By Mike Small
It’s constitutional Sesame Street on Bella today. Today’s letter is F.
In an attempt to give credibility to the Devo Nano proposals that lie about the constitutional house like bits of broken furniture, many articles have been penned this week bigging the whole thing up. First among them is the Guardian’s Martin Kettle, who writes with absolutely no evidence at all ‘Gordon Brown is right: federalism is on its way if Scots shun independence’.
He suggests: ‘Brown is the highest profile UK politician to utter the political F-word during this debate. He is right to do this, because federalism, in some shape or form, is one of the great awakening issues in the debate about what happens after 18 September. The four nations of Britain need to engage with federalist options before the referendum takes place, because if there is a no vote they will have to engage with it afterwards.’
This is nonsense. The Lib dems have been promising constitutional change for over 100 years and have delivered nothing.There is no appetite for federalism in England, nor will there be.
Here’s why Federalism won’t work. This is from the Royal Commission on the Constitution, the Kilbrandon Commission (1973):
A federation consisting of four units – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – would be so unbalanced as to be unworkable. It would be dominated by the overwhelming political importance and wealth of England. The English parliament would rival the United Kingdom federal Parliament; and in te federal parliament itself the representation of England could hardly be scaled down in such a way as to enable it too be outvoted by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, together representing less than one fifth of the population. A United Kingdom federation of four countries, with a federal Parliament and provincial Parliaments in the four national capitals, is therefore not a realistic proposition.
Whatever grand declaration is cobbled together by the Unionists next week it will surely be a desperate muddle, either diluting the Liberals Federalism, or creating a compromise between the ‘radical’ Tories and Labour’s timid proposals.
Too timorous and it will be subject to ridicule, too ambitious and it will be seen as a ‘gift to the nats’ and the more enrage wing (McTernan, Forsyth etc) will be foaming at the mouth. My spies tell me this is precisely why discussions are getting very heated as the fine detail is hammered out. Someone’s going to have a lot of explaining to do.