By Lord Touhig - 1st March 2012
Lord Touhig argues the case for a constitutional convention with a clear objective of preserving the Union.
I have always thought of the United Kingdom as four nations but one country. And for me the union of the whole underpins the different and distinct identities of the Welsh, English, Scottish and Northern Irish.
Preserving the Union has never been more difficult. Not only is there the issue of a separate Scotland put at the top of the agenda by the success of the SNP in their elections, but this Conservative/Lib Dem government has made it more difficult for unionists like me when they push through legislation which will result in the biggest piece of political gerrymandering in our history.
I refer, of course, to the bill reducing the number of parliamentary constituencies – thus weakening the Union in the eyes of many in Wales and Scotland, for sure.
In Wales we will lose 25 per cent of our representation in Westminster – reducing the number of MPs from 40 to 30. We will have fewer MPs than we had in 1832!
If I am really partisan I could say that the one redeeming feature is the fact that the Boundary Commission for Wales’ first draft report setting out the new 30 constituencies will all but wipe out the Tories and Lib Dems in Wales – not something the government had in mind, I am sure. But if I am to be fair, I have to say that the Tories, who consistently poll 20 per cent of the votes in Wales, should be fairly represented. I suppose the same could be said for the Lib Dems.
Throw into this mixture the Clegg bill to abolish the House of Lords and you soon come to the conclusion that if you were to begin major constitutional change in the UK, you would not start from here.
I am attracted to the idea put forward by Wales’ first minister, Carwyn Jones, for a convention to look at the whole operation of our constitution. Such a convention could look at the relationship between the nations of our Union, the changes brought about by devolution, and whether or not our future is in a federal United Kingdom.
I am not suggesting a federal UK is a desirable outcome, but it is something we have to consider.
If we had a constitutional convention, there is only one pre-condition I would like to see in all this, and that is that our objective must be to preserve the Union. That is far more important than the immature posturing from Messrs Nick Clegg and Mark Harper about the future of the House of Lords.
Lord Touhig was raised to the peerage in the County of Gwent in 2010.