This article is featured in the Views on the Left section of our Eight Print Issue – more information available HERE.
Federalism is a form of government that dominates much of the democratic world. It allows for a country-wide government and representation to tackle the larger issues such as foreign affairs and defence whilst also accepting that one-size does not fit all for other issues such as education and healthcare. It also protects the central government, as well as ensuring that different states are equal and represented within the wider political framework.
There are no doubts that democracy in Britain in its current form is ineffective, with the bulk of power residing in an out of touch Westminster. We see constituencies represented by MP’s who have visited them only a handful of times and have no clue as to the lived experiences and struggles of their own constituents. We need to look at a system which can represent its citizens rather than leaving them voiceless and disenfranchised with democracy. Therefore, it should be time to consider a federal Britain.
When Tony Blair began the devolution processes it was predominantly to reduce the nationalist voices in these areas. However, to some extent devolution has proved to have to the opposite effect. Complacent governments in Wales and Scotland alike can guarantee re-election, which generates apathy in their policymaking aims. In particular, the Scottish National Party does very little to help those struggling and instead suggest that independence is what its citizens need to have their lives changed. They are peddling a pipe dream and shirking responsibility for policy inefficiency and failure by promising a better future to those who need something to believe in.
Welsh Labour faces a similar problem, with little progress in terms of policymaking despite having control over significant areas such as health and education. We see little change enacted in these areas, keeping Wales stagnated and lagging behind the rest of the UK in terms of progress.
Federalism allows for the perfect compromise in terms of minimising independence sentiment in these nations but adequately ensuring power is spread through all areas of the UK. Effectively eliminating the one size fits all approach, a federal system would also be an opportunity to allow for governments to be held to account with a more proportional electoral system. Eliminating the use of First Past the Post (hereafter ‘FPTP’) in favour of more proportional systems means that governments would be kept on their toes. Should they prove ineffective or complacent, they are easy to replace.
Splitting the UK up into smaller states would bring power closer to the people, allowing different regions to tackle different issues. Brexit has demonstrated that different areas of the country have different wants and needs, and federalism could be a viable solution. This is not to suggest you would have a Scotland who’s an EU member state while Wales was outside of the EU, but instead tailored policies in different regions according to people’s needs. For example, Wales lacks behind the rest of the UK in terms of education, with the lowest percentage of students staying on to attend higher education. Having a fully federal Britain could allow for independent research into the separate needs of Welsh students and thus provide appropriate reforms.
Instead, we see fickle devolved powers on the grounds of education. This can partly be attributed to Welsh Labour’s dominance, having been in government for twenty years, but also due to the lack of clarity on what the Welsh government can legislate on and the conflicts between the central UK education system and the devolved legislature.
In a practical sense, federalism is tricky in the sense that it would require a complete overhaul of UK conventions and political institutions as we know them today. We would need to create a new constitution with specific jurisdiction for each federal government. There are many issues that would come with implementing such a system and getting individuals to agree to a complete overhaul is going to be difficult, along with the indefinite controversy of having a referendum to gain consensus on federalism. However, this is something to consider at a time when our nation feels more divided than ever. It is imperative we work toward a common goal and a better future for all. And federalism is the best way of achieving that.
Photo by Elliott Brown on Flikr.