Well done the Today programme!

As I am never shy to criticise the BBC, I should be fair. Today, they invited Brian Wilson and me to debate the issue of devolution and the PM’s wish to have a debate to “save the Union”. It was a balanced and sensible piece, which I hope the audience found worthwhile.

It enabled me to explain that I opposed Labour’s devolution scheme in the late 1990s because it was lop-sided and unfair.

I want proper devolution – devolution of many more decisions to individuals, families, companies and communities, in both Scotland and England. The UK is over-centralised.

I am against regional devolution in England, and in favour of equal treatment of Scotland and England when it comes to making decisions at UK or England/Scotland level. If the PM wants to save the Union, he could begin by abolishing unelected regional government in England, and by giving power to English representatives to decide the issues the Scottish Parliament decides north of the border.


  1. Letters From A Tory
    May 12, 2008

    Regional governments are a shocking waste of money and achieve very little other than giving Labour any opportunity to decide where the funds go while sitting at a desk in Whitehall.

  2. Rose
    May 12, 2008

    And about time we heard you again on the Today programme. It is encouraging too that they now have a numerate presente, since their recipe for all ills for all the years I have been listening to them has been "Just spend a lot more taxpayers' money".

  3. Donal Blaney
    May 12, 2008

    I agree, John, I had to pinch myself to check I was awake and listening to Today. It was a good discussion. Maybe Humphrys and Naughtie are the problem?

  4. APL
    May 12, 2008

    JR: "It was a balanced and sensible piece, which I hope the audience found worthwhile."

    One swallow doesn't make a summer.

    Here is the reasoning at the BBC Today program today. They know their preferred party has reached the end of its tenure, and very soon it may be facing electoral oblivion (hurrah!), the BBC will now suck up to the next most likely party to form the government – do not be fooled, the BBC should be leveled to the ground (metaphorically speaking) in political terms, privatised and made to beg its viewers for their voluntary subscription. Introduce the BBC to the Market 'tout de suite'!

    JR: "The UK is overcentralised."

    Yes it is.

    For a radical solution, how about a local income tax, with a tithe paid by the local authority to fund central government?

    Of course any reorganisation of government in this country would need the permission of our Lords and Masters in Brussels. How would you get that without being compelled to split England up along the lines already defined by the European Union?

  5. Freeborn John
    May 12, 2008

    I don’t catch Today every day, but had the radio on this morning when your voice came through. The point you made about devolving power to individuals, families, companies and communities rather than regional assemblies for Scotland, Wales and perhaps England is a powerful one which any real liberal instinctively approves of, but it demands further thought.

    The question really is “what is the appropriate level (above the family) of community for which we need state-like institutions to regulate affairs?”. If the community is defined at too high a level we will have the situation like which Lord Mountbatten described when justifying the partition of India. He said "There can be no question of coercing any large areas in which one community has a majority to live against their will under a government in which another community has a majority. And the only alternative to coercion is partition". If the communities are too small we would have a jumble of inconsistent rules in different parts of Great Britain together with the high cost of multiple authorities all deciding very similar issues.

    If one believes in representative government it is the community which comes first with state institutions and borders shaped to fit the natural contours of the communities with which we identify most strongly. The state should be erected to govern over the largest area satisfying Mountbatten’s maxim, such that we live under efficient government applying the same consistent rules across the maximum extent of territory in which no community feels coerced to live under government dominated by others. The EU is the clearest example of the unacceptability of exceeding this maxim. As you say there is no appetite within England for regional-government indicating that all parts of England at least are happy to be governed as a single community. So the question really is whether the Scots, Welsh and English also still agree to live a common British government.

    The clearest answer to this can be found in the 2007 British Social Attitudes survey, which shows the proportion of the public who say that "British" is the best way to describe their national identity has fallen to less than half the population. Ten years ago, 52% of us described our primary identity as British but a decade later it is has slipped to 44%. This is the root cause of the current debate. If we want the British state to endure then we should take steps to re-establish a healthy majority of UK citizens that identify themselves as primarily British. As EU-supporters are finding out, no amount of institutional tinkering can compensate for a lack of common identity because without this you have the scenario Mountabatten found unacceptable, i.e. coercing one community to live under a government dominated by others. We should learn from the mistakes of the EU federalists and take measures to reinforce the sense of British identity.

  6. Man in a Shed
    May 12, 2008

    I had hardly woken up when I heard the interview – John Redwood on the BBC – must be dreaming.

    My confusion intensified as Brian Wilson started talking sense also (I even shouted at the radio – hold on those are John Redwood's views – the kids and wife are used to this sort of thing), but lost it at the end when he had to comfort himself with a blame it on the Tories bit at the end.

