Opinion: Limited Devolution may be ok for Manchester, but Yorkshire deserves better

Yorkshire DalesThe news that George Osborne is offering further powers to Manchester (if – and only if – they turn their backs on the democratic will of the people and implement an elected Mayor in spite of Manchester voting “No” to having one) has been enthusiastically accepted by the Manchester Labour Party, because, as with all local Labour parties, they very much prefer a government that cannot be scrutinized and wields power in secret, unaccountable meetings.

Yorkshire deserves far better than this Tory & Labour stitch-up of an end-run around democracy and accountability.

At the Yorkshire & Humber Regional Conference this past weekend, our outright opposition to the “city region” model for Yorkshire was made quite plain. The conference passed the motion outlined at the bottom of this post, calling for a radical devolution of power to Yorkshire as a region.

As is quite clear from this motion, the Liberal Democrats in Yorkshire & Humber do not want, and will reject, any attempt to further carve up Yorkshire to Tory & Labour gerrymandered specifications.

We will reject any form of devolution that increases the unaccountable city regions, which merely centralize power away from the town, parish & community councils that form people’s real attachment to government in Yorkshire.

If you want devolution to work, it has to be done by consent of the people, and people will not accept rule by Leeds. I lived for 7 years in Bradford – try going there and telling people they are going to be part of Leeds City Region – and then start running!

There is no reason to delay devolution in Yorkshire. We want a Yorkshire Parliament, we want it elected by STV, we want equivalent powers to Scotland, and we want it now.

The motion from last weekend’s Yorkshire and Humber Liberal Democrat regional conference reads:

Conference Notes that:
1. Spring 2014 Liberal Democrat Federal Party Conference in York passed Policy Paper 117 “Power to the People”, which included proposals for regional devolution
2. The Liberal Democrats and their precursor parties have a long-standing commitment to democracy and devolution
3. The current City Regions and combined authorities lack democratic legitimacy and accountability
4. Research by the University of Huddersfield indicates that 75% of Yorkshire residents are in favour of Yorkshire regional devolution
5. The population and GDP of Yorkshire is roughly equivalent to that of Scotland

Furthermore, Conference believes that:
i. Yorkshire forms a single recognisable region, with a common culture, dialect, and identity which is one of the strongest in the UK
ii. Power is best exercised by those directly elected by and accountable to the people, and at the closest possible level to the people

Therefore, Conference calls for:
A. Regional Devolution for Yorkshire, consisting of a single directly elected parliament
B. Election to the Yorkshire Parliament to be by STV in multi-member constituencies
C. Powers devolved to Yorkshire to be equivalent to those devolved to the Scottish Parliament
D. A corresponding reduction to the size of the federal parliament of the UK in Westminster once devolution is complete
E. The powers and funding of regional and sub-regional Quangos to be subsumed into the Yorkshire Parliament
F. Abolition of the offices of Police and Crime Commissioners for the Yorkshire Police forces, with the powers to be subsumed into the Yorkshire Parliament

Conference further calls for:
a. The Yorkshire Parliament to be responsible for conducting the consequential reorganisation of local government within Yorkshire, towards a single tier of primary authorities
b. Town & Parish Councils to be retained and strengthened, and unparished areas encouraged to form Town, Parish and Community Councils
c. A presumption that as much power as possible shall be devolved to these authorities

* Alisdair Calder McGregor was Candidate for Calder Valley in 2015 and is a member of the party's Federal Policy Committee

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44 Comments

  • “We want a Yorkshire Parliament, we want it elected by STV, we want equivalent powers to Scotland, and we want it now.”

    Doctor Taylor will be so proud 😉

  • Mark Smulian 5th Nov '14 - 9:47am

    I know little about Yorkshire and have no opinion on which places its inhabitants should identify with.
    But this post appears to assume that because the present city region/ combined authorities are only indirectly democratic therefore all city regions must always be like that.
    There may be parts of the country where organising local government around the travel-to-work areas of cities is perfectly sensible, and I can’t see any reason why a future government could not choose to legislate for these bodies to be elected by proportional representation, with devolved powers and with whatever arrangements for districts/ parishes the area concerned wishes to have.

