I would question whether we still need a House of Commons of six-hundred plus members. I think that it could be reduced to around two-hundred and fifty, elected by some form of proportional representation.
Its remit would be to consider the aspects of policy that would remain at national (federal) level. Aspects such as foreign policy, defence and overall fiscal policy. It would also be responsible for aspects of policy devolved to regional level, that need national co-ordination, for example transport.
Abolish the House of Lords
The House of Lords obviously has to go. It needs to be replaced by an elected assembly which I propose should be known as The Senate. The Senate would be elected from the regions, with each region supplying the same number of Senators. I would suggest six per region giving a total of 72. Again they would be elected by proportional representation, probably on a region wide basis. The Senate would be mainly a revising chamber. It would have the power to amend legislation and send it back to the Other House 1 for further consideration, but would not have the power to block legislation. It could also propose legislation, but such legislation would have to be passed by the Other House
All members of all the various assemblies would be elected by a system of proportional representation . My preferred system is the Single Transferable Vote but we can argue about the details later.
Reduce the Voting Age to 16
When the SNP decided to lower the voting age to sixteen for the referendum I was sceptical. My thinking was that they hoped to tap into naïve patriotism and that most 16 to 18 year olds would vote yes. This did not prove to be the case. As the campaign went on it became obvious that they were listening to and participating in the discussion on both sides before making their own minds up.
I now think that the franchise should be extended to sixteen year olds in all elections.
The way forward:
If you agree with what I have said here, Unlock Democracy have an E-petition calling for a UK Constitutional Convention. I would ask you to think about signing.
1.I haven’t, as yet,thought of a name for what is currently known as The House of Commons