If Welsh Labour wants a two-member-constituency voting system, this is the one they should adopt

In the recent row over possible changes to the voting system used for elections to the Welsh Assembly, one of the alternatives proposed by the Labour Party was a system of two-member-constituency First Past the Post (see the Devolution Matters blog for an overview of the row). In other words, to expand the number of Assembly Members (AMs) to 80 from the present total of 60 (made up of 40 constituency AMs and 20 top-up regional AMs under the proportional AMS voting system), Labour was proposing having two AMs per constituency and using FPTP to elect them.

Presumably, the model of FPTP they had in mind was that voters would get two votes each, thereby ensuring that where Labour was the most popular party, it would be guaranteed to win both seats even if it were not the choice of a majority of voters. Labour is not known for its enthusiastic backing for fair voting systems, after all. FPTP wouldn’t be so bad if people had only one vote, so that the Labour vote would be split between both candidates, giving other parties more of a chance, especially if they fielded only a single candidate in constituencies where they knew they had no hope of winning both seats.

However, a fairer, more rational and more proportional electoral system for two-member constituencies would be the following, which I’m calling ‘TMPR2’: Two-Member Proportional Represenation (version two). This is a simpler and more practical version of the TMPR system I have previously discussed. TMPR2 works as follows:

  • There are two representatives (AMs, MPs, etc.) per constituency
  • Each voter has two votes. Voters are not obliged to use both votes: they can vote for just one candidate if they wish
  • The individual candidate obtaining the most votes automatically wins one of the seats
  • The individual winner may be either the representative of a party or an independent
  • In addition, if any independent candidate wins the second-highest total of individual votes, that independent candidate is elected
  • However, assuming the second-highest total of votes is not won by an independent, the winner of the second seat is decided on the basis of the share of the vote won by each party:
    • If any party wins over 50% of all votes (that is, the number of actual votes cast, which is higher than the number of voters, as people can vote for two candidates), then both of their candidates are elected (unless one of the candidates obtaining the highest or second-highest total of votes is an independent, in which case the party obtaining over 50% of the vote wins only one seat)
    • In the instance where one of the seats is in fact won by an independent, the party candidate elected is the one that has obtained more votes than the running mate from their own party
    • If, however, no party wins more than 50% of the vote, then the two parties obtaining the highest shares of the vote win one seat each (except in the case where one or more independent candidate are elected, whereby only the top-ranked party or no party respectively wins a seat)
    • In the case that two parties win one seat each, the successful candidates are those who obtained more individual votes than the running mates from their own parties

Advantages of TMPR

  • This is a reasonably proportional system
  • It encourages trans-party voting: voters could and would vote for candidates from different parties. This would equalise the parties’ share of the vote, with the established parties’ share coming down and the smaller parties’ share rising. For instance, quite a lot of right-of-centre voters, if the system were applied in England, would vote for one Conservative and one UKIP candidate; whereas many left-of-centre voters would vote for a Green candidate alongside a Labour or Lib Dem candidate. This means that the vote share parties need to win in order to be elected could be considerably lower than under FPTP. In fact, there is no lower percentage limit on eligibility for a seat. And TMPR2 encourages this pluralism by allowing voters to divide their loyalty between more than one party
  • It incorporates some of the best features of established, familiar voting systems:
    • Like FPTP, the candidate obtaining the largest number of individual votes automatically wins a seat
    • Like AV, if any party wins over 50% of the vote, it takes the whole constituency (i.e. both seats), unless an independent candidate has won either the highest or second-highest individual vote
    • It’s a crude form of PR, similar to STV in the sense that a party, as opposed to an individual candidate, needs to win more than a ‘quota’ of 50% of the vote to win both seats
  • It encourages voting for individuals – and hence, for independents – alongside parties: as voters have two votes each, they will be freer to choose candidates on their individual merits alongside their membership of a particular political party. There would be more of an incentive for independent candidates to run, such as high-profile, respected local figures taking a stand on important issues for the local community
  • It’s easy to understand and operate: there are no complicated voting or counting mechanisms involved, and the result is a clear and direct expression of voters’ preferences. There are no unexpected consequences and fewer tactical-voting constraints for voters. Voters would know that the way they voted would have a direct impact on the result: each of their two votes increases the chances of that individual candidate or party; and if voters are torn between the party / candidate they genuinely prefer and the party they feel they need to vote for in order to ensure that another party does not win (tactical voting), they can hedge their bets and vote both ways.

Disadvantage of TMPR2

TMPR is probably not as proportional as the existing system – AMS – used for elections to the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament. In fact, in an Electoral Reform Society analysis of the 2011 Welsh Assembly election had it been conducted using AMS with 30 constituency seats and 30 regional top-up seats (instead of the present 40/20 ratio) compared with an 80-seat Assembly elected using STV, AMS emerges as the more proportional system. It would be interesting to see the outcome if they ran the same analysis on TMPR2.

However, pure proportionality is not everything; and TMPR does preserve the close links between individual AMs / MPs and relatively small constituencies. By comparison, AMS gives more power to the parties, as top-up AMs / MPs are predominantly elected because of their party affiliation rather than their individual merit or on the basis of local issues. In addition, TMPR is much simpler to understand and operate than either STV or AMS.

Real-world prospects for TMPR2

In reality, TMPR2 has very little chance of ever being implemented, at least not for the Welsh Assembly. As the ‘inventor’ of TMPR2, I don’t exactly have a lot of influence. But as the possibility of two-seat constituencies was being mooted, it seemed timely to bring forward TMPR2 as another alternative: as a possible compromise between FPTP and proportionality. The Labour Party wouldn’t like it, because it’s too fair and proportional. The experts at the Electoral Reform Society probably wouldn’t like it because it’s not proportional enough. But maybe the people would like it if they were offered the choice, precisely because it is fairer than FPTP but less complex and fussy than STV and AMS, with a more transparent link between how people vote in each constituency and the winners.

Anyway, I’m just throwing it out there to see if there are any takers.

English parliament


Alternative alternative voting systems, part four: TMPR

TMPR stands for ‘Two-member proportional run-off’. This is another method that I’ve invented, in the wake of ARV, which I discussed in the last post in this series.

TMPR is a blend of, and compromise between, the UK’s present single-member, highest-plurality system (First Past the Post – FPTP); an instant run-off, majority system such as the Alternative Vote (AV); and a multi-member proportional system such as the Single Transferable Vote (STV). It contains enough of what’s good about each of these systems to offset what’s bad about them, which I aim to bring out in my detailed analysis below. So TMPR ought to satisfy proponents of each, although – like compromises in general – it may end up satisfying no one.

TMPR offers all of the following benefits to some degree:

  • It’s crudely proportional
  • It preserves the close link between an MP and his or her constituency
  • It would largely eliminate ‘safe’ seats
  • It would ensure that the great majority – i.e. significantly more than 50% – of constituents have at least one MP they’ve voted for as their first preference or, if not, as a second preference, making parliament much more representative of voters
  • It respects the majority and, failing that, highest-plurality principles
  • It gives voters the option to vote for their genuinely preferred party as well as exercising a tactical vote
  • It would give the smaller parties a much greater chance of making a break-through than FPTP or AV
  • And it would be easy for voters to understand what to do and how to get the most out of the system.

This is how the system works:

  • There are two seats per constituency: larger two-member constituencies would need to be formed by merging two existing adjacent single-member constituencies (with allowance being made for proposed boundary changes, so as to ensure that the constituencies all had roughly the same population size)
  • Parties can field two candidates, who are numbered one and two on the ballot paper
  • Voters have a first- and second-preference vote, which they must use for different parties; they can limit their vote to only a first preference, if they wish. Votes are for parties, not individual candidates: each party’s candidates and the order they appear in the ballot paper (1 and 2) are determined by open primaries, so that voters have already been involved in selecting the individual candidates before the election
  • Any party gaining over 50% of first preferences automatically wins both seats: candidates 1 and 2
  • Any party gaining over 1/3 of first preferences but not more than 50% automatically wins one seat: this goes to the No. 1 candidate for that party
  • If two parties gain over 1/3 of the vote but neither wins over 50%, they each gain one seat, and that is the end of the election: these seats go to each party’s No. 1 candidate
  • However, if no party or only one party gains over 1/3 of the vote, all the parties remaining in the race (obtaining exactly 1/3 of the vote or less) enter an instant run-off
  • This works by adding the second preferences of all voters – including those who’ve indicated the party that has already succeeded in obtaining over a 1/3 of the vote, if that is the case – to the first preferences
  • If one party has already won a seat and obtains over 50% of the combined total of first and second preference votes after the run-off, it wins both seats. Similarly, if no party has won a seat on the first-preference votes but one party obtains over 50% of the combined total of first and second preference votes after the run-off, it wins both seats
  • Otherwise, the winner of the outstanding seat (or seats, if two are still available) is simply the party (or parties) that obtain(s) the highest total (and second-highest total, if two seats are still being contested) of combined first and second preferences.

I’ll discuss the principles behind these features of TMPR as I proceed with my analysis of its merits based on the criteria I’ve used to rate other systems, including FPTP and AV, in previous posts in this series.

My first criterion is: Does every vote count / is every vote counted? With TMPR, as in all forms of instant run-off voting (IRV), you can get a situation where some of the votes are ‘not counted’ and therefore don’t count towards the final result: second-preference votes that are not needed to produce the final result, i.e. where two parties have already won the seats available based on first preferences. However, unlike AV, it is quite simple to include the second preferences in the presentation of the election results, even if those preferences haven’t been used, whereas it’s not the proposal, under AV, to publish the totals of all the preferences for all the parties.

