HOME Rule is in the air. We live in an age when decentralization in government is preferred to centralisation. The tendency of the age is thoroughly healthy. It does not arise so much from a reaction against the somewhat refined notions of central government that have prevailed now for some time, as from the impotency of the central government to discharge its varied functions. On all sides the Imperial Parliament is pressed for legislative enactments and for measures of constitutional enquiry. It courageously attempts at the beginning of each session to satisfy all parties, but signally fails to satisfy any. Year after year passes by, and the same tale is told. The arrears of legislation are rapidly increasing. The present system of Parliamentary government hampers every industry and injures nearly every class. The question naturally enough has been put – can anything be done to remedy this defect in our Constitution; and the answer invariably given is Decentralize. We are asked to make the people govern themselves, to throw upon them the responsibility of all local administrative acts at least This is what political philosophy prescribes as the true solvent It is not the proposal that needs to be justified in the face of science; it is the resistance to it that needs such justification. The cry is not for small states; they are out of the question; the course of empire is quite the other way. For that very reason the decentralizing system becomes indispensable.
We must not be misunderstood. We do not believe in the efficacy of localization in every case, any more than we believe in the efficacy of centralization in every case. There are those who think that the principles are opposed to each other; that if the one is good, the other must necessarily be bad. But the supposition is erroneous. The conflict that here arises is due to the attendant circumstances that impede or vitiate the action of one or both; it does not arise from the qualities that are inherent in both. The complete development and unlettered activity of both are the only effectual means of bringing the supposed antagonism to a close; they do not aggravate or perpetuate the antagonism. The principles are sound and healthy. It is an error in fact as it is a solecism in language to say that either may be carried too far. So long as a sound principle is adhered to, it can never become a false principle. No amount of local or individual energy or freedom can be excessive, for such qualities are the very blood and life of central power. No central power can be too vigorous, prompt or omniscient, for it is thus only a more perfect instrument for the development of local energy and the vindication of individual freedom. But every true principle has its corresponding false principle; and the moment the true principle is successful in asserting its own exclusive recognition it is liable in practical operation to be confused with its corresponding false principle. It is then that the beneficial operation of the true principle is stultified, and error creeps in. A return to truth in such cases is practicable only by means of an analysis of the circumstances that have tended to impede the operation of the true principle. Of these phenomena we have many examples in history. Our present Parliamentary Constitution is an example. Our present Parliamentary Constitution is found wanting, not because it has become too prompt or omniscient but because it has proved itself unable to accomplish the work which it is necessary for it to do. Hence it is we urge a reconsideration of the ties that at present bind England and Scotland, and we trust that in the discussion of this question no one will object to anything that may be advocated on the ground of antiquarian sentimentalism.
Our present Parliamentary government is the result of the growth of centuries. Generally speaking it has grown gradually; at very few dates in its history has it been subject to violent changes. Yet changes have occurred when it has been found that the existing system did not work well. That the present system works badly cannot be doubted. The real difficulty is the quantity of business thrown upon the legislative body. The mere quantity of work is too great for any assembly to do well. Every year the work to be done is overpassing the working power of the machinery. Things are rapidly coming to a serious block, if not a deadlock, and something must be done. The number of interests with which Parliament has to deal has immensely increased, while the working power of Parliament has not increased. Every decennial census shows that the interests to be attended to are continually increasing. There is a continual growth of specialization of labour. Separate trades seek separate localities, and in consequence new legislative and administrative measures are needed. Each new invention and each new adaptation of an old process lead to new ways of carrying on business. The manufacturer, the workman and the shop-keeper of Glasgow are dependent for their well-being not only on each other’s conduct, but also on the course of events in other parts of the Empire and in other countries. There is a keener sympathy between one marketing town and another, and this becomes intensified as the commercial area extends. In fact, the train, the steamship, the printing press, and the telegraph give inducements and facilities for enterprise in all directions, and call for changes in the condition of our Parliamentary life. Then again population has enormously increased. Consider the difference in this respect between the Parliament of 1708 and that of 1886, even between the Parliament of 1800 and that of 1886. In 1800 Parliament had to attend to the wants of some ten millions of people, in 1886 to the wants of some thirty-five millions. Since 1800 we have added, outside these islands, millions of people and thousands of square miles to our Empire, yet the system of government is practically the same. If England ever fails as a nation, says Sir Arthur Helps, it will be from too much pressure of business. The union of several parliaments into one, said Sir George Grey, has thrown upon that one an amount of business that it cannot perform. It was remarked with some degree of truth by one of the London newspapers the other day that ‘Parliament is such an obsolete machine that it cannot get through a tenth part of its work.’ Even of the newly dissolved Parliament with its great appetite for work, nothing satisfactory can be reported as to the progress made in either private bills or government measures. Mr. Gladstone’s famous programme has not been looked at nor any of the questions so eagerly canvassed at the election which preceded it, and the session has passed away with hardly anything attempted and nothing done.
