We are at a crossroads in our political history, as talk surrounds the future of our involvement in the EU and the question of English votes for English laws. One area that has been discussed fleetingly is the idea of devolution to the English regions.
Every time the subject is raised, talk moves onto the failed referendum in the North East. This however was in a different era before the rise of UKIP and the Scottish independence debate that has got many within England thinking about how about the possibility of devolved power. The people of Berwick upon Tweed, a town so close to the Scottish border that their football team plays in the Scottish leagues, are noticing that their friends, neighbours and colleagues in Scotland are reaping the benefits of devolved power. The same applies to many people in many towns across the country who witness the benefits that the citizens of Scotland and Wales receive.
Some people may ask why we shouldn’t have an English parliament, but this would not change a great deal. An English parliament would still be far too London-centric, it would become far too problematic, and the roles between an English First Minister would be too similar and blurred with the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
Also, the reason why devolution has been successful in Scotland and Wales is because issues that are prominent in those areas are debated and dealt with more sufficiently than one unified Westminster government. Of course, a farmer in mid Wales would want different things to somebody living in Cardiff, but the point is that everybody in that area can feel that they have politicians that can truly represent them and there is a sense of shared common purpose.
Another reason why there shouldn’t be an English parliament is that issues that affect people in the North East will be different to someone in Cornwall, and once again somebody in Manchester or Birmingham. We will still be bound together as a part of the United Kingdom, so our ties to the rest of Britain will remain intact. Witnessing the Scottish independence debate gave me a pang of jealousy of the involvement that the Scottish people had in discussions important to them, or the powers they should have as citizens. The Conservatives have responded by spouting off about English votes for English laws, this is completely missing the point. The real debate should be how English people can feel the same involvement in our politics.
UKIP talk about the European Union, once again this will not change much. There will still be disillusionment in British politics if we leave the EU. The best answer for England, as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be devolution to our regions. It would strengthen their devolved governments, it will strengthen our politics and it would draw a line on major constitutional debates that have taken place over the past few decades such as the West Lothian question.
The benefits don’t just belong to the people, but also the party. The Labour Party is at its best when it is in touch with the normal hardworking people of Britain, and having regional assemblies would create a demand for parties to have stronger local organisations with more empowered local leadership that would work alongside the national leadership. It would allow local members to see their ideas put on the agenda easier, local party leadership would take a stronger prominence, and therefore the party will become more attached to people of the regions.
In all honesty, this debate hasn’t advanced as far enough to the stage where exact details of how devolved power to the English regions would work. This is more about the recognition of the idea of regionalisation in England, and placing firmly on the Labour Party and the national agenda. Regionalisation may not answer all the questions about the future of English and British politics, but it does answer some of the most pressing concerns to do with the future of the constitution, dealing with political apathy and bringing politics away from the Westminster elites and back into the hands of the British (English) people.