Providing the totals of first- and second-preference votes would enable people to compare the results for when only first preferences are counted with those when you combine them with second preferences. This would provide valuable information for analysing patterns of tactical voting and the degree to which voters for larger parties also support the smaller parties (by voting for them as their second choice), and vice-versa: the ways in which voters for the smaller parties switch their allegiance to the larger parties in their second preferences. This relates to the discussion below about the extent to which TMPR would enable voters to send a message to politicians.

The question, ‘Does every vote count?’, mainly implies ‘are there any wasted votes under TMPR?’; i.e. does every vote count towards the final result? Well, one significant advantage of TMPR over AV is that the run-off uses the second preferences of all voters to determine the result, and not just the second and subsequent preferences of a greater or smaller minority of voters, as in AV. This is fairer and more consistent.

In addition, a greater proportion of voters’ first preferences influence the result than under FPTP and AV. For a start, a party needs to obtain only over one-third of first preferences to be guaranteed a seat; and if two parties cross this threshold without obtaining more than half of the vote, this means that over two-thirds of voters’ first preferences have been used to determine the winners of the election. If one party does gain over 50% of first preferences, this still means that the very minimum quota of first preferences that can influence the result is 50% plus one vote. This is in contrast to AV, where – despite what is generally said – the winner can still obtain the support of only a minority of voters, and even then, this is only on the basis of votes transferred from other parties.

Then, if second preferences come into play, this means that the votes of an even broader cross-section of the electorate are involved in shaping the result. One of the reasons for allowing second-preference votes for a party that has already secured one seat (by winning over 1/3 of first preferences) to enable that party in theory to win over 50% of combined first and second preferences (and thereby win both seats) is to provide an extra incentive for voters to use their second preferences for other parties. Otherwise, voters who had awarded their first preference to the party likely to finish second in the ballot (e.g. Labour) might be tempted to ‘bullet vote’, i.e. not indicate a second preference in case that damaged the prospects of their first preference in the run-off. However, as that could run the risk of allowing the leading party (e.g. the Tories) to win both seats (for instance, by capitalising on second-preference support from Lib Dem voters), voters of this sort would have a motivation for using their second preference, even if this were for a party that did not stand a chance of catching up with their first-preference party (e.g. the Greens). You could call this a ‘wasted vote’; but those votes could in fact be for minor parties that such voters genuinely sympathised with, and this mechanism would then provide a means to boost the support that minor parties receive.

So, for a combination of these factors, I’d award TMPR four points out of five for this criterion: in the absence of a clear overall majority for one party, a much higher proportion of votes are involved in determining the winners than under AV or FPTP. But there are still some votes that are not involved in determining the result.

In terms of my second criterion, is the system proportional?, I’d award TMPR three points out of five. This relatively mediocre score is despite the fact that, unlike all the single-member systems I’ve discussed up to now in this series, TMPR is proportional in its actual design. That is to say, the rationale for allowing parties to win one seat once they cross the threshold of 1/3 of the vote is that this figure represents the minimum proportional ‘quota’ required to qualify for one seat in a two-party constituency – on the basis that no more than two parties can obtain over 1/3 of the total vote. This is the same principle that is used in multi-member STV: in a four-seat constituency, the quota for a candidate to win a seat is one-fifth plus one vote.

To be logically consistent and fully proportional, TMPR ought to stipulate that, in order to win both seats being contested, a party would need to obtain two-thirds of the vote plus one vote rather than 50% plus one. However, the purpose behind allowing parties to claim both seats if they obtain over 50% support is to make TMPR more like a single-member majority system, and to provide an extra incentive for parties to go out and try to win both seats in areas where they’ve traditionally enjoyed majority support, e.g. Labour in the North of England and Scotland, and the Tories in southern England. This feature ought to make TMPR much more acceptable to those parties, given that around one-third of the current crop of MPs obtained the support of a majority of their constituents at the last election, and the constituencies involved are often concentrated in particular urban or rural areas. Therefore, amalgamating such seats into two-member constituencies, and allowing those constituencies to return two MPs from the same party if that party wins over half of the votes, should not affect the representation of that party in those areas too adversely. However, that’s without taking into consideration any change in voter behaviour that TMPR might produce, such as a greater willingness to vote for minor parties as a first preference.

Even so, TMPR is still more proportional than FPTP or AV, in that, in the absence of an overall majority, it awards one seat to each of the top-two parties in a constituency; and it makes sure that, in order to win both seats, a party must obtain the support of over 50% of voters. TMPR would be likely to generate a significantly larger (and hence, more proportional) number of Lib Dem MPs than either FPTP or AV, whether on the basis of first-preference votes (particularly in the southern half of England) or with the aid of second preferences (in the Midlands and the North of England). In the North and Midlands, there would also be lots of seats returning one Labour and one Tory MP.

In addition, as I stated above, TMPR would give minor parties more of a chance than FPTP and AV. This is because the minimum barrier to win one seat (one-third of the vote plus one vote) is lower than under AV and, typically, FPTP; and because smaller parties stand to gain more second-preference votes from people whose first preference was for one of the three main parties: particularly, where those voters do not wish to provide an advantage for one of the other larger parties by either not using their second preference at all or by giving it to another of the larger parties – but also, if voters genuinely want to show support for one of the minor parties. In this way, you could expect UKIP, for instance, to pick up a lot of second preferences from Tory first-preference voters, and the Greens to similarly gain backing from Lib Dem and Labour first-choice voters. By contrast, under AV, the subsequent preferences of Tory, Lib Dem and Labour voters for those smaller parties will generally not be counted at all, because by the time votes for the major parties are transferred, if they are at all, to another party in an AV election, UKIP and the Greens will already have been eliminated.

All the same, TMPR is a cruder and less granular form of PR than STV, in that the fewer seats are available per constituency, the more the overall result deviates from pure proportionality – as well as because of the 50% rule. Hence, as I would probably award STV four out of five for proportionality, I have to give TMPR only three out five.

With respect to my third criterion, Does the system foster accountability?, I’d give TMPR four out of five. One of the effects of TMPR would be to greatly reduce the number of ‘safe seats’. This is not just because it reduces the number of seats that Labour and the Tories can win on a plurality of the vote (because a plurality of over 33.33% wins you only one out of every two available seats, not both seats as is effectively possible under FPTP) but also because of the system of open primaries. Under TMPR, MPs and candidates from other parties would be obliged to submit themselves for (re-)selection before every election. In addition to determining whether the incumbent MP would be allowed to run again, these open primaries would also determine in which order that MP would appear in the ballot paper for their party, i.e. No. 1 or No. 2. In a constituency where the MP’s party had not obtained over 50% of the vote at the previous election, being listed No. 2 could be tantamount to de-selection, given that only the No. 1 candidate is elected when parties obtain between one-third and a half of the vote.

The point of these open primaries is partly to increase the accountability of MPs to their constituents during their incumbency as well as at election time. But this is also to allow voters the chance to select individual candidates rather than just vote for a party, which is what they do under TMPR at the election. The reason why TMPR does not allow voters to vote for individual candidates – except if parties field only one candidate – is that this prevents the election from degenerating into a highly complex series of tactical calculations (such as one party fielding only one candidate in order not to dilute its vote, to the disadvantage of a more popular party fielding two candidates) and makes it less likely that complicated run-offs are required, as many elections are capable of being decided clearly and fairly based on first preferences alone. Having open primaries compensates for this by allowing voters to pick individual candidates.

In the open primaries, all registered voters would be entitled to be involved in picking the candidates each party would field at the next election. The only voters excluded from the primary poll would be members of other parties. This system would result in virtually no MP feeling totally safe that they could be re-elected time after time. In addition, as the overall election result would be more proportional than single-member systems, parliament as a whole would be more accountable to the total electorate.

What about independent, i.e. non-party, candidates? Well, as in the case of parties fielding only one candidate, independent candidates would have to obtain over one-third of the vote to be elected. If, by some freak, an independent candidate won over half of the vote, they could by definition take up only one seat. So the other seat would be awarded to the party obtaining over 1/3 of the vote or, in the absence of that, a run-off would be held in the usual manner.

Criterion No. 4: Does the voting system allow voters to express the full range of their political and personal preferences, and send a message to politicians? When discussing my first criterion (does every vote count?) above, I argued that counting the first and second preferences of all voters would empower voters to use their vote to let politicians know what they think about them – e.g. by voting for a minor party as a first or second preference (whether out of conviction or as a protest vote). In addition, TMPR significantly lowers the risk barrier to voting for a smaller party out of conviction, as this is less likely to damage the prospects of the party for which you usually tactically vote, given that that party needs to secure only one-third of the vote to win one seat – and you can help them do so with your second preference, if that is needed.

Similarly, as I discussed in connection with my second criterion – proportionality – above, the incentive that TMPR creates to use your second-preference vote in such a way as to disadvantage parties you do not support means that many voters will vote for smaller parties that they genuinely sympathise with as their second preference, albeit also out of tactical considerations. TMPR therefore encourages voters to express both a conviction vote and a tactical vote, and their first and second preferences are more likely to genuinely coincide with their actual first and second preferences, albeit that the party they ‘like’ the most might be indicated as their No. 2 choice, depending on whether voters decide to list either their conviction vote, pragmatic vote or indeed protest vote as their No. 1 choice. So, for this criterion, I again award TMPR four out of five: voters can vote for their two most strongly supported parties, and those votes can both be influential in determining the result while also sending a message to the politicians.

