The Small Island with Big Influence

The island of Great Britain (which is actually the ninth largest island in the world).Image Credit: NASA via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

     Two years ago during the G-20 Summit, a spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin reportedly said that Britain was a “small island no one listens to.” British Prime Minister David Cameron accepted the official line from the Russians that such remarks were not made, but nevertheless responded with a robust defense of the United Kingdom.

     “Britain may be a small island”, he said, “but I would challenge anyone to find a country with a prouder history, a bigger heart, or greater resilience.” He focused on this small island doing its bit in being resolute throughout World War II in the effort to “clear the European continent of fascism”, as well as the island that helped to abolish slavery, invented “most of the things worth inventing, including every sport currently played around the world”, and being responsible for much of the “art, literature and music that delights the entire world” as well as for the world’s language of trade and commerce – English.

     He added that the UK was actually a collection of islands with places such as Northern Ireland, Shetland, and Orkney, and that despite their overall size, these islands could boast of “having the sixth-largest economy, the fourth best-funded military, some of the most effective diplomats, the proudest history, one of the best records for art and literature and contribution to philosophy and world civilisation”, and that this was something to be proud of. 

     At the time, there were skeptical voices in response to Cameron’s statements. Some people on the political left poured cold water on the remarks – saying among other things that Britain was involved in slavery and the slave trade before ending it, that the Soviets were bigger players in defeating Hitler, and the many British “inventions” were in fact only created in their modern form by Britons. On the other side, there were conservative stiffs on the right who thought that it was out of British character to be so boastful about the UK’s achievements – saying that it made more sense just to pay no attention to the Russians. Keep calm and carry on, they said.

     However, the Prime Minister was right to give that defense of the United Kingdom in light of remarks that were designed to belittle a country that has been considered (at least in some circles) to be on the decline ever since the end of World War II. With the United States in the role of a superpower and the rise of countries such as China, India, and Brazil, there are those – including many Britons, it seems – who make it an industry to talk of Britain being a broken-down and washed-up former imperial power with wilting influence and a place in which there is little or no civic or patriotic pride. 

     Of course, it is true that Britain no longer wields the sort of power it once had when it could command the resources of a global empire – the largest in human history – and can no longer expect people to bend to its will. However, Britain does remain a world power of paramount significance through the exercise of soft power.

     Soft power – as defined by Harvard Professor Joseph Nye – is the “ability to affect others to obtain preferred outcomes by the co-optive means of framing the agenda, persuasion and positive attraction”, and it works by “using networks, developing and communicating compelling narratives, establishing international norms, building coalitions, and drawing on the key resources that endear one country to another.” This is in contrast to hard power, which involves the use of military and economic might to coerce others through methods such as military interventions, economic sanctions, and monetary payments. In short, as Professor Nye has said, “hard power is push; soft power is pull.”

     Nye coined the term “soft power” in 1990, but admits that it is not a new concept. As an American, Jazz Diplomacy comes to mind as a method the US government used to woo other countries and develop friendly relationships, but the idea has roots going back farther than that, and Nye mentions Lao-tsu’s comment that it is better for people to barely know that a leader exists, rather than for the people to obey his commands.

     As the world becomes more complex, multi-polar, and defined by interconnected relationships which create limits on the effectiveness of hard power, the use of soft power becomes increasingly paramount.

     Here, the United Kingdom is in an excellent position to make a difference as it tops the rankings of a report by Jonathan McClory of Portland Communications in conjunction with Facebook and ComRes, called The Soft Power 30. It ranks countries based on six objective areas: business attractiveness (Enterprise), cultural influence and outreach (Culture), digital footprint (Digital), government structure, public institutions, and public policy (Government), engagement with other countries and diplomatic outreach (Engagement), and the equality of education and the attraction of foreign students (Education).

     The UK came in second place in the Digital, Cultural, Engagement, and Education sub-indices, and was in the top twenty with regard to Government (13) and Enterprise (17). There was also a subjective component which featured international polling data regarding how international audiences viewed particular aspects of a country, such as trust in conduct in foreign affairs, perceptions of contributions to global culture, desire to visit for work or study, and perceptions of cuisine. On these and four other metrics, the UK scored at 7th place in the view of people from outside the country. 

