The Scottish question: is federalism the answer?

The debate on whether Scotland should stay in the UK is hotting up almost to boiling point. Claim and counter claim fill air time and column inches. And we’re still six months away from the Scottish people going to the polls and casting their vote.

I have no strong connections to Scotland (though a maternal grandfather I never met was born there) and can see the arguments of both camps. If pressed I’d probably come down on the side of the better together campaign – but we’d need a stronger, fairer and more robust union of nations.

For me the real question that the independence referendum throws up is the lop-sided nature of governance in the UK. We have three devolved government’s all with fairly differing levers of power, the UK parliament and the largest country in these islands with no representative body.

I’ve always been pro devolution. Too much power has been concentrated in the hands of Westminster and arguably London is now almost an independent city-state.

As spring approaches I think its time to get the constitutional duster out and review how democracy works in the UK. The system of governance we have now has developed piecemeal and has responded to public and political demands. Its an improvement on the over-centralised state we had but its now unbalanced.

I think its time to utter the word that sticks in the throat of many and rarely surfaces in the political lexicon: federalism. For too long we’ve been ‘above’ considering this form of government and its become pretty much only associated with the European Union and the aims of a core of member states to form a closer political association.

And yet its a system of politics that reflects the diversity of a country. Think the USA or Germany. Lots of social, cultural and political differences held together by the glue of a federal constitution. Yes the United Kingdom is made up of four nations with rich and distinct histories but then the USA is a pretty diverse group of fifty states.

So what would a federal UK look like? You would have a slimmed down UK-wide parliament based in Westminster with four national assemblies with substantial powers. Westminster would have a lower house of UK representatives, pretty much along the lines of MP constituencies that exist now, and the upper chamber would consist of a fixed number of national members; or you could have one chamber of MP’s.

Without action there is a danger of a real democratic deficit growing – particularly in England. The referendum moment is the perfect time to launch a proper constitutional commission to join the dots and create a structure that works for everyone and is truly representative.

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