Peter Coles: Localism: The Case for Devolved Counties

Giving sovereignty to the Counties of Britain would give citizens more freedom to run their own lives and would boost the UK economy.

 Devolution has failed and we need a new alternative to the centralised form of government in Westminster. It has always been madness that Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were given parliaments whilst England was not. It is still an even bigger madness that MPs from outside England can still vote on matters which only affect England. I have found a new model for government, which shrinks the power of Westminster careerists and bureaucrats as well as putting the power back in the hands of local people.

The model I propose is close to that of Switzerland. The Swiss confederacy is divided into 26 sovereign Cantons, which run themselves in almost all matters of government. The Cantons are free to pass their own laws and set their own rates of tax. As those who understand economics will know, this means that businesses are more willing to relocate to the Cantons with the lowest levels of tax whilst Socialists will demand higher taxes in their aim of social equality. The Canton of Zug is one of the smallest in Switzerland yet it has one of the lowest rates of tax in the country. There are over 24,300 registered companies and over 70,000 jobs compared to the population of only 116,559. Localism has given this small region of Switzerland the opportunity to forge its own success.



Another great feature of the Swiss system is direct democracy. Swiss citizens have the right to vote on new laws being passed in their Canton and nationally. This forces Swiss voters to be more responsible for their own decisions rather than expecting politicians to do everything for them. Whichever way the Swiss vote, they’ve only got themselves to blame and that is a beautiful thing.

My case is that smaller regions competing would boost the economy as the difference in tax rates and regulation would offer push and pull factors to prospective investors. Business owners would choose not only whether to locate their business in the UK but also be much more picky over which county to locate themselves in. Voters in individual counties could vote to change things that only affect their local area without having to regulate other areas of the country where similar problems may not occur.


Like each Swiss Canton, each County would be proud of their local identity and local traditions as well as be able to fly their own flag. Those parts the UK which vote Labour in every general election would be free to do so and vote Labour representatives to their County parliament, raise taxes and see how their economic plan works whilst letting other counties vote in Conservative representatives and see how low taxes affect their economy. That would be a much fairer way to the run the countries’ finances. This knowledge is why only one Swiss Canton (Basel-Stadt) voted a majority of Socialist representatives to their parliament.

I am however still divided on whether to give Counties the right to borrow money. Surely it should be their right to consider borrowing money as part of their economic plan. However doing so could cause a similar crisis to that in the Eurozone. All British Counties would continue to use the Pound Sterling as their currency. If individual Counties could borrow money, then they could further down the line demand a bailout from the Counties, which didn’t spend so frivolously. This is why on the most part I am against giving devolved Counties the right to borrow money. Let them tax as much or as little as the like and then spend whatever they make

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that any government in the near future will give the Counties any form of sovereignty. After all, doing so would take power from them in Westminster. Tony Blair was only happy to give Scotland and Wales devolution as he knew they would be Labour strongholds. Any English parliament would have been Tory dominated.

Yet for me, it doesn’t matter which party rules a county. With devolution will come a mix. It’s the competition and the diversity, which will make this system work. The best thing those of us who support localism can do is spread the word and I have faith that many of you will do so.


27 comments on “Peter Coles: Localism: The Case for Devolved Counties

  1. Russell Taylor
    September 4, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    Great first piece, Peter. I’d love to see something like it, if only because it would stop socialists from holding people hostage for their taxes.

    • petercoles44
      September 5, 2013 at 7:41 pm #

      Thanks for the support. I’ll be writing another soon.

  2. Rocco
    September 4, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    Mr Coles, a couple of questions for you.
    Firstly, why have you stopped at county level? If your principle is the more local, the more devolved, the better, why stop where you have? Why not go down to the level of cities, towns, and villages? Why not down to the level of streets? Better yet, households? Best of all, individuals?
    Which brings me to my second question: why do you like governments so much, Peter? Why are you desperate to increase the amount of governments in the world? Why are you so dead set on rulers, Peter? (I’m especially keen to know the answer to this, because, clicking your twitter page, I noticed you have an anarcho-capitalist flag as your wallpaper or whatever its called.)
    Last one, Peter. This stuff about being proud of their “identity” and “traditions”, sounds rather ominous to me. It sounds like, perhaps, a ‘strong’ local band of robbers (calling themselves a government) might be empowered, even encouraged by supporters of your proposed system to keep those local ways pure, untainted by the
    dirty hands of outsiders.
    Thank you in advance Peter, and I look forward to your reply.

