The UK is a unitary state, a country, not a ‘Union of nations’.We all live together in a country called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland which shares a common British identity, culture and outlook with some regional variations that should be respected and cherished. It has become common even for people who should know better (like various UK Prime Ministers such as David Cameron and Theresa May) to describe the U.K. as a ‘Union of nations’. This is simply factually incorrect under UK constitutional law. The UK is a unitary, or single, country with four constituent parts: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. NONE of these constituent parts are sovereign countries anymore (Scotland and England since 1707, Wales since the Fourteenth Century and Northern Ireland for about 800 years). Calling the UK’s constituent parts sovereign countries is factually incorrect and legitimises and bolsters the SNP’s claims that Scotland is a separate country. It also buttressed the idea in people’s minds that there is no such thing as Britishness as it re-enforces the idea that there are four countries on the British Isles instead of just one (plus Eire, obviously).
Scotland is an integral part of a country called the UK. It is often said to me by nationalists, and even many Unionists, that Scotland is a sovereign country, not a region of the UK. This is not the case. After Union in 1707, Scotland pooled her sovereignty (and resources) with Wales, Ireland and England and became a constituent part of a country called the United Kingdom with national sovereignty residing solely in the House of Commons. The same is true of the other constituent parts of the UK, Wales and Northern Ireland. Both these constituent parts of the UK enjoy their own distinctive culture and traditions but have also pooled their sovereignty and resources with the other parts of the UK to form a single polity that works together for the benefit of all, but still retain and practices their own distinctive culture and traditions.
Nationalists, and even some Unionists, might object to this on the grounds that it somehow diminishes their part of the UK, or demotes it to the status of simply being a province of England. This is simply not the case however. A unitary state doesn't necessarily have to be a centralised, out of touch state. One criticism certain people, even many Unionists, have of the concept of the UK being a unitary state is that this would make her highly centralised and therefore the regions of the UK would be controlled by far away, out of touch London and local culture and character would be lost as the regions become submerged in one large bloc with England. However,this doesn't have to be so. Within a unitary country,you can still have regional variations that support local democracy, character and culture.
Administrative devolution, whereby all power that is relevant to the running of local affairs is devolved to local councils and everything else resides with the House of Commons (no Holyrood, Welsh Assembly or Stormont) ensures that democratic accountability is kept at the local level and that decisions on local political issues are taken by local people who know far better than far away London what's best for their own locale. Decisions on other issues of localism (such as culture ETC) are also taken by well-informed local people and not some apparatchik in London who might neither knows much about or cares much for the UK's regions.Under a well thought out system of administrative devolution, a unitary UK can serve local democracy, localism and a strong, one hundred per cent secure and stable Union.
Under administrative devolution there are no devolved executives (no Holyrood, Welsh assembly or Stormont). Any powers that are relevant to the governance of local matters are devolved to local councils and any that relate to national issues are the remit of the House of Commons. This way, power is kept localized to the regions of the UK and democracy is kept close to the people as local councillors know what's best for their region far better than MP's, MSP's or MLA's in faraway London, Edinburgh or Cardiff. The Union is one hundred per cent guaranteed as there is no 'national' parliament through which modern aggressive nationalism, personified by the SNP (but also the increasingly by bellicosely vocal for independence/re-unification Plaid Cymru and SDLP and IRA/Sinn Fein) can pursue independence referenda. This way, the regions of the UK are fully able to control local conditions within a one hundred per cent secure unitary United Kingdom.
Being in an incorporating Union DOESN'T mean that its constituent parts have to become submerged in an all-encompassing bloc and lose their ability to govern their own local affairs (or lose local cultural identity either). It is often argued to me, even by many Unionists, not just nationalists, that a major drawback with the Union is the fact that their particular part of the UK (Scotland, Wales or NI) becomes submerged into a monolithic bloc with England, losing its local democracy and even its local culture and identity. 'We become just a part of England' they claim. However, it is one hundred per cent possible for the constituent parts of the UK to retain both localism in political matters and their local characteristics and culture whilst still one hundred per cent maintaining a homologous incorporating Union.
It is often claimed by nationalists that legislative devolution is not a danger to the unitary nature of the UK (despite the glut of evidence such as the independence referendum they made happen in 2014 despite the fact that at the time only twenty eight per cent of people supported independence and despite the fact that the constitution is a reserved matter and their subsequent constant pushing for another one to be held) and that they are simply trying to secure some autonomy for Scotland, some local control over Scottish matters as a counterbalance to the House of Commons.
This is shown up for the nonsense that it is as if this was the case then they would accept administrative devolution, as this provides full local control for the constituent parts of the UK. The real reason they insist on legislative devolution is that they want to utilise their devolved executive to grab control of then utilize it to push for independence referenda. This is backed up by the events in Scotland since the SNP seized control from Labour in 2007. There has been a succession of events in which the nationalists have made one attempt after another to transform their devolved executive into a proto-national government, including re-styling Holyrood as 'the Scottish Government', rather than just 'the Scottish executive'.
Central to the concept of the UK being a unitary state is that there should be a common UK Parliament with all MP's enjoying the right to vote on issues that arise from across the UK. Legislative devolution has created a multi-layered system of executives and a national parliament with which has created much inequality between the constituent parts of this country. One of the biggest problems with legislative devolution is the famous West Lothian question. The creation of separate devolved executives for the constituent parts of the UK has led to Scottish MP's being allowed to vote on matters that affects the other parts of the UK, but MP's from England, Wales and Northern Ireland can't vote on Scottish matters. This was extremely unfair and led to much resentment against the devolutionary settlement, and rightfully so. In order to counter this, the government of David Cameron introduced English Votes For English Laws (EVEL). This stripped Scottish MP's of the right to vote on English matters. This may seem fair, but the reality was that all is does is highlight the escalating madness of the legislative devolutionary process. Legislative devolution has introduced a self-propagating process whereby the UK is increasingly pulled apart by the inherent flaws and unfairness of the system. Administrative devolution neatly gets around this by ensuring that the regions of the UK are capable of governing their own local matters, whilst ensuring that the UK isn't destroyed by such processes.
Re-stating that the UK is a unitary country is necessary, every once in a while, as it has become increasingly clear in the last twenty years since the introduction of legislative devolution that this principle is under attack from all sides, even the so-called 'Unionist' parties such as the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal democrats. There are currently no mainstream political parties that support the concept of the UK as a unitary country with a common British culture and outlook or believe in a common British Parliament with British votes for British laws. For the last fifty years, the UK has gone down a path of de-constructing the last three hundred years of our history and replacing it with a narrative of the UK being four separate sovereign countries only loosely held together by the House of Commons. This path that the UK has been set upon has a trajectory that will eventually lead to the complete disintegration of the UK as a nation state, unless authentic Unionists, like the British Union and Sovereignty Party (BUSP), work together to stop it happening.
© 2018 Stephen Bailey.