     Altogether, and when compared to other countries, the UK emerged in front with a score of 75.61, well clear of the runner-up Germany (73.89), which edged out the US (73.68) and France (73.64) before the top five rounded out with Canada at 71.71.

     According to the report, the UK’s strong performance across all sub-indices that make up the soft power index was the result of “publicly funded and state controlled” resources, such as the BBC World Service, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Department for International Development, and other critical institutions. It also cited the work of the British Council, the UK’s higher education system, and “publicly funded cultural institutions” – referring to them as “world class” and providing a “tremendous source of attraction and admiration around the world.”

     Aside from these government-backed and government-funded resources, there are also private sector resources which help to exert soft power in more subtle ways, such as Britain’s creative industries (art, film, music, architecture, design, and fashion), renowned and respected British businesses (Rolls Royce, Burberry, and British Airways), and British sports culture with institutions such as the Premier League which “have a positive impact on perceptions of the UK.” In addition, a further explanation on this point cited how soft power is exercised through popular examples of British culture, including Harry Potter, David Beckham, and the Royal Family.

     Soft power from the United Kingdom is also exercised via a “very strong civil society” which includes a diverse range of organizations “from charities, NGOs and the religious community, through to cultural institutions and even trade unions.” Furthermore, Britain is home to various international organizations (Amnesty International, Save the Children, and Oxfam) which are focused on issues and concerns such as development, disaster relief, and human rights, and therefore “form an integral part of British soft power.” In this sense, soft power is exercised on a voluntary basis by the people themselves, including those who are ordinary and often unrecognized for their efforts. 

     Such efforts are undoubtedly made easier by Britain’s significant international clout, which is derived from its “enviable position” in the G7, NATO, the European Union, the UN Security Council, and “at the epicenter of the Commonwealth.” With a seat at the top table of virtually every organization of “international consequence”, Britain takes its role as an outward-looking country, and it may very well be for this reason (on top of all the others) why Britain attracts more foreign direct investment than Germany, Spain, or France, and why it claims the top spot in the soft power index.

     However, the report did note areas of potential concern, such as the possibility of Britain leaving the EU, and on this matter, the report noted that the extent of Britain’s influence will be tested during the negotiations for EU reform and that David Cameron must bring something home from such negotiations, lest he lose credibility as a world leader and deal a blow to confidence in Britain. 

     This comes at a time when, as the report noted, Britain is moving a “more inward looking politics” and no longer committing itself as much to international outreach due to budget cuts to critically important institutions such as the FCO, the British Council, and the BBC World Service. Such cuts in funding, claims the report, “will prove a false economy in the future” because the driving force in global affairs will be large networks forged over decades. Without them, Britain’s influence is seriously undermined, and Professor Nye has said, once soft power is lost, it is costly to re-establish.

     Overall however, this report displayed to a large extent the reason Britain – far from being the broken clap-trap portrayed by nationalists and some newspaper columnists – is a great country with the potential for a brighter future, and also justifies Prime Minister Cameron’s defense of it in response to the alleged Russian comments two years ago.

     That the report states that most British people may be surprised to learn that Britain is number one in a significant global ranking is in indication of how many Britons no longer believe in themselves or their country, when in fact there is much to be proud of throughout these sceptered isles. Indeed, the report remarks that the “success of the 2012 Olympics was a coup for a country struggling to rediscover its confidence in the wake of two recent wars and a major recession.” Watching those Games myself, I was certainly happy for Team GB in winning as many medals as it did and glad to see the British people enjoying themselves as their country exceeded expectations.

     Hopefully, this report can be of some assistance in helping the people of the United Kingdom to realize what they have in their country, and how they take it for granted. This means taking some satisfaction in the capital city London, which the report counts as “the jewel in the crown” among the UK’s soft power resources with its “unrivalled…global outlook, position, and connectivity” which results in it attracting more visitors than any other city in the world.

     London – for all that it has been much-maligned (and for some good reasons) – is a strong resource in the hands of the UK that ought to be embraced, especially as a place that can serve as a springboard for people to visit the UK beyond the capital city.

