The future of the UK?

The future of the UK is being dealt with in an ad hoc manner says the IWA’s Constitutional Convention

The final phase of discussion for the IWA’s Constitutional Convention looked at the future of the UK, in particular England, Federalism, Europe and devolution in Wales.

It found growing nervousness has emerged around the ‘ad hoc’ way powers are being devolved in England. The call for English devolution has been gaining momentum as more powers are announced for both Scotland and Wales. Manchester was given £1bn of public spending which their new mayor will control and £6bn NHS budget.

Prof Richard Wyn Jones, director of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, argued that political parties, particularly unionist parties, had failed to come up with a coherent ‘vision’ for England. In a podcast for the IWA convention, he said that in the case of English Votes for English Laws there had been a recognition of England as a unit at Westminster but ideas for city regions lacked wide public support, he said.

“Within England we have the parties with competing views of what should happen and the coalition government announcing stuff willy nilly which is really far reaching with no public support for what is suggested. It is very much an elite political construct. It all looks pretty incoherent really. No-one is learning anything from the Welsh lesson about what happens when you have an incoherent settlement. I see a very very strong case for decentralising power within England. However if you believe in that, the most dangerous thing you can do is hold it up in opposition to recognising England as a unit. That is going to tar decentralisation with a kind of anti-English brush.”

Neil McEvoy told the convention: “More power to the countries of UK, Cities, Local government and regions are needed. The UK is still horribly centralised and England excessively and damagingly. However, the present devolution debate and activity is chaotic, haphazard and ill thought through. Seems to be driven by events,hunches and electioneering. We need to have a much deeper national constitutional conversation including citizenry, business, unions.”

Katie Hose, Chief Executive of the The Electoral Reforms Society responded : “ERS and many others are campaigning for a UK-wide constitutional convention – led by citizens and involving elected representatives. I Completely agree with need for deeper, national conversation.”

Yet, despite the agreement on the ad hoc nature so far of devolution to England, some contributors raised the point that Wales is still a very centralised nation. Nick Webb said: “I appreciate the statements above about how centralised England is, but I’d argue Wales is even more so. We’ve had no Localism Act, no Neighbourhood Planning or Right to Challenge to Run Services, no ability for parents to establish a free school. Whatever one’s view of the policies there has been a considerable shift of power from Westminster to communities which is not happening in Wales.”

It has been 16 years since the creation of the National Assembly for Wales, when Ron Davies, former Welsh Secretary, described devolution as a ‘process, not an event’. So, has the process of devolution worked or is it too soon to tell?

Rhobat Bryn Jones told the convention: “If we are asking the question what is Welsh Government for, then first and foremost there has to be an improvement in economic performance. The Government has undertaken various initiatives which have borne fruit but there is a general feeling that there is an absence of strategy.”

Eilian Williams said via Facebook: “By now every organisation or body has a Welsh policy- focussed on life here in Wales and that is rapidly fostering a sense of being part of a Welsh civic society. There are policy shortcomings as far as the Assembly Government is concerned, but that applies to every government and financial constraints are a burden we are currently forced to endure! But it is bringing what was a divided nation together!”

Swansea East AM Mike Hedges said: “Overall, as in any democracy, there have been successes and failures; also we cannot know what would have happened if we had not had devolution.“The challenge is to grow the economy throughout Wales not just in small parts of it.”

Eos Pengwern argued: “I run a technology business in Wales which is hard going, both because of the country’s poor image with investors and the confused and unhelpful nature of Welsh Government business support since the WDA was abolished – but I live over the border, with the much better quality of the schools in my area being a significant reason. In Ireland it took about 60 years after home rule for the country to shake off its baggage and start making something of itself.”

There was also some support for a federal UK and concern over the potential impact on Wales of in-out referendum on membership of the EU, which provoked a lively online discussion. Our online poll asked would Wales be better off outside the EU? with 15% of those taking part saying yes and 85% no.

If a majority of voters in Wales and Scotland vote to stay in, but a majority of English voters opt to leave would that boost support for Scottish and Welsh independence?

Rhobat Bryn Jones said: “I think we know what will happen in Scotland. It will trigger a new independence referendum which the Scottish Government believes it can win.” Peter Cox said: “It’s entirely plausible that Wales and Scotland would have majorities against leaving the EU. What basis would a UK wide vote to leave have?

Derek Vaughan MEP said: “[I’m] not saying there would be a rush for independence if UK left EU but it would increase the feeling of isolation and despair which could in turn lead to calls for much greater devolution. This is especially the case when the funding for infrastructure and training schemes dries up and major companies pull out.”