  • Alisdair McGregor 5th Nov '14 - 9:49am

    Mark – my concern is Yorkshire, that’s what our proposals are about, that’s what Yorkshire & Humber Libdems passed, and that’s what we want for Yorkshire.

    You’re welcome to do things your own way if you wish. I certainly don’t pretend everywhere is like Yorkshire!

  • A Manchester City Mayor, taking powers from the City Council, which has a chance at having more than one opinion (though, it doesn’t at the moment) is less democratic than Manchester City Council – and those last six words are ones I really doubted I would ever say. That’s why I voted against it.

    A Greater Manchester County Mayor, taking powers (not many but hopefully more later) from central government or from the unelected Greater Manchester County Residuary Authorities is an improvement on the no democracy at all we’ve had since 1985. That’s why I would vote for it, if entitled to do so – and I agree wholeheartedly that a referendum should have been on offer.

    For those who can’t understand anything without a London analogy, it’s like the difference between the Mayor of London (a less-than-perfect, but acceptable idea) and the Mayor of Lewisham or Tower Hamlets (a completely stupid idea).

    Of course, as a Liberal Democrat, I would support real devolution, with real powers to an elected body and not just a single elected person. But that’s not what is on offer, and I will take one-tenth of a loaf in preference to no bread at all.

    In Yorkshire, where the city regions are carved out of one county, rather than two*, and where there is a far stronger collective identity, the balance is different. Leeds isn’t going to take over Yorkshire the way it would take over a Leeds City Region.

    If you go and tell a Scouser that they’re going to be part of a North-West region then you need to start running, because they know perfectly well that it will be run from, by, and for, Manchester.

    *Four of the ten GM boroughs were wholly or partly in Cheshire before local government reorganisation in 1931/1974; the same for two of the six Liverpool City Region boroughs.

  • Simon McGrath 5th Nov '14 - 10:20am

    so Yorkshire will have power to alter core NHS services ? Raise or lower the rate of income tax and corporation tax ?

  • Alisdair McGregor 5th Nov '14 - 10:26am

    Richard – Part of democracy is the acceptance by the people of the authority of the government. West Yorkshire won’t accept being run from Leeds. All of Yorkshire will accept a Yorkshire Parliament (in York!) in addition to their local borough council.

    Simon – that’s what we would want, yes. All the same powers as Scotland has available to it, should be available for Yorkshire.

  • @Simon McGrath, I’d support those – well, we should have separate UK income tax and Yorkshire income tax, rather than one rate that is adjusted, but otherwise, I’d have no problem with taxation or NHS devolution, or full devolution of primary, secondary, further and higher education. If we do it everywhere, there are at least six departments of state that could be entirely abolished: Education; Agriculture (defra); Health; Communities and Local Government; Business, Innovation and Skills; Communities and Local Government. There are a number of departments that would be greatly reduced and where the residual powers might be merged into a single smaller department; Culture, Media and Sport; Home Office. Arguably Transport and Justice, though there’s a lot of transport that is national and see the paragraph below for Justice.

    I would be much more concerned if Yorkshire set up its own Court of Appeal, and I think there is a solid argument that the uniform legal system of England-and-Wales, which is not devolved in Wales, should not be devolved, though the funding of much of the system (certainly Legal Aid, but also the opening and closing of Crown, County and Magistrates’ Court buildings, etc) certainly could be. That would leave appointment of judges, the administration and funding of the High Court and the Courts of Appeal, and legislation on things like the laws of evidence and canons of legislative interpretation as England-and-Wales matters dealt with nationally.

    Note that this would reduce the size of the national Cabinet by about ten Secretaries of State.

    Now, some places are pretty clear on what boundaries they want: Greater London and Yorkshire are obvious. Others are headed that way: Greater Manchester and probably Greater Liverpool (Merseyside + Halton), while others are harder cases. That’s why the England-wide party policy is “devolution on demand”: work out a boundary, work out some powers, pass a referendum and do what you like.

  • Alisdair, I agree wholly. Yorkshire is the best case for a county/region parliament. Do it, don’t let out havering over whether we want North West or Greater Manchester slow you down.

    I very much doubt that the North West will accept being run from Manchester, or that Manchester (and I include most of the Greater Manchester boroughs in that) will accept being run from anywhere else. We’re nearly as bad as Londoners for that.

