For a happy union

"Constitutional issues rarely pique voters interest, and so parties have rarely had an interest in taking a line on regional devolution other than a vague aspiration"

To say the North is in need of more investment has become something of a political cliche, made all the more urgent by the Brexit vote. And yet, the immediacy of Brexit as an issue has meant that this issue, alongside so many others have been driven to the periphery. That is not to say it is not recognised as a problem, but constitutional issues rarely pique voters interest, and so parties have rarely had an interest in taking a line on regional devolution other than a vague aspiration. 

This has been the case for some time, and even when considered, it is usually primarily economic in focus. If there is one conclusion we might derive from Brexit, it is that economics and investment is a pale answer to questions of identity. What the North, and by extension the country needs is power. And power that is consequential.

The bullet was very nearly dodged in 1998, when New Labour tried to introduce regional assemblies; but after it was rejected in a referendum in the North East, plans were dropped. With a popular Labour government in Westminster, it was seemingly futile to add another layer of governance. The example is telling because where devolution was successful in Scotland, the North was allowed to continue as a periphery of national politics. The effect was to make support for the traditional means of politics dependent upon both good economic conditions and a popular Labour government in London. When both gave way, the frustration was allowed to fester, the scale not being truly realised until the referendum vote. Devolution’s failure seemingly made the results both inevitable, and shocking.

The left's answer to Brexit then, can be to take power back to these communities. Not to throw money, but to give these communities the means by which to solve their own problems, in their own political culture; which in turn may have the effect of allowing politicians from the regions reach the national stage. A federation, modelled on Scottish devolution, which implies that the regions and countries of the UK are not just diverse but equal.

There is precedent to this. In Canada, French Canadians historically comprised an oppressed group, but following the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, French Canadians in Quebec were able to assert their place in the country through legislation on the regional level. Even in England, any glance at city hall buildings will show that the country was not always so centralised.

It is true to say of course that federation would not be without risk. To empower is to endanger the current settlement, positively or negatively; both Scotland and Quebec have influential separatist movements. A similar narrative could take hold in a regional assembly. But with the country increasingly divided in world views and experience, in a situation exacerbated by austerity; the question can be asked, is it really more dangerous than the status quo?

 

Fareed Alderechi is a Young Fabian member.

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