Has the time finally come? (Devolution, cities and opportunity)

Take note that I am not going to talk transport in this post!  Devolution.  I have not really got engaged with the Scottish independence debate, at one point I plucked up the interest to try and watch the Salmond/Darling debate on BBC which was so truly awful that I have just waited for the result to come through!  That unedifying spectacle was a reminder of what is called politics – adversarial debating where rhetoric trumps ideas and passion batters qualities much greater.

So we are now hearing from the Prime Minister of, and I find this startling and quite ambitious (even by my standards), of an answer to the West Lothian Question by the General Election (which is next May for goodness sake!!).  Yes, the reaction appears to be a focus on Westminster, politics, the usual suspects and the usual places.  Where we were expecting a debate on devolution and a potentially groundbreaking and radial shift in how the country is governed, instead it seems to be about an English Parliament and Westminster still.

Why not something more like this…

A proper federal parliament in Westminster (a Senate?) with proportional reps from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland NB the President of the Senate could be the Head of State… (shhhh i didn’t really say that!!!).

If we are going to have an English Parliament then it must come to Birmingham.

The 4 Parliaments could then all have fair and equal devolution from Westminster – indeed the sensible approach would be an assumption that they would automatically have powers unless there was good reason for the Federal Senate to have them.

Given that assumption, there is then a clear logical step that says powers should continue to automatically go lower to the most logical place to deliver effective governance and delivery to us, the people.  After all, it seems to have been completely forgotten that politics and parliaments exist to serve the people and deliver much better outcomes than would exist otherwise.

This part is perhaps the trickiest as we could look at regions, city-regions, combined authorities etc.  London is already on the charge for more powers – but again, should there not be another convention which puts cities/city-regions on an equal footing to have powers to shape their destinies?

Those two principles seem to be key:

(1) powers should devolved to the lowest level possible to deliver effective outcomes while ensuring good governance and best value

(2) all bodies at the same level (i.e. the 4 national parliaments or city-regions) should be granted equivalent powers and status, rather than fostering competition we should prefer collaboration

Of course, I am hoping that the Greater Birmingham Combined Authority will now come about quickly in order to put our patch on a similar footing to the other major city-regions in governance terms.  Then we can talk about real devolution of powers on an equal footing to each other (and to London and Glasgow and Edinburgh and Cardiff and Swansea and Belfast…).

My last 2 concerns are that dear Nick Clegg is talking about Northern Futures – it is fine trying to bribe the North but what about the Midlands?  How about buying into the principle of devolution and the role of governance in delivering improved outcomes rather than the sweetener for some places – again creating division and competition for political advantage.  My second concern is that this debate gets owned by politicians alone i.e. the Council leaders of the city-regions and the Westminster crowd.  Again politics talking about politics with each other and forgetting that they are servants of the people, not owners of this space which is of fundamental importance to all of our lives and futures.

This debate needs to emulate what happened in Scotland by being about the people and engaging everyone to discuss how the future could look.  It really does not need to become a Westminster discussion alone that switches everyone off and ends up spoiling the opportunity to make some radical changes for the better.

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