"Devolution is the logical solution for England; it will reinforce the union and equalise the four nations."
There has existed, for at least a decade now, a cross party consensus in favour of devolution, though the erratic process pursuing devolution has been more than a little chaotic. Labour’s legacy of devolved parliaments and the Tories’ own attempts via metro mayors and the unsuccessful PCCs have created an uneven system of regional authority. By introducing devolved assemblies, with powers equal to those of Wales, to the English regions we can redress this imbalance and bring greater democracy to the UK.
In Scotland and Wales, devolved parliaments have had a huge impact in renewing cultural identity in the face of sometimes overwhelming “Englishness”. These traditionally left wing regions have also maintained left-of-centre leaders in times where the nation has been under Tory control. Scotland and Wales both have more progressive systems for managing their higher education and have been able to target their local NHS towards regional issues. Devolved spending and tax powers too have led to economic systems closer to social democracy than the unabashed capitalism of Tory government. With a dedicated legislature the regions not only would be more able to resist potentially damaging edicts from London but also would be able to force themselves up the list of priorities. London, which has often been a dominant force in British politics, to the disadvantage of the rest of England, is well represented by its Assembly and high-profile Mayor. If Yorkshire or the North-East had their own First Ministers, their needs and desires would be impossible to ignore. Whilst the Tories’ Metro Mayors have given some powers back to the regions, this power is limited both in scope and to largely urban areas.
Problems emerge, of course. The rejection of a Yorkshire Assembly in a 2004 poll is notable but that referendum = as with referendums on AV, Brexit and Devolution in 1979 - was not fought in an informed manner. Britain is a representative democracy and our political system is not prepared for referenda which near-universally end in confusion and societal division. Voter turnout is a concern but despite relatively low turnout for Scottish and Welsh elections, the systems have remained respected, powerful and democratic. The same can happen for England.
The current system, with mismatched devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is messy and confusing. This imbalance in regional powers is quite frankly an injustice when English citizens are objectively less well represented than their Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish counterparts. Many English people feel left behind, a commitment to put the power back into their hands can both revitalise a modern English culture and win Labour more English support.
Additionally, the issue of first-past-the-post voting systems has lead to Tory victories in Westminster despite majority opposition whilst the use of the AMS in the devolved parliaments has successfully allowed for greater representation. Introducing such a system to the regions of England both mitigates this problem and introduces people to a system that could later go nationwide.
At the minute, the Prime Minister speaks for both England and Britain. This helps to reinforce the idea of the UK as an English institution and fuels discontent and nationalism. When Scotland or Wales has a disagreement with Westminster over tax powers, they also are fighting against the representatives of England, greatly increasing tension within the Union. By creating regional assemblies and regional First Ministers a clear distinction between “England” and “Britain” can reemerge.
Devolution is the logical solution for England; it will reinforce the union and equalise the four nations. It will reinforce democracy and increase representation. It will reinforce healthcare and welfare, as the regions can no-longer be neglected It is clear that the current system of Parliament, Councils and Mayors is not enough. It is past time that devolution comes to England.
Adam Ellison is a Young Fabian member