Scottish referendum reaction: Devolution for the North East?

Campaigners in Edinburgh celebrate Scotland saying no to independence.
Campaigners in Edinburgh celebrate Scotland saying no to independence.

As political discussions continue following the decisive vote for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom, politicians in Northumberland have pledged to ensure that the county is not ignored in any plans.

MP Sir Alan Beith says he will make sure the views of the North East are heard during questioning of the Prime Minister during October’s session of the House of Commons Liaison Committee, which the Liberal Democrat MP chairs.

Sir Alan said: “With new powers for Scotland must come new opportunities for the regions of England and the development of a system of government for England by the people of England within the UK.

“At this stage, I think it is unlikely that there would be agreement either to proceed immediately to regional assemblies or to create an English Parliament. What would make sense would be to devolve more powers to areas like the North East and to create procedures at Westminster for English MPs to deal with English matters. But the devolution of new powers to the North East means that we must find ways of making sure that rural and minority voices are heard – this is not just about cities.

“All the bodies to which power has been devolved – in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London – were set up with proportional voting systems so that minorities could be represented and we did not create ‘one-party states’.

“Then there is the issue of funding. If Scotland is keeping the Barnett Formula then areas of England with greater needs, like the North East, must have guarantees of a fair share of public funds.

“I’ll be putting many of these questions to the Prime Minister during a special session of the House of Commons Liaison Committee as soon as Parliament returns.”

Fellow Lib Dem, Julie Pörksen, who is bidding to become Sir Alan’s successor, said: “I am both delighted and relieved that Scotland has said no to independence. Independence would have made life and business difficult for many people living in the Borders and Northumberland.

“The turnout was a great day for democracy and I hope will encourage people both sides of the border to heal any divisions and work together to make their voices heard and be involved in shaping their area in the future. The yes vote was significant and the strength of feeling shown gives further weight to the argument that the UK needs to be less London-centric in its decision making.

“With all the talk of big cities gaining more power, I will be working to ensure that rural people in areas like Northumberland do not miss out in any plans for devolution.

“Now we have greater certainty about our futures we need a start date for dualling the A1 – investing in the joining of Scotland and England with a 21st-century road will boost our economies in Northumberland and the Borders.”

Nigel Coghill-Marshall, Ukip’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Berwick constituency, said: “I welcome unreservedly, the decision by our fellow citizens in Scotland to keep the United Kingdom intact.

“The result though, does underline the need for a new constitutional framework for the four nations that make up the United Kingdom. But the creation of a new relationship will take time if we are to achieve a fair and equable settlement.

“Voters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had no opportunity to make their views known. The future of 63 million people was decided by a mere four million. We need a period of reflection and reconciliation, of consideration and compromise to ensure that the settlement lasts for at least another one hundred years.

“There are though, some matters that are indisputable. More power given to Scotland must be matched by more powers being to English MPs on purely English concerns. It was 37 years ago that Tam Dalyell identified the West Lothian Question. MPs representing Scottish constituencies must no longer be entitled to vote on matters relating purely to other parts of the UK. Their English colleagues cannot vote on Scottish matters.

“A better and fairer system of funding must be found. Even the architect of the Barnett Formula acknowledges that it is unjust and unfair to English taxpayers. Scottish governments’ priorities may often continue to be different to those based in Westminster.

“If Scotland is to be given more tax-raising power, then the funds provided centrally, must be on a different basis. There must not be a blank cheque underwriting the potential profligacy of a left-wing Scottish government.

“It is time to reduce the number of MPs sent to Westminster by Scotland. There are more Scottish constituencies per head of population that in England, this must end; particularly if more power is to reside in Edinburgh.

“I’m not sure what form regional government in England could take, particularly since we in the North East have already ejected by an overwhelming 78 per cent vote the chance to have a regional assembly, but one thing is certain. We do need to have a Constitutional Convention held not purely on party political grounds.

“We need to examine the relationship between the countries of the UK and their parliaments. Do we need an English Parliament and precisely what powers will it have? What will be the relationships between all parts of the UK (and regions within) with London? What other layers of elected government do we need (want)?

“If we create a more federal relationship what powers will reside with Westminster? If that Parliament is to deal only with foreign affairs and defence, can it be reduced in size? There are many questions that need answers and the danger of the timescale proposed by David Cameron et al is that they will not be found.

“We need to carefully consider how we are going to bring about a solution that will not mean that Scotland or indeed another part of the UK feels the need to hold another referendum in ten years.

“It is a time where party political advantage must not be sought. It is the next century that is at stake. We need statesmen and women to take their time.

“There is a General Election next May. Any attempt to force through fundamental and lasting change on the strength of a few weeks’ discussion will smack of desperation and gerrymandering will not last. And will be punished by voters on both sides of the border.”