Category Archives: #Devolution

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the story has been chosen by Hanna Heiskanen.

The case for an independent London

The debate around devolution in the UK did not end with Scotland voting for staying in the union earlier this autumn. In his article for the Financial Times (“London should break free from Little England”), associate editor

Philip Stephens argues that London should acquire independence from the rest of the country and become a mini-state of its own – if one can call a state with an economy about the size of Sweden and with nearly three times as many inhabitants as in Finland small.

Stephens’ case is a strong one, at least when it comes to the figures. In addition to generating a large amount of money, thanks to its financial sector and but also the endless number of tourists flocking in every year, it benefits from much lower unemployment rates and a younger demographic than the rest of the country. Situated by its natural lifeline, the Thames, and surrounded by the orbital M25 motorway, London has natural borders against the home counties. It has modern infrastructure, an entrepreneurial spirit, and boroughs that would ensure local democracy. All in all, London would, most likely, make it on its own.

However, as Stephens points out, London is also different from the rest of the country in the way that capitals often are – through its inhabitants, their values, and their political inclinations. While surrounded by UKIP strongholds, London itself thrives on immigration. Although places such as Windsor and Cambridge are only an hour’s drive from London, spiritually they couldn’t be farther away. And isn’t some sort of sense of shared values and identity considered one of the most crucial building blocks of nationality?

If London were to break away from the UK, what would its new capital be? Manchester would be a strong contender for the role as the next-largest city with its nearly three million inhabitants and an impressive industrial history, and would undoubtedly bring a fresh new focus to North West England. Or, perhaps the country could take an even more revolutionary approach and decentralise its institutions into multiple locations. It would almost certainly help distribute national wealth more evenly and generate a stronger feeling of social cohesion. Surely a win-win situation for all.

‘Populism, Power and Place’: on Devolution and the Scottish Referendum

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:
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