The ability for people to vote tactically as well as out of conviction or protest means that I can give TMPR only three points out of five against my fifth criterion, Does the system mitigate the need to vote tactically? It is true that voters are not obliged to vote only in a tactical manner, as they so often are under FPTP. But there are some tactical calculations that can be made, such as whether and for which party to use one’s second-preference vote so as not to be detrimental to one’s first-preference party. However, there’s only a limited extent to which tactical strategies can actually come off, in that parties whose defeat you might wish to ensure will usually need to win only one-third of the vote plus one vote, and if they do so, there’s nothing much anyone else can do about it.

Finally, my sixth criterion: how easy is the system for voters to understand, trust and use effectively? Here, I’d give TMPR four out of five. Admittedly, it’s a little more complicated than FPTP, to which I gave three points out of five against this criterion. However, in essence, TMPR is pretty straightforward: voters just have to indicate a first and second preference. And it would be easy for voters to work out how to use their preferences to best advantage to try to secure the outcome they most desire, whether that’s both seats being won by the party of their choice (bullet vote just for that party); one seat won by party A and the other by party B (vote for party A as your first choice and B as your second, or vice-versa); or making a protest vote (vote for the party representing your protest as your first preference and then your usual party as your second); etc. I think voters would also realise TMPR is much fairer, in that if two parties obtain between one-third and half of the vote, they both win a seat.

So how does TMPR compare against the single-member systems I’ve discussed thus far? In the table below, I’ve compared the scores I’ve just awarded to TMPR with those for the other systems:

Does every vote count?






Is the system proportional?






Does the system foster accountability?






Does the system let voters express their views?






Does the system mitigate tactical voting?






How user-friendly is the system?






Total scored out of a maximum of 30






TMPR emerges as the best of the systems discussed in this series to date – admittedly, only by reference to my own criteria and with scores that some would dispute. I’m aware it could seem highly vain to award the largest number of points to the two systems I myself have invented (ARV and TMPR). But I’d love it if readers would take issue with any of the detailed points I make in connection with aspects of each system or with the criteria I’m using to assess them; rather than purely taking issue with the system itself in relation to more technical mathematical-probability calculations or the many specialist technical criteria for assessing voting systems. If I’m wrong to consider that TMPR has the advantages I ascribe to it, then please take me to task on them.

But for now, I hold to the view that TMPR is an excellent compromise between the best of FPTP, AV and STV, the latter of which I haven’t yet discussed. I was originally planning to discuss the AV+ system for the present post in this series. But then I had the brainwave of TMPR, which I was keen to discuss first. So – barring any further brainwaves – it’ll be AV+ next time.

The Liberal-Democrat Accession and the English Parliament

You should always be careful what you wish for and be wary of the law of unintended consequences. Although I will probably be voting Lib Dem this time round – unless my Tory MP astounds me by previously unsuspected support for an English parliament – a Lib-Dem break-through could have far-reaching ramifications for the prospects and nature of any future English parliament.

For a start, as they made clear yesterday, the Lib Dems will make their support for a minority Labour- or Conservative-led government conditional on introducing proportional representation. One imagines this would involve a referendum on changing to the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system for UK-parliamentary elections.

Many supporters of PR see it as a way to mitigate (i.e. ignore) the West Lothian Question. The logic behind this position is simple, though flawed in my view. For example, under STV, if the actual vote on 6 May exactly followed yesterday’s ICM opinion-poll ratings (Con 33%, Lib Dem 30% and Lab 28%), then the Conservatives would be the largest party both in England and the UK as a whole; and in any coalition of the parties to form a government, the UK majority thus constituted would also be consistent with the parties’ shares of seats in England. Therefore, on one level, it would no longer matter if non-English MPs voted on English laws, as the same laws would be passed if only English MPs voted.

On the other hand, the reverse logic could also apply: if the votes of non-English MPs were no longer needed to pass English bills, why let them vote at all? The only real justification for non-English MPs voting on English legislation presently is when there is a link to spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland via the Barnett Formula. But presumably, the days of that formula itself might well be numbered under a Con-LibDem coalition, as the Lib Dems favour scrapping it and even the Tories talk in their manifesto of greater fiscal autonomy for Scotland.

Indeed, in a proportionally elected House of Commons, the situation of non-English MPs voting on English laws would come to appear blatantly, if not scandalously, anomalous. Under First Past the Post, by contrast, the fact that Labour’s Scottish MPs have occasionally been required to pass the government’s England-only legislation against the will of a majority of English MPs did not on one level seem that outrageous in that the government majority procured in this way was no more disproportionate than the normal majority of English MPs only it would expect to command, as both majorities were merely the product of the absurd FPTP electoral system rather than of the way English people actually voted at the 2005 general election.

In other words, in a situation in which voting majorities in the Commons bear little relation to the way the public actually voted at the election, the misuse of non-English MPs to inflate those majorities even further does not stand out too obviously. By contrast, in a proportionally elected House where the parties’ shares of the seats are meant to reflect the way people voted, and where MPs are meant to be more accountable to their electorates, distorting those shares by allowing MPs not accountable to the people affected by bills to vote on them would be completely inconsistent and unacceptable.

Accordingly, I tend to think that, rather than mitigating the WLQ, PR would render it inoperable. But then if you do not allow non-English MPs to make England’s laws, what arrangements would be made for that little matter of how to govern England? Do you go down the route of an English Grand Committee: English laws debated and voted on by separate sessions of English MPs only? Do you draw the logical conclusion and say that Parliament needs to evolve into an English parliament to deal with English matters, with a separate set of representatives elected from across the UK to deal with reserved matters? Or do you just try to ignore the problem by pretending that England does not exist and that the West Lothian Question simply does not arise, let alone require a solution – the Labour government’s approach?

In this way, by insisting on introducing PR before dealing with the English Question, the Lib Dems might find that question comes and bites them in the bum: they could create a constitutional mess in which the very legitimacy and function of the parliament for which they had finally secured PR was called into question – a British parliament without a valid democratic role and status in most of what it did, i.e. in English matters.

To be fair to the Lib Dems, their manifesto does state that they want to hold a citizens’ convention to help draw up a written constitution, and the English Question would be dealt with as part of this process. But the Lib Dems are not going to be in a position to carry out this commitment in full as part of a coalition government. All they’ve actually said is that they’d make electoral reform a minimal precondition of any deal to support a minority government, not the whole constitutional-reform programme; and neither Labour nor the Tories have any appetite to address the English Question. But as I say, the English Question may impose itself as unavoidable if the Lib Dems do succeed in introducing STV.

There are two possible scenarios that follow on logically from this. Firstly, if the Lib Dems do secure STV (and if, as I argue, this would lead to an urgent need to address the English Question because of the crisis of governance it would bring about), then any English parliament would also be based on STV. Having gone to the trouble and expense of introducing STV, which would require the re-drawing of constituency boundaries and the amalgamation of constituencies into multi-member seats, there is no way the English parliament could then revert to the pre-STV single member-constituency system. Having finally achieved their goal of a proper proportional system, the Lib Dems would never accept an inferior system for England; nor – I think – would the English people.

However – scenario two – what if the British public did not endorse STV in the initial referendum required to adopt it as the system for UK elections? For instance, Gordon Brown favours the Alternative Vote (AV) single-member system, and if the Lib Dems’ referendum were held under a putative Lab-LibDem coalition, it could be a multi-option referendum with AV as one of the systems on offer. Labour could be expected to argue strongly for AV, which is in reality merely a mitigated form of FPTP and would preserve the unfair advantage the present system gives to the party. Who knows, voters might prefer to retain single-member constituencies and the winner-takes-all aspect of the present system, albeit in a slightly fairer form. Under this second scenario, the West Lothian Question could remain in place for much longer, as AV would perpetuate the disproportionality of the present system from which the very ability of Labour to form any kind of government depends and which also disguises the outrageously unfair extra advantage Labour obtains from the WLQ.

In this context, the Lib Dems could find themselves in the unenviable position of propping up an unfairly elected Labour government that exploits its stronger base of support in Scotland and Wales to secure its power in England. Would it not then be both more effective tactically, and give greater moral credibility to their demands for constitutional reform, if the Lib Dems declared now – ahead of 6 May – that they would not exploit the West Lothian Question in the new parliament, even if to do so were the only way in which a coalition of which they were a part could actually form a working majority?

After all, how can the English people believe in the Lib Dems’ advocacy of greater democratic fairness and proportional representation if they are in theory willing to exploit one of the most egregiously unfair and disproportional aspects of the present system simply to have a share in government? If they want England to back them on 6 May and support STV in a referendum, then surely they should back ‘building a fairer Britain’ in the forthcoming parliament, too – including fairness for England.

Farcical Tory whinges about electoral unfairness

The Tories have been moaning about how they are electorally disadvantaged by the present constituency boundaries in England. In a post on the Conservative Home blog today, they quote the Sun as saying: “On a uniform swing across the country, the Tories would get 278 MPs if they scoop 37 per cent of the vote. But Labour would get 280 on just 32 per cent of the vote”.

As I point out in a comment to that post, 278 MPs still equate to 43% of seats in the House of Commons; so the Tories have got nothing to complain about other than the fact they resent Labour benefiting from the unfairness of the voting system even more than they do.

