I have lived in the UK twice, the first time in the 80s and the second time in the early 90s. Living there for a number of years and being a total political junkie meant I looked at UK politics through the lens of political paradigm of Canada and could see some very major problems with the set up of the country. One of the major issues I saw was how the political geography of the country affected politics.
Canada was the first fully self governing colony of the UK and at the same time it was also the first federated government within the British Empire. Core to Canadian federalism has been a recognition that the Crown exists both federally and provincially. Also important is the recognition that provinces are all equal in the powers they can wield.
The UK has been an asymmetrical governance mess for a long time. From 1921 to 1972 Northern Ireland had a separate parliament and since 1998 there has been an on and off Assembly. Northern Ireland still sent 13 MPs till 1950 and 12 MPs since then to the House of Commons in Westminster. For some reason it was not as big a deal that Northern Ireland had it's own parliament and elected Westminster MPs, but when it comes to Scotland since the early 1970s people have talked of the West Lothian Question. By what right should Scots be allowed to elect MPs that can vote on issues that do not affect Scotland?
The people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland elect their own assemblies but also send MPs to Westminster which is asymmetrical in one direction it happens the other way as well. The Westminster Parliament has law making power over a host of other small territories that have no right to elect any MPs. The Channel Islands and Man have self governance but some issues are dealt with by Westminster. They do are not part of the EU. Meanwhile Gibraltar is a self governing crown colony that can not elect Westminster MPs but does get to vote for an MEP because it is part of the EU.
On July 1st 1999 Scotland gained something akin to a Canadian provincial legislature but what remained is the West Lothian Question. It is this extreme asymmetrical federalism that needs to come to an end. There are two solutions.
- Northern Ireland, Wales and England, or regions of England, all gain the same powers that Scotland has and that Westminster exit all those areas of powers.
- Scotland become an independent country within the EU
The devolution process in the UK in the 1990s was botched. Scotland, Wales and London gained some self governance but dramatically different forms. In the rest of England the process stopped after in the North East of England people voted against a regional assembly. The process should have been handled very differently.
The Westminster parliament should have created a fully federal country like Canada or Australia. Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and about eight or nine English provinces all at once would have made a lot more sense. Important was also that they would have clear areas of sovereign Crown jurisdictional power and a right to make their own decisions without any oversight of Westminster.
Canada has 146 years of federal governance to show that it works but since there is no realistic chance that more devolution is going to happen in the UK anytime soon, everyone would be better off if Scotland were to leave the UK and become it's own country within the EU.
Here are some of the reasons the status quo should not continue
- The English go on and on about how much Scotland gets in support from England. This is an unhealthy relationship because the underlying nature of it is not seen as one of equality by the English.
- The West Lothian question leads to a situation where it will be hard for a Scot to become Prime Minister of the UK.
- The parliament at Westminster has only devolved power to the Scottish parliament and not given it the real status of a separate Crown jurisdiction.
- England has ten times the population of Scotland which means there will always be an inequity in how issues are dealt with for Scotland because it is a small minority of the UK. This would go away if the UK was a proper federal nation.
- The UK population is too large for the Westminster parliament to effectively govern for local needs in any case. As an example, UK monetary policy tends to be set based on the needs of certain parts of England.
- Since the EU exists, there is a clear larger federal structure Scotland can fit into within Europe. Scotland has a larger population than Ireland and is close to Finland and Slovakia in size.