Taina Cooke from the Finnish Institute blogs about current issues of devolution and the Scottish referendum.
On Thursday 11th September Policy Network organized a breakfast seminar on ‘Populism, power and place’ in which the questions of Scottish referendum as well as devolution across the UK in a wider sense were discussed. Currently the UK’s democratic structure is centralised and the politics work predominantly from top to down. The potential of devolution, the transfer of power from a central government to local authorities, has nonetheless been recognised for a long time. The structure of UK’s local government underwent a significant reform in the 1990s but now, as a result of Scotland’s situation, the topic of devolution has surfaced yet again. Hope is pinned on devolution as the much-needed tool in promoting democracy, restoring trust in politics and tackling the drivers of populism.
The seminar was chaired by Michael McTernan (acting director of the Policy Network) and the panelists included Vernon Bogdanor (professor of government, King’s College London), Jonathan Carr-West (chief executive, Local Government Information Unit), Joe Goldberg (cabinet member of Haringey council), Gerry Hassan (cultural policy researcher, University of the West of Scotland) and Kat Healy (policy, research and evaluation officer, Community Foundation for Northern Ireland).
In beginning of the seminar the focus was on local governments and devolution in general. The imbalance between London and the rest of the UK is distinct and unsustainable. Global, grand scale politics encourage populism when citizens do not feel like they are being involved in decision-making processes. Local councils need more power in order to recognise and respond to the needs of the local people. It was stated that we are currently in a between state of vertical and horizontal governing in the UK when power is slowly shifting from the centre to local authorities. The present state is somewhat difficult to manage and, according to some of the panelists, might just lead in replacing the idea of one evil centre to multiple ‘local monsters’.
A hot topic of conversation was of course the Scottish referendum. Gerry Hassan reminded that even if Scotland does not get independence things still need to change. In the case of a no-vote, Scotland faces ‘the one last chance to try and work with the union’ according to Hassan. If Scotland does not receive more autonomous powers, such as taking a full care of their own economics, there will likely be a second referendum in a few years’ time.
Even when Scotland is currently in the brightest spotlight, there are other areas too seeking more independence and power. Scotland has put the wheels of greater devolution in motion and areas such as Wales, Northern Ireland, Yorkshire, Cornwall and also London want their share of the decentralised powers. The British Government is definitely facing difficult times balancing between extreme devolution on one hand and keeping the union together on the other. Professor Bogdanor pointed out that greater devolution inevitably leads to greater differences based on geography, which can indeed prove to be problematic in terms of one, internally whole United Kingdom.
Read more on the devolution movements of different regions:
Manchester area: Manchester ‘should lead devolution’
Northern Ireland: Referendum moves in North 'inevitable' if Scots secede