These anomalies arise only as a result of the unfair system used for UK-parliamentary elections. Admittedly, they are exacerbated by Labour’s gerrymandering of constituency boundaries, such that urban seats, where Labour’s support is concentrated, have smaller populations than rural ones, where the Tories are stronger. But it’s the ‘winner takes all’ principle of the First Past the Post system that translates this advantage into seats in Parliament. The Tories, who have consistently opposed electoral reform, have only themselves to blame. But, rest assured, if they get back in power, they’ll rig the system back the other way, in their favour.

In a properly proportional voting system, these anti-democratic absurdities would be a thing of the past. Using multi-member STV, for instance, the number of seats up for election in each constituency would be in proportion to the population size of the constituency; and the result would be in proportion to the way people actually voted. But you won’t find the Tories supporting that, because then they’d have even fewer than 43% of seats from 37% of the vote.

But – and this is the stupidity of their support for FPTP – they would be the largest party and would have the automatic right to try and form a government; whereas under FPTP, anomalies such as Labour being the largest party in parliament based on a smaller share of the vote can always arise: they’re structurally built in to the system, and arguably this would still work in Labour’s favour even if constituency sizes were all the same, as Labour tends to win their seats on smaller shares of the vote than the Tories.

Idiot, self-serving Tories.

And the other dimension they’re not factoring in to these calculations is that Labour’s overall UK plurality (i.e. largest share but not majority of seats) is entirely dependent on their electoral strength in Scotland and Wales. In an English parliament – based on the shares of the vote the Tories are using for their calculations – the Conservatives would be in the majority, or at least the party of government. And indeed, if they stood up for proper English votes on English laws, rather than their botched mitigation of the WLQ, which allows non-English MPs to continue voting on English legislation, they could prevent Labour from being the party of government for England.

Idiot Tories!

Another voting system to wrap your brains around: ‘Multi-Candidate First Past the Post’ (MC-FPTP)

(After writing this post, I discovered that this ‘new’ system I’d just dreamt up already exists, although it hasn’t been tried out in any major election. It’s called Approval Voting.)

Following on from my previous post on the Alternative Vote (AV), I’ve been playing around in my mind with different possible voting systems. As I’ve said before, the best system, in my opinion, is STV, favoured by the Liberal Democrats (who I won’t be voting for, by the way, because of their duplicitous abandonment of support for a referendum on Britain’s EU membership) and the Electoral Reform Society.

However, if the single-member constituency system is retained (STV relies on multi-member constituencies), this means, by definition, that only one candidate can win. So you need the best way to find out which is the candidate who is genuinely the most popular. AV doesn’t do this, despite the Scottish British-English prime minister’s hypocritical assertions to that effect, as I argued before: it merely determines the least unpopular candidate, or – technically – the candidate that a majority of voters whose selections remain in play within the AV system (i.e. not necessarily the majority of all those who voted) are prepared to give their grudging consent to, even if that candidate is only their third-, fourth- or even fifth-choice candidate.

The best way to determine who is genuinely the most popular candidate, even if not the first choice of a majority of voters, is as follows:

  • All voters can vote for as many candidates as they like: they simply mark an X beside the name for each candidate they wish to vote for
  • Each vote carries the same weight, i.e. there is no attempt to determine people’s ‘preferences’: if you vote for someone, this means you are making a positive choice for that candidate. They may not in fact be your personal ‘first choice’; but they are a candidate who you would be ‘happy’ to see elected and to consider as someone for whom you had made a definite, deliberate choice
  • The winner is the candidate obtaining the most votes, whether a majority or not.
Adopting a system like this means that there are no excuses. If you vote for someone, this is not a tactical vote, or a second or third best: you’ve voted for them, so you can’t complain if they win. It means you can vote for candidates you personally like, even if you don’t like their party very much, as well as voting on the basis of the political party you want to win the election overall. And it means, above all, that the winner is genuinely the most popular candidate: the one whom most people in the constituency are willing to support in a positive way.
Like AV, this would not be a proportional system when translated to a national level, simply because it continues to exclude the smaller parties from winning any seats, and because candidates can still win on a minority share of the vote. However, it is equally true, under my system, that many candidates would secure the support of the majority of those voting, even if not a majority of the total vote, based on the fact that more than half of voters would have indicated the winning candidate as one of their choices (or their only choice), whereas that candidate’s total share of the vote would be diluted by the fact that some voters had selected more than one candidate.
Similarly, my proposed system would change the results of elections in some unpredictable and quite dramatic ways. For instance, in the constituency I live in, the sitting Tory MP will probably be re-elected under FPTP with a majority of the vote (e.g. around 55%). However, the Liberal Democrat is likely to come a close second, and the other parties (in previous elections at least) have been nowhere in sight (I think Labour polled around 10% last time). If existing Labour voters decided to vote Labour and Liberal Democrat, under my system, this could be enough to swing the seat in favour of the Lib Dems. You could say this is just engineering the system to favour the Lib Dems at the expense of the Tories. However, if the value of each vote is identical (i.e. each vote is an equal, positive vote for the candidate(s) of the voter’s choice), there is actually no way you could say that if more people voted for the Lib Dems than for the Tories under this system, this was a ‘false result’, like those under AV. That would amount to insulting, indeed slandering, the electorate by saying that voters didn’t really prefer the Lib Dem candidate to the Tory, whereas the results prove the opposite: one vote = one positive choice.
Similarly, this system would empower voters to mark their approval for all of the candidates / parties they liked, meaning, among other things, that the share of the vote obtained by the smaller parties would rise: if you support UKIP but would be worried, under the existing system, that voting for them would let the Labour candidate in, under my system you could vote for both UKIP (to express your support for their positions on the EU and immigration, for instance) and vote Tory to keep the Labour candidate out. But then you couldn’t grumble about your Tory MP, because you’d made a positive choice for them. If you don’t want the Tory, don’t vote for them; but then don’t complain if the Tory wins on a minority of the vote, because the system has at least enabled the most popular candidate to win.
So I offer this new system (but horrid name) for the votes of my readers: better than standard FPTP or not; and better than AV or not?

Devolution as it should (have) be(en)

One of the objections that is often raised to an English Parliament is that it would add a whole new large body of MEPs, as I suppose we’d have to call them (unfortunate clash with the European Parliament), on top of the existing 530-odd (or however many) Westminster MPs representing English constituencies. To say nothing of all the extra civil servants, running costs, new English-government departments and duplication of functions with the UK parliament.

This objection is in reality made up of straw (Jack Straw even). As those of us who support an English Parliament know, an EP would replace the Westminster parliament with respect to its England-only responsibilities, which presently constitute around 70% of its business at a rough guess. So an English parliament might well comprise a large body of MEPs (although it could arguably make do with fewer than the number of English-constituency MPs in the present Westminster parliament); and it would be the vestigial UK parliament (dealing only with genuinely UK-wide, reserved matters) that would be greatly reduced. The net effect could be a total number of English MEPs and UK MPs (representing the whole of the UK) that was more or less equivalent to the number of MPs now.

Apart from the fact that the two main parties do not want their power base stripped away from them, and that Westminster MPs fear that their jobs would be on the line, I think it is this vision of the Westminster parliament being superseded by an English parliament and perhaps even being scrapped altogether that must haunt the nightmares of the opponents to an EP. But this is precisely what it is: a nightmare vision, not the reality.

As proponents of an EP, we could offer to the political establishment a much less alarming, and alarmist, vision of an EP that they are more likely to embrace. This could be an English Parliament as the continuation of the present Westminster parliament. If the Westminster parliament is already 70% an English Parliament – in its activities if not its composition – why not just make it fully an English Parliament by removing the participation of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs, who already can’t represent their own constituents in devolved matters and strictly have no business poking their noses into matters affecting only English constituencies?

There’d still be a requirement for a UK parliament to deal with reserved matters. But then it would be this much smaller UK parliament that would be the ‘new’ body that would need to be created under English devolution, not an English Parliament as such, as it would be the contracted Westminster Parliament (minus Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs) that would fulfil this function.

Clearly, there would be a huge amount of detail to work out if this idea were implemented, relating to issues such as the division of responsibilities between the UK and devolved parliaments and governments; the question of (UK) parliamentary versus national-popular sovereignty as embodied by the four national parliaments; and whether the new UK parliament were separately elected or would be made up of a representative sample of MPs from the national parliaments. In addition, there would have to be a uniform electoral system for the national parliaments, as it would be grossly unfair for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments to be elected under their present PR system while the English Parliament continued to be elected under First-Past-the-Post, which is designed to guarantee permanent unrepresentative parliamentary majorities for either of the two main parties. We might need a new system for all the national parliaments, preferably multi-member STV (Single Transferable Vote), which provides the most proportional results while preserving the link between the MP and his or her constituency.

Such a system might not even need to be a fully federal one, as previously outlined in my ‘Blueprint for a federal UK’: the state could continue to call itself ‘the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ if the politicians and the people felt more comfortable with that. And it could still be conceived of as a unitary system of governance if, for instance, the parliaments / assemblies in each of the nations were defined as embodying the sovereign power of the state within their own areas of responsibility, while the UK parliament was sovereign in its own competencies.

But that’s not the main point I want to make here, which is that such a system is really how devolution should have been implemented from day one: the West Lothian and English Questions would simply not have arisen had the decision been taken that, as a result of devolution, it was now the Scottish MSPs and the Welsh AMs that would henceforth fulfil the role previously fulfilled by Scottish and Welsh MPs in devolved policy areas, leaving the Westminster Parliament as a body of English MPs dealing with exclusively English matters – while, obviously, separate arrangements would then need to have been made for the governance of UK-wide affairs.

