In her speech to the SNP conference, Nicola Sturgeon pointed to a UK Government driven to chaos by Brexit, a Government that is out of ideas and is failing to offer solutions to the challenges of the 21st century. The First Minister was right, but while she and the SNP are good at diagnosing the problems, they do not offer any serious solutions to address them.
As always, the SNP solution, no matter the problem, is for Scotland to leave the UK. Yet our experience of Brexit suggests this would lead to a Scottish Government driven to chaos by the complexities of dissolving a far older and more highly intertwined union than the EU. The solution to leaving a successful union of nations is not to leave another successful union of nations. Instead, we must focus on maintaining the closest possible relationship with the EU and take a fresh look at how power is distributed across the UK.
I believe in the principle of devolution, however, in its current state, it has created an imbalance in Westminster. Increasingly, this feeling is not only felt by non-English MPs, but political representatives from the north of England who has grown frustrated with the UK Government. While investment has been funnelled into the South East and London, many in the north feel like they have been left behind. Now they are calling for the power to take decisions closer to home, just as the Scottish Government can in Scotland.
The Government should end the top down approach to devolution and create an act of Parliament which will establish a legal right for the nations and regions of the UK to claim any non-reserved power they need to address their own local problems. This act could use the template of the powers already devolved to the Scottish Government and those returning from Brussels after Brexit to create a standing offer for devolution to the nations and regions.
This new deal would confer on the UK Government, a responsibility to devolve these powers to any national or regional authority which seeks to claim them.
This wouldn’t just offer opportunities for the regions of England, but new collaborative policy options for Scotland. It would provide opportunities for partnership with other parts of the UK on a range of policy areas, a partnership between Scotland and the north east of England on offshore wind and power is just one possibility. I believe it is only through collaborations such as this, that Scotland, along with other nations and regions of the UK, can pull the economic centre of gravity northwards and outwards from London and the South East.
Labour is the party of devolution and aims to be the architect of a federal UK. We need a radical new deal that not only enhances the power of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but delivers more power to the regions of England and helps to build a new, modern UK with a more even balance of economic prosperity and opportunity.