#DevoMax – good enough for Scotland, good enough for England too?

Interesting article (many valid points) but why did @Frances_Coppola say: “Wales and Northern Ireland would still be represented [in the Westminster Parliament], although there would probably need to be fundamental changes to prevent them being swamped by the dominance of England”?

Why do we draw this distinction between Wales, Ireland, Scotland and the rest of the UK? If someone claims to be English and demands fair representation for the English, they are roundly derided as little Englanders and xenophobic. Yet when someone in Scotland, Wales and Ireland says they are Scottish, Welsh or Irish and demands the same they are applauded as proud, independent people. Nationalism seems to be considered acceptable beyond the English border but not in England.

Yet there are no major genetic, racial, facial, or ethic differences between most of the people living in the UK. This whole debate about nationalism is founded on a nonsense notion that there is still a clear distinction between various local tribes. Even if there were, there are probably as many so-called Scots, Welsh and Irish living in England as there are so-called English in the rest of the UK. But if one group of people is permitted to demand self-determination, surely all should have the same right.

Now let’s look at the East of England: population 5.3m compared with 5.1 in Scotland. We are as homogeneous as the population in Scotland – we even have a proud history as a once independent kingdom (OK not since 917AD) and a rather independent state of mind (the unofficial motto of Norfolk is ‘do different’). Why shouldn’t we have equal representation and control over our destiny as people in Scotland – #DevoMax even?

Time perhaps to abolish all the district and county councils in the region and have an East Anglian parliament instead. We could build it between Bury St Edmunds and Thetford – our ancient capitals. By reducing the number of politicians and paying them a professional salary we might even reduce bureaucracy, improve efficiency and increase accountability – while attracting a higher calibre of candidate.

PS: As far as I can tell, I have a fair mix of Welsh, English, and Irish ancestors (as well as a few from the ‘kingdoms’ of Yorkshire and Lancashire) – so what does that make me? I think the answer is British.

What to do with the Lords?

If we must have a second chamber then it must have democratic legitimacy if it is to act as a check (though not a block) on the Commons and initiate some laws. Since people complain about the lack of proportional representation when voting for MPs, the second chamber should rectify this deficiency. However, since using direct elections to select representatives for a second chamber would undermine the primacy of MPs, we need a system that is both indirect and proportional.

The second chamber should have just 300 members (half the number of the, to be reformed, Commons). We would only select these after each general election from those candidates who failed to win election to the Commons (this would prevent the list from becoming just another patronage tool for party leaders – since local constituency parties select most candidates).

We would divide the seats between all the parties contesting the general election based on their total share of the national vote. Parties with less the 1% of the national vote would not get a seat. In the interests of fairness, Independents would count as one party.

We would rank all the losing candidates for the Commons by the total number of votes they won in their local election. This would favour candidates who nearly won in constituencies where more people voted. This should encourage people to vote for a good candidate who is unlikely to win because they might still get a seat in the second chamber.

Say the Conservative Party wins 33% of the national vote – we therefore allocate it 99 seats in the second chamber. Ms Blueeyes is their losing candidate with the most votes so she gets the first seat. Mr Bluenose also got more votes than most other Conservative losers – so he gets the second seat, and so on until we have allocated all the party’s seats to its top 99 losers, (the remaining losers don’t get a second chance).

If Independents got 5% of the national vote – they would get 15 seats in the second chamber. Again, the losing Independent candidate with the most votes in their local election would get the first seat.

We would not allow parties to replace candidates with other nominations – if a candidate dropped out then the seat would go to the next losing candidate down the list. This way, every person in the second chamber is a named individual who has at least stood in a general election and gained a reasonable number of votes. The overall makeup of the second chamber would be proportional but since none of the members would represent a constituency, they could not usurp the role of the MP.

Second chamber representatives could naturally stand for the Commons in future elections – their role in the second chamber might help them build (or destroy) their political reputation with the electorate – somewhat reducing the advantage usually held by incumbent MPs and so making for fairer elections.


FPTP or PR – is there a middle way?

A vague thought this…

We’ve just had a referendum on AV – seems the yes campaign was trounced. Those who support FPTP will use this as an argument against any further calls for PR – “look we gave you a chance and you lost – obviously no appetite for change.”

So what could be done in the meantime to give a bit more balance to the voting system – to make people feel that their vote counts even if they don’t get the constituency MP they want.

(Aside: I actually think the LibDems in particular have done themselves a big disfavour by putting it around that just because your choice doesn’t win, your vote doesn’t count. All votes count, except those not cast – politicians think they can simply ignore non-voters. By voting you influence the debate – you show that there is at least some support for a particular position – that matters. If you never speak, you won’t be heard.)

Well how about we abolish the house of Lords (a good thing to do in itself) – and in its place have a ‘balancing chamber’ with say 300 max seats allocated to parties on the basis of their share of the national vote. This second chamber would have powers pretty much the same as the current Lords – the Commons would have primacy.

So at the last election the Conservatives would have got 108 seats, Labour 87, LibDems 69 and other parties 36. Any party with 1% of the national vote would get 3 seats. Now the old parties might fill their seats with ex-MPs – or show biz personalities 🙂 – but the young parties might use it as training ground for those who did not get into the House of Commons. Every party would have to publish a list of their potential candidates for the seats – in order of preferred allocation – so that voters could see in advance who might be in this second chamber.

Here’s another thought – I don’t much like the idea of the state funding parties but the big ones already get some funding so here’s a way of ensuring votes translate into funding: each party should £10 for every vote cast for it in a national or local election.

This should give people an incentive to get out and vote for the party of their choice even if their candidate won’t win the actual seat. They would know that not only would their vote count in the balancing chamber but it would also ensure valuable funding for minority parties.

While we are at it, we should ban companies from funding parties. I don’t favour imposing personal funding limits – what people do with their own money is their business but I don’t think companies should be using shareholder funds to back specific parties. (I would also ban parties, MPs and candidates from endorsing company funded ‘campaign’ ads).

There we go – some wild, Friday night musings. What do you think?