Browsing through press reports of today's two parliamentary by-elections, I was drawn to looking at the website of the English Democrats "Putting England First". The rather confused ranting that I found there set me wondering whether we Welsh Liberal Democrats are primarily a devolutionist party or a federalist party.
Way back in the 1960s when I was young and, for a short time, Chairman of the Weslh Young Liberals, I had considered that the then newly-formed Welsh Liberal Party was primarily federalist. We saw the way forward for Wales as a constituent part of a federal United Kingdom, half-way between a Swiss canton and a state of the United States. There was a presumption of devolution in the sense that each federal unit, of which Wales was one, would have some form of regional legislature to deal with 'domestic' issues, but within a federal United Kingdom governed by a federal parliament, presumably in Westminster with responsibility for collective matters such as defence, foreign affairs and so on. I may be wrong and it is a long time ago, but I seem to remember that we even envisaged England being divided into a number of regions each having its own regional legislature.
Somehow, over the last forty years and particularly over the last ten years, federalism, with its European super-state connotations, has become a taboo subject, and devolution with its Parliament for Scotland and its Assembly for Wales has moved to the top of the agenda. In so doing the federal dream of my youth seems to have been hijacked by a kind of devolutionist appeasement to the nationalist agenda. Hence the so-called 'West Lothian' question and similar quite irrelevant queries over the relationship between the Welsh MPs in Westminster and the AMs in Wales.
Labour have created a constitutional mess by failing to understand what a federal UK is all about and seeking to neutralise a perceived electoral threat from nationalism in both Wales and Scotland. Perhaps we Welsh Liberal Democrats ought to have the courage to put the notion of a Federal United Kingdom back on the political agenda?