It is true that we have made great changes within the last forty years in the manner in which business is conducted in the House of Commons. The direction of all these changes, however, has been towards the abridgement of the freedom, or at least of the fullness of debate and the curtailment of the privileges of private members. They have been all made with a view to enable the Ministers of the Crown to expedite government business through the House. The subject is a large one and not to be incidentally discussed. But certainly the necessity of ‘getting through’ the work that has been cast upon it has induced the House to depart from many of its ancient traditions, and give up many of its most valuable privileges which were once considered essential protections of the independence of its own members and of the rights of the people.
This glut of Parliamentary business is no new thing. Twenty years ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a speech at Dundee complained bitterly that Scottish business in the House had not been attended to. Many useful Scottish reforms that Scotland had been ripe for had been postponed again and again. Even Mr. Disraeli sympathized with Scottish members in many of their measures never becoming legislative enactments. The same may be said of other parts of the kingdom. But what Scotsmen have to complain most of is that on vital questions of policy she has obtained no hearing. Scotland waited thirty years for the extension of the Franchise, and about half-a-century for the abolition of hypothec, and even yet hvpothec occasionally turns up. It were easy to give a long catalogue of measures of practical utility – about the necessity for which there is little controversy – which every year are certainly promised the next session, and as to which we year after year await with a patience like Job’s the fulfilment of the annual promise. She has been anxiously waiting to pronounce an opinion on the Church question, the licensing question, the land question, the game question, the question of university reform and education generally, and various questions dealing with commerce, poor law and legal procedure. Pages could be filled with a list of similar questions. Yet such questions have been neglected in the Imperial Parliament. But this is only part of the evil. There is the whole question of private bill legislation. It is intolerable that as often as we require a gas, or a water, or an improvement bill we must go to London for it, in which are involved the undue costs and inconvenience to which the promoters of such bills are subjected by the needless reiteration of the same evidence before committees of each of the two Houses of Parliament, and also the expenses of a long journey and of a protracted stay and maintenance in London, along with the disadvantage of the objects of the bills being examined into by committees and lawyers both commonly alike ignorant of the circumstances of the country and of its legislation. Add to this the fact that many stories are told of the miscarriage of useful projects owing to the cost, delay and risks of bringing the business to London. There is hardly any reason to doubt that it would be for the public interest that such business should be done by a tribunal in Scotland under whose authority inquiries might be made in the localities affected. It is sometimes hinted that there would be jobbery. Even if there were jobbery, the jobbery would most likely be less detrimental than the inconvenience of the present system. But it is idle to pretend that there cannot exist a pure tribunal in a country where local government prevails to the extent that it does in its burghs. Then over and above all this there is the incalculable, though none the less grave, loss to every interest that arises through bills, really necessary, being indefinitely postponed.
