A written constitution but not by default
By Derek Wyatt
The end game has to be four lower parliaments - England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - of equal powers. Not a new city mayor here in Manchester and there in Sheffield and oh by the by, regional autonomy for Cornwall. This is a madness: you cannot go on amending a “constitution” without an overarching plan.
Over the top of the four national parliaments would be an elected upper chamber or senate of 2 members per unitary or county authority. This would always mean a majority for England. The Senate would hold the following powers – Treasury, Foreign Affairs including overseas aid; aspects of Intelligence, the internet and policing; the Environment and large structural projects like Heathrow or HS2. The rest would be devolved to national parliaments. An unanswered question would be whether the lower parliaments need to be unitary or bi-cameral. Of course, I am a dreamer; none of this going to happen.
We are sleep walking to a serious constitutional crisis. Northern Ireland is simply dysfunctional but its current problems hardly register in the London centric media. Scotland will be independent by 2020 but do we care? And poor Wales it has less powers than either the Scottish Parliament or Stormont.
Now, I first suggested this constitutional settlement in 1999. Here we are towards the end of 2015 and the unelected House of Lords has just cleverly and within our unwritten constitution voted against a quasi-financial bill from the House of Commons! You could not really make it up. We have politicians unable to think straight.
What are we to do? Despite all the protestations – the “huffing parties” - there appears to be no political will to reform the House of Lords. Meanwhile, we are moving to an independent Scotland. It is an unstoppable bus. We have no consensus for an English Parliament. We badly need a Royal Commission on the Constitution to report by 2018 (after the EU referendum).
The EU referendum will divide the nation; a simple Yes or No majority might be won by the tightest of margins. Unless the Prime Minister publishes his red lines none of us will really know what his thinking is. It is no good just saying our trade will suffer with EU countries. Why will it? We are an important trading nation and trade with EU countries will go on whether we are in or out of the EU.
The EU has essentially been two bodies – those inside the currency and those not. We should be leading the countries outside the euro but we have been indifferent at best.
The problem is that none of know who our MEPs are and we have no idea what the European Parliament does.
The structure of the EU has to change. Instead of going to Strasbourg once a month at an absurd cost to us all, MEPs should have to come back to their national parliaments to give an account of themselves. They should be accountable first and foremost to their own parliaments not solely to the EP.
To my mind we are fractionally better off being inside the EU tent. But without reform, my sense is that the British people will vote against.