Radical change: what might a Federal Britain look like?

Federalism has support from different people and parties across the country, but what could a Federal UK look like?

Federalism is a form of government that dominates much of the democratic world. It allows for a country-wide government and country-wide representation to tackle the larger issues such as foreign affairs and defence whilst also accepting that one-size does not fit all for other issues such as education and healthcare. It also protects the country-wide government, as well as ensuring that different states are equal and represented within the wider political framework.

British federalism is often talked about, particularly in the Liberal Democrats and often in the wake of Scotland’s vote to remain in the United Kingdom in 2014.

The country is the most decentralised it has ever been, but what might a full-fledged federal Britain look like?

The biggest obstacle to a federal Britain is England. England's population is massive, with around 8 in 10 Brits being located in England. An English parliament would largely reflect a British parliament and would not bring power that much closer to the people.

If England got a referendum and backed an English parliament then that is the route we would go down, but there is an alternative.

Splitting England up into smaller states would bring power closer to the people, allowing different regions to tackle different issues. To those who object to this idea, there could be some sort of arrangement that accounted for England as a united entity, for example, the creation of an English Council where representatives from devolved regional governments meet to discuss England-only issues. Furthermore, English regions could include “England” in their full name to retain the identity of the country, for example, there could be a region of London – which there already is – with its full name being “the State of London, England” or similar. This would counter the argument that federalism would dilute England's identity.

Another obstacle is that the people of the North East rejected a devolved Assembly in 2004. However, that was fourteen years ago. Much has changed. Brexit demonstrates that different areas of the country have different wants and needs, and federalism could be a viable solution.

What about the argument that newly created devolved governments across the UK would be talking shops? They would need to have real powers that could make an actual difference to each region.

How would this look in reality?

The UK parliament would remain as it currently is. Perhaps "Westminster" could be turned into a special zone like Washington D.C. or Canberra, but on a much smaller scale. There’s an option here to introduce proportional representation – after all, all devolved bodies already have it – as well as scrap the House of Lords, but that’s a topic for another day.

One option is to use EU election constituencies, which are the same as the NUTS statistical regions of the United Kingdom.

This would result in a federation of different states of broadly the same number as Germany. Provisions could be made – like in Spain – to ensure that Scotland, Wales and the English collective – are labelled as nations within a nation. However, there would also be the option to allow states to break-away (unlike in Spain).

Names and boundaries could change, but here’s what a federal UK could look like.:

  • Scotland (Capital: Edinburgh)
  • Wales (Cardiff)
  • Northern Ireland (Belfast)
  • North East, English region of (Newcastle)
  • North West, English region of (Manchester)
  • Yorkshire and the Humber (Leeds)
  • East Midlands (Leicester)
  • West Midlands (Birmingham)
  • East England (Norwich)
  • Greater London (London)
  • South East (Brighton and Hove)
  • South West (Bristol)

There would need to be a major period of consultation, allowing areas such as Cornwall to have the option of establishing their own states. Yorkshire could even become its own territory - with York as its capital. And the likes of Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Gibraltar, which have always had somewhat awkward relationships with the UK, could be given the option to join the union.

Overall, theoretical suggestion, but federalism is a fundamental part of many modern democracies. Just look at Germany, the US and Australia, as well as places like Spain. Even France is going down this path. Power should be close to the people, and while some things are best left at a UK-wide level, there is a monumental opportunity to reboot our democracy and give communities across the country a voice.