The notion of a regional assembly for the North East would not be floated again if the Scottish referendum returns a no vote, a Labour politician has said.
Against a backdrop of polls suggesting Alex Salmond’s yes campaign is rapidly gaining strength, Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, said the region must manage the aftermath of the election through institutions already in place rather than pushing for a separate devolved power.
Speaking at a debate held by the IPPR North think tank in Newcastle last night, the Labour politician said there was very little desire from people in the North East to push for a regional assembly.
Strengthening the combined authority of North East local councils and improving trade links across the border would be the best way for the North East to navigate the economic landscape if there was to be a no vote but a simultaneous re-focusing on Scotland’s power.
“In the event of a no vote we need to build trading links with Scotland and we should go further as a region. We have to build up structures that we have with the combined authority and a Labour government would deliver greater responsibility and greater spending to a combined authority working with the local enterprise partnership to meet the needs of the region,” she said.
“The combined authority has the potential to deliver on important aspects of policy such as jobs. I don’t think there’s an appetite to re-visit the decision on the regional assembly from 2004. The margin of defeat was significant.”
The Labour MP said both the North East and Scotland would both fare better economically and socially by Scotland remaining in the union.
She said: “Independence doesn’t deliver the social policies some Scots would like to achieve. Devolving power to a North East assembly does not in itself deliver anything. Giving power to institutions, doesn’t connect people to those institutions.
“There’s always a tensions between those decisions best taken locally going hand in hand with the need to ensure that across England there’s a certain level below which people cannot fall. Localism is about improving on what can be offered through national parliaments.”
She also stressed the irreversible nature of an independence vote and rejected the idea that Scotland could ever return to the union in the future due to the complex legality of breaking away.
However both Ms Phillipson, and fellow panellist, the economist Dr Angus Armstrong, National Institute of Economic and Social Research and Fellow of the ESRC Future of the UK and Scotland programme, said the yes campaign’s positive polling was putting the election result on a knife-edge.
Dr Armstrong said: “I think that the SNP have run a very good campaign. It seems a lot more grassroots.”
He added the issue at the heart of the North East’s position post-election, would be the tension between centralisation and regionalism and that he would be in favour of more powers given to regional bodies.
If there is a no vote, he added that the ‘clock is ticking’ on Westminster to consider this as an issue for the future.