     The same applies to the BBC, which via the World Service, helps to project Britain around the globe, and I can personally testify to this as a regular listener who values the service and believes that it does so much to help foster positive views about Britain and make it great. For that reason, I am concerned about the potential for the government to make short-sighted changes to the BBC and its funding mechanism, as well as the threat from the SNP, who want control over broadcasting and the BBC to be devolved to Holyrood. The result either way will be to shrink the BBC to a shell of itself and to strike a devastating blow to Britain’s very identity.

     For all of its faults, the BBC is a recognizable and very visible symbol of Britain, and efforts must be made to reform it for all the right reasons, but not for party political reasons or for reasons that are deliberately meant to weaken the UK.

     Indeed, I wish the people of the United Kingdom – from Inverness to Southampton, from Belfast to Kent, from Anglesey to Shetland, and everywhere in between – would just take a moment to pause and take stock in the country they call home and see the things that ought to be treasured, including the Union itself.

     After all, there must be a reason why people from overseas (including yours truly) wanted Britain to stay together and not be broken up. There must also be reasons why they like the Royal Family, why they watch the BBC, why they read Shakespeare, Burns, and Rowling, and among other things. Partly, it is because all of these help to make Britain what it is, shape how we view Britain, make us admire and respect Britain, and most significantly, draw us to Britain. Without them, the country – divided and utterly broken – would become unrecognizable at best and dystopian at worst, and the world would be poorer for it.

     We need a strong and robust United Kingdom that deftly, efficiently, and effectively deploys its soft power, while also keeping its hard power on hand. We need a United Kingdom that is at the heart of helping to resolve world issues. We need a United Kingdom that preserves its institutions while also looking to the future and being confident in everything it does.

     But in order for that to happen and continue, we need the British people to come together as one and value themselves and their country as people on the outside do. To that end, there ought to a designated day for people to celebrate the United Kingdom – its people, achievements, institutions, history, and culture – so that there can be a sense of civic pride in the country and make the bonds that bind even stronger going forward, and I urge everyone reading this (who lives in the UK) to sign this petition to help make it a reality.

     However, a new national day will only go so far, for there must be substance behind it. In time, I hope that more people throughout the UK (from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) will take some time to get out and see their country to appreciate it, and work with one another in a great British civic effort to make it a better and more prosperous place for all at home, and to project it positively across the world.

     This will be the basis upon which the country – these small islands in the Atlantic which punch above their weight – will survive for the ages in the spirit of Burns: “Be Britain still to Britain true, Amang ourselves united!”

Question Devolution

     In recent times, it has become in vogue in British politics to talk about the need for political and constitutional reform. This particularly means the devolution of political power from the UK Parliament at Westminster to other governing administrations within the UK – namely the devolved governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, as well as local council areas and regions within those areas and England, the largest part of the Union.

     With regard to Scotland in particular, politicians both nationalist and pro-union from all parties are of the opinion that more powers need to be exercised by the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood in isolation from the rest of the UK. For nationalists, they see devolution as another stage towards their ultimate goal of breaking up Britain, but both they and some pro-union politicians use similar language about how Scotland needs more powers to provide Scottish solutions to Scottish problems, and improve outcomes in critical areas such as health and education. Indeed, one of the sentiments expressed here is that policies in Scotland are better made by the people of Scotland.

     This is a fair sentiment to hold, but it ignores the reality that issues that affect Scots are issues that affect all Britons throughout the United Kingdom. As much as there may be issues better decided by the people of Scotland through their elected representatives in Edinburgh alone, there are also matters that may be better decided on a UK-wide basis by the British people as a whole (including Scots) through their elected representatives in London.

     Some politicians and commentators – particularly the nationalist sort – will go on to say that “left-wing” Scotland and “right-wing” England are so different (and drifting apart) politically and culturally that Scotland must be able to decisions for itself in isolation from the rest of the UK in order to reflect the values and aspirations of the Scottish people.

