The Daily Telegraph should make its mind up

Allister Heath (picture Policy Exchange)
Allister Heath (picture Policy Exchange)

There is a marvellous article by Allister Heath in the Daily Telegraph today, outlining an alternative to Scottish independence.  For Scotland to vote to leave the United Kingdom would cause a great deal of uncertainty for business and be very bad for the economy and for British influence in the world.

But sticking with the current position would not be workable either: the British constitution is very unbalanced with Scotland having a devolved parliament but England having nothing.

Better to have a federal UK based on the four home nations, each with its own parliament responsible for

complete control of health care, education, welfare, pensions, labour market rules, parts of transport and energy and as many other areas as possible.


The central government should control defence, foreign policy, trade relations, monetary policy, financial regulation and a few other key areas.

Of particular concern to Allister Heath is the need to instil fiscal discipline in the devolved governments.  They should raise and spend all their own money rather than relying on handouts from the UK; they should be free to borrow money but those debts would not be guaranteed by the UK; they would thus have incentives to engage in tax competition with each other.

There are two doubts about this proposal.

The first is whether the UK could survive as a federation as long as one member state, England, is four times the size of the other three put together.  The experience of federations elsewhere in the world (for example, south east Asia or the Caribbean) suggests that the member states need to be more similar in size than that.  This website has written about English regional government in the past for precisely this reason, but that would be fraught with its own problems of public identification and legitimacy.  The failure of the regional referendum in the north east of England in 2004 still haunts us.

The second is that, as the Daily Telegraph itself told us only last week, federalism, in the sense of constitutional protection for lower levels of government, does not exist.  Reporting on a speech by European commission vice-president Viviane Reding, we were told that a United States of Europe would be a

superstate relegating national governments and parliaments to a minor political role equivalent to that played by local councils in Britain.


the commission would have supremacy over governments and MEPs in the European Parliament would supersede the sovereignty of MPs in the House of Commons.

Is this what Allister Heath wants for the UK?  Under such a scenario, Scotland would have less power than it does now, if Whitehall were to regain “supremacy” over Edinburgh and if the House of Commons were to “supersede” the Scottish parliament.  Right now, the three devolved governments have a much greater role than that of local councils: are they to be reduced in status?

The Daily Telegraph appears to be very confused about federalism and what it means.  Perhaps its editorial staff could read here and here and here.

6 thoughts on “The Daily Telegraph should make its mind up”

  1. Stephen Gash

    Australia, Canada and the USA are federal states comprised of constituant parts of massively different sizes. They seem to work.

    Anyway I don’t care if the UK falls apart seeing as it works against the interests of the English people.

  2. But the preponderance of the English in the UK is massively greater than that of any state or province in Australia, Canada or the United States.

    New South Wales makes up 33 per cent of the Australian population, and is only 30 per cent bigger than the second largest state, Victoria. In Canada, Ontario contains 39 per cent of the population and is two-thirds bigger than Quebec. In the US, the largest state is California, representing 12 per cent of the population and 46 per cent bigger than Texas, the next biggest.

    In the UK, England is 84 per cent of the population and 10 times bigger than Scotland. The difference in scale is vastly greater.

    1. Stephen Gash

      Yes and the 2011 census showed that 70% of people in England say they are English not British. One reason may be to the self-serving British establishment representing a minority of England’s population, namely the British, Scots and Welsh, at the expense of the English.

  3. Barry Hamblin

    “The failure of the regional referendum in the north east of England in 2004 still haunts us.”, who’s the US? It definitely wasn’t me, I never wanted England balkanized into bite sized chunks where every English region goes cap in hand to the UK Govt/Brussels for funding, no I wanted and still want an English Parliament, if its good enough for Scotland then its good enough for England and should an English Parliament mean the end of the union, then those that brought about devolution should have thought it through, the union holds no advantages for England, we have higher prescription charges, have to pay to parking charges if you visit hospital, English domiciled students having to pay tuition fees, the UK Govt attempting to sell off English forests, planning laws in England allowing the decimation of the green belt, HS2 cutting a swath through the English countryside, cuts to the environment dept even though we have had the worst storms in recent memory, cut backs to England’s sea defences, bribery to local councils to allow fracking, all of the above brought to the people of England and England’s green and pleasant land courtesy of the British Govt. Furthermore at the recent Festival of England day held by the IPPR in London, when the panel was asked ‘ should Scotland vote yes to independence, who will represent England in the negotiations?’, absolute silence.

  4. Labour was panicked by nationalists to the north and the west. Their half baked solution devolved power to the nations, not the regions (despite one being twice the size of one and four times the size of other).

    If we are to have regional devolution where all are treated equally, we need to unravel the nationalist devolution settlement and look for a pan-UK regional devolution, ignoring national borders.

    I don’t think this is likely to happen. Devolution is established in the devolved areas and changing the precedent to a regional one for England goes against the settled will of the people.

    If the Union is to survive, we need to treat all citizens equally.

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