Should the United Kingdom become the Federated Kingdom?

by Brian Risman, Publisher, www thelawjournal co uk - 13 May 2002

The Blair government this week proposed that certain areas of England be granted regional legislatures. The first area likely to receive this honour would be the Northeast region of the country, where alienation has been a growing concern. Is this move to regional representative government a good thing?

First, some history may be in order. The United Kingdom was created, incrementally, via various Acts of Union that placed control solely in the hands of the United Kingdom Parliament at Westminster. For example, when Scotland and England ratified the Act of Union in the early 18th century, the Scottish assembly was merged with the English assembly into a newly constituted united Parliament.

A major reason for the Acts of Union was economic -- England was increasingly becoming a world power, and the rest of the British Isles wanted to gain from English pre-eminence. Today the U.K. is not the most powerful nation in the world, but certainly carries considerable clout on the international stage. As well, the U.K., now lacking an empire, felt the need to hook up with the growing European Community. Combined with these factors is the recent economic growth of many areas of England.

The net effect of the above factors is that the various regions have grown up and are looking for a say in their affairs. That is reasonable, and in fact is welcome. The alternative, depressed regions that can't perform, is something we have seen far too often.

The Blair government granted Scotland and (to a lesser extent) Wales their own legislative and administrative structures. That, however, created a new problem -- while Scotland and Wales could administer their own affairs, they still sat in the United Kingdom Parliament, participating in decisions affecting England, which paradoxically had no such regional government -- unless you include the arrangement for London.

While the move this week is not the creation of an English regional assembly per se, it is the start of a regional representation.

Which brings up the question - why not move towards a federation similar to that in other countries (US, Canada, Australia and so on), where local matters could be handled by the regions, and national issues by the 'federal' Parliament at Westminster? In that way, regional issues could be eased, eliminating a major source of tension in the United Kingdom.

Instead of pretending that a centralized mentality exists, let us acknowledge regional representation and create a more unified United (Federated) Kingdom in the process.

Brian Risman