SNP influence at Westminster 'would be an opportunity for the North East'

Academic warns that region can benefit from co-operation with Scotland - but English nationalism makes this harder

Nick Brown MP

Growing support for the SNP could provide an opportunity for the North East by pushing the issue of devolution to English regions up the agenda, according to a senior academic.

But growth in English nationalism, encouraged by plans to introduce “English votes for English laws”, could hurt the North East by making co-operation with Scotland harder.

The warning was issued by Jonathan Blackie, a visiting professor at Northumbria University, who previously worked as regional director for the Government Office for the North East.

Rather than being frightened of the prospect of the Scottish National Party having influence at Westminster, the North East should embrace it as a chance to make the case for greater devolution to the North, he said.

And the region could find common cause with Scotland on a range of issues from tourism to transport.

But the opportunity was in danger of being missed because of attempts to encourage resentment of the Scots, he said.

Prof Blackie pointed out that Scots voted to remain part of the United Kingdom last year, but the current debate about the SNP gave the impression that they were determined to break up the UK.

He said: “The Conservatives have been making the case that we need English votes for English laws.

“But the danger is that it plays into this sense the SNP leader has expressed, of England turning its back on Scotland rather than recognising that there was a majority last year in favour of retaining the union.

“I would argue that the prospect of the SNP gaining a significant foothold at Westminster could mean that devolution to the English regions becomes more of a prospect.

“Maybe a more constructive approach might be to offer devolution to the English regions, rather than English nationalism and a perception that England might be turning its back on Scotland.”

Prof Blackie said there had been “scepticism” in the North East about Scottish devolution sparked by fears that Scotland was using financial incentives to attract investment from employers.

But he said: “Let’s be a bit more collaborative because we face similar issues, for example with off-shore technology, with renewables, with forestry, with tourism, with transport - we are joined. The border can be a bridge rather than a barrier.

“In today’s atmosphere it’s a bit difficult but we do share many common interests that are better tackled together than apart.”

Senior North East politician Nick Brown has warned against accepting overtures from the SNP.

He said: “We need to stand up for ourselves in the North East rather than have the Scottish National Party pretend to stand up for us.”

The former chief whip and Labour candidate for Newcastle East spoke out after SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon reached out to voters in the north of England at the launch of her party’s manifesto.

Mrs Sturgeon called for more investment in the North East’s infrastructure and the creation of a “Northern Cities Fund” in order to boost jobs.

But Mr Brown said: “These people are nationalists, they don’t care about people here – their main interest is an independent Scotland.”

And the SNP were under fire after it emerged one Parliamentary candidate, George Kerevan, sating in East Lothian, had described the chance of sitting in the UK Parliament at Westminster as an opportunity to “take Scotland’s fight to the enemy camp.”

He said in a written statement aimed at local voters: “A hung parliament could mean punishing, all-night sittings and constant media scrutiny, but I would relish the chance to take Scotland’s fight to the enemy camp.”

Polls suggest that neither of the two main parties is likely to win a majority in the general election on May 7. The SNP have said they would not support a Conservative government but would try to help Labour leader Ed Miliband become Prime Minister.

Mr Miliband has ruled out any deal with the SNP.

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