aidan skinner campbellAhead of Scottish Labour conference, Aidan Skinner sets out a blueprint for a form of federalism which could provide the structures and opportunity to enable Scotland and the UK to re-engage with the world.


The current position is that the United Kingdom parliament is sovereign and allows the Scottish Parliament to legislate in Scotland except on the matters listed in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act.

Donald Dewar’s approach of reserving specific matters to Westminster has had some unintended consequences: famously regarding Arctic policy and now, due to the disaster of Brexit, agricultural policy, fishing and other areas previously managed by the European Parliament.

The UK Parliaments general power to legislate Scottish law leaves open the possibility that the Scottish Parliament’s functions could be changed, and in an extreme case it could abolished entirely, by the UK Parliament without the Scottish Parliament’s consent. Although this is politically unlikely, any federal settlement would need to secure the Scottish Parliament as a permanent feature of the UK constitution.

One way of achieving this would be to alter the relationship to one of sovereign Parliaments negotiating their areas of competence, either exclusively or shared.

Rather than devolving power from a sovereign UK Parliament, the Scottish people could pool their sovereignty with other citizens in the UK Parliament through the Scottish Parliament. This would acknowledge that the people of Scotland have given their explicit consent to both the Scottish and UK Parliaments through referendums in 1997 and 2014 respectively.

On that basis the procedures governing the relationship between the Scottish and UK Parliaments, such as Legislative Consent Motions, could be placed onto a legal basis similar to Section 30 orders.

This shift in relationship could achieved by two changes to the Scotland Act. The first is to specify that the ability of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Scotland is limited to those areas in Schedule 5 unless the Scottish Parliament passes a Legislative Consent Motion.

The second is to specify that the Scotland Act itself can only be modified by an Act of both the UK and Scottish Parliaments.

Neither change would need to alter the current competences of either Parliament. Diceyan constitutionalists would object on theoretical grounds but it’s past time that view was consigned to the dusty history books it came from.

These changes would only be part of a shift to a federal UK.

We have already developed quasi-federal bodies such as the UK Supreme Court and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Taking this process further would be a crucial part of this program.

The Bank of England is ripe for federalisation. Currency is a crucial issue in the debate about partitioning Scotland from the rest of the UK. Renaming it to the Bank of the UK would be a symbolic step. More significant would be requiring approval of the Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh governments to appoint the Governor, or to change the inflation targeting mandate under which it operates.

Part of this shift should also be a recognition that the Scottish Parliament does have a right to decide to separate from the UK. Government without consent is no government at all. As constitutional changes are a significant event I’d suggest we follow the lead of many Other Normal Nations® and require a qualified majority of two thirds to trigger another referendum. It may be our right, but we have other things to do.

The UK is a unique country with common problems: we must recognise our imperial past, rebuild our political systems to tackle the threat from domestic disillusionment and external manipulation, and reduce our impact on the environment to tackle the existential threat of climate change.

A federal UK could provide the structures and opportunity to take the radical steps necessary to re-engage with a world we’re drawing back from at a time when we can’t afford, and have no right, to do so.

Constitutional fiddling may seem to many like an indulgence, especially at this moment. But it is something we can’t afford to hold back from or delay. It’s a necessary part of the journey to a world which serves the many, not the few.

Related Posts

26 thoughts on “Federalism In One Union

  1. The statement that the UK Parliament is sovereign is total and utter lies. The people of Scotland are sovereign, as agreed by UK Parl. This is utterly appalling journalism the facts of which could have been easily determined with a simple Internet search.

  2. I just don’t see the point of pushing this. It’s like parents persuading their adult kid its foolishness to leave home, and make their own way in the world, when they could just stay in the granny flat in the basement, hand over their wages and get an allowance back. Trying to convince us that is a viable route to re-engaging with the world that is preferable to independence is naive at best.

  3. It may just be me, but I am sure we already have a mandate to hold another referendum as voted in by the people of Scotland and also voted for in the Scottish parliament by a majority of Scottish MSPs.

    Also what would a “federal UK” offer, that an Independent Scotland could not better throughout all circumstances.

