Selective Empowerment

The convention that central government is always sovereign over local government is a serious failing of our present system. faq

It undoubtedly needs to be, in some spheres, at some times, but a truly representative system should be capable of reflecting the fact that, just as our priorities shift in regard to which functions of government are more important, they also shift in regard to which level of government should dominate. Our existing system provides no mechanism for us to express those priorities.

Local Sovereignty therefore proposes that individuals should be able to choose between paying their taxes in money to higher-tier authorities or paying them, in labour faq (or money), to lower-tier authority. faq

A reform of this kind would give the public an additional method of demonstrating approval and disapproval of different levels of government; it would oblige different tiers of government to engage with each other on more equal terms; it would almost certainly hugely empower the lowest levels of government; and, as a consequence of that empowerment of local government, it would almost certainly contribute to a revitalisation of local democracy.

This reform would fundamentally alter people’s perception of the relationship between different levels of government. We anticipate that it would result in much more power residing with the very lowest level of government and that questions around national identity would then centre on cultural, rather than administrative, issues.

Local government will still be operating in a framework defined by national legislation and those things which genuinely need to be done at national level, or higher, will still need to be financed. Individuals opting to pay their taxes to local rather than central government will be shifting responsibility for providing that finance from themselves as individuals to their local community, who may therefore be required to either pass funds up to the centre or provide services themselves which were previously supplied by central government.

In the absence of other changes, the only substantive difference would be that, instead of money going to the centre and then being channelled downwards, it would be channelled upwards through local government. What it would do, however, is give the public a way of indicating how they think power and responsibility should be divided between central and local government.

Even under the existing system, a reform of this kind would significantly strengthen local government in negotiating with the centre over where responsibility for different functions should lie. In conjunction with our other reforms (particularly Local Autonomy)  it could allow the public’s priorities in that respect to manifest more explicitly, because it would allow votes within the legislature to be weighted according to the distribution of funds.

This reform would require a transitional period when there would be significant shifting of responsibilities between levels of government. However, we believe that it would settle down relatively quickly and it’s possible that even the transitional period wouldn’t be any more disruptive than the regular upheavals which currently seem to follow every general election.

If our proposals on polarised representation were implemented, the principle of voting with your taxes might be extended to also selectively empower the conservative or progressive spheres of government.

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