And this is something that we could still achieve and indeed must achieve if we want both devolution, on the one hand, and a United Kingdom whose citizens enjoy democratic equality and the same right to a national parliament, on the other hand – meaning there has to be an English Parliament if there are going to be parliaments / assemblies for Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland. But the English variant could just be an evolution of the present Westminster Parliament rather than a devolution creating a whole new parliamentary body along the lines of those in the other nations of the UK.

Let the Westminster Parliament become what it already is in all but name in so many areas (an English Parliament), and then work out what separate arrangements we want for the remaining tier of UK-wide governance: not a new EP but a separating out of the English and UK-wide functions of the present UK Parliament, leading to the creation of a smaller new UK parliament – perhaps located away from Westminster altogether to enforce the principle that its functions are also separate.

Maybe this is a vision of English parliamentary (d)evolution that even the Westminster politicians could buy into: because their beloved Westminster parliament – but with fewer privileges and better representation of the popular vote – would remain intact.

No more Great Britain: A blueprint for a federal UK

The trouble with the UK is ‘Great Britain’. The future of the UK, if it has one, will be settled by coming to a more stable, mature and equitable relationship between the different nations that currently make up that state. Great Britain, and its even more ill-defined cognate ‘Britain’, is the great interloper that stands in the way of those nations finding a new path of mutual autonomy and co-operation. Great Britain wants it all – and wants to be all; and while it’s still around, it will try to stop its ‘constituent nations’ from realising their aspirations to be themselves.

What is Great Britain, after all? You could call it the non-existent national core of the state, the United Kingdom; or the alter ego of England as the unacknowledged heart of the UK state. Although the ‘national’ UK politicians make great capital out of Great Britain or Britain as the personality of the state, does Great Britain actually exist in the present in any fundamental national, political or constitutional sense? Great Britain is indeed the ‘foundation’ of the UK state because that state’s parliament was constituted as the parliament of the Kingdom of Great Britain through the Acts of Union between England (including Wales) and Scotland in 1707. When Ireland (later reduced to Northern Ireland) was added 100 years later to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, this was essentially an extension of the jurisdiction of the Great Britain parliament and government to include Ireland. So the UK, on this basis, remained Great Britain at its core.

However, Great Britain itself was in reality the product of an extension of the writ of the English parliament and state to include Scotland – albeit that to ‘sell’ the deal to the English and Scots alike, the new state had to be re-branded Great Britain rather than the Great(er) England that was implied. The English and Scots people have always been aware that this was the ‘real deal’: that real power and rule over Scotland was simply transferred to the English crown and sovereign parliament.

Before I set out my ideas here for a new federal constitutional settlement, it will be useful to discuss further some of the overlaps and distinctions between Britain and England, as I see them. That way, the differences between my proposed federal UK and Britain as we know it will be clearer. Readers who wish to skip this preamble could jump down to the heading ‘Blueprint for a new federal UK’ below.

The first thing I would want to lay out is the proposition that Great Britain / Britain is not a nation, let alone a ‘great nation’: England is the real nation at the heart of the UK state. I’m not trying to deny that the actual states of Great Britain and later the United Kingdom don’t have a ‘great’ history, defined as having made possibly the biggest contribution of any state towards shaping the modern world. What I’m trying to get at is the myth that Britain is a nation. Many people in all of the actual nations of the UK do feel that Britain is a nation, indeed ‘their’ nation in a sense that either sits alongside their feelings of being English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish, or takes priority over those feelings. But the paradox is that, constitutionally, Great Britain does not exist. The state is the United Kingdom: it has been for over 200 years. And the United Kingdom definitely is not a nation: nobody says ‘I’m UK’ to describe their nationality, other than in the sense of their citizenship; they say ‘I’m British’. But (Great) Britain itself does not have any constitutional status as either a state (which is the UK) or a nation. When laws are enacted in the UK parliament, for instance, they are laws either for the whole of the UK or – more often – they are UK laws that have effect only in one or more ‘parts’ of the UK, but certainly not in ‘Great Britain’ as such. If some laws do apply to England, Wales and Scotland, they are described as applying to England and Wales, and to Scotland – as England and Wales, and Scotland respectively have two separate legal systems. Great Britain has no legal personality. There is no such thing as British law. Technically, there is no parliament or government for Great Britain, either. Indeed, the fact that the laws of the land are enacted for England and Wales, for Scotland and – where applicable – Northern Ireland itself implies that the ‘lands’ (nations) of those laws are indeed England, Wales, Scotland and (Northern) Ireland – not (Great) Britain.

So Great Britain / Britain is just a ‘nation name’ or ‘national persona’ for the UK, not a formal nation in its own right. If you wanted to finesse this argument further, you could say that the reason why ‘Britain’ rather than ‘Great Britain’ tends to be used nowadays to evoke a national identity for the non-nation state of the UK is that ‘Great Britain’ refers back to the historical nation – ‘kingdom’ – of Great Britain about which people are vaguely aware that it ended when Ireland came on board; and that it is not, consequently, inclusive of Northern Ireland. So ‘Britain’ is used precisely because it is not the formal name of a state or a nation that does or does not exist in the present. Indeed, one might say that the power of the name ‘Britain’ to evoke feelings and ideas of nationhood is in inverse proportion to the actual existence, past or present, of such a state or nation.

In fact, this power of the words ‘Britain’ and ‘British’ to arouse feelings of patriotism and nationhood – despite the non-existence of such a nation in legal or constitutional fact – is primarily a function of English national identity and pride: England being the real nation that has fantasied and mythologised itself as British. That is to say, the English, historically, have tended to merge their English national identity with the idea of (Great) Britain, to the extent that ‘England / English’ and ‘Britain / British’ became co-terminous and indistinguishable. This has never been true to the same extent in Scotland or Wales. Scottish and Welsh unionists are indeed proud to be British; but this ‘being British’ has not tended to override or replace their primary national identities. They are proud as Scottish or Welsh persons to be part of the great British project and its historical achievements: Britain being clearly demarcated as a state (‘dominated’ by and synonymous with the English nation) to which the Scots and Welsh by and large have been content for their nations to adhere, albeit for pragmatic or ideological reasons as much as through any affection they might or might not have felt for their mutual neighbour.

By contrast, the feelings and pride felt by English people at being English and at being British have tended to be one and the same thing. They still are for many people, as present-day surveys of people living in England discover that virtually the same high percentage of respondents feel they are English (and proud of it) as feel British (and proud of it) – with the balance slowly tipping in favour of English being the primary identity. Indeed, this is so much the case that a stranger from Mars, or from another country (say, Scotland), might conclude that ‘British’ is merely another name for ‘English’. Indeed, this is the perception of many Scots, who are all too aware that when supposedly national (that is, UK-wide) media or English people in general talk about ‘Britain’ or ‘the country’, they are generally referring to England only; or else, they may be trying in their own minds to include Scotland and Wales (and possibly, Northern Ireland) but are in fact still dealing with English circumstances and situations, as the realities in Scotland and Wales are often quite different – increasingly so, after devolution.

This business of politicians and the media (and the marketing and branding of consumer products, and general parlance to some extent) saying ‘Britain’ or ‘the / this country’ when they’re actually referring to England is a real bugbear to those who have woken up to the post-devolution realities, which mean that the majority of what Westminster politicians do and talk about does in fact relate to England only, as their writ now stops there in so many vital areas of government. But in a way, this tendency is a continuation of the longstanding habit of English people to confuse England and Britain: to say ‘Britain’ when they’re really thinking of England, and to say ‘England’ even when talking about Scotland or Wales – demonstrating the extent to which the concepts of ‘England’ and ‘Britain’ were interchangeable in their minds.

The difference now, however – and it is fundamental – is that, whereas it’s politically correct (if factually incorrect) to say ‘Britain’ when talking about England, it’s definitely no longer politically correct to say ‘England’: not just where the whole of Britain is concerned but even when one is referring to exclusively English concerns and facts. I have frequently commented on this politically motivated linguistic suppression of ‘England’ – both in this blog and its sister blog Britology Watch. At the extreme, this almost pathological aversion to using the word ‘England’ when talking about England appears to express a wish, on the part of some within the political establishment, to abolish England altogether and replace it with some sort of regionally divided New Britain.

There is a curious paradox here, the form of which, in its simplicity, only became apparent to me a few days ago. You could express it as follows:

  • Before devolution – when England actually was politically and constitutionally more indivisible from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland within the unitary UK – it was felt (by the English, at least) to be entirely acceptable to say ‘England’ when what was actually meant was the UK or ‘Great Britain’, and where factually it would have been more appropriate to say ‘Britain’, as England was not separate from the other nations of the UK
  • After devolution – when England is politically and constitutionally more separate from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – the British establishment now feels that it is unacceptable to say ‘England’ when – as I said above – England is actually meant, and it would be factually more accurate to say ‘England’.

In other words, when England was Britain, it was OK to call it England; but now it’s England, you have to call it ‘Britain’.