    • Rocco
      September 4, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

      That penultimate sentence isn’t a fragment of a poem, by the way. Just a typing error 🙂

    • petercoles44
      September 5, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

      We’ve got to be realistic. LIbertarians have got to give an alternative which people will support. Individual counties could further devolve power to villages if voters in that county supported that. The flag on my Twitter account isn’t just for Anarcho-Capitalists. It originated from the American revolution. I personally am a Minarchist as I believe true anarchy couldn’t work, however I am certainly no fan of governments. This is just the first step. I believe more small governments are bigger than one big one. Competition is key. Your last point is interesting. A local government would be like any other government but by being local, it would have to focus on issues that affect local people. Thus, it would be more accountable as if the county government failed, it could be judged against other counties. A national government would be necessary for things like defence but little else. Any other questions? I’ll gladly answer them.

      • Rocco
        September 5, 2013 at 11:44 pm #

        Hello Peter, thanks for the reply, man.
        Re: being “realistic”. No. Libertarians have got to give an alternative that is *right.*. Why not argue for what you actually want? Take heroin for example. Both you and I would legalise heroin in a heartbeat. But the general public wouldn’t. Do we then say “oh well, drugs are bad for the time being at least, so lets keep them illegal”. No, we say “legalise heroin right now!”. If your not arguing for the radical stuff you actually want, you may as well be a Tory, arguing for a 2% cut on the top rate of income tax and imperceptible market oriented reforms of the NHS.
        Re: the flag. “Don’t tread on me” on its own, fair enough. But yellow and black that’s anarcho capitalist. You can see how it can be confusing, I’m sure. (It’s neither here not there really, of course. It’d just be nice to see an anarchist writing for Bogpaper.) You do want to increase the amount of governments in the world, though. You do want more rulers, this is undeniable. You want them at county level and there are more counties in a nation than one (the nation). So you are arguing for more government, not less. The ‘ numbers’ make no difference, for…
        Why should what ‘local people’ think about how I life my life have any force whatsoever? What is the difference between being ordered about by some bloke in Westminster and being ordered about by some bloke in Leeds? I might live nearer to Leeds, but so what? The same principle underlies both: ‘I do not own my own life. The majority in a certain geographical area do’. And the fact that I have the same opportunity to oppress others as they have to oppress me hardly justifies the situation.
        Regarding: national defence. In North Korea the government produces shoes. Are governments then neccessary for the production of shoes?

      • Rocco
        September 6, 2013 at 11:18 am #

        Peter, about being realistic, practical, whatever you want to call it – I’ll take a stab at it.
        Given that you’re not suggesting counties secede one by one, but rather that central government command them to be free, isn’t it much more realistic to expect these regions to simply be an additional layer of government?
        Isn’t it much more likely that central government will say “Localism? What a fantastic idea! Of course, all those regions will need a strong central government behind them. Lots of new taxes, lots of new laws, lots of new competences will be urgently needed – otherwise there’d be chaos.”, than “Localism? Fair do’s. Looks like the jig’s up. We’ve had a good run, but there’s no reason for us to stay any longer”?
        Surely its more realistic to expect some variation of the former, Peter?

  3. TheRealJamesDelingpole
    September 4, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    Aren’t we already run under a similar federal model as a state within the EU?

    • petercoles44
      September 5, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

      The problem with the EU as a ‘federal model’ is that power is being sent from the bottom to the top rather than from the top to the bottom. The is EU isn’t a federation, rather it is becoming a Superstate where power is collectivised instead of localised.

      • James Delingpole
        September 12, 2013 at 9:14 am #

        Would you ever support a Federal Model in Europe. Clearly the EU has not got the correct model but is there means to support another one if they get it right?

        The cantonal system in Switzerland is reliant upon a very direct system of Democracy. However, Switzerland receives extremely low electoral turnouts. Would you support this Democratic system in the UK?

  4. Simon Roberts
    September 4, 2013 at 10:16 pm #

    Thanks for pointing out the real reason for he Swiss standard of living.

    It always irks me when people go on about Switzerland being wealthy because of dodgy funds in their unscrupulous banks.

    Needless to say, this will never happen though. Westminster has the power and when was the last time you heard of a politician giving up power voluntarily?

    • Tony Blair
      September 5, 2013 at 9:15 am #

      We are giving it up to the EU

    • petercoles44
      September 5, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

      Thank you. Switzerland has it right in my opinion. Westminster is only what it is because we voted it that way. I am always upset that there isn’t a Libertarian option in elections.

  5. John b
    September 5, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    The first step would be to depoliticise government. Devolution should be down to community level as administrative, not political, bodies with those in it hired not elected. At County level an administrative body answerable to the commnity bodies to coordinate things common to all the communities in the County.

    A national Council with representatives from the County administrative bodies, paid not elected, to coordinate matters at a national level to be approved by referendum.

    Legislation (not laws) and taxation to be voted by referendum; taxes to be voted only by those who have to pay them.

    Next, where possible, transfer public services to the competitive free market and therefore do away with ‘government’ run.

    Example: some communities in the USA have private competitive rubbish collection, that means not just one company is contracted for the whole community, but several compete for business at individual household level. And it is not ‘chaos’ and individual households get the service that best suits them and pay for it.

