New Act of Union Could Settle Independence Question
Today we hear that a cross party group of MPs is to initiate a process that may end in a new act of Union for the UK. The plan is to create and propose a constitution to be voted on by all four parts of the UK. The referendum will have a Double Lock which means that there has to be a favourable majority within each of the individual nations for the plan to go ahead. So, if Scotland, England and Wales vote Yes, and Northern Ireland votes No then there will be no change.
The proposal is the brainchild of the Constitutional Reform Group led by Lord Hain who said:
What is distinctive about the model we are proposing is whereas devolution up until now has been a top-down process…this is a bottom-up process.”
The former Welsh Secretary said the four nations would;
federate upwards to the UK and decide what is done at the centre and at a national level.
Suggesting that the plan would differ from current devolution by;
deciding what is done at the centre rather than the centre deciding what is allowed to be done by Scotland.
The Marquess of Salisbury, who chairs the group, told the Lords Constitution Committee, that powers which might be reserved to the centre could include economic security, defence, basic levels of health and social care, human rights and distributing help from the wealthy south east of England to the rest of the UK.
According to the Glasgow Herald, the:
group is likely to propose two main options – a fully federal system or, once central functions are identified, using the current system of devolution to distribute power to local, regional and national institutions.
The group say they are close to completing a draft bill which will be followed by opinion polls and focus groups.
I cautiously welcome this news as the success or failure of this will settle the Scottish Independence issue once and for all. I have said many times on here that I suspect a bottom up federal UK would be the preference of the majority of Scots. It is certainly my preference with full Independence coming a close second.
I hope the people behind this plan have a long consultation process and perhaps think about crowd-sourcing the constitution like Iceland did. If they can produce a radical plan where the bulk of political power is devolved then I would vote for it.
That’s if we ever get to vote on it. It must be noted that the forthcoming EU in/out referendum might put a halt to the proposals. Especially if some parts of the UK voted to stay in while other parts voted to get out. Many have said this scenario would trigger a second independence referendum. A referendum that would take place long before any Act Of Union Bill came into play.
It also may be that the plans fizzle out due to lack of agreement long before they get to the referendum stage. And it may be that what is proposed ends up falling well short of what many Scots will hope for.
It is also questionable whether England would be as interested in a federal system as Scotland and Wales might be. If Scotland were to vote for the plan but it was vetoed by England this could be a sign that Independence is the only way to create the country that the majority desire.
Those who dismiss this saying it’s independence at all cost for me should also consider that this could be a stepping stone to independence. If we do get a true federal Scotland then people may then gain the confidence that we can manage our own affairs.
The two scenarios to fear for those who look to see progressive change in Scotland are:
- If a majority of Scots vote for a weak settlement.
- Or if the majority of Scots vote against the proposal.
I think that option two is highly unlikely and option one can be avoided if the Scottish Government and the people of Scotland fight for a fair, progressive and radical offer.
I will certainly be engaging with the process with cautious optimism. If done correctly it will either lead to a better UK or, failing that, to full Scottish Independence.
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Here is a video about what happened in Iceland.