As the world now knows to its cost, climate change, pandemics, conflict, and economic repercussions respect no national boundaries. We should therefore approach our constitutional deliberations and intergovernmental relations in the spirit of consensus-building and cooperation, and with a firm eye on the needs and aspirations of those future generations who will call these isles their home.
Some believe that discussion of constitutional matters amounts to little more than a diversion from people’s real concerns, such as the cost of living crisis, jobs, and the parlous state of the health service. However, it is misleading to suggest that the public is wholly disengaged from constitutional issues. And it is imperative that an informed debate on what kind of future model would get the greatest possible support and traction is now progressed. Constitutional reform is unfinished business in the UK and will remain so until a fair and lasting settlement is agreed. What follows is an outline of references that might inform that debate.
A League-Union of the Isles
Conceived as a reflection on my constitutional writing since 2016, and specifically how I came to settle on a model of confederal-federalism, A League-Union of the Isles (2022) includes the following essays.
Towards Federalism and Beyond (June 2016), a swift response to the outcome of the Brexit referendum, highlighting the challenges facing Wales in economic and social terms. In it, I advocate the immediate need for a campaign to redefine the UK as a federation so that those competences returning from the EU could be suitably allocated to the nations, along with other much-needed reforms to the arrangements underpinning devolution.
A Constitutional Continuum (December 2016), an exploration of developing momentum for fundamental change and reform amongst many academics, politicians, and the public at large, specifically investigating potential models of governance based on partnership principles including federalism and confederalism. In early 2017, my rediscovery of the article Confederal Federalism and Citizen Representation in the European Union (1999) by Professor John Kincaid took my developing continuum considerations to more nuanced ground.
A Federation or League of the Isles? (July 2017), an in-depth discussion of federalism, confederalism, and more significantly – that possible middle ground – confederal-federalism. Not wishing to alienate the generally moderate elements of both unionism and nationalism to the substance of the proposition, I labelled the model ‘a league-union of the Isles’ and embarked on setting out a practical description of what such a framework might look like. This essay also appeared in a joint booklet with Lord David Owen and Lord Elystan Morgan in September 2017, launched to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the vote to establish the National Assembly of Wales. A second joint booklet followed in February 2018.
A wider view
The essay These Isles (April 2019) is my contribution to the developing constitutional debate not only in Wales, but in the context of the UK as a whole. The exposition frames the question as follows: “With many today asserting a multicultural Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, or English character along with a form of dual nationality which embraces a British personality, it is reasonable to reconsider the nature of Westminster’s parliamentary sovereignty. The pressing issue of our time relates to whether sovereignty, as currently understood, should be shared across these five territorially defined identities (including that of Britain) in a traditional federal arrangement, or instead assigned individually to the four nations—Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England—which in turn could delegate parts of their sovereign authority to common central institutions of a fundamentally British composition.”
These Isles was followed by the briefing paper Constitutional Relationships and Sovereignty in These Isles (September 2019) and its infographic supplement Illustrated Constitutional Models and Exemplar Principles (September 2019). Though associated with Labour in recent years, from December 2019, I acted as an External Commissioner on Plaid Cymru’s Constitutional Independence Commission, which resulted in the published report Towards an Independent Wales in September 2020. In it, the model of a league-union of the Isles was publicly presented as an option alongside the Benelux model, proposed by the party’s leader Adam Price MS.
During summer 2020, I liaised with Professor Jim Gallagher on his developing thoughts for Could There be a Confederal UK? (University of St Andrews), which is an important paper by a past Director General of Devolution for the UK’s Ministry of Justice. Simultaneously, I was concerned to state on the record why an isles-wide constitutional model of confederal-federalism is a more suitable proposition than that of federalism, a loose confederation, or an independent Scotland or Wales acting solely within the EU.
A sovereign Wales
The essay A sovereign Wales in an Isles-wide Confederation (February 2021) emphasises that: “Devolution involves a sovereign Westminster, in effect, delegating a measure of sovereign authority to the devolved institutions. A League-Union of the Isles turns this constitutional approach on its head, advocating four sovereign nations of radically different population sizes delegating some sovereign authority to central bodies in agreed and important areas of common interest such as internal trade, currency, macro-economics, defence, and aspects of foreign policy, with the British monarch continuing in role. Thus balancing change and reform with continuity.”
My response to the Welsh Government’s Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, submitted in July 2022, continued to explore the ‘pros and cons’ of devolution, federalism, confederalism, and the aforementioned model ‘in-between’, advocating a robust social, economic, and security union of nations directed by a limited, but mature, political legislature. I have since had the pleasure of discussing the options in recorded sessions with Professor John Denham and Professor Jim Gallagher, and at events with David Melding CBE and Professor Andrew Blick.
Today we are confronted by unprecedented constitutional challenges and tests which require exploration of fresh solutions and governance models for the future, and this is what my booklet, in pdf and in ebook formats, aims to present. I leave the final word to Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales between 2009 and 2018, who in his review of it writes: