Friday, 23 August 2013

A New Act of Union, Indeed

Establishing the Crown as the guarantor of the Welfare State, workers’ rights, full employment, a strong Parliament, trade unions, co-operatives, credit unions, mutual guarantee societies, mutual building societies, and nationalised industries, the last often with the word “British” in their names, were historically successful in creating communities of interest among the several parts of the United Kingdom, thus safeguarding and strengthening the Union.

The public stakes in the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland are such permanent, non-negotiable safeguards of the Union. Any profits from those stakes ought therefore to be divided equally among all households in the United Kingdom.

There is no West Lothian Question, Michael Fabricant, since the Parliament of the United Kingdom reserves the right to legislate supremely in any policy area for any part of the country, and the devolution legislation presupposes that it will do so as a matter of course.

It never, ever need do so and the point would still stand, since what matters is purely that it has that power in principle, which no one disputes that it has, or else there would be no perceived need, either of the SNP, or of a referendum on independence. Anyone who does not like that ought to have voted No to devolution. I bet that they did not.

But the grievance of England, and especially of Northern and Western England, concerns, not some “West Lothian Question”, but cold, hard cash.

Each of the present or, where they have been abolished in the rush to unitary local government, the previous city, borough and district council areas in each of the nine regions must be twinned with a demographically comparable one (though not defined in terms of comparable affluence) in Scotland, in Wales, in Northern Ireland, and in each of the other English regions.

We probably have to talk about the English regions, even if we would prefer to talk about the historic counties from before an unprotesting Thatcher was in the Cabinet.

Across each of the key indicators – health, education, housing, transport, and so on – both expenditure and outcomes in each English area, responsibility for such matters being devolved elsewhere, would have to equal or exceed those in each of its twins. Or else the relevant Ministers’ salaries would be docked by the percentage in question. By definition that would always include the Prime Minister.

In any policy area devolved to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, no legislation must apply in any of the English regions unless supported at Third Reading by the majority of MPs from that region. Since such legislative chaos would rightly be unconscionable, any Bill would in practice require such a consensus before being permitted to proceed at a much earlier stage of its parliamentary progress.

No one would lose under any of this: there would be no more politicians than at present, and both expenditure and outcomes would have to be maintained in, most obviously, Scotland and the South East for the twinning system to work.

Is it conceivable that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish voters would not also insist on full incorporation into it, with their own areas thus also guaranteed expenditure and outcomes equal to or exceeding those in each of those areas’ respective twins?

Or else the relevant Holyrood, Cardiff Bay or Stormont Ministers’ salaries would be docked by the percentage in question. By definition that would always include the First Minister, and in Northern Ireland also the Deputy First Minister.

By all means, let these be the terms of a new Act of Union.


  1. How are you not in Parliament? Several times a week I come on here, read one of your genius policy ideas and curse the spiteful little troglodytes who kept you down.

  2. There was only one. But he was enough. Blame him. As people do.

  3. The historic counties of England were abolished in 1888 except for ceremonial purposes. You surely mean the Administrative County structure that existed from 1888 - 1974. As for regions - would not provinces be better; as suggested, by amongst other, C.B. Fawcett in his memomorable tome of 1921.

  4. They are both French. Like the imperial and the metric systems, in fact.

  5. Though temporarily introduced by Cromwell

  6. One might also point out that the historic counties were also French having been introduced by the Normans.

  7. Crowmell, whom the French in turn were to hold up as their example for something rather more drastic.

    For the purposes of this post, we are stuck with what we have, though.