Murdo Fraser: Federal UK to solve ‘constitutional stalemate’

One of Scotland’s leading Conservatives has said a “federal” system of government in the UK could provide a “lasting and stable” political framework after the upheaval of the referendum debate in recent years.

Murdo Fraser predicts devolved city regions will give rise to federalism. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Murdo Fraser predicts devolved city regions will give rise to federalism. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Murdo Fraser, who challenged Ruth Davidson for the party leadership four years ago, predicts that recent moves towards devolution for City Regions in England, including the “Northern Powerhouse”, will provide momentum for a further move towards a full federal solution.

“We could move to a situation, fairly quickly, of a network of strong city regions with devolved administrative powers,” he said in a new book called Reforming Scotland being published next year by the think tank Reform Scotland.

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Historic counties with a strong identity, such as Yorkshire or Cornwall, could gain more local controls under such a regime.

“These would be areas of administrative devolution, not legislative,” he adds.

“That would leave a de facto English parliament, sitting within the House of Commons at certain times, or at certain times of the week, following the implementation of EVEL. Whether there would then need to be an English executive in some form is another matter which would have to be considered: and, if so, whether an English First Minister would be required, or whether that job could simultaneously be held by the UK Prime Minister.

“This would not be pure federalism in any sense, more likely ‘quasi-federalism’.”

The Tories are currently implementing the post-referendum Smith Commission deal on more powers for Holyrood which will see Scotland gain sweeping control over tax and welfare. But a federal set-up was ruled out because it was feared England would dominate.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives said: “The UK Constitution is evolving and under this Conservative government we are now witnessing further change – with the biggest transfer of powers to the Scottish parliament since devolution, and more powers devolved to England’s regions.”

But Nationalists warned Scots will take Mr Fraser’s comments with “a very large pinch of salt.” SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said: “During the independence referendum people in Scotland were promised ‘near federalism’ after a No vote, but even after the full implementation of the inadequate Scotland Bill, the vast majority of tax and social security powers will still be controlled by Mr Fraser’s colleagues at Westminster.”