A vote will take place later this month that will affect everyone in the UK – but only a tenth of us will actually get the chance to go to the polls.
Whether the Scottish Independence referendum results in a yes or a no vote – and the latest reports are that the vote could still go either way – the decision taken by 5.2m Scots will have implications for the other 58m people who live in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
After trailing for most of the concern, the SNP appears to be gaining momentum ahead of the vote on September 18. A yes vote would make the North East a border region for the first time in hundreds of years, and even a vote to retain the union is likely to be so close that it will be followed by calls for greater devolution to the nations of the UK.
Any move in that direction would inevitably result in new calls to consider the essential contradiction of the devolution agenda followed by the Labour Government of the late 1990s: giving the Scottish and Welsh, and later the Northern Irish, the power to run their own affairs, but still having English matters decided by MPs from the UK as a whole.
The Scottish independence debate has also revived calls for greater power to be devolved from Whitehall to the regions. The North East decisively voted against a regional assembly in a referendum held in 2004 but all the main political parties will go into the next election promising to give more powers to the different corners of England.
In the latest poll run by Other Lines of Enquiry North, using their in-house Panelbase service, they asked people both in the North East and nationally for their thoughts on Scottish independence, whether England needs the same devolved powers as the other home nations and whether the regions should have more say over their affairs.
When asked whether people were worried about the impact of a yes vote in the Scottish Independence referendum, our respondents seem fairly relaxed:
57% of people nationally and 54% in the North East were not worried and only 33% both nationally and locally were concerned.
(Interestingly, the 18-24 age group – those thought to be most in favour of independence in Scotland – were the most concerned, while the next age group up (25-34) were the most relaxed.)
The strongest vote of the three questions in our poll came when people were asked: “Do you think England should be given the same devolved powers as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?”
Here 60% of people nationally and 58% of people in the North East voted yes, compared to only 14% nationally and 13% locally voting no.
Such strength of feeling suggests a problem for the Government after the Scottish referendum. Even a no vote is likely to result in more devolved powers going to Edinburgh, but that would increase the calls from English activists for Scottish MPs to lose the power they currently have to pass legislation affecting England.
Finally, we asked people whether the regions of Britain should be given more devolved powers from Whitehall. Both Labour and the Conservatives have made great play in recent months of boosting the North, though cynics have suggested that all political parties are good at promising more to the regions when elections approach and less keen when the people in Whitehall is them.
Nationally 46% of people want more devolution to the regions, beating the 26% who don’t.
But this final question is the one where a significant gap emerges between our national and local respondents: in the North East the call for more local powers was much stronger, with 55% in favour of greater local accountability and only 17% against.
The poll also showed a big divergence in different age groups, with younger people in the North East almost exclusively in favour of the region getting more power from Whitehall while opposition grew among older people from the North East who responded to the poll.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 04 Sept 2014
Regional economic policy must be revamped if the North East is to get a fair deal in the wake of the Scottish independence vote, a national research director has said.
Dr Angus Armstrong, director of macroeconomic research at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said the Treasury does not prioritise the North East and politicians must form a strong and unified voice to correct the imbalance.
At a debate on how September’s vote will impact on the region, regional leaders also heard of a “growing realisation” Scotland may not lower corporation tax, allaying fears the country would suck business from its neighbours.
It comes as all seven North East councils, from Durham to Northumberland, agree a Combined Authority which will allow it to bid for more Government funding.
Dr Armstrong said regional policy is not a priority for the Treasury when it calculates how to spend Government cash and the North should look to reconsider a regional assembly to be heard above its southern counterparts and in Europe.
He said: “I used to work for the Treasury during the crisis and regional policy does not register. I hate that that is the case, but I really don’t think it is part of Treasury policy. I think the whole concept of regional policy needs to be re-thought.”
He added: “People in the South East underestimate the extent to which power is centralised, so, although they have a feeling there is something of an imbalance, that imbalance is greater than that feeling would suggest.
“The reason I say that is because of the financial crisis. The only reason they could support the City of London is because of the taxpayers of the rest of England.
“When it goes wrong we pay, it is quite remarkable and I find it amazing that places outside of the South East don’t have more to say about that. I do think the degree of imbalance is extremely significant.”
Pat Ritchie, chief executive of Newcastle City Council, said the region’s airports and universities could lose out due to a possible relaxation in border controls which might see students flock to Scottish universities.
She added there were fears changes to the Air Passenger Duty tax could see carriers opt to begin routes from Scottish airports.
Ms Ritchie, however, said there was an opportunity for the region to export goods to the country and, with Edinburgh closer to the region than London, collaborate with Scottish national leaders.
She said: “We should and can be confident in our strengths. This is a region which exports more than any other region and it is already used to working with different markets.
“Whilst not wanting to marginalise what is an important debate, we should not get too hung up on what Scotland might or might not do.
“We need to really develop the strongest possible economic offer that we can for the North East and collaborate as local authorities and businesses and be confident.”
Professor David Bell, professor of economics at the University of Stirling, also spoke at the debate, organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), and said Scots are keenly aware of the need to collaborate with the North.
“I don’t think that the North East is particularly disadvantaged because for Scotland to get anywhere with these negotiations there would have to be a cluster of compromises, and it would make no sense to have poor relations with its near neighbours.”
He added the North East faced being drowned out by the South East but there was a “growing realisation” that Scotland could not drive down corporation tax as it risked becoming a tax haven for businesses.
He said: “I go to talk about independence on a regional basis and the elephant in the room is the lack of political impetus, particularly in the North East.
“It is just not there and it isn’t part of the issue.
“If Scotland votes yes or if it votes no and gets more powers, you will have a heavily asymmetrical system in England which cannot continue to be stable.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 28 March 2014