Brown’s call for greater devolution to Scotland should apply to the English regions too

by Kevin Meagher

The only thing better than a five-point plan is, of course, a ten-point plan. However, on this occasion, Gordon Brown can be forgiven for only making it to six with his interesting ideas for modernising the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

In a bid to flesh out what a ‘devo max’ agenda might mean (or perhaps that should be ‘indy lite?’) the former Prime Minister recommends beefing-up the Scottish Parliament’s tax-raising powers, enshrining in law the settlement between Scotland and the UK and establishing a new division of powers that gives Holyrood more clout over employment, regeneration, health and transport.

But why stop at Scotland? So welcome are Brown’s suggestions that they should also be replicated between Westminster and Whitehall (‘WaW’) and the midlands and north of England. This is because the concentration of all major decision-making power in WaW entrenches the asymmetrical way power is exercised in Britain (particularly England) leading to the soaraway success of London and the less certain progress of pretty much everywhere else.

The reason we need to think much bigger about devolving power across the UK is that whoever makes decisions affects which choices are made and in who’s interest they are made. Add to this where decisions are taken and we have a settlement that consistently leaves London and the South East of England on top, courtesy of choices made by decision-makers who are based there.

So codifying in law which powers are retained by central government and which are passed to Scotland to administer is an idea that should be lifted and shifted to the English regions too. New powers over skills, transport and economic regeneration (another Brown suggestion for Scotland)  are already coming through slowly to English cities, courtesy of the government’s city deals and through councils collaborating more closely together through the formation of combined authorities. Invariably, however, government cash doesn’t follow, with a two-thirds funding cut for regional economic development since 2010.

A mixture of strengthened local authorities, new regional structures and borrowing Brown’s intriguing suggestion for creating power-sharing partnerships between London and the regions to address areas of joint responsibility, could transform relationships between centre and province. Given many junior ministers are already woefully under-employed, they should be physically based outside of London to ensure these partnerships become a reality.

Finally, Brown calls for a “radical” transfer of power from WaW to devolved institutions then down to local communities, an idea first floated by David Miliband in his call for “double devolution.”

Labour’s instincts have always been resolutely centralising for a decent, if misguided reason. In order to eradicate postcode lotteries in service provision it is thought better to plan and control from the centre, using performance targets to drive improvements remotely. This simply makes the government machine passive, without any stake – or culpability – in  actually deliver the goods. Local decisions should be made, well, locally.

Of course, if the Brown package proves influential in fending off full-scale independence later this year, it will leave the north of England playing piggy in the middle, dealing with even greater levels of political inequality between a still mighty London and a newly bolstered Scotland.

If the threat of Scottish independence is forcing political leaders to improve their basic offer to the Scots, when will the rest of the UK get a look in?

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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6 Responses to “Brown’s call for greater devolution to Scotland should apply to the English regions too”

  1. swatantra says:

    Agree with Kevin. I’ve said before on this site, the Regional Assemblies/Parliaments need to go back on the Agenda, and the Manifesto 2015, otherwise we’re no better, or different, from the Tories.

  2. Rallan says:

    Scotland is a country.
    England is a country.

    Haven’t you screwed up enough of this country with your unwanted and unpopular changes? England is not here for you to carve up into Labour friendly regions for your own dirty anti-democratic electoral advantage. No-one trusts the motives of politicians, and rightly so.

  3. paul barker says:

    Good idea, its called Federalism & its been a keystone of Libdem policy since we were formed, perhaps you are in the wrong Party ?

  4. Each of the present or, where they have been abolished in the rush to unitary local government, the previous city, borough and district council areas in each of the nine English regions must be twinned with a demographically comparable one (though not defined in terms of comparable affluence) in Scotland, in Wales, in Northern Ireland, and in each of the other English regions.

    We probably have to talk about the English regions, even if we would prefer to talk about the historic counties from before an unprotesting Thatcher was in the Cabinet.

    Across each of the key indicators – health, education, housing, transport, and so on – both expenditure and outcomes in each English area, responsibility for such matters being devolved elsewhere, would have to equal or exceed those in each of its twins. Or else the relevant Ministers’ salaries would be docked by the percentage in question. By definition that would always include the Prime Minister.

    In any policy area devolved to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, no legislation must apply in any of the English regions unless supported at Third Reading by the majority of MPs from that region.

    Since such legislative chaos would rightly be unconscionable, any Bill would in practice require such a consensus before being permitted to proceed at a much earlier stage of its parliamentary progress.

    No one would lose under any of this: there would be no more politicians than at present, and both expenditure and outcomes would have to be maintained in, most obviously, Scotland and the South East for the twinning system to work.

    Is it conceivable that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish voters would not also insist on full incorporation into it, with their own areas thus also guaranteed expenditure and outcomes equal to or exceeding those in each of those areas’ respective twins?

    Or else the relevant Holyrood, Cardiff Bay or Stormont Ministers’ salaries would be docked by the percentage in question. By definition that would always include the First Minister, and in Northern Ireland also the Deputy First Minister.

  5. Madasafish says:

    I can see a Federated England with regions working well.. not. The London Federation would surely object to funding the rest of England…let alone Wales and Northern Ireland..

  6. uglyfatbloke says:

    Trouble is, London and SE MPs of all parties will prevent any kind of change that might diminish the drain of resources into……London and the SE. Neither a Yes or No result in the referendum will have any affect on that. If there’s a yes vote the Westminster village will react by even greater centralisation for England and Wales out of sheer pique. If there’s a No vote various MPs – of all parties – will take that as evidence that there is no appetite for further devolution in Scotland and that there should be none at all in England. Look out for Pritti Patel, James Brokenshire and Ian Davidson all singing the same tune.

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