     Not only are such claims of vast Anglo-Scottish differences questionable to say the least, but it must be said that the MP’s elected to the UK Parliament are there to represent the interests of the UK as a whole in conjunction with the interests of their local constituents. Attempting to break British MP’s down to being English or Scottish (with regard to how they vote on issues or their political philosophies) and to say that the Scots and English are monolithically and irreconcilably different in their socio-economic outlook risks pitting the constituent parts of the UK against each other. This ought to be avoided – especially by those who want the UK to stay together – lest it lead to unhelpful perceptions and stereotypes that put the Union at risk.

     There is no problem in acknowledging and celebrating the differences amongst the peoples in the United Kingdom, for there is strength in diversity that can actually lead to bringing the British people together, just as has been done for over 230 years in the United States with 50 states and various nationalities and ethnicities. These differences however, need not be politicized and over-hyped to the extent of driving wedges and dividing people against each other, which gnaws away at the fabric of the Union.

     There are no differences amongst the peoples of the UK that cannot be overcome by the bonds – political, social, cultural, and economic – which bind them together as one. Indeed, there are such things as British values and British aspirations which are derived from the UK’s constituent parts and reflected by its people.

     This does not necessarily mean that there should not be devolution at all, but it certainly should not be done in a way that shreds the critical relationships and structures that allow for all parts of the UK to have an active part in the governing of the country and its political system, or indeed, the ability of the UK Government to govern the UK in its entirety.

     You see, so long as Scotland remains part of the UK, the UK Government must be able to have the tools at its disposal to make the Union work, which means that it must continue to have substantial responsibility over matters such as trade and commerce, fiscal and monetary policy, and lawmaking and law enforcement within the UK. Some of these responsibilities can be shared with the devolved administrations and even local councils, so that each level of government within the United Kingdom has its own ability to set taxes, make laws, and do other things within certain parameters that respect the authority and competence of each level.

     Piecemeal and ad hoc devolution based on what is thought to be “necessary” for one part of the country at a particular time may have been well-intended, but to some degree, it has proven detrimental to the strength of the Union and has not necessarily led to better or more efficient outcomes for those particular areas.

     For example, university tuition fees have been abolished in Scotland on the basis that it helps those with the fewest resources, who come from the lower strata of society. However, in terms of university entry rate amongst such people, Scotland lags behind England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), England – with tuition fees – has an entry rate nearly two times greater than that of Scotland for those in the poorest quintile of the population. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that according to the Scottish Funding Council, only 6.7% of poor Scots attain the average exam grades required to earn a university place.

     Furthermore, the Scottish Government’s own survey on literacy amongst Scotland’s students (which was taken in May 2014 and released in April 2015) have revealed that literacy rates have fallen, and this is especially pronounced amongst pupils in the second year of secondary education (S2) from the most deprived backgrounds, where only 41% were performing well or very well in writing and 55% in reading.

     Given that education has been completely devolved to Holyrood since 1999 and that the SNP has been in government since 2007, it is an indictment against how education has been handled in Scotland in recent years. For some of the people I have come to know, the Scottish education system has not been served well under an SNP government that needs to do more (after eight years in office) to get more young people into higher education, but appears more interested in showing how different it is to the English system, even if the English system may produce better results, and therefore can provide at least some food for thought for what can be done in Scotland.

     In health – another critical area where Holyrood (not Westminster) has control, and where the SNP has been in charge of for eight years – real-term spending on the NHS rose by only one percent between 2009-2010 and 2015-2016, in contrast to the budget-cutting in Westminster that has seen a real-term rise in health spending in England to the tune of 6% in the same period, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

     Given that the mechanisms of the Barnett formula (which mean that whenever spending changes in England (for any department), it changes by a proportionate amount for the devolved administrations in the rest of the UK), it would stand that health spending would also go up in Scotland as well. But Holyrood is under no obligation to following in tandem with the spending decisions south of the Tweed when it receives the block grant from the UK Treasury. It could have spent an additional 5% on the NHS, but appear to have chosen not do to so, and instead spent the money elsewhere, like the “free” university tuition, “free” prescriptions, and the council tax freeze – all of which arguably and disproportionately benefit those who have the means to pay for them, while doing little for those most in need.

