Federalism: the only way to save the union?
Recently Nicola Sturgeon controversially announced that she would be pushing for a second referendum on Scottish independence, as the United Kingdom as a whole is on the verge of leaving The European Union.
I can see where both sides are coming from in this debate. Many Scots clearly feel that Westminster does a poor job of representing their interests, and in my opinion it would make a lot of sense for them to manage their affairs themselves. Indeed, most Brexiteers who last June were calling for “take back control” also seem to be unequivocally anti-Scottish Independence, which is quite baffling to me. Why should one country have the right to self-determination and not another? However once Article 50 is invoked there will be complex negotiations that will shape this country for a generation, and it’s very important that we get that right. Arguably the absolute last thing we need right now is another referendum, and yet more uncertainty.
There is a possible solution that I think would in the long-term be best for both sides: proper federalism. The British system is very centralised around Westminster, but it’s possible to travel across the US from California to North Carolina, and encounter totally different policy landscapes. Other countries such as Switzerland and Germany operate with a federal structure too, and there are lots of advantages to it. The more locally focused government is, the more accountable and representative it is. Those that know best what the policy priorities for Scotland should be are Scottish people themselves, not those in South East England. It also allows for some experimentation, as different areas can try out ideas on a smaller scale, and then learn and borrow ideas from each other.
So how could this work? Westminster ideally would only be responsible for foreign affairs, defence and the economy, which as a bonus means you could cut the number of MPs! Meanwhile issues like education, the NHS, transport etc. would be devolved to the regions. So if voters in Scotland wished to raise taxes to fund an increase in health spending then they would be able to do so. Conversely, if voters in The West Country wanted low taxes and low spending, they could do that too. The current archaic system doesn’t allow for this.
This is a situation that I think most Scots, and indeed most Welsh, Irish and English people, would be happy with. If we want to save the United Kingdom that we all know and love, as well as give those who feel disenfranchised more control over their lives, federalism would be a great way to do that.