  • Congratulations on presenting and passing a thorough and strong motion on devolution at the regional conferences. I’m sure there will be flaws in what you argued for – for example, it would be rather odd for the legal system to end up different not just in Scotland but across the regions of England – but on the whole, what a positive step. It’s about time the party actually had a firm policy on what at least part of a new constitution rather than just substanceless hot air about federalism.

  • “Yorkshire forms a single recognisable region, with a common culture, dialect, and identity which is one of the strongest in the UK”

    If UKIP had said that, LibDems would be out in force condemning them for being “little Englander’s”…

  • Richard Gadsden says “…while others are harder cases. That’s why the England-wide party policy is “devolution on demand”: work out a boundary…”

    I’m sorry but it ought to be obvious that “devolution on demand” is an unfair, illiberal and unworkable proposition. It is unfair because it allows some regions/cities/counties/whatever to choose and then demand to have devolved governing body irrespective of their position within the country. Such devolution is often likely to prejudice the case *against* the possibility of devolution in other neighbouring areas. The notion of “city regions” is the worst example of this: large cities such as Manchester are hived off as separately governed body, leaving a rump of more rural areas or counties with only smaller towns (e.g. northern Lancashire). Such rump counties will have no large population centres of note, no sizeable financial clout owing to a generally low population.

    The result of “on demand” and “city regions” combined will a two-tier country with large swathes of the countryside and our smaller cities with less influence, less ability to work together with neighbouring towns/cities for the common good under a common but local governing structure.

    This is wholly bad. You want to be liberal and fair? Then I can see little alternative other than to devise a system of boundaries which (a) encompasses every British citizen (b) provides all bodies with a sufficiently large population to be viable and to compete on an approximately level playing field.

  • Yorkshire Guidon 5th Nov '14 - 11:45am

    @ Roland I don’t think this proposition advocates withdrawal from international institutions unless I missed something.

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th Nov '14 - 11:56am

    ‘ An elected Mayor in spite of Manchester voting “No” to having one) has been enthusiastically accepted by the Manchester Labour Party, because, as with all local Labour parties, they very much prefer a government that cannot be scrutinized and wields power in secret, unaccountable meetings.’

    So there’s the proof that turkeys really do vote for Christmas. Labour have agreed to accelerate their own demise but there are massive implications for the other regions too. Unless there is a revolt against this idea then we could see it sweep through other areas and wreck the chance of real democratic participation. Isn’t this what the Scottish referendum showed? Real power to local people is what voters want, not concentration of power in to the hands of a single personality.

    George Osborne must be congratulating himself on getting rid of a democratically elected body full of Labour politicians – Lord Tebbit and Lady Thatcher would be proud.

    The implications for democracy are huge if Osborne gets his way.

  • Mick Taylor 5th Nov '14 - 11:58am

    No-one has ever suggested a separate legal system for Yorkshire. The system in Scotland existed before devolution. What we want is a directly elected Parliament with the same powers as the Scottish Parliament and – eventually – when this is phased in all English regions for there to be a substantial reduction in the size and functions of what will then be the Federal Parliament so that it deals with defence, foreign policy, relations with the EU [ though regions and states would have direct dealings with the EU too as happens now] and overall economic management. Some functions like the state pension would need to be managed centrally and national planning for railways, airports and shipping, but in general there should be a presumption in favour of devolution.
    BUT and this is important too, Liberal Democrats would favour further devolution from regions and states to principal and town/parish/community councils.
    What about taxation? Liberal thinking on this in the 60s and 70s was for the states and regions to collect taxation and for the central government to precept on the state/regional government, especially in respect to income taxes. I suspect a mixture would be best now. I see nothing wrong in having different levels of taxation in different regions. This happens in most federal states and can be useful in encouraging business to move to less developed regions. The most important aspect of taxation would be measures to ensure that all states and regions has access to resources through a redistribution system. This operates already in respect to local government through the Barnet formula. This would needs be a federal responsibility.
    Of course – as Liberals – we must insist that any devolution is accompanied by fair votes. This means STV and I would want to insist that this was applied in all elections and established in the inevitable written constitution as it is in Eire.
    The current proposals for Manchester (and I suspect Leeds too) are not democratic and are not devolution since not a single power will be lost to Westminster only the ability to spend money. Since this power will be handed to a (Labour) elected Mayor this is not to the benefit of the areas in question as anyone who has experienced life in Labour’s heartlands will know. Without real devolution and fair votes this is a disastrous policy because we all know Labour can’t manage money or the economy.