     Several of my friends and acquaintance in Scotland have spoken about long waiting times at the NHS, run-arounds with various doctors, and delays with getting treatments and surgeries. Now to be fair, it would be a mistake to continuously blame the SNP for all of these things. For example, it may well be as the BBC's Nick Robinson pointed out that spending for the Scottish NHS may be historically higher than in England (including before devolution), and that England is merely catching up. Nevertheless, it does appear that any budget cutting is due to the actions of the Scottish Government, and it is therefore disingenuous to blame the UK Government for their own problems with the NHS in Scotland, particularly with regard to missing their own targets for improving A&E waiting times.

     Again, this is not to say that powers should not be devolved absolutely, but rather that it should not happen so hastily, carelessly, and without thinking if it is really necessary or otherwise good for Scotland, for if the constitutional debates are about what is best for Scotland, should there not be a vigorous debate on the merits on the devolution of power – especially with regard to how devolved power has already been used (or not)? If it is natural to question the very existence of the UK, or at least the its constitutional structures, then there should also be questions about the devolution of political power, for it may not always lead to better results. (It is probably for this reason that Scottish Green Party co-convener Patrick Harvie, a supporter of independence, has spoken out against the SNP's policy of achieving Full Fiscal Autonomy for Holyrood.)

     It is for this reason that devolution must be questioned at every stage, as opposed to being meekly accepted as an all-around good thing, and also why changing fundamental constitutional and political structures within the UK must be decided upon by all of the UK, for changing the machinery of the constitution in one part of the UK will have effects on the rest of the UK. This is why myself and others have been advocating for a constitutional convention to settle these matters of British governance, for the current model of piecemeal and ad hoc devolution results in a never-ending merry-go-round, in which one part of the UK receives a devolved power, and another part wonders why it doesn’t receive the same treatment. Such a constant rearranging of the constitutional jigsaw puzzle – almost living in a crisis by crisis scenario – does not bode well for good governance, and threatens to upset the stability of the Union.

     A convention would help to establish the powers and competencies of each level of government in the UK, as well as parameters that allow for the mutual respect of such competencies. Some responsibilities may be exclusive and reserved to a certain level of government, and others jointly shared. This points to federalism, which preserves a strong central government to handle matters and issues that require government action for the whole of the country – something which tends to get forgotten in the drive for devolution while also featuring significant powers for the federated entities to do their own thing within a federal framework.

     But even if federalism is not the result of such a convention, the aim should be to at least provide a forum on what the British people as a whole want and expect in terms of their governing arraignments. It would be up to the people, with due and careful consideration and debate, to decide on the matter of which powers are better handled by, or otherwise require the action of, the central government. From here, there would be decisions on the powers of the devolved administrations and local government.

     Not everyone will agree – the members of the US Constitutional Convention certainly did not – but an effort ought to be made to forge some kind of settlement for the United Kingdom going forward that promotes stability, fairness, and the idea that the Union can be made more perfect.

     That would be a hell of a lot better than the seemingly constant and almost unquestioned flow of devolution, which as Tam Dalyell observed, runs the hazard of leading to the breakup of Britain. The people living there – from the most powerful politician to the postman – can and must do better, if for nothing else than the greater good and general welfare of all.

Proportional and Equal Representation in the House of Lords

     In the wake of the last general election, much commentary has been made by the media, opinion writers, politicians, and the public at large about the perceived unfairness of the United Kingdom’s age-old first-past-the-post (FPTP) system for electing members of the House of Commons - the lower house of the British Parliament.

     Such criticism is not new, for even in the days when the two major parties – Labour and the Conservatives – could command almost 90% of the popular vote between them in general elections, neither commanded a majority of the popular vote throughout the UK, though through the votes in each individual parliamentary constituency (or district), the parties often achieved majority status in terms of the number of seats in the Commons. Furthermore – with some exceptions – at least the election results had somewhat of a semblance to the actual number of seats won.

     However, first-past-the-post punishes smaller parties whose vote may be substantial but spread out across the country in such a way that it is not reflected in individual constituencies (where they tend not to stand a chance against the main parties), and therefore does not translate into seats in the Commons. From this view, the British Parliament is not representative of the electorate, resulting in a democratic deficit.

