REGIONAL ASSEMBLIES ARE THE ANSWER..
Has Alex Salmond really lost? Is the North going to stand idly by whilst promises made by a panicking government in the last days of the referendum campaign are now redeemed?
Before the end of this parliament the Scottish Parliament will have the power to levy lower corporation and income tax than us. They will get new powers to attract inward investment. They may even be attracting some of our air passengers from Manchester and Newcastle airports with lower passenger duty. This is not to mention free elderly care, university tuition and prescription charges made possible by the £1200 per head extra funding Scotland gets as compared to England.
Now it is our turn to demand change. However the rushed statement by the Prime Minister on the steps of Downing St on Friday morning is full of danger for those of us who want effective power devolved to the North. Mr Cameron is rushing things to appease his backbenchers. The North needs time to make its views heard. That cannot be done by the General Election. The Prime Minister made a brief reference to city regions, so it looks as if he is putting his faith in the Coalition’s patchwork of Combined Authorities, elected mayors, City Regions, Local Enterprise Partnerships and regional growth funds controlled from London. It is not good enough
We need Regional Assemblies. Not the weak structures that John Prescott had to offer when he was defeated by centralists in 2004, but real powerful assemblies for the North West, North East and Yorkshire. They would be funded by some of the excessive subsidy currently going north of the border and would have power over transport, economic development, strategic planning and health. These are functions which no city region can run on its own. Elected Assemblies would be able to begin the rebalancing of the UK’s economy and avoid the continued domination of the South East and a freshly empowered Scottish Parliament.
Before the anti region brigade bleat about an extra tier of politicians, I would propose the completion of the move to unitary local government, particularly in places like Lancashire, sweeping away hundreds of district councillors.
An English Parliament is emphatically not what we need, and Mr Cameron does not seem to favour it from his statement on Friday morning. An English Parliament truly would be a new tier of expensive politicians and such a body would usually be dominated by southern Conservatives. Scots must no longer vote on England only issues but that can be done by designating bills at Westminster. This proposal would present a problem for a Labour government who would usually face a blocking English majority but if real power was devolved to English Assemblies, the effect of this would be minimised
A CLOSE RUN THING.
After months of complacency, the Westminster establishment woke up just in time to save the United Kingdom. The last minute vow to give the Scots devo max after all might have made the difference. That casts doubt on the Prime Minister’s refusal to have a third question on the ballot paper which forced people who wanted more power into the “yes” camp.
But the main reason why Salmond lost was surely the unanswered economic questions. Whether George Osborne would have agreed to a common currency in the end we will never know. It seems unlikely as the pressure from his backbenchers would have been very much against it. But doubts about the currency to be used and how it might affect mortgages and pensions proved too much for most canny Scots.
Salmond was right on one thing. Uncertainty about Scotland’s membership of the EU is greater now than if Scotland was independent and eager to remain in or re-enter. Now they may find themselves taken out following the 2017 referendum if the Tories get back next year.
Where does the “no” vote leave our leading politicians? David Cameron held the union together but only after calling his own party “effing Tories” and having to make desperate last minute concessions of power to Scotland. These have made him even more enemies on the Tory backbenches.
Ed Miliband does not emerge from this very well. Large numbers of Labour supporters haemorrhaged to the Scottish Nationalists and Gordon Brown had to bail him out.
Alex Salmond has led his party brilliantly to get to this point but failing at the last hurdle will be a bitter blow. Calls to start a new drive for independence in 2030 will not go down well with an exhausted Scottish electorate.
The one politician to emerge with credit was Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Tories. There may be more pandas in Edinburgh zoo than Scottish Tory MPs but her feisty performance in the Better Together campaign may give the Conservatives some hope of recovery in Scotland, especially if people start to ask “what is the point of the SNP?”
The lesson we in the north have to learn is that it is only by showing the Westminster elite that we are serious that we will get anything. Let the Campaign for the North begin!