Federalism: the best future for Scotland

Introduction by Sir Menzies Campbell MP
Chair of the Home Rule and Community Rule Commission

I have been a supporter of home rule and a Scottish Parliament all of my political life.

Home rule for Scotland within a reformed, federal United Kingdom has long been the constitutional aim of Liberals and Liberal Democrats.

Now, the constitutional debate in Scotland is arriving at an important staging post. The future shape of Scotland, and the very existence of the United Kingdom, are at stake in the forthcoming referendum.

It is time that the constitutional debate reached a settlement which will sustain our country in the unprecedented challenges of today and in the future.

Our approach represents a robust view behind which most people in Scotland can gather, one that serves to unite, not divide us.

We have always believed that the constitutional future of Scotland requires a broad consensus if it is to attract the support and loyalty of the bulk of the people.

We offer our contribution in that spirit.

We do so by asserting our conviction that the four nations of the United Kingdom are best served by continuing a partnership which has served them well; by recognising that constitutional reform is necessary to ensure that the structures of the United Kingdom reflect the aspirations of its people and the demands of a modern democracy. To do so requires an approach which maintains the United Kingdom but allows its different parts the opportunity to make such decisions as they and their citizens require in relation to those issues which most directly affect their daily lives.

Our approach is federalism, a system of government used across the world which allows for the expression of different identities within one system, but combines with it the additional influence and strength which comes from co-operation and common purpose. We argue for a distribution of powers among the nations of the United Kingdom, for joint action where that is necessary and effective, and for parliaments and assemblies across the United Kingdom to have substantial democratic choice and opportunity combined with the responsibility that comes from significant financial powers.

We have set out in detail in our report how to proceed on the road to federalism. We shall not be content with ensuring a good outcome for Scotland – we regard it also as a first step for the United Kingdom towards a modern constitutional future. Others may in sincerity wish no more than to redefine Scotland’s relationships within these islands, but our ambition is necessarily greater.

It is now very clear that there are essentially two options: the breakup of the United Kingdom into its constituent units, or a modernised, federal United Kingdom.

Home rule within a federal United Kingdom is the best way forward for Scotland and for Britain.

For us the need for reform does not stop at Holyrood; it is also clear that the approach of the current SNP Government which argues for independence is actually a highly centralised one, replacing Westminster with Holyrood. It is destructive of local democracy, and contrary to Liberal Democrat values. The view of other parties may be that the debate is entirely about the balance of power between Westminster and Holyrood. Our view is that it should be about real empowerment of the people and communities across Scotland.

Building on the work of the Steel Commission on Moving to Federalism we have set out our vision of what a home rule Scotland would look like, and what the implications are likely to be for a United Kingdom reformed on a federal basis. We invite other parties, organisations and individuals across Scotland to consider our views and engage in principled debate. We are conscious that the constitutional structures of our country should be built on the broadest possible consensus if they are to endure and be sustainable.

The ideas and structure we have laid out are unlikely to be achieved in one leap. Our priority is to secure and entrench a broader home rule settlement for Scotland, but there can be no doubt that this would benefit from major change at Westminster too. Over time, we are confident that the constitutional debate in England, currently under-developed, will progress and reach a conclusion – but time will be required for that debate. We expect that Scotland will contribute to the terms of that debate, at least by example, but it is for people in England to determine how they wish their own national and regional identities expressed within the constitutional structures of our United Kingdom.

The Liberal Democrats and their predecessors have long argued for federalism, which is not only compatible with home rule but should be its ultimate destination.

We make our report to the autumn 2012 Conference of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. If the recommendations are adopted by the party both in Scotland and in the United Kingdom the principles will form part of the Liberal Democrat manifesto to be put to the electorate across Britain in the General Election of 2015. In that election we will seek a mandate for the approval of Scotland acquiring full home rule status.

We will also set out to persuade people across the UK that a federal structure will serve them best, wherever they live.

A useful contemporary illustration of the benefits of a United Kingdom which is of particular interest to me can be found in the remarkable success of Team GB in the London Olympics and Paralympics. The unity of support from the whole of the UK underpinned these successes and was the focus of the celebrations which followed them.

We set out our views in this report with confidence and a firm belief that our proposals are in the best interests of all of the citizens of the United Kingdom.

Scotland will thrive with the fiscal responsibility and authority that comes with home rule, but that home rule settlement can only be stable if it forms part of the move to a truly federal United Kingdom.

We shall promote home rule and federalism at every opportunity.

The Home Rule and Community Rule Commission report

Preface by Willie Rennie MSP

Executive Summary

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Remit of the Commission

Members of the Commission

Summary of Recommendations

Commission report in full