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Liberal Democrats to debate a federal United Kingdom at their Spring Conference in York

February 4, 2014

The recently released agenda for the Liberal Democrats’ Spring Conference to be held in York 8-9 March shows the party is to debate under the title ‘Power to the People’. (CA&D 2014 spring book) The very laudable objectives talk about an ambitious package of political and constitutional reforms including introducing voting reform for electing MPs and local councillors and extending the franchise to all sixteen and seventeen year olds for all UK elections.
The ‘Power to the People’ motion also goes on to set out what it calls a ‘road map to a federal United Kingdom’. This contains both good and bad news for those wanting devolution to Yorkshire.
The good news is that the motion specifically says the federal UK can be achieved by delivering the Campbell Commission’s approach to a federal constitution for the UK and its vision of ‘Home Rule All Around’.
The Campbell Commission was set up to look at powers and structures paper under the Chairmanship of former Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, in light of the devolution debate in Scotland and it (Federalism – the best future for Scotland web) was published back in 2012. It says: ‘We expect that Scotland will contribute to the terms of that debate, at least by example, but it is for people in England to determine how they wish their own national and regional identities expressed within the constitutional structures of our United Kingdom.’
So that is the good news. The bad news is then the motion shies away from then allowing the people of Yorkshire to determine their own destiny as the Campbell Commission suggests. Instead, there is a rather weak suggestion to devolve more administrative and financial power to cooperating groups of local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships. There is the mention of an English Devolution Enabling Act whereby legislative devolution is available to Cornwall (recognising its historic, cultural, and linguistic claim to autonomy), to London (which already has its own limited, devolved institution in the shape of the GLA), and to any principal local authority (or group of principal local authorities with contiguous boundaries) outside London which has a population of a million or more people.
There is then however the objective of establishing a constitutional convention to draw up a written, federal constitution for the United Kingdom.
So, in summary, it seems the Liberal Democrats are striving for a federal UK where those with a regional identity can say how they want to be governed and yet at the same time this seems specifically to be limited to Cornwall (lot of Liberal Democrat votes in Cornwall!). Otherwise, the best we might expect is some joint cooperation between local authorities and LEPs. I think the Liberal Democrats are underestimating the real hunger there is for proper devolution to Yorkshire. If they need evidence then they need look no further than yesterday’s poll in the Yorkshire Post showing 82% of respondents wanting more devolution for Yorkshire.

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