Stephen Pollard makes this observation about the cabinet re-shuffle: Well, here it is – made flesh. John Reid, MP for Hamilton North and Belshill is now Health Secretary. He is unable to have anything to do with health in his own constituency and country. But he is responsible for the NHS in England. The joys, and lunacy, of our devolution structures
It is of course the old West Lothian question rearing its head again. We also have the problem of the position of the Scottish and Welsh secretaries, whose roles appear to have been made redundant by devolving powers to the First Ministers in Scotland and Wales. To add to this we have the presence of Lord Falconer, a London-based lawyer, who appears to have some responsibility for Scottish and Welsh (and English regional?) affairs and who, of course, does not have any constituency at all.
The problem here is that we don’t actually have any devolution structures as such. We are quite clearly in a transitional phase where partial power has been devolved to the national assembly in Wales and the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, where as well as the West Lothian question, we still haven’t solved the Northern Ireland conundrum and the ‘English question’ has not even begun to be dealt with.
Add into yesterday’s mix the Milburn resignation in which, according to some reports, the reluctance of his family to move to the capital played a key role. The idea that a Northern politican could play an important role in governing the North is sadly not yet a possibility.
Of course we still have John Prescott’s proposals for regional assemblies on the table, which would, at the very least, democratise the already existing regional development agencies but which appear to have little support outside of the North and which are fairly low on the government’s list of priorities. The media hardly seem interested in the question of when we are going to have a referendum on constitutional change which may be just as important as the not-yet written European constitution.
It may be very British to bungle along like this and hope that somehow, 20 or 30 years down the line we have reached a point where we have a defined and understood relationship between the component parts of the UK and Westminister and between whatever the UK has become and whatever the EU has become. But I suspect these challenges may require a little more than the usual faith in our unwritten constitution and the ability of common-sense to prevail.
In my mind the logic of this whole process is that Britain should become in effect, if not name, a federal republic, with clearly defined responsibilities for the nations and regions and with a more limited co-ordinating role for the (federal) parliament and (federal) government in London. Conservatives and nationalists would disagree and no doubt so would many other people.
But would it not make sense at this stage, as a basic first step, to create a Constitutional Convention to begin to look at these issues and attempt to find a solution?