Federalism and fatal flaws

Countless rounds of constitutional tinkering by the British establishment have failed. The products of innumerable commissions have been unceremoniously binned. Various arrangements have been pronounced a failure by the very ones who had previously proclaimed them an “enduring solution”. They often failed before they were even implemented. They failed for reasons lying somewhere on a spectrum between gross ineptitude and unbridled malice.

These flailing stabs at a constitutional settlement failed primarily because they were informed, not by an ambition to formulate a solution which provided for the good governance of Scotland while addressing the needs, aspirations and priorities of Scotland’s people, but by the imperative to preserve the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state and serve its elites.

Federalism is not an answer to the constitutional question. It is a desperate, last-ditch defence of the old order and the old ways. An attempt to preserve as much as possible of the British state that is familiar to and revered by people like Murdo Fraser.

The signs of desperation are clear. What possible authority can Fraser and his chums in Reform Scotland have for claiming the election of 56 SNP MPs as a vote for federalism?

In what obliquely adjacent universe might support from Boris Johnson be considered a positive testimonial?

The closest Murdo Fraser gets to offering a positive case for a federalised UK is his argument that it would address two “constitutional problems” – the so-called West Lothian Question and reform of the House of Lords. Both of which would be far more effectively dealt with by bringing Scotland’s government home. The West Lothian Question is entirely a function of the very devolution that Fraser is wanting to perpetuate. and the House of Lords ceases to be Scotland’s concern on Independence Day.

What Fraser fails to address are the fatal flaws at the heart of the political union between Scotland and England. The flaws which have been there since its inception as a device by which to better entrench the ruling elites of the time and their successors. The flaws which lay dormant for three centuries awaiting only the moment when the people of Scotland found a voice by which to challenge the power of the British political establishment.

It is difficult to discern any federal solution which deals satisfactorily with the first of these flaws – the undemocratic asymmetry of the union. At best, it is likely to be another attempt to polish that particular turd. If the dominant status of England in the union is problematic, as the federalist case seems to acknowledge, then why settle for dealing partially with this problem? Why not eradicate the problem completely? Had there ever been a credible argument that Scotland benefited from having any part of its governance in the hands of the British political elite, that argument evaporated long ago. Any possibility of a positive case for the union was finally blown away by the mighty, moist, malodorous fart of the EU referendum and its aftermath.

And federalism cannot in any way resolve the second of the flaws which have forever doomed the union. It cannot resolve the conflict between the irreconcilable and mutually exclusive doctrines of parliamentary sovereignty and popular sovereignty.

Only with the restoration of Scotland’s rightful constitutional status can the principle that sovereignty is vested in the people be fully restored.

Devolution is dead. Federalism is no substitute. Independence! Nothing less!

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9 thoughts on “Federalism and fatal flaws

  1. J R Tomlin

    I think the largest ‘flaw’ in ‘Federal UK’ is that they will never do it. How many decades have one party or another said they espoused it, far preceding Gordon Brown’s mendacious speech making on the topic. But every time the ‘natives’ get restless, they drag the topic up again and pretend to consider it.

    I am certainly not arguing that it would be workable, but the elite powers of Westminster will see that it never is tried anyway.

  2. mealer

    I really can’t see English back bench MPs being bothered with all this federal business just to pacify us Jocks.They have plenty other things to be getting on with.That said,if there is enough political will,the UK government can set up a federal system for Scotland right now.Have a debate.Have a vote.Make it happen.

  3. Julia Gibb

    Under which system would
    A) WMD be removed from the Clyde
    B) The usage of Foodbanks would reduce
    C) The gap between Rich and Poor would reduce
    D) The risk of NHS privatisation would reduce
    E) The potential for another illegal war is lower
    F) We would remain in Europe

    If you answered “Independence” for all of the above – well done
    If you answered “A Federal System” – please try again when sober or when you start primary school.

  4. DerekM

    Do tories know what federalism is because they certainly have a strange idea what devo max is.

    You are right Peter the yoons are in chaos they have no argument left,this union is finished it is only a matter of time ,they are trying not to con us but to con their own voters into thinking that by some miracle they will be allowed to stay in the EU under devolution,this is nonsense article 50 is a UK membership one out all out,the only way to stop that from happening in Scotland is for us to leave the UK and remain in the EU as a full member with our own SMEP`s.

    Sorry yoons but there will just not be a hope in hell of staying in the single market and not allowing freedom of movement cant have your cake and eat it this time and anybody who says you can is one of the fools who got us in this mess in the first place.

    What they do not get Peter and i can understand this as it was a long time ago is why we joined the EU in the first place it was to protect sterling getting attacked it was on its backside being bounced around by the EU and back then it was only the founder members not 27 countries and a single currency,we must leave the UK or Scotland is finished,our levels of social economics tied to sterling under UK budgets will be unthinkable after article 50 federalism or not,it is no longer a question of devolution but of independence and a new currency,i like The Scot for a name kind of catchy 😉

  5. bjsalba

    We were promised Devo Max, we got devo diddly. Why should we believe it will be any different with Federalism?

  6. Chico

    Federalism is a red herring on how Scotland could retain its EU membership. There are many problems and your article is a good summary of the major issues. The larger problem for those proposing it to retain our EU membership is however the timeline.

    The UK is now looking to officially leave the EU in 2019. Assuming that the EU were open to a federal Scotland joining the EU whilst England and Wales left how exactly is a Federal UK implemented in less than 2 years?

    Also the same people now proposing federalism are the same people who tell us for Scotland to be in the EU it now needs a border with England and would need to join the Euro. How exactly does federalism deal with those issues? Are they telling us a federal UK would have borders between 2 member states? Are they telling us that you can have a federal UK where different parts use different currencies?

  7. Sandy

    Federalism will not work and not be tried for a simple financial reason. I f Scotland retains all its tax money but must make a contribution to the federal budget, the myth of Scotland being subsidised by the UK will be exploded once and for all. The extremely parlous state of the rUK finances will exposed and the rUK will not allow Scotland to effectively hold it to ransom to avoid sterling plummeting and its debt being downgraded (again).

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