    Its just another labour federal smokescreen, it means nothing and would achieve even less.

    When are you Scottish labour members going to realise your present position is making your party disappear faster than snow aff a dike. You either take up the fight for Scottish independence or crawl away into insignificance.

  4. Interesting article unfortunately the consequences of Brexit has moved the constitutional debate on, it’s only a matter of time before a border poll for unification will result in Northern Ireland merging with the Republic of Ireland. Following not far behind will be an IndyRef2 with a Yes vote for lndependence that will result in an Independent Scotland, and l for one will be glad to have an lndependent Scottish Labour Party in an Independent Scotland.

  5. I would love to have a Scottish Labour party that full square believes in the Claim of Right and is pro-UK as it is in Scotland’s interests. i’m hearing too much from some in the party about Scotland not having the right to a referendum when it has been voted through by the Scottish Parliament. I don’t think that right can be anywhere else than through a Scottish Parliament election and Labour must back that concept unequivocally. If it was less wooly on the issue it might lose some party people but would open it’s door to the electorate in Scotland. It is seen as suspiciously thinking it is in London’s gift.

    I think Scottish Labour need to be stronger for Scotland whilst believing in the UK. They’re votes are found within current SNP voting progressive moderates. I don’t believe Labour has to believe in independence to thrive. That’s nonsense but it needs to be seen as champion for Scotland within the UK. I think that’s where most Scottish people currently sit but those in charge of the party are out of step with this.

    1. I understand your argument but I disagree with it (no one falls over in shock). Labour could thrive in an independent Scotland where it no longer has to worry about central office in London smacking them down if they go off message. What is good for SE England, which is the dominant voice in Westminster, is rarely of any good to a “peripheral region” like Scotland. If you want “progressive” policies enacted in Scotland by a Labour “Executive” (a very telling nomenclature when it comes to Labour’s historic view of Scotland’s place) then your best option is an independent Scotland. Waiting for a Tory dominated England to vote Labour long enough to get anything meaningful done, before the Tories get back in to wreck it all again, shows a touching affection for the “precious union” but is a seriously flawed choice when it comes to enacting progressive policies in a Scotland “labouring” (sic) under the “subsidy junkie” label that is the unionists (mendacious) weapon of choice.

  6. Putting aside the issues of trust after “…the vow delivered…” and the behavior of Labour in the Smith Commission, it’s way past time when this would suffice. Had we already been in a federalised U.K, we would still be getting dragged out of Europe against our will and could still be dragged into illegal wars against our will.

  7. Putting aside trust issues after”…the vow delivered…” and labour’s abysmal conduct in the Smith Commission, it’s way past time when a this plan would suffice. We’re w in afederalised U.K. at present, we would still be getting dragged out of Europe, and could still be dragged into illegal wars.

  8. My laptop was in for repair because of that I got locked out of the blog that’s why I sent testing .
    Aidan as a Labour Party member for me Federalism as an idea ended at the 2014 ref .
    And tonight with some Labour MPS voting against the motion of Hilary Benn to take control was lost by 2 votes
    Then the abstention on a peoples vote Jeremy orders an abstention then declares support I think .Not me I see nothing good in Brexit .Westminster is not my Parliament anymore its Holyrood .Corbyn and I voted for him will be a laughing stock .
    I do understand labour MPS in leave areas voting leave .We should have voted for the peoples vote not to is indefensible

  9. Also unbelievable Peoples vote say Labour did what they wanted as peoples vote not ready to run a campaign .
    I think I will give up Westminster in gridlock its not working .
    Holyrood my parliament now also I did not need to see Politicians of all parties bickering in front of the cameras

    1. David the Scottish Parliament is fantastic modern eg electronic voting and the level and behaviour of the MSPs who by and large are well behaved, compared to the Westminster Parliament which is old fashioned and the MPs are rude and badly behaved.

