Can Only Federalism Can Save The Territorial Unity Of The United Kingdom?

In the world of democracies, Britain is different. Why? Because simply it is one of the oldest democracies, its political system has been evolving for more than 800 years. As most of you might know, during the medieval times France was claimed under rule by the then King of England; differently now however they are not, yet sovereignty was gained over Wales and Scotland, still remaining to today. There are obvious limitations present in the British model, through the failure to transplant its institutions to countries gaining independence from the British Empire, and even more by the failure of institutions that have worked in England to bring political stability in Northern Ireland. The evolution of democracy in Britain contrasts highly with the European history of countries switching between democratic and undemocratic forms of government. A system of asymmetric devolution was established for the first time in Great Britain in 1999. Its advocates hoped it would strengthen public support for the maintenance of the United Kingdom, whereas its critics feared it would have the opposite effect.

Now in order to judge whether or not Federalism in the United Kingdom would have any positive effects you must first look at the current examples of Federalism in the world today. Federalism is followed not only in the world’s first world countries such as United States of America, Australia and Canada, but also present in developing countries such as Mexico, India and Brazil. Federalism in the United States was established during the constructing of their Constitution during 1787. Many nations, as listed, have adopted this way of Federalism as they believe it will help with enabling different regions with different cultures and interests to join together as one nation.

A major aspect of Federalism, which is an important argument when it comes to Federalism in the United Kingdom, is that it requires a division of powers in government as Federalism can be seen in a number of ways:

  1. Separate State Constitutions. Each of the six States retains its own Constitution, Parliament and Government.
  2. The Federal-State division of powers. The Australian Constitution establishes the Commonwealth of Australia in which “the legislative power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in a Federal Parliament”. The Constitution also details a range of powers and responsibilities of the Federal Parliament. Powers not enumerated in this section are known as residual powers because they reside with the States. This division of powers between the central and State governments is the core of the federal idea.
  3. The structure of the Senate. This chamber comprises an equal number of senators from each State, regardless of population. Hence, Tasmania has 12 Senators, as does New South Wales, even though there is a huge difference in population between the two. The Senate has to approve all legislation passed by the House of Representatives.

Brazil’s in a comparative aspect has shown that Federalism has to an extent worked for them, despite being a developing country.  Brazil employs three different electoral systems: president, state governors and major cities. Brazil parties and system however is less ‘controlled’ and so have been seen as ‘weak’ in comparison to their counterparts elsewhere in Latin America. As stated by Frances Hagopain and Timothy J. Power, Brazil’s party system remains one of the most disjointed on the world. Despite efforts of reformers to reduce the number of parties in Congress.

When it comes to the divided structure of the government into States in comparison the United States is approximately is 2,903,380,506 square miles larger than the United Kingdom. The United States is divided into a Separate State Constitution; if actions such as this was to take place in the United Kingdom which is considerably smaller then the United States thus it relies on the support of a complete union. In simpler terms, if the United Kingdom was to change to Federalism certain states would suffer more than others due to the high level of debt being experienced.  And with the amount of debt in the Country, if States were left to deal with debt by themselves, being so small they would suffer leading to no territorial unity being made. There are many factors which are important to take into consideration; examples have shown that Federalism has worked extremely well for countries such as Australia, the United States, Brazil (to an extent, seeing as they are suffering manty political and economic downturns) and many more. I believe however that an approach of Federalism would not help save the Territorial Unity of the United Kingdom, but rather make the country suffer economically. It is hard to argue that because Federalism has worked in other Countries it would work for the United Kingdom. There are other options which are yet to be explored and considered; the changing of a constitution and developing of states during a difficult point of time for with the major issue of high debt Federalism is not the way to go.

Australian Federalism; Federalism, Malcolm Farnsworth,

Federalism: A Legal Research, What is Federalism?  pp. 3-7, Adrian Espiritu, 24 October 2008

Devolution: The New Federalism Overview, Robert Tannenwald, May/June 1998

Works Cited:

Australian Federalism; Federalism, Malcolm Farnsworth,

Federalism: A Legal Research, What is Federalism?  pp. 3-7, Adrian Espiritu, 24 october 2008

Devolution: The New Federalism Overview, Robert Tannenwald, May/June 1998

Comparative Politics Today, A World View, Politics in Brazil, Chapter 15,  Frances Hagopain and Timothy J. Power


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