The case for a British Confederation

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Yesterday I explained that I don’t want a vote on Scottish independence and predicted how Alex Salmond would approach “independence” for Scotland.

If I am right about my prediction of what form Scottish “independence” will take is right – ie. a confederation – then that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The ideal way to govern the UK is with a confederation where the home nations voluntarily pool resources and responsibility for matters that they choose to co-operate on such as defence and foreign affairs.  This differs from federation or the current system of devolution in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in that the powers the confederal government has are passed up from the countries that are part of it rather than being passed down from a federal government.  It’s an important differentiation because it means the members of the confederation retain their independence and sovereignty within parameters agreed by those members rather than being told what independence and sovereignty they are allowed from the centre.  But such a confederation would have to be between England, Scotland, Wales and perhaps Northern Ireland, not between Scotland and “Britain”.

This isn’t just idle conjecture on my part, I have been giving the idea of a confederation thought for some time now.  Here’s how I see it working:

An elected confederal “senate” would replace the House of Lords dealing with defence, foreign affairs and whatever else is handed up to the confederal government and an independent English Parliament would govern England as a sovereign nation within the confederation.  Scotland and Wales would similarly be governed as sovereign nations by their own government.

Northern Ireland is a bit of an oddity and might not choose to take part in a confederal government in the same way.  Clearly unification with the Republic is not the answer – it would alienate and antagonise at least half the population and it’s not in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement – so why not give Northern Ireland the same status as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man and make it a Crown Dependency, governing itself as it does now with the confederal government responsible for its defence and jointly for foreign affairs as it is for the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man?

The confederation would be the legal successor to the union, taking over the UK’s seat on the UN, NATO, the EU and any other organisation the UK is a member of unless the members agree that one of their number should become the successor state instead such as Scotland taking over the UK’s membership of the EU as the most europhile nation in the UK.  It would also mean that the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories (Falklands, Bermuda, etc.) would work in the same way and could even become members of the confederation on equal terms to England, Scotland and Wales.

The confederal government could be funded by subscription from its members or by direct taxation.  A customs union and Shengen-type agreement would maintain the free movement of goods and people.  A confederal government would need very few politicians, perhaps even being made up of appointees from the national governments and the national governments should be unicameral, resulting in a net reductions of politicians.

A confederation also neatly sidesteps the issue of a federation being unconstitutional under English law.  One of the key properties of a federation is that the existence of the devolved legislatures are protected by law in perpetuity.  Under the English constitution, no British Parliament may bind its successor making it impossible to legislate in this way.  A new English Parliament for an independent England wouldn’t need an Act of the British Parliament to protect its existence, nor would it need an Act of the English Parliament to do so as its existence would be implicit in the fact that England would be an independent, sovereign nation voluntarily delegating powers to a “British Confederation”.  The English and Scottish Crowns can remain united in a personal union as they did before the 1707 Act of Union and the Queen can remain Head of State either through being Head of State of the confederation or the members in their own right.

The members of the confederation would be free to pursue their own economic policies, raising or lowering taxes, increasing or decreasing spending.  Scotland can become the socialist republic it strives to be, England can continue down the road of free market enlightenment.  Scotland can go nuclear-free, England can keep the lights on.

One of the criticisms of supporters of an English Parliament is that they never come up with anything other than a nebulous idea about self-government.  In the case of the Campaign for an English Parliament that’s deliberate because, to paraphrase the Scottish Claim of Right, they quite rightly say that it’s for the people of England to determine the best form of government for themselves.  Well I’m a person of England and I think this is the best form of government for my country.  Discuss.

23 comments

  1. David B. Wildgoose (25 comments) says:

    Makes sense to me.

    Judging by the speed with which the English are falling out of love with the Union then Unionists really ought to get a move on before things get much worse.

    Bet they won’t though.

  2. Geoff, England (22 comments) says:

    The confederation’s membership of organisations such as the EU, UN and Commonwealth should be decided by referendums. The vast reduction in the number of politicians involved means the political class won’t even consider this in the foreseeable future, however much sense it makes. As for Northern Ireland, get shot of it altogether. Their neighbours dropped the claim to the six counties from the Irish Constitution a few years back, presumably because they saw the potential for a new armed conflict if Ireland was reunified (not to mention the expense). Old jokes aside, the Irish are far from stupid, but we are mugs for keeping Northern Ireland on the payroll.

  3. Ian Campbell (5 comments) says:

    Not sure why NI is excluded from sovereign status – why does it need to be a crown dependency?
    Otherwise yes the most sensible soluton short of independence all round. How about trying it out on Robert Hazell and Vernon Bogdnaor – both have the ear of the government, though less so now.

  4. David, ExPat Slovakia (6 comments) says:

    There are two major stumbling blocks to your idea, which in itself is one answer.
    1. Any upper tier of a devolved/confederated Govt must stick to current democratic and legal requirements for Governance. The implication of this is profound. It would mean that English representation would far outweigh the COMBINED representation of the other nations. Decisions taken in the English Parliament would be passed to the upper tier for further action. Even if the other nations representatives in that upper tier got together to oppose an English point of view, they would have NO CHANCE of success. For them then, the upper tier in whatever form would be irrelevant. The English would hold sway.

