What Next?

For the most part, during the independence referendum, I’ve kept it zipped. I didn’t want to be drawn into arguments and there was certainly a feeling of letting the Scots fight it out amongst themselves. I’ve regurgitated other opinions, blogs and editorials, but rarely ventured my own. It didn’t matter that I was half-expecting Alex Salmond to promise unicorns in an independent Scotland – saying so would’ve only caused an argument and, frankly, one I could do without. It’s all about picking your battles wisely. Part of me hoped that Scotland would  vote ‘Yes’ and then the horrors of Salmond’s half-truths on currency union, EU membership and endless oil reserves could be exposed. However, this mischievous pixie part of me was beaten by the sensible part that didn’t want to see the break-up of Great Britain just to prove a political point (there were several moments in the campaign when Labour seemed happy to do this though…).

So what now? Somehow we have to forget the animosity of the referendum campaign whilst still taking account of the problems it threw up. The most pressing of these is the so-called ‘devo-max’ proposals which have been bandied around a lot since the ‘No’ campaign started panicking. Fair enough – more powers for Scotland. I don’t deny that it’s a wise move. With the same caveats that others are making plain:

  • England and Wales must have their own devolution settlements to match what Scotland gets. At this point, the politicians don’t get to throw a load of powers to Scotland and appease the rest of us with a few paltry changes. Now the campaign is over, we’re through tip-toeing around. This is now our devolution settlement as much as it is Scotland’s.
  • Non-English MPs must not be able to vote on English-only legislation. This throws up massive problems for a potential Labour majority in 2015 which may not have the requisite English MPs to pass legislation but, frankly, that’s their problem, not the electorate’s. Imagine being forced to work in tandem with your ‘enemies’ to pass sensible legislation instead of just scoring cheap political points.
  • This process cannot be rushed. Gordon Brown came up with this rapid timetable to appease the Scots (and get it all over with before the General Election) but it won’t work like that, not if they’re trying to do it properly and sensibly. It’s not backtracking to slow the process down – we just need to do it right this time or we’ll have the same situation in another ten years or so with one country feeling victimised by the union (and, I suspect, the next time it’ll be the English).

We have the possibility here for massive constitutional reform, beyond anything Nick Clegg tried to do with his silly little proposals for the House of Lords. And, naturally, it throws up far too many issues to discuss here. These are just a few things that spring to mind about devolution now:

  • The electorate must have a say on any constitutional changes. Yes, this will slow the process down but, like elected mayors in cities around the UK which were roundly defeated, if the politicos are getting it wrong then they need to be told.
  • My personal preference would be for the majority of powers (where possible, of course) to be devolved to regional assemblies following traditionally accepted lines with a few modern adjustments. Yorkshire is one such region which would make an excellent starting-point (but, then, I would say that). The thing about Yorkshire folk, though, is that we have a strong sense of identity which would make a regional assembly for the people, elected by the people, really work in this area. I can’t comment on the strength of regional relationships in the rest of the country.
  • As these regional assemblies come into being, we would naturally need fewer MPs at Westminster. Yes, they would still be making decisions on overarching issues but they would have much less responsibility than previous. So that would require coherent and sensible boundary reform. The last attempt was ridiculous, making no reference to our inherent regional connections and just chopping everything up to fit a size. While I agree that constituency size should be roughly equal, it would matter less in a scenario where many powers are devolved to local level.

This is sounding like a lot of work, isn’t it? Which is why it simply cannot be forced through. I know that the traditional parties will resist because it saps their centralised power but that’s just why it’s the right thing to do. No party leader wants to relinquish the power they’ll wield when they get into Downing Street so they’d rather give Scotland a few more powers and just let the rest of us bumble along being ruled by people who have no comprehension of our locality and local lives.

We’ve seen how Scotland can be energised by the possibility of constitutional change. It’s time for the rest of us to get in on the act.

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10 thoughts on “What Next?

  1. I don’t disagree with a lot of your piece, although I am open minded about regional assemblies. However, I absolutely agree that this is too important to leave for politicians to stitch up among themselves.
    We have vehicles for engaging the wider population in this new constitutional settlement, for example using the People’s Assembly. Seeing what the referendum did for political engagement in Scotland, this is our chance to build politics from the grassroots.
    I am also very wary of the Tory/BBC idea of focusing devolution into new city regions. It sounds like putting economics above people and democracy, spreading the mycelia of global capitalism deeper into society. Regional assemblies would definitely be preferable to this!

