A new department for the Union could boost all of Britain

The United Kingdom is the most successful political union in the history of the world. Beyond economics and trade, family ties and cultural similarities that have built up over the past 300 years bind together the family of peoples that is the modern UK.

In Scotland we have our own legal and educational systems and a civic society that is separate from England. We have our own branches of charities, trade unions and professional bodies. This has always been the case and it can be argued that the foundations of the Union not only make an allowance for this, but actively encourage it. Indeed, the Act of Union secured and protected the place of the Church of Scotland, the Court of Session and Scots law.

However, Scottish local authorities are separated from their English counterparts, Scottish Enterprise competes with UK government agencies and systemic incompatibilities in the health service make staff transfers difficult. There is no good reason for any of this. A road that needs repair, a child that needs support or a disease that needs curing is no different on either side of the border. Surely by working together across governments, parliaments and throughout society we can achieve much more for the good of everyone. This is the message I receive consistently from my constituents in Stirling.

The Canadians have a Department of Intergovernmental Affairs that provides the impetus for co-operation at all levels of government. It holds meetings throughout the provinces with staff representing all parts of Canada. The Canadian prime minister is the “unity minister” in charge of this department.

Here, a Department for the Union could replicate this function, drawing staff from all parts of the UK with a mission to drive co-operation and partnership working. It would help spread good ideas and improve services where difference has driven successful innovation, and serve as a respectful place to negotiate where there are arguments to be had.

A Department of the Union could replace existing Offices of the Secretary of State for Scotland and Wales, and the Northern Ireland Office. Non-devolved departments of the UK government could operate confidently as departments serving the whole UK. Wholly English departments such as health and social care, education and justice could be renamed as such to reflect their status. Making this significant change to government in a positive way would foster partnership and strengthen our union. By doing so we would set a foundation of partnership and joint endeavour to secure our union into the future.

 

Article in The Times, 16/05/18 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/scotland/a-new-department-for-the-un…