COLUMN: Devolution. Will there ever be a solution?

UKIP County Leader, Mike Glennon
UKIP County Leader, Mike Glennon

None of us wants to live all alone on a desert island. We all want and need company and this brings the need to belong to a tribe. However, how big do we want our particular tribe to be? 10-strong, a hundred, a thousand – a billion even? That’s where we may start to disagree.

Politically, however, we do need to get some agreement on the optimum size of the governing structures within which we live.

We benefit greatly from living in a country with a substantial population with its associated economies of scale. It should lead to more efficient infrastructure and indeed commercial opportunities; that’s why your local British supermarket is much cheaper than one in Malta.

But there are such things as Diseconomies of Scale - that is when things get too big. I mean, have you tried getting joy out your friendly, blue-chip, multi-national telecommunications supplier recently?

Too big for own boots?

So, politically, is the UK too big? Well, some Scots certainly thought so, though happily they have elected to stay on board – for the time being at least. The safety valve for actually staying together, of course, is cutting a bit more slack and letting parts of the country do a bit more of what they want. Bit like marriage, really.

Last week I took part in a BBC1 televised debate on the outlook for devolution in this land (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04nzgnf/more-power-7-more-power-to-the-south-a-south-today-special). My own views were clearly stated; I believe we currently have an unacceptable anomaly, whereby Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland enjoy a fair degree of autonomy through their modern devolved assemblies, while England has been neglected.

This is compounded by the oddity that purely English matters remain in the hands of the pan-British Westminster parliament, generously influenced by our Celtic cousins’ MP’s, while English MP’s have no (nor probably desire any) reciprocal influence in, say, Scotland.

Call me old-fashioned, but whilst I believe in Diversity, I quite like the idea of Equality too!

What about here in Sussex?

Anyway, let’s steer this bit of philosophy a little nearer to home. To what extent can political power be delegated downwards to that point where local people really believe they are having constructive influence on their own lives?

UKIP’s position is that counties (and cities) should be endowed with much greater influence on local issues. In our present model, county councils are essentially just resource allocators, having minimal influence on the overall framework for raising revenues in their areas – and practically zero influence on legislation.

That latter point is crucial, because, as I said during that TV debate, it is likely to be ignored (deliberately, in the case of our established political elites). So, let’s illustrate it with a few examples. What if East Sussex is beset with a spat of juvenile boozing on Saturday nights, while West Sussex youngsters start to develop a taste for Sunday afternoon Grand Prix – on the A24! So, Sussex residents lobby Westminster to tighten the relevant laws (and sanctions). However, on investigation these twin social evils mysteriously turn out to be phenomena unique to Sussex. The Dorset lads behave just fine – as do the Kentish maidens.

So, what happens? Nothing. Two decades later we are still lobbying Westminster, where there seems to be little appetite for action, as the rest of the country seems unaffected by these particular maladies.

But what if county councils (and cities) were to acquire a significant level of legislative power? Well, I think, many burning issues would be addressed in months, rather than decades. If you don’t agree, just take a peek at our friends across the pond.

Why Wyoming?

Take a state at random: Wyoming is larger than the UK with fewer citizens than Sussex. Whereas Sussex has 14 MPs, however, Wyoming has just one equivalent national congressman. It is internally within their own area that they pass a wide range of laws to suit themselves and have considerable tax-raising competence. The Americans see it as democracy – and they really cherish the localism bit. If Washington tried to impose a fraction of what Westminster imposes on Sussex, it would be 1861 all over again.

A further problem is that electors can’t always have full confidence in their own assemblies, concerning highly controversial issues and so they need a direct voice from time to time. UKIP commends a much wider use of local referenda. How much more defendable our towns and villages would be against the savage and ceaseless attack from developers if local representatives were forced to listen to the people, rather than their own party whips!

Just think of the battle we could then put up right across our lovely county to protect our diminishing green countryside!

Localism – myth and irony

Localism is a concept that has been abused in Britain and the so-called Localism Act of 2011 was a hollow sham. The Westminster sieblings are determined to clutch on jealously to their power base until it is literally torn from them. But if you fancy a bit of mega-irony, you’ll love this one: they have indeed been devolving that very power at a furious pace for decades. Only trouble is, they have not been devolving it downwards to the people of Britain, but upwards and out of Britain into the hands of the EU. You couldn’t make it up!

Who knows – maybe next year’s 70th anniversary of VE day will be the start of a long road to real devolution within Britain itself? Note the irony of that date too!