But in the case of Scotland the grievance is peculiarly hard. The business when done is not done well. It is too often either neglected, postponed, or run through in a very unsatisfactory manner in the small hours of the morning when the grey dawn is struggling through the stained glass windows of the Commons’ Hall, or on a Saturday sitting towards the end of the session when members are not disposed seriously to work. It is almost useless discussing any matter of vital importance in a bill, unless the point raised be in accordance with the Government mandate; for, let the people of Scotland desire it ever so much, the advocacy of their representatives is ignored, and their votes are outnumbered. The Government has always at command a sufficient number of English members who scarcely ever hear the debate but lounge about the smoking-room or the library, to defeat the action of the Scottish members. If any one doubts what we say, let him look into the reports of the discussions on the Crofters Bill, and the Fettes Endowment, during the current session, or any other Scottish measure at any time.
It is no wonder then that there is a strong spirit of dissatisfaction abroad, against the present system. It is no wonder that we in Scotland are determined to seize the present opportunity, and demand the right and power to legislate and administer in all matters relating to ourselves. Local Government in the counties will not suffice. There is no good in tinkering with the disease. Either we must have a Parliament at Edinburgh, or nothing at all. Nothing short of a Parliament, will remove the grievance. A Parliament at Edinburgh is the logical outcome of the extension of the Franchise. It is a recognition of the fundamental principle of democratic Government in giving the people their desires in everything, trusting to their inherent sense of justice in the proper execution thereof.
To speak of a Parliament at Edinburgh, at once recalls to our minds the Parliament that existed there two hundred years ago. But we have no desire to return to the condition of affairs that existed at that period. Nor do we agree with those that opposed the Union. To join England was irksome in the extreme to the nationalist or patriotic party headed by Lord Belhaven and Fletcher of Saltoun, that opposed the Union. Their ideal Government would never be realized. Scottish nationality, a separate and an independent national life, moral, social, and political, would be lost. It seemed as if a kingdom of no obscure history and literature, full of high memories, not decayed or barbarised were about to lose its identity, its national existence, and be degraded into a province; and relying on the respectable authority of Buchanan, they supposed that it had existed from the beginning of time. The national party knew nothing of half measures. Either Scotland was to cease, and there were to be Scotsmen no longer, or they were both to exist as they had existed since the war of independence. The idea of political identity with a larger, richer and more powerful nation – of a system of centralization which should embrace all the springs of internal Government and external defence, whilst it left untouched not only the private rights of the citizen and his religious convictions which for a time at least might be protected by positive stipulation, but his modes of thinking and speaking, his habits of living and acting, everything, in short, which in our sense, constitutes a Scot – was to them utterly unintelligible. To reason otherwise was equivalent to saying that the same thing was at once to be and not to be.
Notwithstanding these Cassandra wailings, however, the Union was carried, and the worst fears of the patriotic party were to a certain extent realized. A kind of social collapse actually occurred, and during the forty years between the Union and the final suppression of the rebellion, the capital of Scotland particularly laboured under a depression of spirit unknown at any other period of its history. Everything became Anglicised. The Church, the universities, the higher schools, even the legal institutions, came under the English influence. We do not question or condone the justification of the power thus exercised; we simply remark it to show that the predictions of Belhaven and Fletcher were not altogether erroneous.
Happily, however, Scotland revived from this apathy, and yearned after civil liberty. But these yearnings were boldly met by the judicial butcheries of Braxfield, Eskgrove and Hermand, and it was not until the Reform Bill was passed that Scotland was allowed to express her wants in a constitutional manner. From that epoch complaints have been raised from time to time as to the neglect of Scottish business, and the recent attempts to remedy the defect by the establishment of new offices, first of the appointment of an Under Secretary at the Home Office, and then of a Scottish Secretary, and reducing the work of the Lord Advocate, have been nothing more than a recognition of the evil; they have done little to effect an improvement.
