Now is the time to devolve powers to cities
The people of Scotland have taken a momentous decision to remain part of the United Kingdom.
As Leader of Newcastle – a city with such close economic, historical and cultural links with Scotland – I’m delighted twe can continue to work together to build a more prosperous and above all fairer society across all parts of the United Kingdom.
We are, I believe, better together and the people of Scotland have endorsed that very principle in this historic vote.
But anyone who thinks this referendum is a reaffirmation of the status quo is sorely mistaken. This is not a case of constitutional ‘business as usual’. To use a much quoted phrase, the genie is out of the bottle.
The debate over the last few months in Scotland has given voice to a deep dissatisfaction with the centralised nature of our country – economically and politically.
From the perspective of a region much closer to Scotland than to London – geographically, and in terms of politics, culture and values – we have a similar passion and a desire to take our destiny into our own hands.
As a United Kingdom, we now have an opportunity – indeed an obligation – to address the centralisation of power which has come so close to fracturing the UK. That opportunity applies to the English regions, as well as to Scotland.
This morning, speaking on the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister said he was going to deliver legislation on major constitutional reform by January and that further announcements on the future of cities will follow.
I believe an English Parliament, inevitably weighted in favour towards the needs of London and the South East, is not the answer.
It would replicate all the problems with the current Westminster system – remote decision making, centralisation of powers and a lack of local democratic engagement. From a political point of view it would almost certainly be dominated by Tories from the shires and counties, further marginalising our city and our region.
We need a timetable to devolve powers to cities like Newcastle, where we’ve got the appetite and zeal for reform, alongside the timetable for devolving powers to the Scottish Parliament.
Anything less would further stoke the flames of resentment within England’s cities and regions about once again being overlooked by a London-based political elite.
Rather than hurried proposals, made in the wake of this historic vote, we need a proper constitutional convention to discuss our nation’s future in depth. I don’t want a ‘talking shop’, but I do want to make sure we consider all the arguments and possibilities.
But there is also a need to take action now and I’m already talking with the big cities in Scotland, exploring areas where we can work together for the benefit of all our residents and businesses. To really deepen that relationship, places like Newcastle need the powers to be able to operate on a level playing field with Scottish cities.
Finally, I have been struck by how the referendum in Scotland has electrified political debate, with people of all backgrounds coming together to debate ideas and issues that matter to them. The voter turnout is unprecedented in modem times for elections in these islands.
So, I want to work with others across the political spectrum to ensure that future elections locally and across the UK inspire such passion and enthusiasm. There is real opportunity to make lasting change in our country. Things will never be the same again. I will make sure Newcastle is at the forefront of the debate to come.