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 While Acts of Parliament can currently, in legal terms, be amended and repealed at will by Parliament and its successors, international treaties and conventions (which may be incorporated into domestic law by Acts of Parliament but which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.

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