Over the last twenty years, the United Kingdom has undergone a programme of constitutional reform embedded in membership of the European Union (EU). Devolved legislatures and governments have been established in different forms in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The decision, following the referendum of June 2016, to leave the European Union has major repercussions on the internal constitution of the United Kingdom (UK) and its relationship with the Republic of Ireland. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU but have also expressed a preference for remaining in the United Kingdom; now they cannot have both. Control of competences coming back from the EU is contested between the UK and devolved governments. The lack of rules in the largely unwritten constitution means that there are no clear ways of resolving the resulting conflicts. The United Kingdom has become the site of a real-time experiment in constitutional change, in conditions of uncertainty.
Before we analyse the demands of the Sots and the Welsh let’s first take a cool look at the matters of economic fact.
1 Both Scotland and Wales do not earn GDP anywhere near that of the UK which is the sixth biggest in the World. It is certainly much lower in Scotland and lower again in Wales and both are drastically lower than the South East of England including London.
2 Currently all the devolved regions of the UK depend on hand outs from central government at Westminster, thus enjoying their existing standards of living. This distribution was entirely dependent on the Barnett formula but this has been fiddled with and now both Scotland and Northern Ireland get a better deal than Wales.
3 Without the wealth of metropolitan England both Scotland and Wales would be substantially poorer.
4 Handouts to the poorer parts of the UK by the EU were of course funded by the UK’s net contribution to the EU. The EU were always net gainers from UK membership.
What is it then, that the independence movements of each country want? Do they want complete separation, or more devolved power over taxation? Trading affairs (being free to loin or leave trading-blocks outside the British Isles) ? Lawn and Order? H ow would the independent nations handle defence? Immigration? Do they fully recognise that independence will make Wales, perhaps, by 15% poorer, at best and Scotland perhaps 10% worse off in GDPHI?
If devolution is taken further should the devolved governments or assemblies have representatives in Central UK government?
If Wales and Scotland become devolved or closer to independence then surely the English Assembly cannot be far away. Would an English Assembly carry more clout with Central Government than the nationalist entities?
Do they want to become individual nations in a federation of the British Iles?
The great affection for Scottish and Welsh cultures is a marvellous thing and to be cherished. Certainly, most would agree, that this truly the business of provincial government.
It can be contended that this up surge in nationalism is more driven by cultural influence than economic reality. No doubt, central government, as it now is, is overly focused on the GDP generating regions (who could not excuse them?). One could not argue, that the Scots and the Welsh have a point as they strive to affirm their tribal identity. However it is an enormous and disproportional step to leap toward independence from The Union of the United Kingdom.
Devolution has let the cat out of the bag. Devolution for the West Country, the North East and North West seem just aspirations too. Where do you stop?
Love your tribe, love your nation, but love our union as well.
- I have studiously avoided reference to Northern Ireland.