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.

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