The Journal Opinion: Why we don't want a re-run of the regional assembly referendum

The Journal's opinion column for Tuesday, September 23, in which we argue that there is no real appetite to revisit the 2004 referendum

East Ayrshire Referendum Count
East Ayrshire Referendum Count

The need to offer a fair deal to the regions of England, to the North in particular, is firmly on the political agenda, but neither of the two main parties has come up with a satisfactory answer so far.

David Cameron is focusing his attention on reforming Westminster and ensuring English MPs vote on English laws.

This won’t do anything to give regions such as the North East more control over their own affairs. To us, Westminster would remain as distant as ever.

Labour leader Ed Miliband plans a constitutional convention to discuss the options, but it won’t meet until next autumn. Meanwhile, a Bill authorising new powers for Scotland is expected as soon as January.

There has to be debate about how to bring new powers to the region, and all credit to Labour council leaders, who are warning Ed Miliband that change can’t wait.

What is certain, though, is that nobody is proposing the creation of a new tier of government.

The North East rejected the creation of a new regional assembly in a referendum in 2004.

What was on offer then was NOT devolved powers, but a talking shop with no authority.

Devolution is not about creating a new class of politician. It’s about bringing powers and control over funding to the region – so that we can set our own priorities for training, education, health services and more, and carry out vital infrastructure projects without going cap in hand to Whitehall.

There needs to be a debate about who would exercise these powers, but there is already a tier of local government involving councils working together in a combined authority.

Our MPs must also play a role – and their voices must be heard at Westminster, too.

But let’s be loud and clear about one thing, so that the message reaches those in the Westminster bubble. The North East did not reject devolved powers in the assembly vote. The powers were never there.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer