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Politics

Published on September 19th, 2014 | by Lorna Carnegie
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Is Federalism Spreading from Scotland across the Rest of the United Kingdom?

Devolution in Scotland has sparked a trend throughout the United Kingdom. Now Wales and various English counties and regions are beginning to make more noise about their own right to self-rule. Realistically Northumberland, for example, has as much in common with Scotland as it does with London- if not more- if the Scots are being granted more powers for self-government and self-determination then why shouldn’t the Northumberland-ers, or the Welsh for that matter?

The deputy PM Nick Clegg believes that further action to devolve Westminster power to other, more local authorities should be taken off the back of the Scottish independence momentum. Deputy PM Mr Clegg believes that “If ever there was a time to push for action on decentralisation, it’s now.” He goes on to claim that the Scottish Independence referendum has “re-engaged the pubic with politics.” There is no denying that this is true and most likely because politics is being brought closer to the public. Therefore localising politics through decentralisation could potentially solve the British problem of political disaffection. People believed that by opting for independence that they would have more of a say in governance; one of the phrases used by the Yes campaign has been ‘Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands’. However, even with independence now rejected, power is still being brought closer to the people of Scotland. The rest of the UK is therefore now feeling that Scotland is receiving special treatment from Westminster, as was highlighted by Tory MP Martin Vickers in the House of Commons, he said that more Scottish powers “will increase the concerns of [his] constituents and others in England that [they] are being treated less favourably than people in other parts of the UK”. Institute for Public Policy Research North director Ed Cox added: “England has waited patiently while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been given ever greater devolution. Now is the time to redress the balance.” The West Lothian question, aptly renamed the English question by Conservative MP Harriet Baldwin, first proposed by William Hague in the Conservative manifesto promised to “introduce new rules so that legislation referring specifically to England or Wales cannot be enacted without the consent of the MPs representing the constituencies of those countries.”

Others however had taken a slightly more sinister view of the possibility of separation. Journalist Brian Wilson recently wrote of the threat of secession surrounding Scottish Independence. Writing in the Scotsman he used Pope Francis’ analogy of secession and discussed the distinction between “independence for emancipation and independence for secession”. Ethnic groups in federal states often believe that they have a morally legitimate claim to secession, these being states which lack any sense of solidarity across ethnic lines. Yet Scotland does not lack this unity. There is nothing which approaches the threshold of “emancipation”. In Scotland we are not oppressed, nor are discriminated against. We hold precious liberties and have common languages and histories on both sides of the border.

Even when federalism is established to accommodate territorially based ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences, by formally recognising said diversities, it can in fact strengthen and cement divisions. Federal institutions, which could ultimately be created across the UK at this rate, only succeed in ensuring a perpetuation of national identity division. Yash Ghai, an academic in constitutional law, maintains that federalism will freeze and entrench otherwise fluidly forming and reforming group identities. Initially sparked by federalism self-rule and self-determination ultimately reinforce and strengthen societal divisions and therefore often increases tensions. If we look at the UK just now we are seeing Scotland with a small degree of self-determination and about to get more powers of self-governance. Meanwhile the rest of the UK is beginning to realise that it could have more self-determination. While at first this sounds perfectly reasonable, self-rule and self-determination ultimately tend to strengthen and reinforce societal divisions and are therefore likely to lead to a desire for further control and separation. The more federalism affirms a desire for self-government the more it affirms a sense of a separate identity.

Do we really want to carve up the United Kingdom; would that be in anyone’s best interests?

Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.

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