      1. Ted thankyou for your comment
        The whole Westminster set up is clearly not working gridlock . I have heard a few times in commentary that some MPS want the present system to stay as during votes they can speak to other MPS.
        The whole building is falling apart not fit for purpose .
        There must be an office block somewhere modern and equipped with electronic voting .Watching this shambles the Speakers put downs are the best part .
        The behaviour of MPS of all parties in the chamber is shocking .
        Just compare it with Holyrood and Cardiff .
        I still cant believe that the Peoples vote campaign said again today that they did not want a vote as they recognized they did not have the numbers in parliament .And worse say they are not yet in a position organization wise to run a campaign .
        Labour should have voted even if the PLP had split .
        This counts to me .
        Now I read Corbyn and Blackford will meet this week .And the PM is off on Brexit duties again .
        Gov and DUP are talking I think a dodgy deal will be cooked up to get meaning full vote 3 through .
        And we the public then get to live with the repercussions .
        Whatever the deal its not what the public were asked to vote for in the EU ref .
        So what is wrong with going to the people now we know whats on offer and saying do you still want to do this

        1. I refuse to use the term “People’s Vote” to describe having a referendum that lifts us out of this embarrassing Brexit mess. ALL referendums and elections are “People’s Votes”, not just the desirable option to have decisive, clarifying referendum to settle this issue.

          The first Brexit referendum was seriously flawed in that the Leave campaign was, to say the least, misleading people and outright lied on several occasions. Given the questions that are being asked of it, it seems inconceivable that some prominent members of it wont end up in court over it.

          People are now more aware of the consequences of a Leave vote and have three clear options to choose from;

          (1) Remain
          (2) Leave with May’s Withdrawal agreement
          (3) Leave with no deal.

          The question should be asked in the form of the Scottish Devolution question. That is, a double question;

          (Q1) Should the UK Leave the EU or Remain?
          (Q2) If the decision is to Leave the EU, should it be with the Withdrawal Agreement or No deal?

          The decision would become UK Govt policy and the will of the Westminster Parliament. It is the only clean and sane way of resolving this wreck of an issue. Westminster is clearly a shambles on this issue with Labour and Tory alike simply manoeuvring in their own self interests rather than those of the people they purport to represent. Let the electorate sort it out for them.

          Of course, the decision would not be binding on the Scottish Parliament. If Scotland votes even more overwhelmingly to Remain but is, yet again, trumped (sic) by a rUK Leave vote, then the Scottish Govt should consider its own position vis a vis Scotland’s place in the “precious union” and its desire to be an outward looking, independent country in control of its own destiny.

  10. The 1 billion bung to the DUP The millions spent on companies with no Ferries etc we have had austerity supposedly have any accountants actually looked at where that money came from .Whats the cost of all the PMS and entourage trips to Strasbourg .Just imagine the difference that money could have made to Universal Credit clients Foodbanks Homeless etc or keeping gas electric prices down they are going up
    And on vote day Trump intervenes to say PM did not listen when I told her not to do Brexit that way and Donald what happened to not intervening in another countries internal affairs .
    Including no need for a peoples vote .
    Well Donald the PM is not listening to anyone and she must be approaching your record for Cabinet bust ups .And Surprize Surprize DUP are back in play.

  11. Went to the Surgery today Heavy Cold Oxygen levels great as was BP that’s what I was worried about I have a lung condition
    So Advanced Nurse gave me a lecture about how I got the cold it involved being out in the rain Saturday AND Sunday .
    Knew when I got to the surgery it was trouble when reception told me I was seeing the advanced Nurse not a GP.I knew from previous experience you will not get a row from the Doc but you wont get anything past a good nurse and they all are .
    So when me and the new medication got home .
    The telly said speaker gave a ruling No Meaningful vote 3 unless PM changes the motion makes me think should there have been a meaningful vote 2 .And does it get the PM off the hook .
    And NASSA say a huge fire ball exploded in the earths atmosphere with a force 10 times the force of Hiroshima But no one noticed as it was above the Bering sea well can anyone beat that.

