Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Lessons from Canada

When I was in Ottawa, I went for a tour round the Canadian parliament. Although it's clearly based on the British model, there are some interesting differences.

For a start, it appears that there's the dangerous innovation of allowing every MP in the Canadian House of Commons their own desk within the chamber, meaning that MPs are more likely to attend debates as they can actually get some work done while listening to their colleagues speak. I suspect the British House of Commons is probably too small to allow that to happen at the moment, which is another good argument for having a slimmed down HoC with substantial power devolved to the nations and regions of the UK.

On the subject of devolved power, the debate I attended in the Canadian HoC was on education and it was interesting to hear a speaker from the Parti Quebecois making many of the same arguments beloved of our own dear SNP, to the effect that all the province's problems would be solved if it had full national sovereignty. In a world where national boundaries are becoming increasingly irrelevant, I find such arguments rather quaint. What matters is not so much national sovereignty but how well political power is used and to what extent shared problems can be tackled. Separatist arguments, whether in Scotland or in Quebec, always seem to ignore these issues.
However, it was a reminder that even if the UK were to move in a more federalist direction, along similar lines to Canada, it would not mean that questions about independence would magically disappear, as some people appear to believe. Although I think federalism is the best answer to nationalism, the latter would still continue to exist and we must recognise that.

1 comment:

Stephen B said...

Not sure that the HoC being physically too small is a compelling argument for federalism - anyway I got the impression that the chamber is empty much of the time. Does Holyrood do any better in this regard?

On the issue of localism, I think the British still tend to look to central government to cure its woes or blame if things go wrong. The poll tax was a good example of this when the Conservative government assumed that hefty rises in local taxation would be blamed on local authorities - only to find themselves receiving the blame.

I also think that the temptation to sort out 'postcode lotteries' will be too much to resist by national governments, whatever their hue.

As you know, I'm not a nationalist because at its heart, nationalism must have a sense of 'us' and 'them' which I often feel is not clear cut enough to warrant clear separation.

However, governments need to be seen as legitimate in order to carry out their work. In some cases this means bringing government to more local level (as in Scotland) but in other areas in needs to be recognised that there is little appetite for it (as in the North East of England). And, obviously to my mind, lack of confidence in the EU by most British citizens is a reflection of their belief that it doesn't represent them.

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