  • Malcolm Todd 5th Nov '14 - 11:59am
  • @Michael Kilpatrick “Northern Lancashire”, ie Lancashire after excluding Greater Manchester and Merseyside, is a million-and-a-half people, about the same as the Liverpool City Region.

    The “rump” of Cheshire is 900,000 (Cheshire West and Chester, Cheshire East and Warrington – Halton being part of Liverpool City Region, though not the former Merseyside County).

    Are you sure you want to characterise those as “a generally low population … with less influence”?

    “it allows some regions/cities/counties/whatever to choose and then demand to have devolved governing body irrespective of their position within the country” That’s called self-determination, a basic liberal principle.

    What concerns me is people living in the South-East and East of the country who want to tell the North that we can’t have devolution until the difficult problem of devolution in the SE and East can be resolved, and then refuse to actually propose something for the SE and E. From where I sit, this feels like an attempt to put off devolution in the North to an indefinite future while you tinker with your own borders forever.

  • @Mick “No-one has ever suggested a separate legal system for Yorkshire… What we want is a directly elected Parliament with the same powers as the Scottish Parliament ”

    The point is that those two sentences contradict one another. One of the powers of the Scottish Parliament is control over the legal system in Scotland. The Scottish parliament has authority over the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary – the equivalents of the Court of Appeal in England and Wales. There is a separate system of registration for limited companies in Scotland from England, again under the Scottish Parliament. One of the big innovations under devolution in Scotland has been a major change in land law, removing residual feudal tenure and making a number of other changes, like the single survey.

    If Yorkshire were to have the same powers as Scotland, then the legal system would be one of those powers. I think you don’t want those powers, but that is up to you.

  • OK, Richard Gadsden, look at all the other larger cities in the top 10, and look at the population centres that surround them. Then look at all the areas of England that have no large cities in them WHATSOEVER. By that I mean the entirety of Eastern England (Beds, Herts, Norf, Suff, Cambs, Essex). A region bigger and richer than Scotland and twice that of Manchester. No large cities. What do you offer them?

    And yes, getting below one million people does start to get rather small. There is little point in a tax-raising powerful regional assembly when its population size gets pretty minimal and it contains no cities.

    Err, self-determination should not be on a first-come-first-served basis if in doing so it prejudices the possibility of viable regions of self-determination in neighbouring lands. Unless you believe it’s all right for a big city to take pwer and say “We’re all right, Jack”? You appear to believe it’s correct for people who want something to take it regardless of whether other people have fully decided yet and come late only to find that there are no slices of the cake left?

    I’m not putting off devolution in the North, I’m positively campaigning for it, but on a level playing field. Complete regional devolution for all citizens, not just for some, whether they be in Barnsley, Bath or Beccles.

    Lastly, what is the “difficult problem in the SE and E?

  • Stephen Hesketh 5th Nov '14 - 1:09pm

    Richard Gadsden5th Nov ’14 – 10:11am
    “If you go and tell a Scouser that they’re going to be part of a North-West region then you need to start running, because they know perfectly well that it will be run from, by, and for, Manchester.”

    Well for a start I absolutely reject your assumption that a North West region would be ‘run from, by and for Manchester’.

    Who in their right mind would propose moving from a situation of the country being run from, by and for London to a region in a similar position but with Manchester taking its place? Is this really the best we Lib Dems can come up with?

    As a Lancashire Merseysider, I would welcome the views of Liverpool Lib Dems on this as the creation of a North West region is crucial to the North West – ideally with Manchester.

    It is vital that we hold some cross-party discussions to prevent an Osborne – Manchester Labour carve up.

    Once this is in place, we can go back to holding a sensible considered convention for England as a whole. The need for this is clearly explained in Michael Kilpatrick’s post of 5th Nov ’14 – 11:27am .

    Alisdair McGregor is right, Yorkshire does deserve beter than this – but so do the rest of us.

  • Richard Gadsden, a bit more, as I didn’t address your final paragraph very well….