Many proposals have been made from time to time to remedy the grievances which we have indicated. A leader writer in one of the Edinburgh newspapers, works out an ingenious plan in which it would seem he takes his model from the Presbyterian form of Church Government. The seventy-two members for Scotland are to meet at Edinburgh some time during the prorogued periods of the Imperial Parliament, to discuss all Scottish bills and to take a vote upon first the principle and then the details of the measure. ‘The bill, if it passed safely through these stages, would go to Parliament at Westminster at the stage of report. The details would then be open to reconsideration.’ The scheme is similar in many respects to one which the late Lord Clancarty used to advocate for Ireland. The principle upon which it is based recognises the right of the Scottish people to legislate for themselves. The scheme recommends itself by its simplicity and moderation. Indeed we think it is too moderate: it does not go to the root of the grievance. The writer complains in the same leader that the needs of Scotland are unattended to because of the press of work, but his scheme would do little to alleviate the press of work, at least little compared to the present needs of Scotland. He complains further that Mr. Chaplin and his friends unjustly delay all useful Scottish reforms, instancing the case of the Crofters Bill, but his scheme would still give them the opportunity to interfere in matters with which they as Englishmen have no concern. No, it will not do; there is no half-way house between the present system and the system of Home Rule. The demand of the Scottish farmers for Home Rule or a local Parliament, is a much bolder one, and is we think more in accordance with the requirements of Scotland.
There is nothing very extraordinary in this demand for Home Rule. A system under which, while great territories and populations are united under one political system and common government, union is not carried down to every detail, but there is left to each province a certain power of dealing with provincial matters through its own representatives, is not a very alarming system to say the least. A principle which has guided countries to be so united by circumstances and position as to make it their common interest to be joined in one common state, yet so separate as to make it necessary for the domestic affairs of each of them to be managed by an administration of its own, is no new doctrine in political philosophy. Home Rule is the only kind of Government which history proves to be qualified to regulate truly free states. The business of any free state cannot be well carried on if it is too much centralized on too large a scale. If we look back into history we find that really free states have been either small, or consisted of a federation under which much provincial self-government or Home Rule is left to the component parts. Accustomed as we are in England to a system of large consolidated states we are apt to look upon a federal system as a system of disunion, and therefore of weakness. In reality, however, federalism is a form of closer union. In countries, such as France, in which there has been too much consolidation and too much centralization, great difficulties have arisen. Self-government has been reconciled with Imperial unity under the British Crown in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The Imperial Parliament has adopted this as a fixed principle in dealing with all its Colonies of European race. Indeed, some of the shrewdest thinkers of all countries concur with Mr. Laing in holding that the federal system is that towards which civilized society is naturally tending all over the world. Nature forbids, says Mr. Laing, by. unalterable moral differences between people and people that one government can equally serve all. Federalism is a principle more akin to natural, free and beneficial legislation than this forced centralization. It is indeed only an application of the great principle of freedom which maintains local privileges against the despotism of central power. From the formation of the Achaian League to the incorporation of the German Provinces into one united Empire the principle has forced itself upon nations. The German Confederation established at the Congress of Vienna recognised it. For centuries each of the Swiss Cantons has preserved its perfect independence; they differ in religion, in language, and in race, yet they have found unity and security in one general confederation, and one general diet of them all. The great confederation of the States of America is only another example of the universality of the instinct which teaches that nations as well as individuals may combine, and that there is no inconsistency between the existence of a legislature regulating the internal affairs of each portion of the confederation and a central legislature directing with efficiency and unity the combined power of all.
But perhaps the most remarkable tribute to the principle of Federalism is to be found in the course taken by the British Parliament in 1867, when it was thought wise to incorporate into one dominion all the North American provinces of the British Crown. Each of these provinces has its separate legislature and separate administration. When the British Parliament combined them into one dominion each of them was left with a separate administration and a separate legislature, for its own domestic affairs. A common Parliament and a common administration were provided for the concerns of the Dominion.
