Blair’s reply on unitary versus federal UK

In a recent letter of mine in the Independent newspaper, I argued the case for permanently solving the West Lothian Question (and resolving many other current anomalies) by completing the half-begun process of turning the UK into a fully-fledged federation, and ceasing to pretend that it is still a unitary state when since devolution it obviously isn't.  I subsequently expanded the case in a recent post on this blog .

Intriguingly, Stephen Fry has now asked the prime minister in very specific terms whether, in view of the anomalies exposed by the West Lothian Question, the UK can really 'remain' a unitary state.  Mr Blair's reply, unfortunately or otherwise, sheds little or no light on his views on this quite important subject:

Stephen Fry:
There has been a lot of talk about Britishness, in politics there is the whole issue of the West Lothian question, as I believe it was called after Tam Dalyell, in other words the idea that devolution to Scotland has meant that essentially there is something rather unfair about the idea of a Scottish MP having a say in English affairs, and when they have their own parliament shouldn't it be a complete devolution? Is a unitary United Kingdom still on the cards with this kind of breakdown into devolution and also – I am sorry it is two questions – does British mean anything any more, should we actually just say English, and Scottish, and Welsh?

Prime Minister:
I think the British set of values that people share does mean something, I think they are distinctively British. I personally think the United Kingdom is still a very meaningful concept for people. I mean I like to think of myself as British, even you know though people will obviously think of themselves as British and Scottish, or British and Irish. But I mean I always think you know from my own situation, my dad was born in England, my mother was born in Ireland and both were brought up in Scotland, and I was born in Scotland and lived all my life in England. Now I don't know quite …
[Podcast interview by Stephen Fry with Tony Blair, 9 February 2007;  concluding dots are in the original; my emphasis — BLB]

I'll put some further thoughts on the federalism argument, in the light of several interesting and stimulating comments on my earlier piece, in a new post here shortly.  But I thought our prime minister's response to the direct question (unfortunately accompanied by a second and much easier question) deserved a post of its own.  Now we know, or not, as the case may be.


3 Responses

  1. el tom says:

    Federalism would be great, as long as we only let people tax-vary upwards, and don't let the federal governments get Xth amendment style powers!

  2. John Miles says:

    What exactly do they mean by "British" values?

    A tribalistic desciption of civilised values?

    Or are they values which we embrace which most other civilised people people don't?

    Like what?

    Thrift? Courage? Friendliness? Good manners? Kindness to animals? Common sense? Tolerance? Greed?

    Do they exclude values most other most civilised people embrace?

    Eg, decent treatment of the old and the young? Non-judgmental, non-vindictive treatment of criminals? Willingness to live and let live?

    I think we should be told.

  3. Aidan says:

    To me the question is ‘Can you devolve powers to a regional level for some regions and retain them at national level for others, whilst retaining an equal democratic voice for the individuals within all regions?’

    This could be rephrased as ‘Should a voter have a say in the affairs of another voter without the second voter having a reciprocal, equivalent power?’

    The answer is quite clearly no.

    I previously thought that excluding Scottish and Welsh MPs from some votes would be an adequate solution, but as Brian pointed out, this would be worth little unless the English MPs had the right to create the English legislation too. Personally I favour a completely symmetrical solution – where the Commons has specific powers in all regions equally – if anything is devolved in one area, it should be devolved in all. This would require either new regional assemblies, or dramatically increasing the powers of councils. Alternatively symmetry could be regained by abolishing the regional assemblies and returning the powers to Westminster.