    Mr Wilson was on Newsnight (?) last week on the same subject also. He strikes me as a man starting a political journey. He's not yet ready to confess the mistakes of Labour past, but he's travelling in a direction which will give him not choice but to do that in the future.

  7. mike stallard
    May 12, 2008

    John – your European Credentials are unimpeachable. Just lolok at your list of political groups for a start. But even you must realise that APL is right. Brussels is (as ever) at the bottom of this regionalisation.
    Secondly, I am so sorry I missed your broadcast. I am currently on holiday with my daughter in Harrogate. But – Hooray!

  8. Matthew Reynolds
    May 12, 2008

    Why not end QUANGO's & regional government while ending the ever pointless Local Government & Communities Department ? Just think of the powers that could go to local councils then – what a boost for local democracy ! Councils should fund say 80% of their own budgets from a local Sales Tax with the remaining 20% dished out by Central Government on the basis of deprivation so there is some redistribution to tackle poverty .The Justice Ministry should absorb the Scottish , Welsh & Northern Ireland Offices so that constitutional policy is dealt with under one umbrella . By giving more powers to English local government you would move decision making closer to those affected by it making for a greater check & balance on those councillors who set the Sales Tax & provided services . On the reciept one would be told how much Sales Tax one had paid – if voters found it excessive then they could turf out their local council at election time & the Sales Tax would need to be low or local prosperity could suffer . This could provide an incentive for lower local taxes . If we pay the taxes then we should have service provision decided as close to us as possible otherwise who will people get the services that they want ?

    Councillors need the powers to improve their local areas or people will just think that they are not worth voting for as nothing will improve due to voting. It cannot be right that on top of England being disadvantaged under the devolution settlement that we have an expensive & undemocratic QUANGO system designed to give pointless jobs to Labour supporters while ordinary folk pay lots of tax and get neglected. As for the 20% of local funding to come from central government – a system not unlike the old rates could do the trick . My Dad worked in local government prior to the Poll Tax madness of 1989-94 and under the rates you collected well over 90% of what you where supposed to!

    If the Scots can have a referendum on a Parliament then why can the English not be treated the same ? We pay more tax per head than they do and get less public spending per head too ! How about some fairness!

    A simple system of rates & a US style Sales Tax would be far less complex than VAT , business rates and council tax thus simplifying taxation at a stroke while enabling voters to make informed choices on who was best to be their councillor rather than the deciding that as QUANGO's & Whitehall think they know best that voting was pointless . With devolution we do not need Offices of State for Scotland , Wales & Northern Ireland – just give each place a junior minister at the Justice Department instead . If we have an elected English Parliament then we do not need regional government & the reduction in the number of Westminster MP's would help fund this . It is just about fairness!

    On a final note the EU would hate the end of the very high , complex & irrational VAT – makes a Sales Tax sound better already! After all you would be taxing Sales income making it fairer as a business would only pay on what it earned . VAT is irrantional why tax booze & not food ! The chocolate teacake row that M&S won with HM Treasury proves that beyond doubt.

  9. Iain
    May 12, 2008

    I think you are being generous to the BBC for Sarah Montague was more interested in interrupting you than Brian Wilson, in addition, ( as is usual ) the BBC seemed to be clueless about the sentiment in England regarding devolution. For just like Kirtsy Wark who took a Newsnight program to Scotland and stated to a Scottish audience that English people aren't interested in devolution, we heard the same assertion from Sarah Montague, an assertion to my knowledge that isn't based in fact or polls, for the last extensive polling I saw on the issue in the Daily Telegraph in 'Break up Britain' the polling broke down as follows…

    Should Scotland become independent?

    English (F/A ) 59%/28%; Scots 52%/35%

    Should England become independent?

    English (F/A) 48%/43%; Scots 45%/38%

    English parliament?

    English (F/A) 68%/25%; Scots 58%/31%

    Which shows that English people in every category are more fed up with the Union than Scots.

    Unfortunately when ever this topic gets raised, the BBC ends up doing some Scottish navel gazing, it never, NEVER, looks at the issue from English peoples perspective. As I pointed out, the times BBC's Newsnight has raised the issue its gone to Scotland to do it. Even recently when this issue was raise on Any Questions and Question Time, and the question asked was pointedly about English constitutional issues, Dimbleby had the panel discussing Scottish issues. Perhaps the best example of the BBC's inability to give representation to English opinion comes from a BBC paper they sent me in response to a complaint I registered , here in their document ‘Devolution, the BBC’s program response’ discussed all the money and service it was going to establish in Scotland to ensure Scottish representation in their news and programming, mentioning Scotland some 83 times. England on the other hand didn’t get mentioned once, and in a regional context 3 times.

  10. Neil Craig
    May 15, 2008

    It is not just that Britain uis over centralised, though it is, but that the centre is on the south east corner of the country.

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