A new Act of Union is needed to re-configure internal UK relationships

A much smaller House of Commons could come in a more federated UK. Photo: Philip Toscano/PA Wire
A much smaller House of Commons could come in a more federated UK. Photo: Philip Toscano/PA Wire

It was Sunday August 31st 2014.

As we returned from Loch Lomond on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and awaited the Cairnryan boat, my eyes caught a glimpse of frightening headlines screaming from the pages of both the pro-nationalist ‘Herald’ and unionist friendly ‘Scotland on Sunday’.

Incredibly the separatists were ahead in one poll and marginally behind in the other.

“It wasn’t supposed to be this close,” I exclaimed as I was impulsively reminded of my time in the Antipodes, when Australian republicans comfortably led in the polls within three weeks of their equally divisive vote on November 6 1999.

When the Scottish referendum result was eventually announced, in those early hours of Friday September 19 2014, it was a huge relief for your correspondent, reminiscent of the victory for my friends, the Australian constitutional monarchists, back in the day.

On both occasions it was 55% against, 45% in favour.

A generation after my experience down under there is little sign of any appetite for constitutional change in either Australia, or New Zealand for that matter, as the Kiwis recently voted to retain their Union Jack-based flag but that, of course, is entirely a matter for them.

Unfortunately, however, it is a different story much closer to home with Brexit highlighting unparalleled division between the home countries and within those countries themselves.

But there is hope for those of us who, like our new Conservative and Unionist Prime Minister, believe in the integrity of the Union between England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. “That precious, precious bond”.

At the time of writing, Her Majesty’s United Kingdom has just decided to exit the European Union, Scottish nationalists are squaring up for another fight and, on this side of the channel, the words border poll and United Ireland have re-entered the vernacular vocabulary of our state broadcaster, the self-proclaimed National Newspaper of Northern Ireland and numerous social media bloggers.

Division between our four component states and further division within England itself has underlined significant differences between north and south, young and old, professional and unprofessional alike.

Furthermore English Votes for English Laws would lead to two tiers of government which in my view undermines unionism and helps the separatist cause.

However, thanks to a new cross-party campaign, headed by former Tory cabinet minister Lord Salisbury, the time has come for unionists to seize an initiative supported by notables such as former Secretary of State Peter Hain, ex Prime Minister John Major, Frank Field (Labour), Kate Hoey (Labour), Nigel Dodds (DUP), Menzies Campbell (Liberal Democrat), David Trimble and David Burnside (Ulster Unionist).

As we know, the United Kingdom is a multinational, multiracial, multicultural, modern liberal democratic state but those of us who are campaigning for reform have long recognised that the absence of a structured, codified constitution has only encouraged belated piecemeal change as a reaction to unforeseen events.

At present only Israel and New Zealand have a similar constitutional arrangement based on Acts of Parliament, court judgments and convention.

The Constitution Reform Group believes there is a case for a new Act of Union with a written constitution leading to a Federation of the British Isles. Westminster powers would be seriously restricted while each nation would be given sovereignty over its own affairs.

Only defence, national security, income tax, financial services, human rights legislation, wealth distribution and the role of the Bank of England would not be devolved.

If adopted, a new Act of Union would take effect only with the consent of each of the home nations and through a UK-wide referendum.

The House of Commons would be culled from its 650 members to around 146 MPs.

The House of Lords would be abolished and replaced with a democratic upper tier.

However, it is imperative that any new arrangement accords a proper settlement for England itself through an English Parliament and if necessary with further devolution to its regions.

Additionally may I suggest further reform to replace First Past the Post with a form of proportional representation, a reduction in voting age and the possibility of Aussie-style compulsory voting?

In my view, it is quite frankly scandalous that Ukip with just under four million votes in the last general election were rewarded with only one parliamentary seat.

In short, 801 years after the signing of Magna Carta it is time to re-configure the relationship between all creeds, races and peoples of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

It would help bring government closer to the people, Christians, atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Hindus and Jews, all ordinary people like you and me. More accessible, more accountable, more transparent.

That is the way forward.

That is the way ahead.

Alan S Carson, a former DUP Mayor of Castlereagh and Ulster Unionist constituency secretary, is founder of the pro-Union Mainstream Group on social media