Scotland aims to encourage North East to follow devolution lead

Scottish Nationalist Party pushes for devolution support in the North East after poll suggests independent Scotland could benefit England

Gordon Terris/The Herald First Minister Alex Salmond at Scotland's Future Stakeholder Engagement event
First Minister Alex Salmond at Scotland's Future Stakeholder Engagement event

Scotland has embarked on a charm offensive aimed at convincing the North East and the rest of England to follow its devolution lead.

The ruling Scottish Nationalist Party has released poll findings suggesting many people think a yes result in the Scottish independence referendum will boost support for the regions of England gaining new powers.

Last night Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said the dominance of London and the South East was a problem not just for Scotland but for English regions.

The poll comes amid growing uncertainty at the impact not just of an independent Scotland on the North East economy, but of a more powerful devolved administration should voters say no in the upcoming referendum.

Carried out by Panelbase, the SNP poll asked voters nationally if they think that independence would boost support for a decentralisation of powers away from Westminster to the regions of England. Some 36% said yes, 21% said no and another 43% said they were not sure.

The poll showed Labour supporters were more likely than the other political parties to back devolution for English regions if Scotland votes for independence.

Ms Sturgeon said the poll showed an independent Scotland could be a benefit to England.

“The dominance of London and South East England in determining UK economic policy is a problem for Scotland - to which in our view independence is the answer - but it is also a significant issue in many parts of England, where difference solutions will be required.

“It was, memorably, the Westminster Business Secretary Vince Cable who said last month that London ‘is becoming a giant suction machine draining the life out of the rest of the country.’”

The devolution debate is already returning to the region, despite memories of the failed North East Assembly referendum remaining. Seven councils from Durham to Northumberland are seeking a change in the law, backed by Nick Clegg, to merge some roles and create a combined authority.

Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council and said to be the first chairman of the new council, has warned of the region being “squeezed out” between a more powerful Scotland and an economically revived South East of England.

“We risk this position now becoming more and more established as time goes by,” Mr Henig said. “England is the only major western democracy which has no regional governance, in which all the major decisions are made in the capital on stuff they really don’t need to be involved in.

“I am pro the Union, I think the last thing the North East needs is an independent country on its border, but I agree with them that the English regions need control of their own destiny.”

Last year Alex Salmond told the North East it had no greater friend than Scotland. The First Minister, in a Tyneside speech, said there were opportunities than threats from an independent country on the region’s border.

Last night Ms Sturgeon built on that, saying: “It is, of course, the case that the system of governance in England is a matter for the people of England, but these poll figures suggest that a Yes result in Scotland in September may well be a helpful and constructive influence in the developing constitutional debate south of the border.

“And in all eventualities, we look forward to an independent Scotland having a relationship of friendship and co-operation with all our neighbours in these islands, including our next-door neighbours in the North of England.”

Regional think tank IPPR has already questioned whether the region needs an Alex Salmond of its own to fight for greater devolution.

Senior Research Fellow Graeme Henderson said there were opportunities for greater collaboration between Scotland and the North of England on transport, tourism and energy, irrespective of which way the independence vote goes.

He added: “An economically strong Scotland can be a major boost for areas in the North of England but it is the weakness of existing devolved institutions south of the border which is holding back mutually beneficial cross-border initiatives rather than what is happening north of the border.”

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