How did this truly (and typically English) bonkers situation come about? The explanation is quite straightforward, really. The old ‘Britain’ (idea, not nation) was, as I’ve said, largely a projection and alternative name for England itself, and expressed England’s pride in having extended its dominion and influence first to the island of Britain and then across the world – historically, through the British Empire. Post-devolution Britain, by contrast, is a world where a separation has been made between both the identities and polities of England and Britain: in the national (that is, English) psyche as well as in national political institutions, England and Britain are no longer seen as indivisible. This separation between England and Britain in people’s minds has the potential to blow the whole UK state apart by virtue of a very simple logic: ‘if the English people start thinking of themselves as English and not British’, so the thinking goes, ‘then they’re going to want an English parliament, government and eventually even state’. The response on the part of the establishment, fighting for its survival, is classic denial – in the psychological sense: it seeks to deny that any split between the English and British identities has occurred, and to suppress people’s developing sense of a distinct Englishness by censoring ‘England’ (politically, linguistically, psychologically), and pretending that there is only Britain, and that England effectively does not exist.

The primary political manifestation of this is that the government and the mainstream parties, who feel they have most to lose from a disintegration of Britain into its constituent parts, carry on a pretence that there is absolutely no distinction between the areas of government that genuinely extend across the whole of the UK, and those that relate to England only (or, at a pinch, to England and Wales only). This thinking reflects, and is used to justify, the fact that, in the matters that do in reality relate to England only, England is – uniquely – governed in the way all the UK countries were governed before devolution: with the participation of elected representatives from all four national corners of the state.

Without rehearsing the arguments about the democratic deficit and lack of accountability on the part of their supposed representatives this creates for the people of England, another paradoxical aspect of this is that it means that England and the UK ironically continue to be indistinguishable and interchangeable – in fact, even more so (technically and constitutionally) than before devolution: England is the only part of the UK that continues to be the old unitary UK in all respects of national governance. And, of course, it’s because the establishment is desperate to hold on to the unitary UK, despite having broken it up by its own actions through devolution, that it has to deny any alternative existential status for England: as England, and not as the UK. But you could just as easily turn this completely on its head and say that if England is the UK, then you might as well just call the UK ‘England’. Then, whenever all those politicians and lazy journalists go on about ‘the country’ (meaning England but pretending they’re talking about the whole of the UK), instead of assuming they’re referring to the UK, we should assume that the default meaning of ‘the country’ is England. As this is the fact, in most cases, it shouldn’t offend our Scottish and Welsh friends if we start to call a spade a spade. However, if we develop this consciousness that ‘the country’ is England – not Britain – then the game truly is up for the unionist establishment.

If England really is to establish itself in its turn as a nation and polity separate from Britain and the UK, then we’re going to have to develop just such a consciousness of our distinct national identity (England as ‘the country’) along with a new political maturity, separate from Britain; rather in the way that a child needs to outgrow its parent’s expectations, beliefs and attitudes of an earlier generation in order to establish itself as an adult able to make its own way in the world of today. Now that England and Britain have started to separate out – psychologically and politically – the rational, mentally sane response has to be define a new English identity and future – including political future – not to try to deny that there is such a thing as England and Englishness out of a delusional retreat into a unitary Britain that no longer exists, other than in England itself. Psychologically speaking, that’s a pathological defence mechanism: avoiding the challenge and need for individuation, and retreating into one’s parent’s (Britain’s) certainties rather than exploring one’s own truth and possibilities, as a self-reliant England.

Taking these psychological metaphors a little bit further, if the reader will forgive me this self-indulgence (if not, read on to the next paragraph!), one could say that England – a nation whose people are characterised to some extent by dualistic psychological conflicts, such as that between aggression towards the stranger and an over-willingness to let the stranger feel at home here – ‘projectively’ identified with Britain as a persona enabling England to pursue world domination under the guise of a civilising, anglicising mission. This means that ‘Britain’ and the civilising project of the Empire provided a justifying ‘outlet’ for what might otherwise have been seen as totally unacceptable and destructive English aggression. Now that, even within the British ‘homeland’, the nations England once subdued are turning away from England-Britain, that projection of Englishness onto the world in the name of Britain has turned aggressively in on itself, ‘introjectively’: England’s aggression is now directed self-destructively against England itself, which is the last savage colony resisting the creation of a Britain made in the image of the global civilisation with which it identifies – the diametrical reverse of the previous project to fashion a world made in the image of England.

Put in more straightforward language, if you’ve followed the logic so far, the potential destruction of the nation of England in the name of a New Britain that takes England’s place is primarily being undertaken by English people: effectively, England turning against England because an England distinct from Britain risks destroying the ‘great Britain’ that has been England’s power, pride and joy. And power is what essentially it comes down to. We the English created Britain as an instrument for English power; and now, those who are the heirs of British power see a separate England as a mortal rival and as something that could undermine their whole power base – forgetting all the while that England is their power base: Britain’s foundation and its very raison d’être. If England is the foundation, then you could say that ‘Britain’ is the superstructure of the building – all show, display of pomp and circumstance, glamour and sophistication; while Scotland and Wales represent the supporting walls. Just as the foundation is necessary to hold up the walls and prevent the building from collapsing, so Scotland and Wales would not be joined into Britain were they not rooted in and conjoined with England, which provides the whole basis for Britain and the ground on which it stands. But as Scotland and Wales loosen their ties with England, the superstructure that is Britain – sitting astride the whole edifice – thinks it is sufficient in itself to hold it all together: its values, its high-minded ideals and its top-down instruments of power enough to shore up its collapsing internal walls. In reality, however, it’s the grit, the determination, the solidity and commitment of the English that has held the building together up till now, for better or for worse. Undermine and strip that away, and the whole building cannot stand.

Which is to say that the legitimacy of power comes from the people, not from the apparatus of state: from the English people who previously invested the British state with their self-sacrificing loyalty, commitment and support; and not from that state that now seeks to deny that very Englishness that is its living core and soul. Britain is about power: it was the vehicle of English global power, and dominion over its Empire and over its island neighbours; and now it’s a system of power that sees itself as ruling the tumultuous waves and surfing the changing tides of global markets (we English were ever a merchant, seafaring nation, after all) with little if any concept of the nation – England – which the activity of government and the economy is intended to serve, build and defend. In fact, the more that memory of Britain’s original, founding nation – England – can be erased, the more we can fashion ourselves (and retain that projected image of ourselves) as a global power.

Poor England; deluded Britain – the monster we created (and which we in part are) that is now devouring its own true greatness, which is not in domination but in itself. We have to become a new creation, as it were: a new England that sets aside the will to dominate and Britain’s delusions of grandeur. England not Britain; but united, if still possible, with our neighbours in a different sort of union: a union of equals – not a Britain that is merely a name for an aggressive England it could not avow, and which now it aggressively disavows in turn. We have to do away with Britain to become truly a united kingdom and not all in our different ways vassals of an overweening state that would remake us in its image rather than let us make it in ours.

New England, new United Kingdom: not a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but a United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (and Cornwall, perhaps). Why bother with the UK at all, albeit a re-cast one, some might ask? Why not just discard this remnant of empire and domination, and let each nation chart out its own course across the choppy seas of the present? I, for one, would be far from unhappy to see an independent nation state of England. But perhaps before we throw the baby of our Union out to sea with the bath water of lost illusions, there could still be something worth salvaging from the past in a new union for the future. The greatness of Britain, as I’ve attempted to evoke, was not Great Britain, but the greatness of its people: yes, the English but also of course the Scots, Welsh and Irish with which we have – still – so many things in common; more that ‘unites’ us than divides us, in fact. Our island home; our historic civilisations; our mingled blood lines and family ties; our Christian and liberal heritage; our English language; and, yes, our British history.

It’s worth a punt trying to keep all this together in some form; that much I would concede to the unionists. But if this is to work, it has to be a togetherness that allows us to express our own identities, plot our own destinies and govern our own lives: as separate and not subordinate nations, working together in a common structure for mutual advantage and enrichment.

It’s worth a punt; so here’s mine:

Blueprint for a new federal UK

I would propose a single, integrated UK parliament
that would convene as one body for part of the week (or month) and would then meet separately as the parliaments of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for the remainder of the week
(or month) to deal with nation-specific matters (see below). So there would be a single general election for the whole of the UK, during which the composition of the four (or five, including Cornwall) national parliaments would also be determined, as there would be only one set of MPs (not five or six) with dual roles: UK-wide and national. This would necessitate fixed-term parliamentary sessions.

This solution would prevent the national parliaments from competing with the federal, UK parliament, as they would be integrated into a single system. However, this would not involve a subordination of the national parliaments to the UK parliament. It would be redistribution, not devolution, of power: power in the areas assigned to the national parliaments would be permanently transferred to them, not handed over to them ‘on licence’, as under devolution. When I say permanently, this is because there would be a written constitution setting out the specific roles and responsibilities of the national and UK parliaments, as well as the many other details concerning the composition of and relationships between the executives, parliaments and judiciaries in each nation.

One important, founding element of this constitution should be that it would declare that sovereignty resides with the people of each UK nation; and that it is therefore each nation’s intrinsic right to determine the form of government it desires: enshrining the freedom to secede from the UK at any time should there be a clear popular mandate to do so, as manifested in a referendum. This latter principle redresses the imbalance that prevails at present, whereby many of the UK’s leading politicians, including Gordon Brown, are on record as having accepted the above principles of popular sovereignty and national self-determination for Scotland while denying the same rights to England, which remains subject to the sovereignty of the UK parliament. This imbalance has made a major contribution towards the present asymmetric, multi-track, creeping devolution process. It has involved the setting up of a national Scottish parliament with quite extensive powers to pass primary legislation, and which is a clear rival to the UK parliament and focus for aspirations for an independent Scotland. At the same time, a much less powerful and more dependent body has been established for Wales; while England, of course, has been denied any form of national self-government.