It was a relation of this sort, but of course much more loose and ill-defined, that existed between the kingdoms of England and Scotland from 1603 to 1707, that has existed between the kingdoms of Sweden and Norway since 1815, and between the kingdom of Hungary and the arch-duchy of Austria since 1866. Within the kingdom of Hungary there is a good example of a Home Rule province. Croatia-cum-Slavonia has a very large autonomy. It has its own legislature and its own administration and language, and utterly repudiates everything Hungarian. The revenue is collected for common purposes, and a certain proportion of it is allowed to the Croatians for their internal expenses. They send a certain number of delegates to the Hungarian Parliament, but in the isolated position in which they are, as the only Home Rule province, these delegates, few in number, have no very potent voice in Hungarian affairs. Matters are intensified by the political antagonism between the Croat and the Magyar. But even with all these drawbacks, the opinion of competent observers is that the arrangement works well.
But not only is our contention supported by historical precedent, it is also supported by doctrinaire reasoning. Mr. Freeman in his work on Federal Government lays down the following doctrine:- ‘The federal connection is in its place wherever the several members to be united are fitted for that species of union and for no other. It requires a sufficient degree of community in origin or feeling or interest to allow the several members to work together up to a certain point. It requires that there should not be that perfect degree of community or rather identity which allows the several members to be fused together for all purposes.’ In the next page he adds, ‘Federalism is out of place if it attempts either to break asunder what is already more closely united, or to unite what is wholly incapable of union.’ Commenting on this elsewhere he explains that a federal system is the right thing when it is a step in advance but it is a wrong thing when it is a step backwards. It must always put a closer tie instead of a laxer one or no tie at all. In short. Federalism should only be resorted to when it is for the best interests of the country.
We have seen that Federalism in a sense existed between England and Scotland from 1603 to 1707. It was a relation suited in many respects to both peoples according to the doctrine just laid down. The countries of England and Scotland are so distinct in many respects. The laws are different, because they have their origins in different sources. Even under the union no endeavour has been made to assimilate and codify the laws. There is nowhere else in the world an example of two countries wholly joined to one another both in legislation and administration and yet retaining entirely separate laws and institutions. The extreme inconvenience of this is daily apparent in Parliament, for even where it is desired to apply exactly the same legislation to England and Scotland, it is almost always necessary to pass separate Acts, one for each country because the legal system and nomenclature are so different. A recent instance is found in the case of the Parliamentary Elections Returning Officers Bills. The measures as at first introduced related solely to Ireland. It was found easily practicable to extend the scope of this exclusively Irish Bill to England. But as to Scotland it was impossible. All our arrangements even in so simple a matter as taking the poll are so different from those of England that the Lord Advocate was obliged to draw up a separate measure following the lines of Mr. Healy’s Bill as nearly as he could. Whether the laws of England and Scotland could now be welded into one, may be questionable. The principal difficulty would probably be the unwillingness of English lawyers to adopt the Scots law in many cases in which the Scots law is generally deemed to be superior. Then again there is the difference in the character of the people. The lowland Scot, although he is after all a north Englishman, is frugal, patient of toil, cautious, yet not cowardly, nor devoid of enterprise, sober-minded, not generally imaginative, but with a vein of romance capable of being excited to the highest enthusiasm and tenacious of his purpose to a degree of obstinacy; the Celt has a patriotic attachment to his native glen, and the seeds of romance and poetry lie deeper in his dreaming nature. To the Scot the political arrangements are to be fitted to social requirements, society is to be brought into harmony with ethical conceptions; and these as they spring up in the natural man are to be purified and elevated by Christian influences. He brings back politics from a blind groping after the expedient to the region of principle. He urges the necessity of taking an observation, ascertaining our course and looking at the chart which human possibilities have marked out, lest we heedlessly run our bark against some unalterable law of social life.