     Yet in many ways, this is what the system is designed to do: shut out smaller single-issue/regional parties and produce single-party majorities for stable and effective governance throughout the United Kingdom. But as the vote share of Labour and the Conservatives (a.k.a. Tories) has fallen to the rise of such smaller parties, this argument falls on the deaf ears of people who feel as though they are not represented in Parliament and the government of the day.

     It certainly seemed like a spurious argument during the 2015 General Election, when the opinion polls were predicting apocalyptic outcomes in which neither party would attain a majority of seats, and with the collapse of the Liberal Democrats – traditionally the third-largest party in Parliament and the coalition partners with the Tories since 2010 – there was talk of rainbow coalitions/post-election agreements with the Scottish National Party (SNP), UK Independence Party (UKIP), the Green Party, and the various parties from Northern Ireland – including the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

     As it was, the electorate produced a surprise – albeit wafer-thin – majority Tory government with 330 seats (out of 650) with party leader David Cameron as prime minister for a second term. This appeared to vindicate the continuance of FPTP, but the Conservatives achieved only 37% of the national popular vote – meaning that a clear majority of voters did not vote for the party. However, it won 51% of the seats in the Commons, and therefore gained a mandate to govern the entire UK without the Liberal Democrats or anyone else.

     Yet, if this appeared somewhat distorted, it was nothing compared to what happened in Scotland in particular, where the insurgent SNP won half of the vote, but took all but three of Scotland’s 59 seats in the Commons, which amounted to 95% of the seats and the party’s best electoral performance for a British general election. This has caused consternation among the half of Scots who did not vote for the SNP, especially those who support Scotland's place within the UK, whose voices are now only represented by three Members of Parliament (MP’s) – one each from Labour, the Tories, and Liberal Democrats.

     From a UK-wide perspective, the distortion was even more apparent with regard to UKIP, which received 13% of the vote across the UK, but returned only one MP, in contrast to the SNP, which won 5% of the UK vote but returned 56 MP’s because its vote was heavily concentrated in Scottish constituencies. This amounted to nearly 9% of the seats in the Commons and allowed them to displace the Liberal Democrats as the third largest party. For their part, the Lib Dems won 9% of the vote, but wound up with eight seats – or just over 1% of the Commons.

     These distortions – leaving the SNP overrepresented, the Lib Dems and UKIP underrepresented, and the Tories able to govern alone despite not having a majority of the electorate behind them – have fueled calls for FPTP to be replaced with some form of proportional representation in the House of Commons, so that the Commons can be more representative of the British electorate. It would have deprived David Cameron and the Tories of a majority, but also would have more accurately reflected the “sovereign will of the Scottish people” by preventing the SNP from taking more than about 30 seats and leaving respectable numbers for Labour and the Tories.

     However, there are people who value the link between MP’s and their constituents, which would be diluted in a pure proportional representation system. Another criticism is that PR would entrench high-ranking politicians since they would be placed at the top of PR voting lists, and would almost certainly be elected with no direct constituents to which they answer, which will make democratic deficits worse, not better. Then there are those who simply believe that FPTP, for all of its problems, has served the UK well, and subscribe to the belief that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

     The problem is that for many people in the UK, the system is broken, unfair, and unrepresentative. Throughout the referendum campaign in Scotland, one of the main talking points from the “Yes” campaign and its fervent supporters was that though Scotland had representation in the British Parliament at Westminster, it was nothing compared to the 533 English members and the English electorate, who could “out-vote” Scotland and deliver governments and government policies that “Scotland didn’t vote for.”

     Of course however, Scottish residents vote alongside their fellow British citizens (in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales) during general elections, and the elected Parliament and the subsequent government that is formed is the result of MP’s voted by the people from throughout Britain, and that government is one voted for by the British people as whole from Shetland to Land’s End. Its responsibility is to the United Kingdom as a whole (which includes Scotland) and not simply one part of it. In addition, MP’s are not organized into an “English bloc” or “Scottish bloc”, and nor do they often vote in such a way. Instead, they vote in accordance to their party and/or their personal values, which transcends the domestic boundaries within the UK.

     However, there perhaps is a case to be made that London and the South East do exert an inordinate amount of influence on the policies pursued by the government of the day by virtue of the concentration of people, wealth, and economic power in that area. With this in mind, it is therefore reasonable for parts of the UK outside of London to feel as though the capital and its environs have too much power over the direction of public policy in the UK.

