We, the People
Our Right: The People's Convention

We believe that the people of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England should be offered the opportunity to play an active role in envisioning, and contributing to the creation of a modern, collaborative, distributed and open democracy – the UK transformed, and our democracy renewed. We believe that this can be achieved by:

  • Asserting the right of the People to determine the form and scope of the governance established in their name: Ein Hawl - Our Right
  • Creating open and inclusive processes which facilitate the widest possible engagement of people and communities in the design of new constitutional and governance arrangements: Confensiwn y bobl - The People’s Convention

Our second paper, Our Right | The People’s Convention, sets out our recommendations for how that process should be taken forward. Our recommendations are based on two fundamental principles: 

  • the full engagement of people and their communities is of paramount importance in this process
  • the people who live and work in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have an unassailable right to determine the forms of Government that best suit their needs.

On that basis, the terms of this paper are applicable throughout the UK, and we would urge that all people “at hame wi’ Freedom” who want to live within a modern, democratic and empowered system of governance adopt, and campaign for the principles and actions set out in ‘We, the People – the Case for Radical Federalism.’

We, The People
The Case for Radical Federalism

Radical constitutional reform is no longer an option, it is an  unavoidable necessity. The internal conflicts within the structure  of the UK must be resolved. This paper is a contribution to the start  of that debate, and sets out the reasons for reform, the principles  upon which any future reform should be based, and the process for  getting there. 

We believe that the people of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland  and England should be offered the opportunity to make a positive  choice for the opportunity to envision, and contribute to the  creation of a modern, collaborative, distributed and open  democracy – the UK transformed

14 January, 2021

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold … 

WB Yeats 

On 18 October 2020, writing in The Observer, Gordon Brown reflected on the difficulties and crises besetting the UK at the  moment, and issued a stark warning: “it will soon be impossible to  hold together our multinational UK of distinctive nations and  regions within the straitjacket of a centralised state.” 

He pointed to the tensions between local and central government. He described the lack of consultation and involvement by central  government of other stakeholders with considerable and legitimate  interests in the development and implementation of policy. He  noted the consistent trend in Scotland, as revealed in opinion polls,  towards support for independence: “Never has the United Kingdom  looked more divided and more polarised.” 

He looked at the failings of the devolution project: “we have  devolution but still a centralist mindset. We have, in theory, a  decentralised constitution with supposed local powers of initiative,  but a unitary state that won’t let go.” 

He believes that the UK governance is fundamentally flawed, and  “needs to be rethought and rebooted – starting with a convention  engaging all nations and regions and built out of local citizens’  assemblies”. 

These views are also reflected in the recent statements of the First  Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, commenting on the impact of  Covid on the state of intergovernmental relations: 

“We continue to work for a more effective devolution settlement for  Wales, within a strong Union. Covid-19 has raised awareness of the  respective responsibilities of the UK Government and the Welsh  Government. It has shown that Wales can, and should continue to, benefit from the decisions made by our devolved institutions, based on our circumstances, as well as wider measures across the UK.  The association of nations in which we have been able to share risk  and reward in these unprecedented times has also been to our  advantage.” 

To secure those advantages for the future we need radical reform  of the UK. It requires a new constitutional settlement, devolution  for, and within, England, a continuation of the decentralisation of  power across the UK, and a recognition of the vital importance  

within this process of the role of local government. It would also  mean a voluntary association of devolved nations where  sovereignty is held by each, and then pooled for common  purposes.” 

It is clear that differing views can be taken on the nature of radical  decentralisation, in the light of European experience and practice,  and this is an area we will examine in a forthcoming paper. 

The reach of the process of devolution cannot simply end at the  level of nations and regions: devolution must also extend to cities, towns and communities.  

The First Minister of Wales and the Welsh Government set out  substantial proposals for reforming the governance of the UK in  ‘Reforming our Union: Shared Governance in the UK’, published  in 2019.  