Within all of the elements of this theme, it was clear that contributors felt that there had not been much cohesive thought about the role of the UK and its future as a union of four nations. Many felt issues that have come to the fore; devolution in England and further devolution plus discussion around a referendum on Europe, have been reactionary rather than thought through with the future of the UK in mind.

16 thoughts on “The future of the UK?

  1. Has anyone seriously considered the option of taking London out of England? Would Scotland, Ireland and Wales feel any different about London if it were an international city state? This would make a federal Britain much more feasible in my view (London being one of 5 or more states.)

  2. The idea of breaking up responses to an eu referendum on a country by country basis in the uk is appalling. It would be far too random – might as well do it on a gender or religious basis, which may also show decided preferences.
    How many people have decided to live in Wales and are committed to it, without ever having known this would put them in a foreign country?

  3. Devolution, devolved nations, devolved regions? Federal, federation of regions or states? Independence?

    Surely such terms need to be adequately defined in terms of the impact upon phrases such as England, English and ‘Englishness’, Wales, Welsh and ‘Welshness’?

    It’s all quite ludicrous at the moment and increasingly hard to fathom who is what and why.

  4. Anne: If you move into Wales from somewhere else then you are in, to use your term, “a foreign country”? On your other points, Scotland would undoubtedly vote to stay in the EU in any referendum. With the possibility that any vote in England would be 50: 50, depending on the success of UKIP at that moment in time, one can realistically envisage a constitutional crisis emerging in 2017. As for us, we may well follow Scotland in voting to stay with our brothers and sisters in the EU, but would anyone really take our thoughts into consideration? Despite the sterling effort of Leanne Wood last week, the fact remains that we are a suppressed voice within the political rhetoric of the UK.

  5. Jack, 2:30pm, I think you miss the point on both matters.

    Scotland has already voted on independence. Any vote of the EU will be a UK vote not an independent Scotland vote (after all, none of our EU partners would accept an independent Scottish membership into the EU anyway …… hence why the quest for independence has died a death in Catalonia). It matters not what the SNP or its supporters want, democracy has to and will prevail throughout the United Kingdom (for if not, the Orkneys and Shetland Isles would be quite free to disengage from an SNP dominated Scotland forthwith, an issue the SNP finds hard to come to terms with).

    As for Anne moving into a ‘foreign country’ this is, of course, farcical. If she was born in England she is quite within her remit to regard Wales as a Principality, or indeed just another region of the United Kingdom. The notion that Wales is a country in its own right rather than merely a constituent ‘country’ of the United Kingdom (and therefore the EU) is quite absurd.

    What are they teaching in Welsh schools these days?

  6. Karen: Anne talks of “a country by country basis in the UK”. She doesn’t mention “Principality.” Legally, Wales isn’t a Principality, it is a constituent nation of the UK State. To say that the “request” for independence has died a death in Catalunya is ludicrous. It is stronger than ever. It is merely that the Spanish Courts and the Madrid Cortes reject the notion of Catalunya as an independent nation (on constitutional grounds). As for your comment “What are they teaching in Welsh schools these days?”, my answer has to be that I don’t really know as it is years since I worked in the educational field. As for my own early education, my schooling took place in the land of my birth, a “foreign country” called England. I then emigrated to this country – Wales – and studied Welsh history, and taught myself the splendorous indigenous language. “Shame on you”, I hear you, and others, say.

  7. @ Karen

    You’re right that any vote on the EU would be a UK wide vote but wrong that the EU would not accept an application from an independent Scotland established by a legitimate referendum. The SNP’s position is that Scotland is already a part of the EU and therefore it would simply be a matter of transferring all EU arrangements to Holyrood. The EU’s position is that an independent Scotland would have to make a fresh application to ensure that it complied with the acquis communitaire. There are at least two ways of interpreting this situation. Firstly what is on show here are the initial bargaining positions of the two parties in a post-independence referendum scenario. The next step would be to draw up a mutually acceptable frame of reference within which to discuss EU membership for Scotland. This would involve acknowledging the extent to which Scotland has met the acquis communitaire whilst it was a UK nation and ensuring that it conforms to all acquis standards in terms of future membership.

    The alternative would be to accept the EU position in its entirety. Scotland would have to make a fresh application to join. But provided it could demonstrate its capacity as an acquis nation, there would not be any just reason to reject such an application.

    The political ramifications however of England trying to drag Scotland and Wales out of the EU if their populations had voted to remain would be immense. There is no doubt that there would be a call for a second referendum on independence in Scotland which, given the support for the EU that exists there, would undoubtedly be won.

