A House Divided: Is the Division of Britain a Bad Thing?

By D.J. Tyrer
Interstate - Journal of International Affairs
2000, Vol. 1999/2000 No. 1 | pg. 1/1

New Labour’ has committed itself to giving each division of the United Kingdom a parliament or assembly of its own. Already we have a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly (just because Wales is a principality does it not deserve a parliament too?), as well as a nascent Ulster Assembly, unless the peace talks fail. So far England has been left out of this scramble for autonomy which has rather unfairly left it for now still under the control of the Westminster Parliament, giving Welsh and Scottish politicians a disproportionate say in British politics compared to those of England. Eventually, we are told, regional assemblies are likely to follow.

As the saying goes, a house divided against itself shall surely fall. So is the United Kingdom now a house divided, doomed to break apart in acrimony and infighting? Or does the creation of these new bodies inject a measure of democracy back into what was a decaying and impersonal institution?

Of course, it is easy to trot out the glib answers to these questions: it moves power closer to the people, say those in favour (but couldn’t you just give county and borough councils more powers and cash?); it encourages the break-up of the Union, goes the counter argument (but Ulster had an assembly for some time this century and it didn’t shatter the constitution). But what are the deeper issues?

Creating an intermediate tier of government is a great idea. Some issues are too wide or too complex for local councils while being too small or too localised for Westminster; these tend either to get left in limbo or are dealt with by either a local council without the power or scope to see it through (or several acting without co-ordination) or by a Westminster committee without local knowledge or sympathies. Creating an intermediate level would solve these problems.

But here arise new problems. Such an authority must have the power to be competent in its field or it is just a waste of taxpayers’ time and money, as of yet this problem does not seem to be fully resolved. It must have a clear idea of what sphere it deals with, there is no point in an extra tier if all it does is replicate what is done at local and/or central level, so far this area is rather vague but given time should cohere. The new tier’s position should be clearly

defined in terms of how far it has control over local councils and when it can oppose central government due to local concern. The Welsh and Scottish beef bans show this point clearly: is there a good local reason to oppose Westminster here? This again is a rather nebulous area but should start coming together through precedent if not by statute. And, most importantly: it must be fair! Giving other regions of the UK this tier while England remains influenced by non-English MPs on all matters (as opposed to just central matters) makes a mockery of the entire exercise and must be rectified as soon as possible.

An intermediate tier of government would, if correctly implemented and preferably complemented by more effective councils, certainly be very good for British democracy. For too long has local politics been dominated by Westminster dictate and local concerns been ignored while the fringes of the Union have felt marginalized. Giving people a greater say in their local affairs and letting those who feel marginalized have power can surely only be good.

But would division destroy the United Kingdom? Would, should, Wales, England and Scotland go their separate ways? The answer to this is that the creation of an intermediate tier does not necessarily have to be the precursor to break-up (after all both the USA and Germany consist of federations of states and seem happy enough). The Union could happily survive as a federation and would probably be better off like that than in breaking up.

A Britain separated into its constituent parts would be a bad thing. The most obvious point to note is that with three nations crammed onto one island there would be plenty of reasons for conflict (whether military, diplomatic or economic), for example, the Welsh water used in England; this would cause not only pointless strife but would also be detrimental to all the economies concerned. Separation would also make the economies of the resultant nations less competitive, with tariffs on trade between the three and conflicting taxes, and the creation of borders in such a small place would make travel needlessly awkward. Also, while Wales and Scotland are profitable in many ways, England is the economic powerhouse of Britain (it has far more workers/taxpayers than the other two combined) and its loss to the ‘Celtic fringe’ would almost certainly harm them more than their loss to England. Separation would also diminish Britain’s voice on the international stage as well as its military standing, as its size and prosperity are divided into three. None of these are pleasant prospects. Of course, they would mostly be negated in a newly divided Britain if the constituent parts joined a federal Europe, but that raises a whole new set of pros and cons…

A federal Union of some kind is quite probably the best and most logical outcome to the current debate. The Union would retain its international standing, military might and economic strength, the ‘Celtic fringes’ would bring their unique and diverse strengths to the Union with England providing the backbone, while Westminster would continue to make the decisions on those issues that affect the entirety of Britain and helping to co-ordinate the regions, while strong regional and local government would preserve democracy and provide local solutions to local problems. The division of Britain is almost certainly coming: it is vital that it makes Britain stronger rather than destroying it.

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

Tony Blair has long been committed to the abolition of hereditary peers; the 1997 Labour Party Manifesto promised that this would happen. Labour knew that reform would be difficult and would upset many people of influence, so they took their time and waited for the right moment. When that painful moment came, the abolition of hereditary peers was revolution by stealth.There was no fanfare, and no death knell after the debate was over. Even though... MORE»
Advertisement
It cannot have escaped any layman’s notice that the United Kingdom will very soon cease to mean anything to anybody at all, if it does indeed mean anything to anybody at the moment. Nationalism and devolution have ripped the soft underbelly of the Union apart, exposing long forgotten histories and ill-conceived identities... MORE»
"Britain can take"[1] it refers to a film produced by the Ministry of Information in 1940, which had been originally titled “London can take it”[2] and produced for the American public. The film portrays a rather happy go lucky picture of Britain during the early stages of World War II. Did this film, with its bold statement... MORE»
In one of the more memorable moments of the otherwise dull BBC coverage of US election night, veteran political commentator Charles Wheeler pointed out that President Clinton had just been re-elected by American voters... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow SP

Latest in Political Science

2017, Vol. 9 No. 04
This piece examines the ideologies and tactics used by fascist governments to validate and enforce their authority through Michael Mann’s work Fascists. By explicating Kant’s view of autonomy and progress, found in “An Answer to... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 04
Antonio Gramsci’s interpretation and analysis of “hegemony,” its mechanisms, causes and consequences for the Left, is fundamentally an attempt to grapple with how culture and the “common sense of the epoch” (Miliband... Read Article »
2012, Vol. 1 No. 1
Published by Clocks and Clouds
In response to a growing acknowledgement of the failure of international aid, one school of scholars has identified a lack of aid as the defining crisis in development. From their perspective, aid has failed in driving change not due to inherent... Read Article »
2012, Vol. 1 No. 1
Published by Clocks and Clouds
Since the mid-20th Century, voting rights activists have sought to open the American electoral system and reduce the costs of voting for all citizens. In this study, I look specifically at the impact of polling place localization in relation to... Read Article »
2012, Vol. 2 No. 1
Published by Clocks and Clouds
In the 1960s because of a stagnant economy, the Federal Republic of Germany (hereinafter as West Germany) invited Turks to Germany to work as "guest workers" (Legge 2003, 142). They were to work there for two years and then return to their homeland... Read Article »
2013, Vol. 3 No. 1
Published by Clocks and Clouds
The continued application of the death penalty in the United States marks the country as an extreme outlier among its allies and like-minded nations in the 21st century. In order to explain America's retention of this criminal punishment, scholars... Read Article »
2013, Vol. 3 No. 1
Published by Clocks and Clouds
While the enslavement of humans has been occurring even before the dawn of written history, today's form of slavery occurs on an unprecedented scale in both scope and reach. This work attempts to understand the most vulnerable sectors of population... Read Article »

What are you looking for?

FROM OUR BLOG

"Should I Go to Graduate School?"
5 Tips for Publishing Your First Academic Article
What is the Secret to Success?