    2. Money! The other nations of the UK are all net debtors to the exchequor. That is to say that in effect the English taxpayer heavily subsidises the other Nations. Even with North Sea oil revenues (which whilst they are patentley not Scottish, they nevertheless claim them) Scotland would be some GBP2 billion short of meeting curent spending requirements.

    None of the other nations are suicidal! They will cerainly not withdraw from the Union unless and until they have secured continued financial support (from England) and have found some mechanism to overcome the English dominance of the upper tier.

    In the meantime, Joe Public is kept in woeful ignorance, not least by our curent crop of politicians who have turned a calling into a hard faced business. They go for the soundbite and welcome all forms of Nationalism, unless of course it is English. The lack of debate, the lack of accuate published financial details an the lack of our Parliamentaians ability to stand up and be counted all smack of cosy somke filled rooms where deals are done so that those in power can maintain their cosy status quo.

    Beware the carve up whilst you are sleeping!

  5. Steve (38 comments) says:

    Brilliant idea, Stuart

  6. axel (1214 comments) says:

    david:

    1) that happens anyway, it is only when the English bloc is indecisive that us hairy arses have any say in what happens.

    2)that is the scary thing about independence, it is not all shortbread, heather, Haggii & oil, scotland has to remember that we will only have 6 million people to tax, not the 60 million in britain. All ‘our’ profitable companies will ‘lose’ their profits to the new english company that takes over the english part of its estate. However, we are pretty dumb……

  7. wonkotsane (1117 comments) says:

    Geoff, NI does cost us an awful lot of money and contributes frankly little in the way of economic output but what would happen if we were to cut it loose? It would be chaos – we would have a state overrun by terrorists on our doorstep.

    Ian, I would quite happily see NI as a sovereign state with the same status as England, Scotland and Wales. I don’t think they’d go for it though, especially the IRA Sinn Féin as they’d just see it as still being part of the UK. A Crown Colony gives them independence so the IRA/Sinn Féin can’t whinge about the UK “occupying” NI but it would stay under the Crown which should appease the unionists. It’s a compromise. But it’d be up to them what they chose to do.

    David in Slovakia, you’re misunderstanding the confederation idea I think. The confederal government wouldn’t be an upper house, it wouldn’t revise legislation passed by the parliaments of the member states. England’s representation wouldn’t need to be any greater than any other members’ as the confederal government wouldn’t be able to legislate on any domestic matter in any of the member states.

    On the subject of money, the confederal government would cost a certain amount to run. The benefits that come from membership – free trade, free movement of people, etc. – would come with a price tag attached. How they raise the money for that subscription and pay their own bills is their concern, not England’s. Scotland will have to be a socialist hell-hole come the revolution because taxes are going to have to be so high to break even that virtually everyone will be reliant on the wise and benevolent state. But again, it’s their problem, not ours.

    Axel, the celtic bloc is bigger than you think. It doesn’t require too much indecisiveness to allow the celts to swing a vote one way or the other.

  8. Alex Buchan (1 comments) says:

    @ David
    “Even with North Sea oil revenues (which whilst they are patentley not Scottish, they nevertheless claim them) Scotland would be some GBP2 billion short of meeting curent spending requirements”

    This is factually wrong on both counts and shows partly why the whole idea of a confederation is a non-starter because England-centric ignorance will put everryone elses back up.

    The British governments own statistics have shown that, when the revenue from oil and gas in Scottish territorial waters is taken into account, Scotland has been a net contributor to Britian’s finances [which explains why all governments have been so coy about Barnett]. Secondly, the term ‘territorial waters’ should give the game away on the rubbish about it not being Scottish oil. Scotland has always been a seperate legal jurisdiction from the rest of the UK thoughtout the 304 years of the union.

  9. wonkotsane (1117 comments) says:

    Alex, show us the British government’s statistics that say Scotland subsidises the rest of the UK. And when you talk about Scottish territorial waters, do you mean the waters that are Scottish under international law or those that are Scottish because the British government gifted English waters to Scotland without our consent by moving the maritime border in contravention of international law?

  10. Wyrdtimes (31 comments) says:

    I’d prefer independence for England.

  11. wonkotsane (1117 comments) says:

    It is independence, it’s just with a voluntary union that would be subordinate to the English Parliament rather than the other way round.

  12. the vortex (1 comments) says:

    Scotland’s so called independence will be the same as those plonkers on Made In Chelsea. I live apart from mummy and daddy on my allowance (from mummy and daddy)!

    How will the scots pay for their heroin and heart attacks without English money? And it’s not their oil.

  13. Martin (6 comments) says:

    Why not just set up something similar to Scandinavia? Independent nations which come together in the Nordic Council to discuss cross-border co-operation.