The need for this reform can be seen as being even more urgent  when seen in the context of the Internal Market Bill currently  before the Westminster Parliament. For the first time since the  

Devolution Act of 1998, this legislation will deny Scotland, Wales  and Northern Ireland intrinsic devolution powers, and assimilate them into the Westminster government. 

We recognise also the statements of the cross party Inter  Governmental forum consisting of legislation, constitution and  Justice Committees of all the UK Parliaments and Assemblies that  the current constitutional arrangements are not fit for purpose. 

Radical constitutional reform is no longer an option, it is an  unavoidable necessity. The internal conflicts within the structure  of the UK must be resolved. This paper is a contribution to the start  of that debate, and sets out the reasons for reform, the principles upon which any future reform should be based, and the process for getting there.

We believe that the Labour Party should be facilitating the  debate for reform, and leading the process for engaging people  in designing a better future for Wales, Scotland, Northern  Ireland and England, in which power is decentralised and  brought closer to the people and their local communities. 

Our countries, regions and cities deserve a future which is  better than the options currently being offered to them by  nationalists and Conservatives. The process of designing and  planning for that future needs to start now – it is an urgent necessity. 

The criticisms made by Gordon Brown, and others, of the  limitations of the Westminster Government are valid. The First  Minister for Wales, Mark Drakeford, believes that “in its desire to  centralise power and remove obstacles in all branches of  government to exercising that power, the UK Government is  undermining devolution.” Indeed, it is reported that the Prime  Minister believes that devolution in Scotland has been a “disaster.” So, for voters in Scotland and Wales witnessing the centralising  drive of this radically chaotic Conservative Westminster  government, and facing an open and uncertain future in the  coming post-COVID, post-Brexit world, independence may appear  to offer a more appealing, alternative future.  

The folly of the government trying to survive in the post-COVID,  post-Brexit world by becoming even more centralist and  autocratic, stands in stark contrast with the inclusive,  collaborative ethos of the Alliance for Full Employment in which  the cities, regions and nations of the United Kingdom are coming  together to fight for nationwide economic recovery policies.  

The Alliance for Full Employment is a positive example of how  devolved governments, regions and cities can work together in a  voluntary partnership of equals, to attack and remedy structural failings and threats which occur across the UK. Such challenges  are simply beyond the reach and capabilities of our embattled,  centralising Westminster government, or the smaller, weaker  governments sought by the nationalist advocates for independence  in the UK nations. 

So it saddens us that the only choice which seems to be on offer to  the voters of Scotland and Wales is a strictly binary choice between  an ill-defined ‘independence’ or the status quo. Further, no choice  of any sort is being made available to voters in the cities and  regions of England, ignoring the importance of constitutional  reform in that country to us all, and the historic links and common  interest we share across the nations of the UK. 

We believe that voters are looking for hope, and the prospect of a  better future. We believe that the people of Scotland, Wales  Northern Ireland, and England need to be offered the prospect of  the UK transformed: transformed in the ways we govern  ourselves, in how we sustain and protect the environment, in how  we plan for, and share prosperity, and in how we safeguard and  extend fairness, justice and equality throughout the nations,  regions and communities of the UK. 

Keir Starmer has described this vision as ‘radical federalism’,  where the devolution of power and resources through a new  political and constitutional consensus would deliver “power, wealth  and opportunity back into the hands of the people”. 

We believe that this devolution of power, wealth and opportunity  would revitalise and strengthen the nations, regions, and cities of  the UK. It would strengthen democracy at all levels, and encourage inclusive, active engagement. 

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, similarly has  called for devolution to be extended: "What we need is more  devolution so that more places like Greater Manchester can be  masters of their own destiny". 

The status quo is simply not an option. The UK’s system of  governance is broken, and a change is well overdue. 

We, the people, deserve a better country. A country where every voice counts, a country that is fair, just and helps everyone whether rich or poor. 

We believe that the vision of a UK transformed should be driven  by the values which are at the heart of the Labour Party. 

People need to be offered the prospect of aUK transformed on the basis of democracy, fairness, justice, climate stability and  equality.

We believe that the vision for a UK transformed should be  projected through the prism of these core values. Any structural  solutions should come as a result of this process, not as the starting  point for debate.  