We now proceed to state more precisely our scheme of Home Rule for Scotland, to make a stroke off our own bat, as Lord Palmerston was wont to say. We propose that in all purely Scottish affairs, affairs not in common between England and Scotland, but proper to Scotland only, the authority of the Scottish domestic Parliament should be final. England, Ireland, and Scotland, have naturally many common interests. The interest of Scotland is not necessarily different from that of England in the matter of Imperial taxation or of postal arrangements or of colonial and foreign policy, or even of tariffs and commercial treaties. There are affairs which the English people and no one else can well manage for the English people; there are affairs which the Scottish people and no one else can manage satisfactorily for the Scottish people. We must then divide Imperial from national or local purposes. We must assign to the imperial or central authority the maintenance of the militia, military and naval service and defence, currency, post-office, foreign relations, census and statistics, lighthouses, sea-coast fisheries, weights and measures, bankruptcy, patents and copyrights, the criminal law, except the constitution of courts of criminal appeal but including the procedure in criminal matters, and penitentiaries, and the imposition and collection of such taxation as would be needed for these objects. The reservation of this last item might seem inconsistent with any considerable degree of local liberty; but in practice it is surprising how much legislative freedom is possible notwithstanding the reservation of finance. Of course there must be rates for local purposes, but the whole or nearly the whole of what we call taxes in this country, as distinguished from rates is reserved for common purposes. In Austria (not Austro-Hungary) the taxation and finance are reserved to the central authorities at Vienna. The same plan is practically followed in the United States. All customs’ duties belong to the federal power, and no state can levy any customs or transit duties whatever. The federal authority is also empowered to levy internal excise duties, and has so completely absorbed that form of taxation (taking to itself all the duties on alcoholic liquors, tobacco, patent articles, and the like) that scarcely anything of the kind is levied by the individual states. The several states raise the funds necessary for their purposes almost entirely by rates with the addition of some small direct taxes for special purposes, for example, a poll-tax devoted to education. The Scottish Parliament would have power to amend the Scottish constitution, to impose direct taxation for provincial purposes, borrow money on the credit of Scotland, establish provincial offices, establish and maintain public prisons, reformatories, hospitals, asylums, charities and eleemosynary institutions; superintend education; supervise shop, tavern, auctioneer and other licenses; legislate for municipal institutions and local requirements; incorporate companies; regulate the administration of justice and the imposition of punishment, and attend to local works and generally all matters of a private nature. Power would be given to the Imperial Parliament to effect uniformity of all or any of the laws relative to property and civil rights in both countries. A Scottish representation would appear in the Imperial Parliament Provision would be made for the same person being elected to both Parliaments. It might be unlikely that there would be a doubly qualified person. If the system were bad the electors would have the rectification in their own hands. Persons who would make good representatives of the public opinion of Scotland where Imperial affairs were concerned might be found much less useful for the business of a local Parliament. The electors would soon find out what classes of men were best suited by intimate knowledge of the country and by residence in it, by practical acquaintance with its customs, its commerce, its agriculture, and all its various local interests to make themselves useful as representatives. Or the plan suggested with respect to the Imperial and local representation of Ireland in the present Irish controversy might be adopted – a plan originated by a Scottish member, and regarded with favour by the Irish Nationalist leaders, and commended by the Prime Minister himself. The plan consists of dividing the country into a number of constituencies agreeably to the proportion of representation which Scotland would have in the Imperial Parliament. All the members elected would sit in the Scottish Parliament. One member from each constituency would be entitled to sit at Westminster. If the two members elected agreed in politics, they might decide between themselves which should enjoy the double honour and double power coupled with the double labour of sitting at Edinburgh and at Westminster, In the event of disagreement of opinion upon this point (in other respects an open one), the member returned at the head of the poll would be entitled to decide or compelled to act.
