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October 1991

Since the internal Tory Party coup which removed Margaret Thatcher from office, there has been much debate about Britain's role in Europe. Mrs. Thatcher based her strong opposition to 'Jacques Delors' European federation on the grounds that it would undermine British parliamentary sovereignty. 

Until fairly recently, this image of the Westminster parliamentary institution as the very essence of democracy - "the Mother of Parliaments" - has rarely been challenged by anyone in England. Most criticism came from outside England, from Scotland, Wales or Ulster. Today, however, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and groups such as Charter 88 are advocating some measure of constitutional reform. Much of this, nevertheless, does little to change the rigid and unbalanced nature of the unitary Anglo-British State. 

The present system of government has its origins in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The accession of William III to the English Throne killed-off the tyrannical Jacobite dogma of the 'Divine Right of Kings', absolute monarchy. England remained a monarchy but the Sovereign's authority was greatly diminished in favour of Parliament. The 'Bill of Rights' established 'the Crown in Parliament" as the ruling power. Today this means a majority of one in the House of Commons! The 1689 Bill of Rights gave no rights to the people. It merely established a system which gives no guarantee against executive or elected dictatorship. It makes clear that our status is that of subjects of the Crown rather than participating citizens. 

The Anglo-British State styles itself as 'The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland' (see the front cover of your passport). Perhaps a more appropriate term would be 'The Divided Kingdom'. It is not often mentioned but 'Britain' is not a nation it is a multinational kingdom. The State is dominated, both in terms of economic and political power by England, and more particularly by London and the 'Home Counties'. This is why I am using the term 'Anglo-British State'. 

Historically, the island of Ireland and also Wales were conquered by Anglo-Norman This left them in a state of subservience towards England. The name 'Britain' was coined after 1707 when Scotland and England entered into a parliamentary union. Today the UK, after the Irish Republic, is the most centralised State in Western Europe. This stems from the fact that the English parliament extended its authority throughout the British Isles in the name of the Crown. This is one reason for the apparent inability of most English people to distinguish the terms 'England' and 'Britain' and for the assumption that Wales, Scotland and Ulster belong to England. This is often the cause of great resentment among Scots, Welsh and Ulsterfolk. 

If constitutional reform is to achieve anything worthwhile it will not be enough to change the parliamentary voting system. Proportions Representation as used in Ulster local government elections is arguably a fairer voting system. The present 'first-past-the-post' system allows parties with minority support to gain unrepresentative parliamentary majorities at Westminster. Democracy, however, has to mean much more than the opportunity to mark a ballot paper with a cross or a 1,2,3 preference every four or five years as at present. 

At present Parliament has absolute power in the U.K. A majority in Parliament can do as it pleases. No Parliament can bind its successors. There is no constitution to limit the decisions of Parliament. At the very minimum a written constitution with a genuine Bill of Rights to protect the rights of citizens from the danger of the arbitrary exercise of power is needed. When Mikhail Gorbachev was the victim of a coup attempt by members of his own party, he was removed after protests that his removal was unconstitutional. Yet in the 'U.K.' the transfer of power from Thatcher to Major was done without reference to the people. This monstrous negation of democracy was perfectly legal - an example showing the inadequacies of the present system. Power should be in the hands of the People - not Parliament and not the Crown 

Another nettle to be grasped is the position of the Monarchy and the Royal Family. The very existence of this institution is a constant reminder of our subject status. The sight of the numerous offspring of this family jetting about at our expense is at last starting to annoy many people. The uncritical acceptance of this anachronism is beginning to break down. All the powers and prerogatives of the monarchy must be transferred to the people. 

The unitary structure of the Anglo-British State is unbalanced. We have much to learn from the growth of a new regionalism growing throughout Europe. As Thierry Mudry of the Alliance Regionalists de Provence told this magazine: "Regionalism is a way to defend all the identities It is less difficult to defend your identity with regionalism than State Nationalism"

I am not talking about 'devolution' alone. Any power devolved from Westminster can be taken away again. This happened in 1972 when the Heath regime shut down the Stormont parliament in Ulster. It had existed for fifty-one years. Power must be de-centralised towards the nations and regions of these islands. Such power could be pooled for common interests in a new Confederation of the British Isles. In the short-term Ulster, Wales and Scotland should seek self-government.

David Kerr

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