Thursday, 25 September 2014

Keeping it simple(r)

Here is my revised draft of text which I hope to be adopted, in similar terms, by individuals, NGOs and political parties.

We note:
  1. The decisive "no" vote in the referendum on Scottish independence has provided a mandate for creating a stronger Scotland within a more decentralised United Kingdom, not contingent upon any arrangements relating to the other three nations within the Union. 
  2. There is a lack of decentralisation within England.
We believe:
  1. Ultimate political power rests in the people.
  2. Politicians should not attempt to direct constitutional changes along party lines; instead, they should cooperate in making the legal and practical arrangements necessary to facilitate what the people decide, through public engagement and democratic consensus.
We call for:
  1. The timely establishment of a new Scottish Constitutional Convention to consider the options for delivering on the "Vow" to devolve more powers to Scotland; as part of their remit, this Convention may choose to draft a Scottish Constitution.
  2. The establishment of an English Constitutional Convention to consider the framework within which English regional government may emerge at its own pace, allowing for regional Conventions to devise proposals that will one-by-one slot into place.
  3. The support for Constitutional Conventions in Wales and Northern Ireland.
  4. These Constitutional Conventions to cooperate with each other to create a coherent federal framework which will amongst other things address what changes to legislative and administrative practice need to occur before "English laws" can be separated out from legislation with wider effect.
  5. The systematic adoption of constitutional documents as a distinct class of legal instruments, where these documents have been democratically endorsed, allowing for the ultimate authority of the people to be acknowledged in law.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Delivering Decentralisation

Here is my draft of text which I hope to be adopted, in similar or identical terms, by individuals, NGOs and political parties.

We note:
  1. The experience of the referendum on Scottish independence reveals the essential truth that political power and constitutional authority ultimately lie in and are derived from the people.
  2. The result of the Scottish referendum is not a mandate for the status quo but for increased decentralisation for Scotland within the United Kingdom, without unnecessary delay and irrespective of other reforms.
  3. People in all parts of the United Kingdom suffer some degree of democratic deficit and there is a widespread feeling that we do not live in a citizen-owned democracy.
  4. Although the United Kingdom has evolved constitutionally, in strict legal terms the authority of the devolved administrations, as well as of local government, depends upon the authority of the Crown in Parliament at Westminster.
  5. While Acts of Parliament can currently, in legal terms, be amended and repealed at will by Parliament and its successors, international treaties and conventions (which may be incorporated into domestic law by Acts of Parliament but which exist as distinct legal instruments) cannot.
We believe:
  1. Shifting the legal basis of the authority of the Unite Kingdom's political institutions from Crown-down to people-up should be a separate matter from any practical decisions which may in time flow from that legal shift.
  2. Constitutional and administrative changes such as decentralisation should be consensual, coherent and peaceful, claimed by the people to a time scale that facilitates this consensus rather than imposed from above.
We call for:
  1. All significant constitutional changes and consolidations to be enshrined in distinct constitutional documents which, from a Westminster perspective, will have the enduring force of international treaties and conventions (as incorporated by domestic law).
  2. The people and administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, at their own pace and discretion and consonant with their current democratic mandate, to prepare written constitutions capable of existing as distinct documents (or collections of documents, including e.g. Bills of Rights) such as can in time be recognised (with the force international treaties) by both the UK Parliament and their own respective legislation.
  3. The drafting and adoption of a Federal Framework with the status of an international treaty or convention (together with a Bill at Westminster to incorporate it) which will:
    (a) enshrine in law that ultimate authority within the United Kingdom rests in its people, to be expressed democratically at every level including local community, region and component nation;
    (b) allow for incorporating, in due course, a separate UK-wide Bill of Rights (or equivalent);
    (c) acknowledge the four nations of the United Kingdom, defer to their autonomy, refer to their constitutions (allowing England to create its own constitution should it so wish), and list which powers have been pooled by each of those nations to be exercised at Federal level;
    (d) describe and define, at first in broad terms but allowing for further detail in due course, the role of the Federal (Westminster) Parliament, including the principle that Members of Parliament may only have authority to vote where the relevant powers have, in respect of their own constituency, been pooled and not retained at a lower level of government;
    (e) in the interests of clarity, overall coherence and joined-up government, define clusters of powers which should be bundled together (e.g. health and social care) when distributed between layers of government;
    (f) allow for regions of England, each at their own pace and discretion, to self-identify and become federal units, each with its own constitution and list of pooled powers;
    (g) recognise the general principle of decentralisation at all levels and the importance of local government.
  4. The creation of and support for a network of constitutional conventions in all parts of the United Kingdom to foster public engagement and consensus at each stage of the ongoing changes, harnessing the energy generated by the debate for positive, peaceful progress.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Power from the People

I believe in democracy. It's the least worst system of government there is. And we need government for peace, justice and public services — without it, we're left with survival of the fittest (i.e. the richest or the most violent).

On 18 September 2014, the people of Scotland voted in a referendum, by a margin of 55% to 45%, against becoming an independent country. Most of those people who voted "no" to independence did so in the expectation of increased devolution to the Scottish Parliament. This has to happen. But more than that, there is now an opportunity to change the constitution of the whole UK fundamentally: not power to the people, but power from the people.

At the moment, it is the Parliament in Westminster that devolves power down from the top of the system (the power of the Crown in Parliament) to the layers below. That is not how things should work. Power should come from the people and be pooled by consent. Government should be agreed and defined in contracts and treaties: a federal system.

A federal UK does not require a violent revolution. No flags or effigies need to be burned. Whether you want to retain some sort of monarchy or move to some form of presidency, whether you want more or fewer resources to be pooled over a narrower or wider area, a federal power structure can allow the people to decide on and implement that by democratic means.

Nobody should attempt to impose arbitrary systems in a top-down fashion. The people of England need to determine their own constitutional future. What powers should be exercised in which cities and regions is for the people of those cities and regions to determine. However, we do need to establish a framework for a federal UK that will allow all parts to coexist in a coherent way.

That is why I am calling, as a matter of urgency, for public consultation on, and the drafting of, a Federal Framework. If the Federal Framework can be agreed timeously, with a remit that includes solving the "west Lothian question" such that decisions are taken only by the parts of the country affected by them, the extra powers that are due to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament next year can instead be recognised in a constitutional document as powers retained by the sovereign people of Scotland. The final implementation of the solution to the "West Lothian question", including the removal of Scottish votes on English-only matters, can be made contingent on the effective establishment of federalism rather than linked per se to the new Scottish powers.