Although we have given this rough statement of what work and powers might be relegated to the different Parliaments, we candidly admit that it may be faulty. We know full well how difficult it is to distinguish between Local and Imperial affairs; but the difficulty is not insuperable. It has been successfully overcome in several instances elsewhere, and can be overcome here if an earnest attempt be made. Each of the Swiss Cantons enjoys Home Rule, while bound by the Federal Union in allegiance to the whole Commonwealth. The same principle is partly recognised in the Imperial German Constitution. In the United States we have a further illustration of State self-government, combined with Imperial Unity. The labour – involving great care and discrimination – if successful, would be well bestowed. Efforts similar to those made elsewhere, actuated by a similar spirit and directed to a similar end, could not fail to be equally successful here.
In the Scottish Parliament there would be two Chambers. Hereditary chambers are at a discount in this age, and there is a decided objection to vest any power of legislation in irresponsible men. The peers of Scotland must therefore take their place as commoners. The creation of an Upper Chamber by election as in France and the United States, or by royal warrant as in Canada, would be more in accordance with the principles of modem freedom. We should prefer the system in France and the United States. The Second Chamber would be elected for a definite number of years on a principle different from that which regulated the election of the representative Chamber. The Representative Chamber would be composed of a certain number of members returned for each county and burgh, just as the members are returned for the Imperial Parliament.
It might be objected that were a similar scheme not carried out with respect to other parts of the kingdom, the Scottish Imperial representatives would have an undue influence in the affairs relating to other parts of the kingdom. It is admitted that there would be a lack of symmetry; but it has been pointed out again and again that there is not the slightest ground for serious alarm or complaint. The arrangement would only be provisional, for it is not unlikely that the granting of Home Rule to Scotland would soon be followed by the granting of Home Rule to other parts of the kingdom. Besides, at present the same man may be a member of the House of Commons and also of the Metropolitan Board of Works. In the House he has a full right to interfere as much as he pleases with Irish and Scottish business, and yet an Irish or a Scottish member may not interfere with all that part of the business of London which comes under the control of the Board of Works.
This plan of Home Rule for Scotland would establish between Scotland and the Imperial Parliament, relations similar in principle to those that exist between a State of the American Union and the Federal Government, or between any State of the Dominion of Canada and that Central Canadian Parliament which meets at Ottawa. The State legislatures are useful institutions, and do a great deal of useful work. It must be admitted that their laws are not sometimes stated in the highest style of jurisprudence, but they are practical and useful. The members are men sent up from among the people, and the press of work not being very great, laws that do not work well are soon righted.
Again Scotland is suited in many ways for Home Rule. It is large enough to be free from the charge of vestrifying its meetings; it is small enough to be easily managed and capable of fully dealing with details and local matters. It is just about the size of a typical state of the American Union.
It was an Act of the Imperial Parliament that constructed the Dominion of Canada, and the system as promulgated has worked with almost unbroken success. Any differences that have arisen have been less serious than those that often arise in our present system when the House of Lords seeks to exercise its constitutional function of rejecting a bill which happens to be popular. Parliament could pass an act establishing a similar parliament in Scotland strictly defining the jurisdiction of the local and of the Imperial Parliament; and any conflict of authority that might afterwards arise could be settled by argument, by conference, by gradual experience, or by the establishment of a supreme court independent of both to decide all disputes.
