A new Act of Union? Cross party group publishes Bill to “save” UK

Stuart Rodger

Draft Bill published by group calls for UK Parliament to be stripped down to 146 members

A DRAFT bill for a new Act of Union has been published by a cross-party group of politicians in a bid to save the UK from disintegration.  

Its proponents have described it as an attempt to turn the constitutional settlement “upside down” with media reports calling it an attempt at a “federal” restructuring of the UK. Critics, however, have dismissed it as having the potential to “reduce” the power of the Scottish Parliament. 

The Bill has been drafted by the Constitution Reform Group (CRG), a cross party group of politicians which includes former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell and former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain. The group is convened by Lord Salisbury. 

“There's no ability in this for any of the four constituent parts to unilaterally draw powers in.” Marco Biagi 

The draft Bill – published on the group’s website – proposes that The Scotland Act 1998 be amended so that “the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government have competence in all matters except the central policy areas”. The list of central policy areas is extensive, including control over immigration, international treaties, defence, and national security. 

On sovereignty, the Bill states: “The UK Parliament continues to exercise the authority of the Sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom. Nothing in this Act diminishes or otherwise affects the extent of that Sovereignty.”

On tax, the Bill proposes that the UK Parliament should retain power over “central taxes” including income tax, corporation tax, and VAT. On monetary and fiscal policy, it proposes a UK Funding Committee and the replacement of The Bank of England with a Bank of the United Kingdom, with representatives from the UK’s 4 constituent nations on the boards of each. Currency would remain a “central” power, however.  

“The UK Parliament continues to exercise the authority of the Sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom.” Draft Bill 

The Bill would repeal sections 35 and 58 of the Scotland Act 1998, which give the Secretary of State for Scotland power to intervene in cases where the Scottish Government has acted in ways “incompatible with any international obligations”.

Other proposals in the Bill include the formation of an English Parliament, the abolition of the House of Lords and its replacement with a senate of representatives from its four constituent nations. The remaining Westminster parliament would be reduced to 146 members. 

The Constitution Rights Group was open about its intention to “wrest back the initiative from the separatists”. The publication of the Bill follows the group’s discussion paper, published last year, which stated: “This paper is based on the premise that the United Kingdom as a united and effective Union is under threat. The most obvious and immediate threat to stability is the likelihood of a renewed referendum on Scottish independence.” 

Critics, however, have dismissed the Bill. Former SNP minister Marco Biagi, said: “There's no ability in this for any of the four constituent parts to unilaterally draw powers in. And that list of nine central policy area that are the preserve of the UK Government would effectively reduce the powers of the Scottish Parliament.”

Kezia Dugdale, leader of Scottish Labour, has also “tenatively” suggested federalism as a solution: “There may be a possibility that Scotland could retain its place both in the UK and in the EU through a potential – and I have to say this tentatively – a potential federalist solution which could see us achieve that.” 

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser has also expressed sympathy for a federal solution. Writing for Reform Scotland, he said: “A move toward a federalist or at least quasi-federalist arrangement would have the beauty of dealing with a number of constitutional issues at one stroke: addressing the democratic deficit issue affecting not just Scotland and Wales, but other parts of England.”

Picture courtesy of: Flickr / Neil Stokes 

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