Blair’s reply on unitary versus federal UK
In a recent letter of mine in the Independent newspaper, I argued the case for permanently solving the West Lothian Question (and resolving many other current anomalies) by completing the half-begun process of turning the UK into a fully-fledged federation, and ceasing to pretend that it is still a unitary state when since devolution it obviously isn't. I subsequently expanded the case in a recent post on this blog .
Intriguingly, Stephen Fry has now asked the prime minister in very specific terms whether, in view of the anomalies exposed by the West Lothian Question, the UK can really 'remain' a unitary state. Mr Blair's reply, unfortunately or otherwise, sheds little or no light on his views on this quite important subject:
There has been a lot of talk about Britishness, in politics there is the whole issue of the West Lothian question, as I believe it was called after Tam Dalyell, in other words the idea that devolution to Scotland has meant that essentially there is something rather unfair about the idea of a Scottish MP having a say in English affairs, and when they have their own parliament shouldn't it be a complete devolution? Is a unitary United Kingdom still on the cards with this kind of breakdown into devolution and also – I am sorry it is two questions – does British mean anything any more, should we actually just say English, and Scottish, and Welsh?
I think the British set of values that people share does mean something, I think they are distinctively British. I personally think the United Kingdom is still a very meaningful concept for people. I mean I like to think of myself as British, even you know though people will obviously think of themselves as British and Scottish, or British and Irish. But I mean I always think you know from my own situation, my dad was born in England, my mother was born in Ireland and both were brought up in Scotland, and I was born in Scotland and lived all my life in England. Now I don't know quite …
[Podcast interview by Stephen Fry with Tony Blair, 9 February 2007; concluding dots are in the original; my emphasis — BLB]
I'll put some further thoughts on the federalism argument, in the light of several interesting and stimulating comments on my earlier piece, in a new post here shortly. But I thought our prime minister's response to the direct question (unfortunately accompanied by a second and much easier question) deserved a post of its own. Now we know, or not, as the case may be.