One of the newest British parties, Volt UK, is currently consulting its members over a new policy for a Federal Britain. Many people come up with a so-called ‘ideal federal structure’ but federalism requires much more than a map. The needs and rights of local communities must be considered, as well as the British context, in order to create a sturdy federal Britain that really solves our problems in the UK.
The argument for a federal Britain has never been stronger. Scottish Independence is looming, Brexit divisions show no sign of healing and COVID-19 has destroyed trust between voters and the government.
With the COVID crisis raging on, it is easy to miss the fact that federal states are dealing with COVID-19 rather well. There is a clear difference between the European Federal countries and unitary states. The arguments in support of federalism are growing by the day.
Arguing for a federal UK is not a fringe opinion, federalism is a viable alternative to disunity while recognising the grievances that many hold against Westminster in the UK. This is particularly significant in Scotland where the status quo is unworkable; devolution has failed to sway Scottish voters, it has failed to give them the necessary powers to bring out the best in Scotland, economically and otherwise.
Labour lost most of its Scottish seats to the pro-independence SNP as it struggled to address the Scottish call for more local autonomy. Corbyn and Labour failed to formulate a vision for a federal UK where local communities felt adequately empowered against westminster in the 2019 elections. This could have been key for Labour and helped them towards a revival in Scotland.
A federal system that doesn’t adhere to basic principles of localism, democracy, rule of law and simplicity will also not be the answer. Policy makers will not win back the Scottish vote, without this. To create a good system policy writers must take into account key attributes that make a good federal system for the UK:
- Local – Decisions must be made at the lowest level in accordance with subsidiarity.
- Fair – No single region should have power over another, England has dominated British politics since time immemorial. The comparative size of England to the other constituent countries must also be considered.
- Secure – People need stability and safety. Regional and local government needs to be strong and stable and provided with adequate and effective powers enshrined in the constitution. Central government, along with recognising their legitimacy, must also make resources available to regions to effectively utilise these new powers.
- Honest – Local government must be held to the same high levels of democratic accountability as those in westminster are. There is no space for corruption at any level of government.
- Simple – Federalism is simple, local people decide on local matters. Complexity is not required. A federal system needs to be easy to understand and easy to partake in.
- British – Many countries operate under federal systems, Britain is unique and any new system must be designed by and for the British. Britain’s history and culture demand something more than a copy-paste solution.
- Representative – Regions need to be able to influence legislation, there must be a platform for regions to criticise and amend legislation.
- Open – Everybody should be able to access their local government easily and it must be transparent. Participation is key to democracy, transparency will improve this.
- Flexible – An uncodified constitution is supposed to be flexible yet currently it is not. Any new federal system must be able to change and develop to keep up with the exponentially changing world.
- Bottom up – Building a federal system must be local focused. The system will not work if it is developed by Westminster without local input. Genuine local consultation must take place.
The above principles could form the basis of a policy, ensuring that federal structures are sustainable with broad public support. Significant constitutional change to the UK must be carefully executed. Knee jerk policies, like devolution, will not pass the test of time. The widest possible support must be generated for a federal UK, parties must work together with common aims to help repair the fractures in British society for the long term.
Written by Alex Gunter, political co-ordinator, Federalist Party sitting on the Federal Union committee; with advice from the Federal Trust.