My proposal puts an end to asymmetric devolution, as each national parliament would have exactly the same powers and responsibilities for their respective countries. I envisage these powers being similar to those already conferred on the Scottish Parliament; that’s to say pretty much every area of government outside of: the economy and fiscal policy; social security, benefits and pensions; homeland security and defence; and international affairs. These latter policy areas would remain the responsibility of the federal UK government; although I believe that the expenditure of each government should be financed by taxes for which it was directly responsible (fiscal responsibility) as this is a means to make our elected representatives fully accountable for what they spend on our behalf. So this could mean that certain types of tax, or a proportion of all UK taxation or of specific UK taxes (such as income tax), would be apportioned on a proportionate basis to the national parliaments.

Clearly, this is one of the most contentious proposals, as it could be seen by many in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as a means for England to ensure that it is able to fund a higher per-capita level of public expenditure because it can raise higher per-capita tax revenues. On the other hand, a certain redressing of the imbalance that is currently tilted in favour of the devolved nations via the Barnett Formula is definitely needed. I believe that an integrated national and federal parliament could provide the most effective mechanism for regulating these competing claims on the wealth of our respective nations. On the one hand, it would create a means for the needs and rights of England to be defended, which does not exist in the present. But, on the other hand, so long as the nations were still bound together in a common state, with a common economic policy, the idea that a certain proportion of our collective wealth should be redistributed to where it was genuinely most needed could be safeguarded. And that also means directing more resources to the under-funded ‘regions’ of England, particularly in the North and South-West.

One objection that is often made to the idea of a federal UK parliament is that England would be too dominant. Yet, in the same breath almost, defenders of the present asymmetric system say that England’s needs are adequately represented by the UK parliament, as English MPs make up around 85% of the House of Commons; so England is, supposedly, dominant there. I’ve discussed the specious nature of this argument elsewhere. But the whole point of this present proposal, in fact, is to move away from a situation in which either England can dominate the other nations of the UK (which was more the case pre-devolution than post, as discussed above), or in which the central UK government can subordinate any of the nations; which is the case now with the UK government regulating English affairs in the interests of the UK and of its own political survival, rather than seeking the good of England itself.

The above objection to federal government, under my model, could in any case apply only to those areas of policy that remained the responsibility of the federal government; most of the aspects of government, in pretty fundamental areas (e.g. planning, health, education, etc.) would be completely transferred to the national governments, free from any interference from the UK state or from any of the other national governments. In addition, I would propose a system for the decision-making processes of the federal parliament that ensured that fundamental objections to federal policies on the part of any of the nations could not be overridden; and indeed, the way the new parliament worked would be designed to prevent such policies forming the basis of parliamentary bills in the first place.

For a start, it could be a principle enshrined in the constitution that any UK government should contain MPs from each of the UK nations. If it were a government for the nations, it should be a government of the nations. This should not be too complicated a principle to enact, as the new national and federal parliaments would be elected by a proportional system, meaning that coalition government would be required probably in each of the nations as well as in the federal parliament. My idea is that UK bills would be subject to separate scrutiny by each of the national parliaments; rather like a combination of the scrutiny bills presently receive at their second reading together with the principle of referring legislation to a second chamber of parliament: currently, the House of Lords. At this stage, amendments could be suggested, which could be debated and voted on by the full parliament. If the bill in its final form still encountered the objection of the majority of MPs from any country, a final attempt could be made to find common ground, so the bill could be passed with the unanimity of all the nations. If this were still not possible, and the bill enjoyed substantive majority support (e.g. 55% or more of the MPs in each of the other nations), then it could be passed. However, if this substantive cross-nation support did not exist, it would fail.

Such a mechanism would prevent any one nation, e.g. England, from being dominant. The only circumstance in which a bill could be passed against the will of the elected representatives of any country would be if it enjoyed strong support in each of the other countries, and then only if this support added up to the backing of the majority of UK MPs as a whole. For certain critical issues, such as the use of UK troops in war or the ratification of international treaties, majority support from all countries would be required. If bills were consistently driven through without the support of the MPs from any one country (e.g. Scotland), this would engender resentment and would create greater demands for full independence on the part of that nation. Therefore, the system would contain its own natural checks and balances: push things too far, and the nations might seek total separation; but refuse to co-operate at all, and no business would get done – and again, the system would implode and there would be no alternative other than independence for all four (or five) countries.

In addition, it would be virtually impossible for bills to be passed without enjoying at least strong support from English MPs. At the very least, you’d need the MPs from all three (or four) other UK countries to be strongly in favour of a bill plus a large minority of English MPs for it to go through without the full majority support of English MPs. This is simply because of the arithmetic: the English MPs would continue to far outnumber the combined total of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish (and Cornish) MPs. It would in theory be possible for such a bill to be passed, though; which is right and proper given that those bills would relate to the whole of the UK and should ultimately be decided on by a majority of UK MPs. However, this would not at all be equivalent to the present situation, where bills that relate to England only can be, and have been, passed through the support of non-English MPs whose constituents are not affected by them. England-only bills, under my system, would be decided on by English MPs only.

There would, however, be the possibility of the UK federal parliament providing some sort of second house-type revising scrutiny of bills from the national parliaments. This would not mean that it would have the power to permanently amend or override provisions in national-parliamentary bills. But this scrutiny would provide an opportunity for policy development in each of the nations to be compared and co-ordinated with that in the other nations, providing opportunities to learn from each other’s experiences and capitalise on best practice; as well as to elaborate the most economically efficient way to deliver the best results, because the more the nations co-operated and worked on combining resources where it was opportune to do so, the more cost-effective could be the delivery.

This aspect of co-ordinated policy development and implementation in devolved areas of government has been profoundly and damagingly lacking under the present devolution settlement. This is not to say that, in my system, there would be, for instance, a single strategy on education or transport across the UK, which the individual nations would have to comply with. But it would be useful and beneficial to the nations themselves to try to agree on a common overall UK strategy and vision for national-level policy areas, so that the measures adopted in each country were tailored to the needs of the whole of the UK as well as to those of each nation; and so that policies in each country could support and complement each other rather than competing against each other, which could be detrimental to the social cohesion and economic competitiveness of the UK as a whole. This is really one of the main arguments in favour of keeping any overall UK state and government structure: that it helps to realise the potential for each country to prosper to a greater extent by working together than by pulling apart. But, for this to work, there has to be a balance between central direction and national autonomy.

Under the present settlement, what we have is either one or the other: the UK state calling all the shots in some areas (including over all policy affecting England), with the devolved nations doing entirely their own thing in their own areas of responsibility. This has meant, among other things, that there has been little or no development of social policy for England as England because the UK government has no mandate as an English government, and does not want to be a government for England, even in areas where effectively that is all it is. So the government has washed its hands of England and has sought to let ‘the market’ determine what is best for England in health, education and planning. This abnegation and delegation of its responsibilities to the market reflects the fact that the government at least has some sort of mandate for England on economic affairs, together with the fact that it has been wedded to the ideology of the free market. Meanwhile, English people understandably feel resentment when they see the Scottish and Welsh governments pursuing the kind of social policies they would like to see implemented in England, based on true democratic mandates received from the people of Scotland and Wales themselves, and on resources made available to them thanks to cost savings and wealth generated (at least before the whole thing imploded in the credit crunch) by the English market model.

The level of co-operation and compromise required under my system to get bills through the UK parliament could well appear elusive, given the adversarial and confrontational politics we are used to. However, as there would be coalition government at both national and federal levels, a willingness to make deals, and forge cross-party and cross-country alliances would just have to become part of the day-to-day fabric of our political life. This has already worked to a considerable degree in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. And, in any case, while this could be difficult to get used to, it’s the right thing to do, because it ensures that decisions that are made enjoy the majority support of the people’s elected representatives and that that majority accurately reflects the way the people actually voted. The first-past-the-post (FPTP) system used to choose the present House of Commons is enormously distorting of the popular vote, allowing huge majorities for either Labour or the Conservatives on a minority of votes cast while preventing smaller parties from making the impact that their true level of support deserves.

This raises the question of what system of proportional representation (PR) should be used for the new integrated national and federal parliamentary system I am proposing. I favour multi-member Single Transferrable Vote (STV), which is widely thought to be the best system for achieving the goals both of proportional representation at national level while preserving the link between MPs and their constituencies. This electoral system would also provide a very effective means to counter one of the main objections that could be raised to my proposals: that the fact that you were effectively holding two elections in one (national and federal) would distort the result, causing voters’ choices at national level to be overly influenced by UK-wide issues. If the electoral system used were multi-member STV, however, there would be absolutely no reason why voters could not pick candidates on the basis of parties’ national programmes as well as their UK manifestos, because there would be, say, four or five MPs per seat. So you could express your preferences for the best party(-ies) and candidate(s) for the national and UK parliaments in the ranking you gave to the various candidates you decided to vote for (STV relying on ranking candidates from number one down to the last candidate on the ballot paper, if you so wish).