    Tinkering with borders….Well, I say that there is NO correct border. There never will be. The historic kingdoms of England mean nothing today and the counties are too small. The regions are partly artificial constructs. Etcetera ad nauseum.

    So? I say “live with it”. There will always be someone who thinks a border is on the wrong side of their street. It’s unavoidable. I never said anything about any alleged procrastination over borders for the southern regions of England. I say just use the EU regions, or something very similar, and damned well get on with it. So, the East of England is simply Essex, Cambs, Norfolk, Suffolk, Beds Herts. Or you could place the last two in a more central region and leave the other four as a smaller Eastern region: it would still be larger than Wales in population. You either have a Lanchashire+Cheshire region or a Lancs/Cheshire/Cumbria region, which in turn depends on how you think the North East should be place.

    There are only two or three configurations that make much sense.

    Choose one and get on with it.

    I get the distinct impression you were trying to paint me as someone who wanted to strangle English devolution at birth when in fact you couldn’t be further from the truth. You brought up the topic of tinkering with borders in the SE and E, not me!

  • Stephen and Richard, some population figures:

    Cumbria: 0.5m
    Lancashire: 1.46m
    Greater Manchester 2.68m
    Merseyside: 1.38m
    Cheshire: 1m

    Total with Cumbria = 7 million people, 38% of whom are in Greater Manchester
    Total without Cumbria = 6.5 million people, 41% of whom are in Greater Manchester

    So either way, Greater Manchester (in as much as it might or might not exist as a single political entity within a region) is very significant but is not a majority of either configuration of the North West region.

    And the Merseyside metropolitcan county is currently fractional more than half the size of Greater Manchester, whereas the latter is considerably less than half the size of Greater London, if one wishes to compare dominance of London within England with the dominance of Manchester within the North West.

  • Alisdair McGregor 5th Nov '14 - 3:18pm

    @Michael Kilpatrick “The historic kingdoms of England mean nothing today and the counties are too small.”

    Yorkshire is 5.3m people (similar to Scotland) and has a similar GDP

  • Alisdair, Yorkshire wasn’t a historic Kingdom, it was mostly part of Northumbria. I am, of course, referring to the need to find meaningful ways of diving up the rest of England into regions. Not sure why you appear to be taking what I wrote as a possible criticism, if you’ve read all my other comments here. I’m aware how big Yorkshire is. I grew up in Sheffield Hallam, by the way.

    I hope you can keep fighting for the motion your regional conference adopted to become a national policy for all of England’s regions (whether those regions be historic or newly-drawn).

  • John Critchley 5th Nov '14 - 3:54pm

    An interesting discussion taking place here.
    Could someone please explain what is likely to happen if several counties try to link up as a region?
    For instance, would the work split up so that the County Councils each take on part of the work for the region? Is there a regional assembly and then the CCs abolished? I guess there are various options but I’d be interested to know more.

  • John Critchley, it’s my opinion that regional government would only work if we abolished county councils. Nobody really wants *more* politicians in an extra tier so we need to add one, remove another. My favoured solution would be for all districts to become unitary. At the moment we have a mixture of two-tier or unitary councils – what a mess!

    I would also say that the Counties are not sufficiently big to do a lot of things such as big, long-distance infrastructure, whereas regions would be. Also, the counties in many cases are rather similar in size to the districts. I think it would make sense to devolve a lot of County powers down to the Districts/Boroughs/etc (making them more localised yet stronger) and to move a few of the strategic powers upwards to the regions which would also take a lot of power being devolved downwards from Westminster.

    Isn’t it daft having planning decided by South Cambs District Council but having the roads built and maintained by Cambridgeshire County?!!!

  • Alisdair McGregor 5th Nov '14 - 5:27pm

    Michael Kilpatrick: “it’s my opinion that regional government would only work if we abolished county councils”

    That’s exactly why the motion passed at Yorkshire & Humber Regional Conference says;

    “The Yorkshire Parliament to be responsible for conducting the consequential reorganisation of local government within Yorkshire, towards a single tier of primary authorities”

  • Local government is a mess, but my own personal feeling is to abolish certain types of district councils rather than county councils, as people feel more connection to their county than arbitrary districts. Of course, where a district-level council has that sort of connection to the population–for example, say, borough and city councils–then those should continue as they are at least, but preferably with more powers.