    In Wales, the situation is less clear. There would unquestionably be a political reaction from Plaid Cymru but also from the Labour Government which, if it has one foreign policy, has stated its support for EU membership and described leaving the EU as disastrous. Whether that would lead to talk of coming out of the UK in order to rejoin the EU is hard to predict. They could fall back on a position of stating that since they have been dragged out of the EU against their will, they would be looking for a substantial increase in the block grant as compensation.

    You refer to Wales as a principality. Oh dear! You really need to keep up Karen. Since the establishment of a political Assembly for Wales in 1999, Wales has become an historic nation. The Welsh Government also apparently (since I have as yet been unable to independently verify it) issued a statement in 2008:

    “Wales is not a principality. Although we are joined to England by land, and we are a part of Great Britain, Wales is a country in its own right.”

    The current UK Prime Minister has referred publicly to England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales as “a family of nations”.

    So where do we stand? Wales is a country in its own right and is recognised as a constituent nation (not region) of the UK. As a country in its own right, Wales chooses to be a constituent country of the sovereign state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The term ‘Principality’ has been redundant for the last 16 years.

    So while you question the standard of teaching in Welsh schools these days, may I ask which constitutional law books you have been reading recently?

  8. The EU is a dictatorship and my experience of dictatorships leads me to a dire need to avoid them. England is a country and as such needs to be sovereign. The rift between the countries of the UK is widening the only bridge is a financial one . This is no basis for a marriage and a divorce is urgently required. We can work together as good neighbours if we want to but we definitely do not need a marriage councillor like the British to dictate terms. England needs a voice, choice and freedom from the British, German and Scottish.

  9. The UK is in a precarious state. There was a 45% YES vote in the Scottish referendum! Hardly a strong committment!
    Feelings in England are also running high. Many of us are fed up with the way our nation is being treated. All the main political partys with representation in England ignor the wishes of the people of England . Referenda on regional assemblies and city mayors both resulted in NO votes and yet the UK government and opposition continue to push them. Anyone who thinks the Tories will allow the UK to leave the EU is deluded. A YES to leave the EU referendum result will be twisted or ignored.
    Polls show that we English want our own English Parliament yet Labour and the Lib Dems are not interested and the Tories persist with their farcical English Votes on English Laws. Even UKIP won’t commit to an English Parliament and offer their dual mandate MPs nonsense.
    I have always predicted that it will be England that leaves the UK and I am yet to be convinced to the contrary.

  10. Every layer of governance has to be paid for. The UK has fewer and fewer paying in and more and more public sector employees (however you dress them up via public funded NGOs, charities, not-for-profit companies, etc. etc.) with their associated overheads taking out.

    The UK is now in grave danger of governing itself into the ground! Piecemeal or otherwise…

  11. “Polls show we English want our own English Parliament. “. Which polls? All the ones I’ve seen show the English don’t want another Parliament. I don’t mind either way but your correspondents are right in thinking it would loosen the ties of the United Kingdom.

  12. Independence for England now please. How long must the hard working people of England subsidise the Celts?

  13. @ Stephanie Brown

    Long enough until the wealth taken from our coal, slate and steel industries is returned.

  14. @Stephanie Brown.As a 70 year old Welshman I am forever grateful for the funding that we currently receive from our neighbours,however it must never be forgotten that the welsh working classes have contributed greatly to the UK as a whole. I am also grateful that both my children went to University in England,and consequently had greater employment opportunities than would have ben the case had they stayed and studied in Wales!!.I would think that 90% of welsh people are perfectly content with the current situation,as they were before 1997 and the ‘referendum’ which changed our relationship,and to the worse with nearest neighbours and things will not get better. The UK is currently finished as I knew it in terms of a collective unit of government and consequently the Barnett Formula should come to an end and ‘nations’ should receive back in funding what they put in,rather than the current situation.You the English will never be thanked for your generosity,rather the reverse in that you do not pay us as much as the Scots currently get from HM Treasury. There is now a ‘class’ of political/media/academia people who are determined to grow ‘powers’ in Cardiff until the ‘slippery slope’ ends where its was intended by Plaid Cymru,i.e Independence. Well,why not get YOUR retaliation in first by having a ‘referendum’ on English powers/funding and ‘screw’ the rest!!PS I would start with the BBC and funding for a)regional component in Wales,b)S4C which is a total waste of nearly £100 Million per year.

  15. Stephanie: hand back the coal & water (or compensate us for them) & the oil to the Scots

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