    It would only require revamping of the current British-Irish Council. All of Ireland would of course, be included.

  14. wonkotsane (1117 comments) says:

    Martin, it’s similar to the Nordic Council and the British-Irish Council but more formalised and with representation from all the nations involved rather than leaving one out. There’s always the option, of course, of the Republic of Ireland choosing to join this Commonwealth.

  15. David Rickard (4 comments) says:

    Stuart, I think confederation is a great idea in principle. But how do you see us getting there? In reality, as you imply, Scotland’s independence, assuming it comes, will involve a confederal relationship to the rump UK. But I can’t see the continuing UK establishment voluntarily going down the road of dismantling and reconstituting itself as a confederation, with England becoming a fully autonomous, sovereign nation with its own legal personality, distinct from that of the UK. Something like that might be the end point of the process that began with devolution; but whatever happens is likely to be messy, protracted and muddled, as is generally the way with UK-constitutional reform.

    I think we could end up with something like a ‘United Kingdom of England, Wales and N. Ireland’, with which Scotland would have a confederal relationship along the lines you describe: pooling resources for matters of shared interest, such as foreign affairs and defence, and perhaps also some elements of macro-economics. Meanwhile, Wales and NI would continue to have a devolved status similar to now, and the ‘UK’ parliament would effectively be the English parliament in all but name. This would be a UK that was in practice England + British legacy add-ons, including the crown dependencies.

    Not perhaps the self-governing, autonomous England we all want but in practice boiling down to pretty much the same thing, so long as England is again acknowledged and celebrated as the nation at the centre of it all.

  16. wonkotsane (1117 comments) says:

    David, that’s basically what’s going to happen and what we can’t allow to happen. England will be in the same position as it is now – no representation, no recognition, bled dry by the British for the benefit of the celts and the Scots in the most privileged position calling the shots. The more independence the Scots get, the more the Brits take off us to bribe them with.

    How do we get from where we are now to a confederation? I don’t know. As far as I know, nobody has suggested it before so let’s work on the idea.

  17. David Rickard (4 comments) says:

    I agree a confederation is worth debating, although are you advocating that, for instance, the CEP should adopt a particular model for the overall constitutional context to an English parliament (e.g. mere devolution, federation, confederation or independence)? Wouldn’t that close off some options for advancing the basic cause, which is English autonomy and self-government?

    I feel, for instance, that if Scotland left the UK – albeit continuing to enjoy some sort of affiliate / confederate membership along with the crown dependencies – the remaining UK would no longer be ‘Britain’, and could no longer maintain the pretense of being a nation and unitary state in its own right. Indeed, you could almost say that the rationale for a separate English parliament is Scotland’s continuing presence in the Union. Without Scotland, the Westminster parliament becomes so much more obviously a de facto English parliament that it would come to be acknowledged as such – perhaps popularly first and then officially – and simple measures could be put in place to prevent Welsh and NI MPs voting down bills supported by a majority of English MPs (such as my ‘English Majority Lock’ idea).

    So what I’m saying is that the secession of Scotland – whatever form any ‘independence’ settlement takes – changes the whole landscape. In the wake of Scotland’s departure, the very identity of the ‘British’ state changes: in fact, it ceases to exist, and the remaining UK becomes virtually an English state with a few add-ons, including Wales and NI. If NI then became a fully self-governing entity along the lines of the Channel Islands, that could just leave ‘England & Wales’ as the name of the state. What else could they call it? It would be non-sensical to call it ‘Britain’ and even the ‘UK’. In the light of developments such as that, the English parliament and English self-government just evolve out of a natural process of the UK’s disaggregation.

  18. wonkotsane (1117 comments) says:

    I’m not suggesting the CEP should adopt a particular form of English Parliament – as I said, they rightly say it is for the people of England to decide which form of government is best suited for our country. But as a cause, English democrats (small “D”, certainly not an endorsement of the English Democrats) are hobbled by the absence of any actual ideas on how England should be governed if it is not to be as it is now. I think the CEP should continue to promote only fairness, equality and democratic government for England without prescribing or proscribing any particular form that it might take. It’s for us as the English nationalist community to come up with the ideas for how it should work.

    Scotland leaving the UK won’t result in a disintegration of the UK or the disappearance of brand “Britain”. If anything, it’ll result in an even tighter grip on the outdated concept by the British establishment.

  19. […] Case for a British Confederation I was reading the Wonko's World post by the same title earlier, and found myself agreeing with much of the reasoning behind the […]

  20. Mises (1 comments) says:

    Gets my vote.

  21. […] union could still have a place in our future, albeit in a significantly different form to the current union but it will only survive the next few years if it is reconfigured on the basis […]

  22. […] fail to see the problem with a constitutional court and in fact proposed this as part of mycase for a British confederation – a solution that the McKay commission didn’t consider.  The British government (and devolved […]

  23. […] fail to see the problem with a constitutional court and in fact proposed this as part of my case for a British confederation – a solution that the McKay commission didn’t consider.  The British government (and devolved […]

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