In any case, the parties already present effectively dual-mandate manifestos at general elections, albeit disingenuous ones: in Scotland, the parties try to make political capital from referring to what they have achieved or stood up for at Holyrood – which has nothing to do with Westminster elections; and in England, they set out effectively England-only policies in all of the devolved areas of government while misleadingly creating the impression that those policies apply UK-wide. Under my system, there would be no getting away with attempting to make electoral gain from misrepresenting what was really on offer for voters in this way: the parties in each country would have to set out the parts of their agenda that were UK-wide and those that were nation-specific; and, as I’ve said, the voters could effectively vote for two or more parties (or two or more candidates from a single party) based on their national and / or federal policies and credentials. It is possible that, under certain circumstances, voters’ choices would be influenced by UK-wide concerns more than by national ones, such as in the present economic crisis, where Scottish people might be more inclined to vote Labour rather than the SNP. But then, it is equally the case that voters are influenced in this way even in the presently separate Holyrood and Westminster elections; and it can also work the other way round: a combined national and federal election under multi-member STV would almost certainly produce much more representation for the SNP in the UK parliament than under the present system.

Another objection that could be raised to my proposals is that the national parliaments elected in this way would not be genuine, autonomous national parliaments but would be subordinate and beholden to the UK parliament and party apparatuses. This risk is one of the main reasons why it would be important to protect the national parliaments’ autonomy through a written constitution. Certain types of attempted interference in, or centralised direction of, national policy and parliamentary tactics by the UK government could become an offence against the constitution. And, as I’ve said, the national parliaments would have real and permanent powers: greater and better protected autonomy than at present. In addition, the use of multi-member STV would mean that different coalition groupings would be required in the national parliaments from those in the federal parliament: if there were a Tory / Lib Dem coalition at UK level, there might be an SNP / Green Party coalition in Scotland (the Greens winning more MPs because of the fairer voting system) and a Labour / Plaid or Labour / Lib Dem coalition in Wales. Therefore, it would be impossible for the governing coalition of the UK parliament to dictate the shape of the governing coalitions in the national parliaments and impose central control over them.

Another advantage of this integrated system is that it would avoid creating an unnecessary and expensive extra tier of government, with a whole new set of MPs, and a whole new English parliament that would be almost as big as the present UK parliament on its own. In fact, we’d get a reduction in duplication, as there would no longer be both MSPs and MPs for Scotland, and AMs and MPs for Wales. There is a valid question, however, about whether the relatively small number of Scottish and Welsh MPs would be sufficient to fulfil all of the functions of a national parliament in those countries. In elections in Scotland and Wales, it might be necessary to elect, say, five candidates per multi-member constituency compared with four per seat in England. Only four elected candidates would then serve as UK MPs; and the additional candidate would be elected to the national parliament only. Voters could opt to indicate whether they wanted the candidates they were choosing to go to the national or federal parliament. The national-only MP would be the successful candidate with the largest number of ticks in the ‘national’ check box. An incentive for candidates to put themselves forward as national-only MPs would be that they would be more likely to be preferred for ministerial positions, as they’d be exclusively devoted to the national parliament. This would also provide a boost to their salaries, which, as MPs for the national parliaments only, would be lower than that of dual-purpose MPs. (Let’s not pretend that’s not an issue!)

What of the questions of nationality and statehood? Well, as I set out in the first half of this post, the new federal state would no longer be Britain or Great Britain in any shape or form: having ‘Great Britain’ in its full name, as it does now; referred to in official statements as ‘Britain’, as it is now, even though a state or nation of Britain does not exist; or ‘Britain’ in the more profound sense as the national persona of the state that was previously the vehicle of English power and is now a means above all to suppress the aspirations to self-government of the English nation. So it would, as stated above, be ‘the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’ (and potentially with Cornwall listed as the fifth nation of the federal kingdom). Formally, the adjectival form of the state’s name would be ‘UK’ not ‘British’, as in ‘the UK government’ or ‘UK citizens’. Doubtless, many people would continue, at least for a time, to use the word ‘British’ informally in this sense, particularly as the geographical extent of the state would remain largely that of Britain, with the addition of Northern Ireland. But the point is that there would be a move away from the tendency to imagine or create a ‘British nation’ superseding and suppressing the primary nationalities of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Cornwall. So in England, to describe their nationality, people would be encouraged to think of and refer to themselves as English in the first instance – unless, of course, they are genuinely something else such as Scottish or from a different state altogether. If people wish to continue to think of themselves as British first and foremost, they would be fully entitled to do so. But the way the language of official statements and the media would change to reflect the altered political realities (i.e. thriving English-national government and civic institutions) would mean that ‘British’ would increasingly be limited to meaning either ‘UK’ in the informal sense (i.e. the UK state rather than a nation) or the merely geographical meaning. People might find that they were asked to clarify ‘you mean English’, or that they were assumed to mean English based on things such as they way they spoke.

So we’d be English nationals but UK citizens. Of course, all of the above paragraph is predicated on the assumptions that the UK remained a kingdom (i.e. a monarchy), and that present-day constituent parts of the UK such as Scotland and Northern Ireland chose to sign up to and stay within such a new federal state. But, based on the principles outlined above, it would be entirely a matter for the people of the UK as a whole – who would be sovereign – to decide whether they wanted a monarch or an elected president as head of state. And, similarly, it would be up to the people of each UK nation to decide whether to remain part of the new state. At least, putting the present creeping and asymmetrical devolution process into a more stable, consistent and constitutionally settled framework could create the conditions for people to make an informed choice, and – just as crucially – for all the people of the UK to have a say on their constitutional and national future at the same time; rather than letting the people of Scotland effectively decide on the future form of the UK state in a referendum on independence without at the same time letting the people of England and Wales decide whether they want independence or a shared future.

Moreover, this proposed federal state and constitution create a framework whereby, even if one or more nation decided to leave the new UK, the others could remain in it without any change being required to the constitution or to the regulation of their mutual relationships within it. The same could not be said if Scotland voted to leave the UK as presently constituted. If such an eventuality arose, it ought to break up ‘Britain’, as the original basis for Britain was the Union of England and Scotland, as discussed above. However, without proper consultation of the people on these matters, I would not put it past the present political establishment to try to perpetuate a ‘British’ state that continued to deny self-government and a distinct identity to England in order to preserve its own prerogatives and to – supposedly – defend the interests of Wales and Northern Ireland; as if these were incompatible with England just being allowed to be England.

As for national symbols such as flags and national anthems, these should of course evolve to reflect the changed political landscape. The Cross of St. George should fly proudly outside any English-government building. And what of the Union flag? Much as I quite like the Union Jack, and think it is a rather impressive and clever piece of flag design, I think it would have to go in order for us to demonstrate to ourselves and to the outside world that this was altogether a new, federal UK not the old alternately England-dominated and England-dominating Union. If we remained a monarchy, I can think of no better new flag than the Royal Standard, with a Welsh dragon replacing one of the two panels currently displaying the Three Lions of England. If Cornwall were to be established as a separate nation within the new UK, then this would also need to be reflected somehow; I’m not sure how: maybe a discreet white cross with a black outline separating the four panels of the flag, which at least would also preserve a reference to our nations’ Christian heritage. And yes, by all means keep ‘God save the Queen’ as the UK national anthem (assuming we keep the Queen herself); but let’s have ‘Jerusalem’ as the English national anthem at last!

And what about the thorny question of where to locate the separate English and UK parliaments? I think we should definitely keep Westminster and London as the site of the English parliament and capital. But I think it would be inappropriate to locate the new UK parliament in London, as this would perpetuate the old habits of confusing England with Britain, and the English parliament with the UK parliament. I quite liked the suggestion in a comment on a previous post of mine on this subject that the UK parliament could be located in Liverpool: equidistant from London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast; a great English and British city, reflecting much of the greatness and much of the depravity of industrial revolution and Empire; an English city with strong traditional connections with Ireland and Scotland, and close to Wales; and a city that is in need of regeneration, recognition and a new purpose.

Well, that’s just an idea; as is this blueprint for a new federal UK. How realistic is this blueprint? Probably not very. But at least, I hope to have demonstrated that a different sort of United Kingdom is at least conceivable: one that has the potential to enable our respective nations to reaffirm their distinct identities and to govern their own affairs while truly working together in a supportive, positive and not overweening state framework for mutual advantage.

What are the alternatives? Well, the present creeping devolution process has created a momentum that will lead inevitably to Scottish independence, it seems to me. One thing that the current devolution settlement hasn’t achieved is to fulfil Scottish aspirations to affirm Scotland as a full, officially recognised nation, in charge of its own affairs, including the ability to raise and spend its own taxes. These aspirations won’t simply die away, and unless some sort of framework is found to enable them to be realised within the UK, they will find expression outside of the UK.

If Scotland did secede from the present Union, there would – sadly, in some ways – be much rejoicing in England, as those of us who want English self-government would see it as a means to achieve that goal. However, as I suggested above, a UK minus Scotland would not necessarily result in an independent or even self-governing England, free from the possessive embrace of Britain. In addition, independence for Scotland could be a long time coming; and there is a danger that English resentment at the superior democratic representation and higher per-capita public expenditure enjoyed by the devolved nations, as well as the suppression of all things English by the British government, would grow to such a point that real momentum could get behind a movement for English independence, irrespective of Scotland’s wishes. Again, not altogether a bad thing from an English-nationalist perspective. But for those who would like to salvage some sort of political union between the nations of these islands – including many English nationalists – it would be a sad day if the UK were to drift from devolution to dissolution in the lack of any political vision for a viable united future.

This post is a modest attempt to suggest such a vision. But it’s a vision for a continuing UK predicated on the end of Britain. For England to survive, the death of Great Britain will be required. But a new equal and genuinely United Kingdom could be the result.