  12. Was hoping Methadone Mick from Still Game would run for PM
    But I think Brexit would be to much even for Mick .
    And as CH4 news is saying Meaning full vote 4 was being planned . Until the Speaker threw a spanner in the works without warning the Gov .CH4 say ERG were whistling the theme tune to the great escape in the commons tearoom .
    I don’t think MR Speaker was going to be a Lord annoyed to many Tories and by annoying the rest of them that’s probably the Knight hood probably gone as well .
    Tory MP Owen Patterson says this lets the UK take up Presidents Trumps excellent trade offer

  13. Well folks no meaningful vote 3 tonight blame it on the speaker what will the PM do now for our next exciting episode of Brexit the end game maybe .
    Sources what else say PM after a rammy at Cabinet is writing to the EU for an extension to June 30 maybe longer
    Speaker issued his ruling on convention based on a ruling made in 1604
    No wander STV reporter was laughing when asked to explain

  14. Just seen a report on STV News about Downs Syndrome accompanied by the video don’t stop me now .
    I had the honour and privilege to be Pavilion Attendant in a building where we had OAPS and a disabled club used to meet Downs people used to come over do the dishes drink the tea No matter what problems they were facing in life they were always cheery and I used to say how many people do you know who can lip read they could..

  15. Found this in the paper
    Aileen McHarg Professor of Public Law at Strathclyde University thinks a Scottish Independence referendum could legally be held even if the PM said no .She thinks the Scottish Parliament could legally organize a referendum .But ln the event of a yes vote we would not have the power to declare Independence we would have to get Westminster agreement .
    Elisenda Casanas Adam of the University of Edinburgh said the question of whether the Scottish Parliament would have competence to legislate for an Independence referendum was left open and unresolved because FM Salmond and PM Cameron reached agreement .They believe there is a legal argument that the 2014 Indy Ref and the Brexit vote were advisory

  16. Watched the Indy Ref series in 14 I was in and out of Hospitals all year .Got out of Gartnavel hospital in August .
    Was at Home 24 7 for the last 4 weeks up until voting day I had a postal vote anyway .
    Apart from official leaflets through the post .
    Not 1 leaflet and no canvassing from either side .Not just me but my street ,Jim O Neill came to ask if I could help and all I could do was phone poll from home .
    I knew that it was historic and I wanted to be involved thought it would be a one off .HAHA
    Then on vote day Yes were round not to me reminding people to vote .
    I did the same the night before on the phone for no .
    I have said this before on result day Alec Salmond in resigning acted with dignity .David Cameron in his speech did not .
    I think we now know from the Indy series he did not consult widely on what he was going to say.
    And it pulled the SNP together like nothing else .
    Also I did not know about the train full of MPS who came to Glasgow but I had a great laugh at the guy who harangued them with the Star wars music and all bow to your imperial masters here on expenses haha
    Also thought that Alec Salmond had walked away refusing to answer Nick Robinsons questions .
    He did not I think it was a score draw and they wont agree haha

  17. Also this got a phone call on my mobile Computer was asking if I had been in the bank recently then cut of and went to missed call .
    Vodafone say scam call came from Poland they cut the call automatically because number recognized as a scam .Also scammers realized they were rumbled and also hung up .
    Vodafone tell me I would have been asked for bank details I lost no money and I have been told it is Computer generated .
    Throw in numbers and computer dials until it gets a live number I am told 070 numbers are false so just hang up
    They have phoned me twice .

  18. Yesterday was a disgrace at PMQS the PM blames everyone .
    Then during debate the Speaker and everyone else finds out from an Ian Murray point of order asking if its in order for the PM to speak to us from no 10 rather than the Commons .
    The Speaker said yes although he had not been told .Todays press say that info came from the Irish Government
    Then Jeremy turns up for we are told what he thought was a one on one with the PM spots the other leaders there with Chukka tells them he has to go and vote and does not come back .
    Then Labour say the meeting was not what was agreed to so he left .
    Then the PMS TV statement I am on your side you are all fed up .
    Westminster is not my Parliament anymore I am concentrating on helping labour on my local council and at Holyrood which is now my Parliament .

  19. You know Aidan when Holyrood was set up we had real political leaders at Westminster look at todays mob not a leader amongst them .
    Just heard on BBC News the Brexiteers slogan was take our country back yet our PM is in Brussels trying to keep in long enough to work out how to get us out and the bill for leaving 39 billion

Comments are closed.