A Union for the 21st Century

In 1999, with the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, the relationship between the nations of the UK changed; the ‘NO’ vote in the referendum last Thursday will change it once again.

With ‘devo-max’ for Scotland and more powers for the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies, the question of ‘who speaks for England?’ is becoming more important.

The conventional answers to that question include ‘English votes on English laws’ (EVEL) and an English Parliament.

Neither answer suitably devolves political power; with both answers, political power remains in Westminster and London.

There is too much diversity in regional identities, local economies, levels of depravation, dependence on public services etc. to be adequately reflected by an English Parliament inevitably dominated by the South East.

A constitutional sleight of hand is not enough. Both answers will keep power centralised in the hands of the few – both answers are no change dressed up as big change. If EVEL had been implemented since 1997, only 21 votes (out of over 3000) would have gone differently

Instead of pretending that their answers will actually change things David Cameron, Nigel Farage and John Redwood amongst others should support a settlement that devolves power down to our cities and regions.

Our cities and our regions must be allowed, and encouraged, to innovate and find new answers to the problems in their communities. This is the only way we can ensure the United Kingdom can meet and master the challenges of the 21st Century.

However this cannot be rushed. ResPublica, a think tank, has argued Greater Manchester should have powers devolved to it over a 5 year timetable while the Institute for Public Policy Research has argued for a ‘decentralisation decade’.

That is why English Votes for English laws and an English Parliament are popular: because they are relatively quick to implement. However, as I have said, they are not enough.

Because fashioning a radical settlement, where power is devolved to regions, communities and individuals, will take a long time, it is vital that there is a People’s Constitutional Convention. Cross party consensus is not enough to maintain the momentum required to implement change; citizens, community groups, trade unions, faith groups, businesses should all be involved in the discussion of the constitutional future of the United Kingdom.

Gordon Brown was right when he argued the Union must be reformed to maintain the interdependence of our nations while respecting identity whether that be Scottish, Welsh, Cornish or Yorkshire because interdependence whether on a community level or global level is the defining fact of our age.

How we go about doing that is a discussion that should take place everywhere involving everyone. If the Scottish referendum told us anything, it is that politics does matter and can involve everyone – there is no such thing as an apathetic citizen.

So if the people and the politicians dared to reject the conventional, bland answers and choose more radical constitutional ideas, then we can create a Union of Nations suitable for the challenges of the 21st Century.

 

This article was written by Ben Cooper, and may not reflect the views of the entire Beverley and Holderness membership.