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I wrote a short piece after the Scottish independence referendum in which I made the case for “A United Kingdom Act” to describe what binds us together. In the Prime Minister’s speech there are some central tenets that few of us would disagree with but it would be good to embed into the UK constitution. Unlike others, I am not arguing here for a wholesale new Act of Union although I do see that the relationship between the UK and its constituent nations does need clarifying. No, I am hoping for something very short and simple that could easily be passed and set the tone for the whole country as we navigate our way through achieving common ground with the European Union and common purpose with each other. What the Prime Minister said can be the basis for a common creed of identity if enacted succinctly but powerfully. So, this what my United Kingdom Act would say, drawing from Mrs May’s speech:
- “we believe in the Union. That precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland” : we acknowledge our joint heritage and celebrate our diversity
- “we believe in a Union, not just of the nations of the United Kingdom, but between all of our citizens. Every one of us, whoever we are and wherever we are from.” : we commit to creating confident and aspiring communities
- “That means fighting against the burning injustice that if you are born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others. If you're black, you're treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you are white. If you're a white, working-class boy, you're less likely than anyone else in Britain to go to university. If you're at a state school, you're less likely to reach the top professions than if you were educated privately.”, “If you are a woman, you will earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there's not enough help to hand. If you're young, you'll find it harder than ever before to own your own home.” : we commit to providing the opportunity for restoration, for people to have second and third chances and we promote the capability to be a bridge, between the rich and the poor, between the prospering and the excluded, between other nations across the world
- “We will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you." : we commit to freedom, fairness and justice and we will recognise inventiveness and release people to fulfil their full potential.
You may ask, what can a short Act of Parliament achieve? Well, there are precedents. The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 requires every public body that has to comply with the EU procurement rules to consider the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area that it serves before commencing any purchase of services. This is a duty to be “a good neighbour” to the place that they serve. Imagine if this principle of “care and well-being” were to be detached from what could soon be archaic purchasing processes and instead applied to embedding mutual well-being into the State’s psyche.
These should not be the principles of any one Government, but the product of cross political and pan-society consensus. This is no time for clinging to barricades and walking by on the other side. Legislation that emphasises the common good will do much to bring us together, so that what unites us is affirmed as being much more than what differentiates us. There is no space for the cynical here- it’s too important for that! Let’s make a signal to the world that we really are better together, working with others to achieve fairness, kindness and chances for all.
If you require any further information or wish to speak to any of our team, please contact us on 0121 200 3242 or email me at email@example.com
Mark is a lawyer and bridge builder. He is partner at Anthony Collins Solicitors LLP and company secretary of Collaborate. He assisted with the formulation of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, initiated by Chris White MP, with cross-party support, and was also on the Steering Group for the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014.
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