    FWIW, on the question of the North West: were there to be devolution on a regional scale, I would like to see it administratively based outside of the M62 corridor, to prevent the centralisation of power even further. As much as a Yorkshire Parliament being based in York makes sense, so does a Lancashire Parliament based in Lancaster!

  • Alisdair – indeed! In a posting in the members’ forum here a while back I drew attention to a back-of-an-envelope calculation: if, for example one looks at the Eastern Region with its six Counties, the abolition of a good 300+ count councillors would be met with the creation of, say, 125 assembly members (assuming a constiuency size similar to that used in Scotland). Assuming the number of district councillors stayed roughly the same one would see local councillors with increased power but still equally localised, yet a total reduction of the overall number of politicians.

  • Tony Dawson 5th Nov '14 - 5:41pm

    The sensible seat of government for any true North West Region would be Wigan.

    If it were really decided that there needed to be a Liverpool ‘City Region’ and a Manchester one, then Cheshire West, West Lancashire and Warrington, should go into the former and Cheshire East should go into the latter. This would leave either a Lancashire/Cumbria, centred upon Lancaster, or a North Lancashire separate from Cumbria.

    As I see it, only a handful of men have opted for a Greater Manchester elected Mayor. So it is as wrong for this area as it is for Yorkshire.

  • Sarah Noble, the situation is perhaps different from place to place. Let me tell you that in South Cambridgeshire I have absolutel no affinity for “Cambridgeshire” as a county. I have absolutely no connection with people in March and Wisbech and the fens in the north of the county. What’s more, South Cambs is an odd invention itself – it forms an enclosing ring around the City of Cambridge wherease the obvious division would be for a single South Cambs entity which contained the city and the southern parts of the county close to it. That’s how many South Cambs Lib Dems feel too.

    Naturally, the Conservative-led South Cambs has decided to share local services not with Cambridge itself, but with Huntingdonshire. That is bizarre given that South Cambs encircles Cambridge. It’s an entirely political decision because Cambridge was Lib Dem and is now Labour, whilst Hunts is a fellow Conservative council. What a surprise.

    Local government structure is a mess and its becoming fully unitary in the process of regional devolution would be a real bonus. There may be some cases in which a smaller county rather than district division would best remain as the only tier of local authority, but on the whole I’m sure unitary would be better.

    Of course, there will never be such a thing as the perfect solution for all of us.

    I think we all need to realise that in many cases whilst the old loyalty of county history is a strong one, in terms of practicalities the borders are all barking mad!

  • John Critchley 5th Nov '14 - 5:57pm

    Michael Kilpatrick, thank you. A regional assembly, or whatever else we want to call it, and then one layer below (District) seems eminently sensible. That would be plus Town or Parish Councils I presume.

    Years ago I wasn’t greatly in favour of devolution in England but have changed my mind because Westminster now seems so out of touch with local people and their needs.

    I agree with some people who say that it should not be ‘on demand’ but rather organised in one well considered proposal.

  • Alisdair McGregor 5th Nov '14 - 6:03pm

    @Michael Kilpatrick – to be honest, the number of politicians, while its a convenient item for press rhetoric, isn’t a very good indicator of the cost of a given form of devolution.

    The number of Bureaucrats is a much better indicator, which is why we want to see the back of LEPs, City Regions, Combined Authorities, PTEs and all the rest of the current cross-borough (and invariably secretive) apparatus, and replace it with democratically accountable all-Yorkshire departments.

  • Mick taylor 5th Nov '14 - 6:43pm

    The point I was making is that the legal system in Scotland has always been distinct and different from the rest of the UK and is not that way because of devolution. It makes sense that it is administered in Scotland.

    If you consider your history justice used to be far more local than it is. It would make sense for magistrates and county courts to at least be administered by regional authorities, though I accept that appeal courts and the supreme court would remain a federal matter. If we really believe in power being exercised at the lowest level possible, then we have to trust regional governments with everything that can possibly be done at a regional level. This isn’t really a problem and would be clearly laid down in statute or a written constitution.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Nov '14 - 8:39pm

    Personally I think the country needs to be carved up centrally. It’s arguably not democratic to give some areas more power without others agreeing to it.