     The fear of larger areas with concentrated wealth and power overpowering smaller areas with less wealth and power was a feature of the US Constitutional Convention of 1787, and it produced a deadlock amongst convention delegates, some of whom wanted a legislative body with two chambers based on population (which would have benefited larger states), whilst others wanted a single chamber body with equal representation, as it was in Congress under the Articles of Confederation. This was settled with a compromise in which the lower house of Congress would have membership allocated to the states in proportion to their population and the upper house of the Congress would allow each state to be equally presented by two members regardless of population.

     Eventually, the lower house became known as the House of Representatives, and as the chamber chosen by the people according to congressional districts within their state, it is larger than the upper house, the Senate, which is smaller and more exclusive, and functions to represent the interests of the states in a manner that befits a federation such as the United States. It means that the interests of the smaller states cannot be easily ignored as they can be in the House, where the sheer force of numbers from bigger states can drown them out.

     It sometimes means that the majority party in the House is not necessarily the majority party in the Senate, and even when both parties are in control, compromises may have to be hashed out in order to get things done, and by bringing the states to an even level with each other, it gives all of them a sense of having a significant role in governing the country. In addition, the Senate is also known for being the "world's greatest deliberative body" because of its tendency to slow legislation down for extensive debate, and to ensure that all voices are heard.

     If the United Kingdom is to move toward a federal system and address the legitimate concern of too much political and economic power being concentrated in the South East, then it is time to look toward changing elements of the UK’s parliamentary system, with a particular focus on reforming the upper chamber of Parliament - the House of Lords - so that it can become more representative of the UK’s nations and regions, as well as to more accurately reflect the will of the British electorate.

     To this end, I suggest that the House of Lords be composed of 100 members – with 25 allocated to each Home Nation and elected by some form of proportional representation (as is done in the Australian Senate, where twelve senators are elected via proportional means from each state, regardless of population).

     There are two main ways that this can be put into effect: proportional vote by Home Nation or proportional vote by region.

Option 1(a): Election of Lords via each Home Nation with simple proportional representation

     Under this plan, members would be elected according to the proportional vote for their party within their Home Nation. As with the European Union (EU) parliamentary elections, candidates will be arraigned according to a party list, but for the first part of this example, I will simply allocate candidates in relation to the percentage of the vote received by their party.

     Such a result based on simple proportional representation is expressed in the following graphs – beginning with the membership from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

DUP - Democratic Unionist Party; UUP - Ulster Unionist Party;

SDLP - Social Democratic and Labour Party; TUV - True Unionist Voice

     When the sums from each Home Nation are added up, here is what the UK House of Lords would look like under simple PR:

Option 1(b): Election of Lords via each Home Nation using the D'Hondt method of proportional representation

     The first variation of Option 1 used the percentage of the vote to allocate seats, and while this is very simple, it is not exactly proportional because it produces a fractional number of seats and requires rounding, the results of which some parties would protest. The D'Hondt method attempts to achieve a more perfect (though still imperfect) proportionality based on the actual votes cast, not the percentages, so that seat allocations are whole numbers and hopefully more fair to the parties and the electorate.

     This method of PR is named for Victor D'Hondt, a 19th Century Belgian mathematician and lawyer, and his system is used for elections throughout the world, including the election of British Members of the European Parliament (MEP's) from England, Scotland, and Wales. For more information on how D'Hondt's system works, I recommend this article from the BBC.

     Using that system, proportional representation in the Lord's is expressed in the following graphs – beginning with the membership from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

     When the sums from each Home Nation are added up, here is what the UK House of Lords would look like under D'Hondt:

     Comparing the two results, there is little substantial change, but there are winners and losers. Most significantly, the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) in Northern Ireland would have one seat under simple PR, but none under D'Hondt. Another significant loser under D'Hondt would be the Greens, which would be left with one seat in England, as opposed to one in Wales and one in Northern Ireland as well under simple PR.

