Glyndwr Cennydd Jones incorporates the moderate elements of both unionism and nationalism into confederal-federalism.
A sovereign Wales in an isle-wide confederation is an essay by Glyndwr Cennydd Jones, presented in five daily parts on the IWA website during the first week of February 2021. You can read the first part here and the third part here.
My third essay, A Federation or League of the Isles? (July 2017) was, as it says on the tin, an in-depth exploration of federalism, confederalism, and more significantly—that possible middle ground—confederal-federalism.
Not wishing to alienate the generally moderate elements of both unionism and nationalism to the substance of the proposition, I labelled the model a League-Union of the Isles and embarked on setting out a detailed description of what such a framework might look like, a summary of which follows.
Confederal-federalism: A League-Union of the Isles
Devolution involves a sovereign Westminster, in effect, delegating a measure of sovereign authority to the devolved institutions.
A League-Union of the Isles turns this constitutional approach on its head, advocating four sovereign nations of radically different population sizes (Wales c. 3.2m, Scotland c. 5.5m, Northern Ireland c. 1.9m and England c. 56m), delegating some sovereign authority to central bodies in agreed areas of common interest.
The model proposes a confederation of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England, with aspects of federal-type control built into key policy portfolios to reflect the principles of equality and solidarity among member nations.
Each nation holds all powers and rights which are not by treaty delegated to joint institutions, operating distinct legal jurisdictions. The British monarch continues in role as Head of the League-Union of the Isles.
“A Committee of Member Nations… convenes regularly to discuss more general considerations which demand a degree of cooperation and harmonisation of laws across borders.”
A Council of the Isles acts with mechanisms in place to address the asymmetry between population sizes of member nations, specifically through the composition and distribution of seats.
Members of the Council are typically elected for a four-year period by the electors of each nation, convening annually for a fixed time unless urgent business is demanded.
The Council assumes its own standing orders, confirming a Presiding Officer and Executive whose Prime Minister and Ministers are responsible for enacting power on specific matters involving defence, foreign policy, internal trade, currency, large-scale economic considerations, and isle-wide affairs.
Each Bill considered by the Council is circulated to the National Parliaments of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England, in advance of final reading, with member nations empowered to make objections or suggest amendments before voting.
This provides a counterweight to any aspirations of the centre to aggregate power within its core, and to act unilaterally on issues such as defence and foreign affairs.
On passing, the Head of the confederation confirms the Bill as an Act of the Council of the Isles. The ultimate authority on the legitimacy of any law and treaty remains with the Supreme Court.
A Committee of Member Nations (comprising the Council’s Prime Minister and Minister for Isle-wide Affairs, and the First Minister of each member nation), convenes regularly to discuss more general considerations which demand a degree of cooperation and harmonisation of laws across borders, over and above the key functions enacted in Council.
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These include: postal, telephonic and internet communications; railways, roads and associated licensing; airports, ports and traffic controls; coastguard and navigational services; energy, water and related infrastructure; income and corporation taxes; rates of sales, weights and measures; copyrights, patents and trademarks; scientific and technological research; broadcasting; meteorological forecasting; environmental protection; civil defence; emergencies, and the prevention of terrorism and serious crime.
The Committee, with support of the Council, also holds controls for confirming contractual-type arrangements for supplying any requested public services to member nations.
To cover the common functions and agreements in place, the Council levies charges upon each member nation according to a defined proportion of their GDP annually relative to that of the League-Union of the Isles as a whole. These monies are paid into a consolidated fund from which the interest on the UK public debt continues as a standing charge.
“The National Parliament of each member nation sits as the sovereign, legislative and representative body of its people.”
The centre aims to promote equality across all territories by sharing a measure of baseline investment for infrastructure projects, operating formal instruments for resolving disagreements.
National Parliaments are discouraged from misusing any advantages they possess in areas of potential contention including, for example, the economy of England, the oil of Scotland, and the water of Wales.
Some central responsibility is also assigned for pensions and what is currently termed National Insurance Contributions (appropriately renamed), mitigating elements of financial risk and promoting ongoing solidarity.
Further, federal-type mechanisms may be introduced to support fiscal decentralisation from the UK position.
The National Parliament of each member nation sits as the sovereign, legislative and representative body of its people, enacting powers and laws on every issue not identified as the Council’s competence.
A Government with executive powers, comprising a First Minister and other ministerial positions as required to oversee the various offices, is appointed from the nation’s parliamentary members. The superior judges are nominated on the advice of an independent authority.
Nations further sub-divide their lands through Acts of National Parliament, defining the composition and responsibilities of local or regional authorities.
A Federation or League of the Isles? appeared in a joint booklet with Lord Elystan Morgan, Lord David Owen, Gwynoro Jones and Martin Shipton.
The publication was called Towards Federalism and Beyond (a perhaps unwise reuse, on my part, of the title given earlier to essay number one), which was launched in September 2017 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the vote to establish the National Assembly of Wales.
A second joint booklet, topically named for the time Brexit, Devolution and the Changing Union, followed in February 2018.
Both documents remain available electronically and are lodged in the libraries at Cardiff Bay and Westminster, where I hope they will stimulate further discussion amongst parliamentarians.
All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.
A sovereign Wales in an isle-wide confederation is an essay by Glyndwr Cennydd Jones, presented in five daily parts on the IWA website during the first week of February 2021. You can read the first part here.