Friday, 19 September 2014

What now?

With the votes counted and with a turnout of 84 per cent—unprecedented in modern British politics—it is clear that the United Kingdom is not about to be dismembered…well not in the immediate future.  The critical question was always going to be ‘what happens next?’ whether the vote for independence was won or lost.  Well it was lost and pretty emphatically.  The time has come to address the West Lothian question—why should Scottish MPs be able to vote on English matters and not vice versa.  One solution would be to complete the pack—give England its own Parliament in the same way that they exist in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—in other words establish a federal structure.  The role of Westminster would be relegated to being the national Parliament dealing only with issues that are common across the four countries in the Union.  So no West Lothian problem.  The fiction United Kingdom having a unitary constitution—today barely a credible proposition—would finally be ended.

At a stroke, you resolve a number of constitutional issues.  The English Parliament would be a unicameral institution like the other national parliaments.  The Union Parliament could retain two houses—making it something like the American Congress—or, more radically we could take this opportunity of abolishing the second chamber so that all parliaments in the UK have one chamber.  This could mean that the English Parliament meets in one of the current chambers in the Houses of Parliament and the Union Parliament in the other—good economics—or you could establish the English Parliament in say Birmingham centrally in the country.  You could also reduce the number of MPs to say 200 by having them chosen from within the national parliaments on the basis of say 1UMP per 100,000 of the population based on the proportion of parties within those parliaments; so Scotland with a population of about 3 million people would have 30 UMPs.  Each country would have its own First Minister while the Prime Minister would be the Union leader with a cabinet including the four First Ministers. 

Then there’s the vexed question of how MPs should be elected.  Proportional representation fell in the last referendum but a radical change in the nature of the British constitution will inevitably raise the question again.  I’m inclined to go for the system that apply in Wales combining first-past-the-post and the additional member system but the existing Scottish system with its regional dimension might be preferable.    Either way, the current electoral system needs a radical overhaul.

No comments: