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)

The main problem with this however, is England. Should England be regionalised, or should it remain one large entity within the framework of a federal Britain? That’s a question for a constitutional convention and a likely series of referendums.

Either way the people should have their say.

5. Improved Political Education

Education is the key to advancing individuals in society and advancing society itself.

Specifically, substantial, obligatory and non-biased political education is long overdue. If people are to be informed for elections, they need to understand how the system works, who the main political players are and the importance of voting in the first place.

The key to a healthy democracy is a knowledgeable population. Political education in schools is a much-needed solution to our ill democracy.

6. Automatic Voter Registration

One barrier to voting in the first place is the fact that individuals must register ahead of polling day. Generally, this is a simple procedure that takes a few minutes, however, that’s not the point. Individuals should have an automatic link with the political system via being able to vote from the get-go.

Automatic registration takes place in other countries, why not here?

Let’s make voting easy.

7. Compulsory Voting…For First-Time Voters

Many individuals, including myself, are very vary of making voting compulsory. The freedom not to vote is an important freedom and people should vote for the sake of it.

However, the proposal for first-time compulsory voting is a compromise that could set voters on a path to consistent engagement as there is strong evidence that voting is habitual, meaning that once individuals start they will continue to do so for the rest of their lives. Perhaps it would be worth piloting this to see its impact.

The proposal