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No historical basis for change

PUBLISHED: 19:00 30 May 2002 | UPDATED: 12:01 03 March 2010

REGIONAL government for England has nothing to do with bringing power to the people.

It has everything to do with a maverick Labour MP who asked an awkward question his party has never been able to answer.

REGIONAL government for England has nothing to do with bringing power to the people.

It has everything to do with a maverick Labour MP who asked an awkward question his party has never been able to answer.

Since 1974 the Labour Party has supported devolution for the Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland while they remain part of the United Kingdom.

Tam Dalyell has always been an implacable opponent of Scottish devolution, believing that it would inevitably lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom.

In the early 1970s, when the first stirrings of Scottish nationalism were starting to attract publicity, he represented the constituency of West Lothian in Parliament.

He raised "The West Lothian Question," as it became known - a question his party bosses have never been able to answer.

Mr Dalyell asked: "Why can I, as an MP representing a seat in Scotland at the Westminster parliament, decide health or education policy for England when MPs representing English constituencies, or even myself, have no say in health or education policy in Scotland."

The current government thinks it has come up with the answer - regional government.

It wouldn't consider a separate government for England.

That would threaten the power of the Westminster parliament and population demographics meant that the Conservatives would normally expect to have a majority in such a parliament (although in both 1997 and 2001 Labour had a clear majority in England).

The regional assemblies proposed by the government would have much less power than the Scottish Parliament - MPs from all over Britain would continue to have the final say in health, education, and social services in England when they have no say in Scotland.

However the regional assemblies would have similar powers to the Welsh Assembly - which is already seen as a White Elephant in the Principality.

The government points to other nations around the world which have a federal system and says it could work here.

But in doing that, ministers ignore history.

England has been a unified country since the tenth century - most other countries are much younger.

France wasn't a single entity until the late Middle Ages. It wasn't until the Sixteenth century that Spain was united. And both Germany and Italy were only founded in the second half of the 19th century.

Germany's federal government gives much power to the states - or Länder - a

model looked on with approval by many British politicians.

But it works in Germany because:

1) Until 1870, Germany didn't exist and comprised of separate states anyway. The German nation is no steeped in a unified history.

2) The events of the 20th century, with the Great War, the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism have made Germans very nervous of strong central government.

Another example of a federal government often quoted is the United States - but that is very different to Britain.

It's the size of a continent rather than a country, and many states are as large as many independent countries.

California has a population of 33 million, Texas a population of 20 million, and New York a population of 18 million - much larger than any region proposed in Britain.

England has been a single entity since the thrones of Mercia, Wessex, Anglia and Northumbria were united during the 10th and early 11th centuries.

Below central government there is local government with either one or two levels.

In Suffolk we have a county council and district or borough councils.

For many people even the county council is a remote body - how would a regional assembly meeting in Cambridge feel?

Many people feel we are becoming part of a federal government as our links within the European Union increase.

That feeling will certainly grow if the euro is adopted in this country.

Once all Europe has a single currency and all nations are committed to the EU, why should Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remain part of a United Kingdom at all?

By then we may have a naturally-occurring system of regional government - the region of England sitting beside the regions of Scotland, Wales, Holland, Ireland, Belgium, France, Spain etc.

Historically that would be a more logical evolution than the politically-inspire solution currently being proposed.


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