Such a scheme if effected we venture to think would work well. The Imperial Parliament would be preserved in its present form. It would leave to that Parliament all its present control over everything that affects the Imperial Crown, its dominion, its colonies and its dependencies. It would leave it still the power of preventing any interference with the permanent taxation which is the security for the national debt and other charges to which the faith of the Crown and Parliament is pledged. It would leave it still the power of providing by imperial taxation for imperial necessities. It would make no difference in the Constitution; it would only extend to Scotland a constitution that already exists. The advocates of progress would lose nothing by it; they would be in exactly the same position as they are now. The friends of the conservation of existing institutions would lose nothing by it; they would still have the means of maintaining them that they now have. The demands of our national life require an expansion of our institutions; we cannot make our institutions binding on all time. The scheme would relieve the House of the plethora of business. The domestic affairs of Scotland would be transacted by men who have no other public business to attend to. After all in these high pressure days, time and knowledge are essential to the proper conduct of business. Is it not evident that the Imperial Parliament has neither the knowledge nor the time? The scheme would stimulate all enterprise, nerve every industry, and give impetus to every improvement. It would strengthen the union more and more. There would be increased zeal on the part of every individual in maintaining the empire at home and abroad. De Tocqueville was right in asserting that every citizen in a confederation had an interest in maintaining it, because in defending it he defended the prosperity and freedom of his own State.
It may be asked, and asked in all fairness, would such a scheme if incorporated in an Act of Parliament be final? In one sense it would be final, in another it would not. Grant Home Rule to Scotland at present, and we do not anticipate anything so absurd as a subsequent demand for separation; it is out of the question. The sense in which it would not be final is with respect to further reforms in the internal government of Scotland. We do not for a moment imagine that the Scottish people would rest contented with the present system of administration in the counties. We want real local government, and not a sham local government. There is nothing so confusing and scarcely anything so feeble as the administrative bodies that exist in our counties and smaller administrative areas. The organisation of the county is constituted by the lord lieutenant, sheriff-principal, sheriff-substitute, procurator-fiscal, justices of the peace, commissioners of supply, county road trustees, sheriff clerk, clerk to the peace, clerk of supply, treasurer and collector. All of them have different functions, most of them have different areas over which they exercise their functions, and the county is divided and cross-divided to an extent that it is hopeless for the untutored laic to attempt to understand. The justices of the peace have their areas for quarter sessions and their sub-areas for petty sessions; the county road trustees have a set of areas for themselves, while the sheriffs and sheriff-substitutes have fields of operation independent of each and every one. All that the uninitiated knows is that at the call of the road trustees and commissioners of supply he has to pay certain taxes for county purposes. Confusion is not so great in the burghs, although matters are not so simple as they might be. First of all we have royal and parliamentary burghs, then regality and barony burghs, and lastly police burghs; and as they differ in designation so they differ in the composition of the governing corporation. The royal and parliamentary burghs are governed by corporations composed of magistrates and burgesses acting in a town council and representing the citizen; each of the second class has an organisation peculiar to itself; while the police burghs are governed by an elected body with most of the powers of an ordinary corporation. In administration there is a similar want of symmetry. Besides managing its own property the corporation usually attends to the watching, cleaning, lighting, paving, and improving the burgh, registration, valuation, burials, roads and bridges, weights and measures, sanitary and one or two other matters; while in several burghs special trusts have been created by local Acts of Parliament for the separate management of police, roads, harbours, water, and other public purposes. Why the corporation does not look after all the matters connected with the burgh does not seem quite clear.
It is hard to conceive anything more confusing than this, or a system of administration so destitute of the popular element as that which exists in the counties. The defects of the system have arisen through the present organisation having been introduced bit by bit upon an antiquated system; it has all the disadvantages of such a system, and few if any of its good qualities. The time has surely come for the people to look after their own local matters. We need a reform, and let us hope that it will be a simple reform and at the same time a radical one. One popularly elected board to look after all the affairs of the county, and one corporation to look after all the affairs of the burgh would meet the necessities of the case. We do not require at this time of day to expound the advantages of such a scheme; they are patent to every one. It is simple, and could not fail to procure the effectual administration of our local areas. Unlike the present system it is intelligible and symmetrical in its arrangement. We should have municipal parliaments and county parliaments, and Home Rule having been granted, a national parliament and an Imperial Parliament, each one working within its own sphere. Some such arrangement is one to which we are gradually if not rapidly hastening. It points the way to the grandest ideal in modern politics, the union of the mother country with the colonies in one real United Empire, the United States of Greater Britain.