    It would be possible to transfer even police and Court and fire services to a free competitive market.

    • petercoles44
      September 5, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

      I agree with you. Free market solutions are better. However some disagree. Under my system, some counties would privatise and others would nationalise local institutions. It’s up to the voters in that county. Where there is diversity, there will be different results. This way, we will be able to prove that free market solutions work. Only if we let local voters decide, can people finally take responsibility and and see the difference between big and small government.

  6. right_writes
    September 5, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    Great article… You didn’t mention the effect that confederate government has on a given central government though Peter… Even though Switzerland is actually a federation, it does have a such a high degree of autonomy within the states that the federal government is never allowed to take over, as has happened in many other federations.

    The federal government is forced to stick to the stuff that such governments are good at, primarily international relations, and as such they don’t have many federation wide elections… The benefits of which are stability, there is a permanent built in coalition of ideas, and each member of the cabinet gets to be president between elections.

    There is a possibility of such a thing happening here (even if a bit remote)… Looking through one’s rose-tinted spectacles, one might be looking forward to a UKIP government, that has built into its constitution (always has had) local direct democracy and local taxes as one of its core policies… For years (deliberately ignorant) BBC hacks and UKIP haters in general have ranted on about UKIP being a one trick pony… The facts could not be more different, and as time goes on, I reckon that more and more of its long term policies will suddenly seem very relevant.

    • petercoles44
      September 5, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

      I respect UKIP’s support for localism. It’s only their social conservatism that has scared me away.

      • right_writes
        September 7, 2013 at 9:32 am #

        I find it strange that you should get the impression that UKIP is socially conservative Peter!?

        You might be right to observe that there are a good number of “hang-em-and-flog-em” types within the party, but the leadership is pretty liberal socially speaking…

        The one thing that they aren’t though is “pc”,”communitarian”, or communist, and the party is not tolerant of the people that infest our bureaucracy, our charities or our quangos.

        Think about it, a party that wishes to undermine the metropolitan elites through the introduction of local taxes and democratically decided initiatives can hardly be considered intolerant.

  7. Rocco
    September 5, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    While I’m waiting for Peter’s reply, could anyone else help me out?
    What I’m particularly keen to know is: Why would ‘localism’ only be suitable at county level, not lower?
    Something else I’m wondering about is: Why, under this system, a national government would be neccessary?
    I would be tremendously grateful for any answers.

    • Russell Taylor
      September 5, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

      Devolve everything to the lowest practical level, I say, but recognise when this policy ceases to be sensible. Once competition is no longer felt and individual choice becomes impractical, be brave and wise enough to let government do its job, but remember to keep it on the tightest possible leash. In general, however, let the market decide.

      • Rocco
        September 5, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

        Russell, to clarify, I was asking for a demonstration *why* anything lower than county level was impracticable.
        Thank you for replying though, my friend.

      • Rocco
        September 5, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

        Another thing Russell, how do you propose to keep government – that is the body that has the monopoly on violence and legality – on a tight leash?

      • Russell Taylor
        September 6, 2013 at 6:15 am #

        How indeed. The key is to empower the regions as much as possible. Let them tax and legislate as they see fit. Then people can vote with their feet. They can escape the tyranny of high tax, big government regions, making them less likely. Socialism needs prosperous tax-paying hostages to survive. Let the hostages evade their captors and it ceases to be viable.

      • Rocco
        September 6, 2013 at 8:55 am #

        Sweet. So, why the need for government at the national level then? Apart from being unneccessary, it’d be potentially very harmful – instead of bailing out/propping up failed/failing businesses, rescuing regional governments that should rightly collapse, at great expense and prolonging the misery for all concerned.
        Also, why wouldn’t this work at the level of towns and cities? Surely if it works for massive numbers of people at county level, it’d work even better at a much more local level, Russell?

  8. TH43
    September 6, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    Localism cannot be enacted until an English parliament has been reconvened.

  9. Richard Carter
    September 8, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

    Interesting. However, slightly one dimensional in a couple of areas.
    1. Local/Regional government is not just about a race to the bottom with taxes. Its about a balance between the regions needs and priorities and how to have the right skill levels locally that business need to thrive. This could mean regions compete on the whole package. Life style, business environment, transport
    2. To me the logic is inescapable that the regions need more powers but this is not about another layer of government. . Its about deciding who does what at local, regional and national level.
    3. Some form of PR is a necessary precondition to better balance the authorities. In the last election in Yorkshire for example labour received around 44% vote share but 75% of the MPs. The current system works against more representative local government

    As a believer in a Yorkshire Parliament much of what you say makes sense!

  10. Andy Baxter
    September 9, 2013 at 12:18 am #

    You are not alone Peter, there are many of us who think the same and believe the Swiss model is an ideal model but we want a little more to cement and ensure it can never be taken from us ever again!

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