     With that system, the Conservatives could boast of being the only party to have representation at the British Parliament from all four Home Nations of the UK, but D'Hondt would take away their sole Northern Irish seat, which would be compensated with an additional seat in England - keeping them at 22 seats. Meanwhile, Labour would gain one seat in Wales and increase their tally to 24, whilst the Lib Dems lose one to bring their number of Lords to five.

     In Wales, UKIP would have a bigger number of seats there (4) than in England under D'Hondt (3), whilst simple PR would produce the opposite result. In Northern Ireland, UKIP loses a seat, whilst the DUP, Sinn Fein, and the SDLP all make gains with D'Hondt. Indeed, D'Hondt would slash the number of Northern Irish parties in the Lords from nine to five.

     The only parties throughout the UK with no changes between the two systems would be the SNP, UUP, Alliance, and Plaid Cymru.

Option 2: Election of Lords via regions within each Home Nation using either simple PR or D'Hondt

     For the first option (in either variation), the popular vote in each Home Nation was used to calculate the allocation of seats for each party in an elected House of Lords.

     This second option would see members elected via regions within England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

     The benefit of this option is that it would capture the regional political, social, and economic variances throughout the United Kingdom. However, if such a regional option were to be adopted, the seats would have to be allocated through the regions as equally as possible.

     For this purpose, the existing electoral regions used for the Scottish parliamentary and Welsh assembly elections, as well as the regions used for electing MEP's in England could be used. Electoral regions for Northern Ireland would have to be created, as it does not have any.

     But true equality would mean that each Home Nation would have to have five regions, but the only one that has five is Wales, and so this raises the question of regions elsewhere. However, having to redraw them to suit this purpose, or using the existing ones and allocating seats to them as equally as possible may prove to be a contentious issue that goes beyond the scope of this article. Therefore, there will be no calculation of what the Lords would look like via regional proportional representation.

     In conclusion, creating a House of Lords that is elected by proportional representation can go a long way in equalizing the political balance between the nations and regions of the UK, as well as to more accurately reflect the British electorate. Areas with less wealth, power, and population will have a greater say in the running of the country as they are brought to the same level as the wealthier, more powerful, and more populous areas.

     By doing this, it has the potential to create another binding aspect of the Union. For Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, this - as part of a move toward federalism - would amplify their voices in Parliament and move them closer into the heart of the Union, as opposed to the so-called "Celtic Fringe". Indeed, it may also force single-issue parties to step up and actually take part in shaping public policies and provide useful solutions to Britain's problems - putting themselves on official public record, as opposed to just protesting (and complaining).

     There are issues which need further discussing. For example, it can be argued that Northern Ireland is small enough to be a region in and of itself (as it is for EU elections), whilst England's size means that regional representation may be better at capturing its own political, social, and economic variances (i.e., Tories in the red Labour north and Labourites in the blue Tory south).

     In addition, there is the question of whether the Lords ought to be a body that has a mixed composition of elected and appointed members (or if it should be entirely appointed or elected), as well as to the extent it should be occupied by nonpartisan crossbenchers and Church of England bishops. Another issue is that of what to do with the officers of the Lords - some of whom are hereditary and occupy some of the oldest offices of state in the land.

     Then there is the question of what role the Lords would play - whether they would be able to (absolutely) block legislation from the Commons again, or remain as a revising chamber that provides useful scrutiny and amendments to government legislation and directives.

     As for how long members can serve, it may be advisable for them to be elected to lengthier terms (ten years perhaps) that are staggered compared to members of the Commons, and that such members may be limited to one term and subject to a minimum age requirement. Such measures can help to ensure that the Lords doesn't simply become a glorified version of the Commons and focuses on keeping the government of the day in check.

     But this and other issues noted here will be explored in future blog posts, which will focus on ideas to renew, refine, and reform Britain's constitutional system. For now, this article has discussed ways of using proportional representation to provide a proper outlet for the nations of regions of the UK in a similar way that the Senate does for US states, and as upper chambers tend to do in many countries (and typically with less members than the lower house).

     Almost everyone agrees that something has to be done about the Lords. Hopefully, the suggestions I have outlined can provide some guidance on the way forward for this honorable house, while also keeping its useful features intact and providing better and pluralistic governance for the United Kingdom.