The Scot’s have decided. After a hard fought campaign by the yes camp, 84% of the Scottish have given their answer - with the majority of 55% of the electorate proclaiming that the Union is the best way forward for the long-term economic, social and environmental welfare of their country. The roadmap to Devo-Max has yet to be mapped out fully and the devil is most definitely now in the detail. An agreement will be negotiated by November, with draft legislation by January.
The Prime Minister also said this morning in his statement outside Downing Street that a ‘new and fair settlement’ will be agreed for Wales, Northern Ireland and England. The Scottish independence question has brought the West Lothian Question to the fore and stirred a changing face of English politics. Devolution has been a hotly debated topic across the pubs, living rooms and streets of the UK, creating a new wave of interest in the concept of nationhood and the practical implications for where political and economic power should lie. What does Devo-Max in Scotland mean for England?
The City Growth Commission tackled the issue of sub-national devolution in our latest report “Powers to Grow: City finance and governance”, setting out our recommendations for allowing all UK city-regions north and south of the border to have a range of greater powers. For metros to operate as effective and sustainable systems they need freedoms and flexibilities to respond to the needs of their populations. Devolution to Holyrood or an English Parliament is not enough. We propose that the largest metros should be given the powers to manage their local labour markets and infrastructure decisions as well as inputting into national decisions. As the drivers of current and future growth, we need a national ‘system of cities’ at the centre of domestic policy-making.
When the City Growth Commission launched our 12 month inquiry in October 2013, our focus was on the economics. The politics were deemed a necessary but distinct issue; Scottish independence sat quietly in the background. However, with the constitutional arguments of Scotland raging on over recent months, the landscape against which we present the Commission’s recommendations has shifted.
What is clear from the Scottish debate is that economics and politics cannot be separated – economics without stable politics is unsustainable. That stability is essential for enabling cities to manage the genuine risks associated with devolution. A city may have the economic prowess to raise revenue from devolved taxes, but without political accountability and strong governance structures, that revenue cannot conceivably be directed to the best place, supporting public service reform and ensuring the citizens of those cities get sustainable and inclusive growth.
A win for the no camp should not be an excuse for central government to ignore ‘The English Question’. On the contrary; now is the time to consider what the future devolution on both sides of the border and the Commission argues that city-regions or ‘metros’ represent the appropriate scale for making more localised, strategic decisions for promote long-term economic growth and public service reform. Regional government has been tried and largely failed, while proposals for an English Parliament would do nothing to enhance the quality of democratic accountability and tailored decision-making. The answer is to empower metros and their leaders to plan, commission and deliver in the best interest of their city centres and hinterlands, as well as working with one another to maximise the scale of economic opportunity.
Our case has already been accepted by many including the Chancellor and the Deputy Prime Minister and our final report, out on 22nd October, will put forward further details on how this can be done. Let’s make now the time to listen to those cities best able to shoulder the burden and let them shine, to enable them to reach their potential and create future prosperity for the whole UK.