    I know the arguments about having things imposed on them, but in democracy things are often imposed on people against their will.

    I genuinely worry about the future of a country that creates a messy fudge for a democracy. Of course, we are not the only one that does this.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Nov '14 - 8:50pm

    I encourage people to block any devolution plans that don’t include responsibility to fund their own services. With more power should come more responsibility, otherwise it will lead to reckless spending, higher taxes on other areas and devaluing of the pound for all of us.

    Bellicose tones of “we want devolution and we cant it now” just lead to bellicose tones the other way. You need to start a negotiation, not demand what you want.

  • Peter Chambers 5th Nov '14 - 9:54pm

    There has been some interesting discussion here of natural or workable regions.

    Can I offer this for discussion?

  • Alisdair – unfortunately, whilst it’s true that the number of politicians isn’t much of a measure of anything, it’s certainly a headline figure that appears to catch the eye! Therefore any reform which improves democracy yet reduces the number of politicians is likely to be positively received in at least one rexpect. I for one view it as a convenient selling point for regional devolution with unitary councils!

  • John Probert 6th Nov '14 - 12:35pm

    Parliament must devolve power to the Nations (England, Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland).

    The Nations may devolve some power to their own regions, cities, conurbations, counties (or whatever). That’s entirely a matter for them.

    The devolution debate will get nowhere if we begin putting the cart before the horse.

  • John Probert, devolving power to the nation states can work in one of two ways: either a separate, new English Parliament for English-only laws, or a system as proposed by some in which Scottish MPs can’t vote on things that don’t affect them in the House of Commons.

    Either solution may or may not address the West Lothian Question at the basic leve but neither addresses the obviously growing clamour for more localised power throughout England.

    Look, England is about 85% of the entire UK. It’s absurd to suggest that an English Parliament, 85% the size of the House Commons in its electorate, would be any less remote for the various corners of England. It would be worse as the London vote – not offset by the presence of the Celtic Nations – would be even more dominant.

    Having a parliament a near duplication of the Commons would be a nightmare on every level. If the constituent nation states of the UK were more equal in size – say if England’s population were not more than 50% of the UK total – then an English Parliament as a tier of government might make some sense. But things aren’t like that.

    The solution to the West Lothian Question is to not to insist that England must remain governed as a single entity. That’s not good enough now for a lot of people. The West Lothian Question needs to be addressed at the same time as beginning a process of working out devolution within England so that the entire constitution can be rebalanced in the process.

    The best end result, I believe, would be one in which the various regions of England had levesl of tax-raising powers, powers over NHS, education, policing and much more, almost to the same extent as the Scottish Parliament. One obivous exclusion could be law: a lot of people would consider it odd to suggest that the legal systems within England should vary. You may or may not find other issues to add to that list.

    The end result I describe above is one in which the West Lothian Question can be answered in the most simple fashion: namely that the number of powers devolved to Scotland but NOT devolved to others (English regions, etc) is at a minimum. Therefore there are only a limited number of policy areas in which there is a need to have an English-only vote to determine English laws.

    That solution makes the notion of a separate English Parliament utterly redundant and at the same time it addresses the desire for considerable power to the diverse regions of England.

    On the other hand, suggesting that it’s best first to devolve power to England, because you see otherwise as putting the cart before the house, is to suggest that there ought first to be an English Parliament. The BBC Comres poll out yesterday clearly showed that 82% of English people asked supported the notion of different tax rates in devolved areas within England, whilst only 53% of them supported the idea of an English Parliament.

  • From a London perspective all this talk about an English Parliament, with English Votes for English Laws, seems a bit daft.
    English Votes for English Nostalgia, might sum it up better.

    Who are these English? What and where is the English Nation that the Tories and UKIP like to pretend exists?
    It is sad to see some Liberal Democrats falling for this way of framing the devolution question.

    We do not live in some Agatha Christie 1930s world of cream teas and CofE vicars sipping from bone china whilst boys called Smith and Atkins scrump apples before having their ears bashed by the village bobby.

    Nowadays boys and girls called Sikorsky and Patel sell apples on zero hours contracts in Lidl, whilst the local Gurdwara serves a decent meal to the poor and needy to the sound of a Metropolitan Police squad car siren speeding by with a “young black male” arrested on suspicion of nothing very much.

