Speculate to accumulate – why we should support devolution

On the doorstep I have lost count of the number of people I’ve spoken to, from the chap who was voting remain because he preferred “white immigration” to the person who was telling me that he “wanted his country back”. These people all have one thing in common, they feel let down. If they feel their politicians aren’t listening to them and they want change they vote for reactionary parties.

This has been the case as long as representative democracy has been around. Capitalising on people’s fears is how Mussolini got in, the same can be said for the advance of UKIP, the Front National and Trump. Offering change with meaningless sound bites is how reactionaries get in.

We’ve seen the decline of UKIP in the past year, this, in my opinion, can be attributed to three things. Firstly UKIP’s job is done per se, their raison d’être has passed. Secondly the Tories have outplayed them by using the same meaningless sound bites and undermining their support base. Thirdly, this is the important one, if you look at the communities that voted in UKIP representatives, they want to be listened to and they want the country they know back. Most importantly they want their politicians to care.

Like all reactionaries UKIP had their sound bites. However a sound bite can get you past the start line but it won’t sustain you for the race. They offer quick fixes but these don’t work. This inevitably leaves the people who wanted change still feeling left behind.

We can win these seats in local and national elections and retain them by offering good representation, this will get us so far. However if we spend our entire time bashing the government we endanger ourselves by limiting our scope of achievement. We ride the wave of disenfranchisement but don’t do anything to help stem and eventually reverse the flow.

So what do we do about it?

We as a party shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss civic pride and community spirits in the name of internationalism, I believe that they can work hand in hand. Our strategy should be to invest in local schools. Invest in the local community areas, be tough on crime and most importantly invest in creating jobs to replace those lost through the process of automisation.

If we do this then we can reverse the disenfranchisement of the people that voted for change when they voted leave. People don’t vote for change if they’re happy with the status quo.

This is why I think that these new metro-Mayors are a fantastic idea. The localised approach to government has so much to offer. It has worked wonders in London, Wales and Scotland. In Northern Ireland it’s got Unionists and Nationalists working together. It gives people control over their destinies.

If central government give the people the ability to change their communities and their schools then the positive change will happen. We need to be be bold and unequivocal in our support for devolution. It’s our communities that will gain if we make it work.


* Callum Robertson is a teacher and former Chair of the Young Liberals

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I agree with much of what you are saying here, Leave voters did seem to vote on the basis of what they could feel in their local communities and this overpowered faceless stats at a national level. However, I would hope that you haven’t grouped London and the areas now covered by a metro-mayor with the Celtic nations who help form part of the UK as areas of equal importance. The Conservative party may traditionally only care about English counties but devolution needs to recognise the significance of nations first and then communities within nations.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th May '17 - 7:12am

    Our strategy should be to invest in local schools. Invest in the local community areas, be tough on crime and most importantly invest in creating jobs to replace those lost through the process of automisation.

    Yes, and investing in things requires money, and where is that money to come from?

    That’s the problem. We have a national government that has so starved local government of funding, that there is very little it can actually do. Local government’s main role now is just to follow national government dictation on making yet more cuts to essential services – and to take the blame for that.

    I was at a local government meeting just the other day, with a bunch of protestors outside distributing leaflets complaining about cuts and saying that local councillors are in control and so have the power to stop those cuts. Well, no, they don’t. National government dictates how much funding local government has, it has no choice about making cuts. Almost everything that was optional in local government spending, so a matter where there was real choice and control, has had to be cut out completely already.

    Yet when I asked one of those protestors “OK, so how would you pay what is needed to reverse those cuts?” he looked at me with a blank face and said something like “Euh, dunno, I’m not a politician, it’s not up to me”.

    So long as such protest and talk is made, as if cuts and taxation were two unrelated things, the Tories will win. The electors will not link the Tory taxation policy with its inevitable effects. So they will listen to the Tories and agree when the Tories promise to keep taxes down, and not want to vote for anyone who says they will put taxes up. We are in a disastrous downward spiral now, as the damage cuts are making is such that it just causes more costs elsewhere. We are told we have a wonderful booming economy thanks to the Tories, but how come funding for local government is so stretched that it cannot do so most of things it did in the past that contributed to civic pride and community spirit?

    The real cause of loss of control is this way money has been siphoned up so that a wealthy elute have plenty of it to do what they want, but ordinary people and local government services are starved of it so have no control as they have nothing left after paying for necessities.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th May '17 - 7:19am

    This is why I think that these new metro-Mayors are a fantastic idea.

    This whole idea of “mayors” just means taking control out of the hands of an assembly of councillors and putting it into the hands of one person. Why is that thought to be a good idea? Councillors are generally ordinary type people in touch with locals, the sort of person who can get elected as a Mayor often is not.

    Why don’t you take this idea further and suggest that instead of having shared power in a representative Parliament, we should have one charismatic person in control instead? Well, that idea was very popular in the 1920 and 1930s, and was tried in particular in Italy and Germany.

  • ‘The localised approach to government has so much to offer. It has worked wonders in… Wales..’
    Sorry, no, it hasn’t. We were saddled with 7 Ukip AMs in last year’s elections, if you want visible proof to back that up.

  • Peter Martin 9th May '17 - 10:53am

    @ Matthew,

    “National government dictates how much funding local government has, it has no choice about making cuts. ”

    That’s right. It makes me wonder why we have elected local government in the first place!

    This very true statement should also make us ask ourselves if devolution is really such a good idea. Superficially it sounds attractive enough. Take away “power” from faceless central government and hand it over to the people closer to the action who’ll know how to spend money and use resources more effectively.

    Except they won’t have the money. Neither will they have the power to raise it. But they will have the responsibility. When they fail to achieve the impossible they will be the ones to blame.

  • What Matthew Huntbach said.

    The thing about councils is because wards are small across even a smallish town there is considerable inhomogeneity. Politically that means there are some wards where a small party with limited resources can break through, especially if the candidate is well known and respected.

    The result across a council as a whole is to approximate what STV might deliver. The larger the wards/divisions the higher the hurdle and the less results will approximate to STV. So, metro-mayors are another nail in the coffin of accountable local government.

    The Tories’ long term plan has been to reduce local government to an agent for Whitehall. That was a principle objective of Thatcher’s Poll tax (although never the admitted one). Before then local government had a strong tax base from domestic and business rates and, with that, a much larger measure of real autonomy than now.

    Thatcher’s trick was to defund it. First the business rates were ‘nationalised’ leaving it with the poll tax which became the balancing figure between two large numbers – spending and income. To understand the trick consider some illustrative numbers, all as percentage of spend in year 1.

    Year 1: Spending – 100; income – rate support grant (RSG) 84, poll tax 16, total 100.

    During the year: inflation runs at 4%, the RSG is increased very slightly in ‘NOMINAL’ (not adjusted for inflation) terms but it’s trumpeted as a big increase. In ‘REAL’ (inflation adjusted) terms it’s a decrease. Whitehall gives local government added responsibilities that entirely eat up the small nominal increase in RSG.

    Year 2: Spending 104 (up by inflation); income RSG 84 (essentially unchanged), poll tax 20 (a whopping 25% increase).

    RESULT! With small opposite changes in two big numbers the small balancing number changes by a LOT. But it can’t because it’s poll tax. So local government MUST cut services. The Tories can now blame local government for profligacy setting it up for the next attack.

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