    • City regions feel like a recipe for disaster to me too! The one we’ve got – Leeds City Partnership or whatever it’s called – feels like an extension of local councillors’ pet projects. I’m not saying it’s not doing any good but I wouldn’t know what was going on with it and their aims if I didn’t actively go looking. That process means, of course, that only the people with vested interests are the ones who know anything about it. I’d see most of the functions of the city region partnership being taken away into a regional assembly – if you can pry the power away from their iron grip.

  2. Very well put, Lucy but I do have two problems with the proposals you offer. For some time I have been brooding on how it would work in a HoC where Scottish members could vote only on Scottish matters and I think it would lead to trouble. Two reasons.

    1. There would be times when it is difficult to be sure that this only effects England. A new airport in Manchester? Definitely an English matter – but it would impinge on the proposed expansion of Glasgow Airport so perhaps not. The potential for disagreements within the HoC on what is and what is not the one or the other worries me.

    2. The cost of wetting up regional assemblies at this time of economic pressure would make such a move anathema to a lot of people who would then block anything going in the right direction. That is not true of creating an English Assembly which could then be persuaded to devolve far more power to the rest of the country (probably direct to counties rather than via a region – any problem with that?).

    We turn the HoC over to the EP (English Parliament) complete with all the facilities and civil servants for all ministries EXCEPT the MoD and the FO.

    We turn the HoL (now dissolved) over to the FA (Federal Assembly) complete with the MoD, the FO and all their facilities and civil servants. The FA also takes over border control from the Home Office and creates a Federal Treasury of its own which includes the Bank of England,

    The FA initially has about a 100 members who are elected members of the national assemblies appointed by those assemblies to sit in the FA (as and when required – hopefully not very often). Say 70 for England and 10 for each of the other assemblies (which is obviously weighted to the smaller nations).

    This could be done quickly and at virtually zero cost. Thoughts?

    • My position on the HoL is, as you know, a bit complicated. The ‘fail safe’ reason I like it is because they scrutinise bad legislation and, for want of a better term, ‘fix’ it. This wouldn’t be as necessary in a system where decisions were more localised and your FA should go some way to fixing that problem. However, then we hit the stumbling block of party politics, don’t we? What, if any role, do political parties play in these situations?

      To take your other two points:

      1. You’re absolutely right that disagreements will spring up about what effects who. Could this be something decided by the FA when there’s a dispute?

      2. What worries me is that they’ll devolve things to an English ‘parliament’ (of their own devising, a worry in itself) then no further devolution will take place because they’ll have done their bit. I can see everything after the GE being snarled up because of a hung parliament. It’s going to require cooperation that the parties just aren’t capable of. The second point, the counties as opposed to regions, irks me a little on a local level. The Leeds City Region Partnership, for instance, takes in areas that aren’t in West Yorkshire but are geographically and economically linked. Going back to rival counties might prove more problematic than helpful. And every county/region has such quirks.

      I realise, of course, that the more change we want, the less likely any change is to happen. But we have just juggled with the break-up of the United Kingdom. We might as well carry on with the scary decisions.

      And I haven’t even begun to fathom where this leaves us in terms of the EU!

  3. Having given what you both have to say a good deal of consideration I see too many difficulties unless we have four assemblies in a federal relationship. Apart from my concerns mentioned above, who forms the government if the majority of English MP’s are in one party but overall there is a majority for another party?

    As to devolution. It is, I think, obvious that none of the present political parties really want devolution from Westminster. In that respect I share Lucy’s views. I still feel the only safe way forward is a new politic group with the main plank being asking the people through referendums (a) their views on devolution and (b) on the EU. Then it would be the people who have decided which is, in my view, the only way we can move forward if we are to continue to call ourselves democrats.

    Only people who won’t trust the people will disagree (because they think they know all the answers and the guy in the street does not).

    You Vote with a change of tack, perhaps?

  4. Reblogged this on politicsandgardening and commented:
    This is an important thread that is being picked up in lots of forums. The Green Party, IPPR and even the Labour Party have come out for a people’s convention on the constitution. Lots to talk about, especially how to guarantee the voices of the people are heard!

  5. […] down which would leave Westminster with relatively little to do. That’s why, in my post on Friday, I suggested a boundary reform which would shrink the number of MPs. On top of this, I’d only […]

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