    English votes for English laws? Is there an idea that the voters in Cornwall share an “Englishness” with the Rastafarians of Lambeth or those guys in big black hats and ringlets in Enfield, or that the mini-cab drivers in Bradford share an “Englishness” with the Celtic Fans of Corby ?

    Somebody needs to tell these Devotees of an English Parliament that we live in a much more interesting and diverse place nowadays.

    The so-called English are a mixed and multi-talented bunch and not at all like those mainly white apparently all middle class people who occupied the world of Miss Marple.

    If you live in a London Borough you are likely to have a lot of common interests with people who live in other Lodnon Boroughs. However, you are not likely to have any knowledge of or interest in mackerel fishing off the Cornish coast or the annual flooding of the Somerset Wetlands. The regular water shortages in parts of the South and East of England and unlikely to be a political priority for the residents of Cumbria.

    Regional Parliaments make sense. English Votes for English Nostalgia is not a practical basis for devolution.

  • John, the EVEL isn’t significantly about nostalgia or nationalism, I think. It’s primarily about members of parliament voting for things that only affect their constituents rather than being able to vote for something that doesn’t affect them: hence the West Lothian Question. I would imagine that in most people’s minds this has nothing to do with cream teas, CofE vicars and village bobbies. I think the people calling for English Votes for English Laws aren’t all the same people who are calling for a separate English Parliament – some of whom undoubtedly do have a strange vision of what England is.

    Having said that, the second half of your message was spot on: you as a Londoner know little of flooding in Somerset, fishing, or how much water there is in Cumberland, and it’s right that there should be regional power to govern the affairs at a more appropriate level. Regional devolution doesn’t “destroy English identity” as the “cream tea brigade” would have it. However, there are some people who I’m sure do have this image of vicars, cricket, Agatha Christie and more, who believe that England can’t be divided up into regions. What they can’t grasp is the difference between dividing a nation and dividing the governance of a nation. Perhaps if they weren’t waving their St George’s crosses in front of their faces so closely they might be able to see things a bit more clearly?

  • Bill le Breton 6th Nov '14 - 5:44pm

    Mark Smullian, a long time ago, way up at the top of this thread, asked the critical question – well in a way: “who will wield power, can they be voted out, is there a way in which their corruption or their incompetence can be exposed and the miscreants and incompetents ejected from their hold on power?”

    We have seen how difficult it is to remove a PCC, so what do we propose? Creating more such offices.

    We have seen councils that have remained under the control of a single party for years fail their communities, so what do we propose? Giving them more power and even less scrutiny.

    We have politicians able to buy off sections of the electorate and what do we do? Give them more resources and more responsibility.

    We have decisions which (as Tony Dawson reminds us) are made in predominantly male preserves and what do we do? Make these habitats even more male friendly and hostile to women.

    We have seen how royally p*ssed off the electorate is by out of touch professional politicians in Westminster and what do we do? Produce a host of Westminster clones.

    We have seen people disengaged from politics, scrutiny and democracy and so what do we propose? Deepening that alienation and powerlessness.

    We have seen our supporters turned off by our obsession with process and so what do we expend our energy on? Obscure, incestuous, and democratically poisonous process.

    We know who wields power. I mean, we know who really wields power and not those who they shelter behind. We know how they can go on feathering their own nests and the nests of their cronies. We know why they can go on wielding power and failing everyone but themselves. And what do we propose? Grand protectorates for them.

    In parts of the southern regions they have been doing this for a hundred years – barring a brief interlude in the Eighties and Nineties. In the northern regions they have been doing it for eighty years barring a rare number of places for half a dozen years in the Noughties.

    Let’s campaign to expose them FIRST.

  • This piecemeal devolution to city regions will end up being a total dogs dinner of a plan. Why should English people who live in rural areas not get the same devolution than those that live in cities? We need a proper plan for all areas and have 6 or 7 reasonable sized regions or provinces that reflect the broad identity and economy of those that live in them. A Northern region, a unified Midlands, a greater East Anglia, Greater London (as is), Home counties, and a Wessex & West Country region seem sensible to me. cities within those regions can then deal with their provincial / regional government, such as in the North for a planned and integrated plan for growth, housing, transport and development.

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