We believe that the vision for a UK transformed should be  informed through a network of people’s assemblies, consisting of  people drawn from local communities and interest groups, who  have the lived experience and knowledge of what is broken and not  working, and how it should be fixed. In Northern Ireland, other  means of engagement, informed by the experience of consultative  arrangements provided for in the Belfast Agreement, may be  required.  

We believe that, through the power of people’s dreams, aspirations,  and visions, a transformed UK can be created, and our nations,  regions and localities can be changed for the better.  

So, what might a UK transformed on the basis of the values of  democracy, fairness, justice, climate stability and equality look  like? 

The UK state would perform only those strategic tasks which  could not be performed at a more local level 

The UK state would become a genuine, cohesive voluntary  union of nations and regions 

At its financial core would be a commitment to a fair share of  resources and prosperity across the whole of the UK, and a  public financial settlement for the distribution of resources on  a needs-based principle 

A UK framework would guarantee minimum and common  standards in health, social welfare, human rights, education  and housing across the UK, allowing the constituent nations  to set their own levels above that minimum, with delivery  mechanisms, and accountabilities, strongly rooted in the  nations, regions and localities 

The historic nations of the UK would be respected, and would  be governed by parliaments responsible for their economies,  infrastructure and the health and welfare of their populations, and supported by the voluntary, shared  governance of a UK parliament, responsible for the key areas  of defence, macro-economic, trade, fiscal and foreign policy 

The Belfast Agreement of 1998 provides the framework and  safeguards for decisions on the shape and operation of  devolved government to be made within Northern Ireland.  The Agreement sets out protocols governing the relationship  between the devolved government in Northern Ireland, and  the UK Government, and provides scope for consultative  engagement with civic organisations and institutions. 

The regions, cities and localities of England would be  respected, and would be given the freedom to design, through  participatory people’s assemblies, a model of devolved  governance appropriate to their particular needs and desires 

The spirit and principles of devolution would be extended throughout the nations, regions, major cities and localities of  the UK, ensuring that decisions are taken at the most local  level appropriate, transferring power, control and choice  away from Westminster, through the Welsh Senedd and the  Scottish Parliament, to the cities and their regions, closer to  people and their communities 

a new constitutional settlement would be established for local government embedded in legislation, giving local  authorities parity of esteem and partnership with central and  devolved legislatures, confidence in long term financial  planning, and assurance about their place in the system of  governance 

the scope and innovative potential of local authorities would  be extended by promoting the use of the power of general  competence, in order to ensure that local services are  planned and designed to match precisely the needs of their  local areas and communities 

the UK would be outward looking, free to forge alliances and  partnerships across the world, and ready to accept its place  in upholding international peace and security, climate change  policy, human rights, development and disaster recovery 

a modern, reformed parliament and democracy, would be  supported by a modern, effective and accountable second  chamber of the nations and the regions 

it would be a UK free from patronage and privilege the quality of corporate governance in business and industry  would be opened up and strengthened by establishing a requirement for boards of directors of public and private  companies and organisations to be gender and diversity  representative 

workplaces would be democratised, through a mandatory  scheme for employee directors, and in association with the  Trades Unions, the creation of employee councils to widen  involvement in decision-making and planning in British  workplaces 

the formation and growth of cooperative enterprises would  be encouraged in all sectors of the economy, providing decent  jobs, empowering young people, women, BAME groups, the  disabled and LGBT people, and benefitting cooperative  members and communities 

local solutions and responses to accelerating climate crises,  would be encouraged, and through the engagement of people’s  assemblies, the creation of innovative policies on climate  change, community safety and food security would be  developed 

The voters of Scotland and Wales are being forced to choose the  ‘least bad’ option between independence and the status quo.  Neither is a good choice. Labour must offer a progressive  alternative. 

We believe that the people of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland  and England should be offered the opportunity to make a positive choice for the opportunity to envision, and contribute to the  creation of a modern, collaborative, distributed and open  democracy – the UK transformed