Rebecca Atkinson

What now?

Rebecca Atkinson, 23.09.2014
Do the English regions need Scottish-style devolution?
When the news came that Scotland had voted against leaving the UK, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed; despite the buzz around the referendum and the level of political engagement with the issues at hand, it seemed as though things were ultimately back to where they had started.

But even with the no vote, change is inevitable – not just in Scotland but also in the union it has elected to remain part of. Downing Street’s promise of further powers to the Scottish parliament ahead of the vote has prompted Wales, Northern Ireland and English regions to ask “what about us?”

In the north of England, arguably the heartland of regional journalism, papers such as the Manchester Evening News, the Yorkshire Post and Newcastle’s The Journal made a united call for more devolved powers.

“Our regions face the risk of being squeezed between an over mighty London in the south and a resurgent Scotland making the most of its new-found freedoms to the north,” they said in a joint statement that dominated the front pages.

Prime minister David Cameron responded by reiterating his commitment to constitutional reforms in Scotland after the 2015 general election, and added that these will be considered alongside as yet unspecified changes in England.

The English regions seem unlikely to be given enhanced responsibility for education or the NHS anytime soon.

But devolved culture budgets and the power to borrow more money from central government are more realistic options, which will have a massive bearing on much of England’s museum sector.  

Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have demonstrated the benefits of devolving control of culture budgets away from Westminster, making a commitment to exploring and promoting their respective cultural identity and heritage.

I’m six months into living in West Yorkshire, following a decade in London, and I can see the benefit more regional powers might have for my locality.

But is there an appetite among the general population for another layer of politicians? And would England’s museums actually benefit? Watch this space…

A fringe session discussing the outcome of the Scottish referendum takes place at 1-2.15pm on 9 October at the Museums Association conference in Cardiff


Comments

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Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
26.09.2014, 14:44
It occurs to me (and I'm sure it has been discussed elsewhere) that the Yes Campaign didn't do a very good job of convincing people living outside of Scotland that it should leave the UK. As a result the press (especially the right-wing press) has long had a bias for the Better Together campaign. They have no reason to mourn the result of the referendum - but they do have a motivation to bring the story back to "what next" in terms of further powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland AND the English regions. Whatever the motivations, the story has never just been about Scotland and it's natural that its (thwarted) effort to carve a different path will have a much wider impact.

On a different note, if you read the Evening Standard the view there seems to be that London should be independent of everywhere else! Now there's something to vote on :-)
Jonathan Gammond
MA Member
Access & Interpretation Officer, Wrexham County Borough Museum
24.09.2014, 22:29
I am sure if my memory serves me right there used to be a really good regional museums set up called the Regional Museums Councils or something like that.

I don't know how someone from Scotland can complain that the debate is now about England. I have been following a two year long referendum campaign north of the border and how long ago did the Scottish Constitutional Convention first meet. Meanwhile I have attended two public consultations on devolution in Wales in the past decade. England has a lot of catching up to do, if anything!!
24.09.2014, 16:47
Whilst the London bias in terms of funding is deplorable and should be redressed I would be cautious about devolving more responsibility for museums to regional powers, especially as we have already seen local authorities flouting ethics and flogging off cultural property. We don't need more politicians and short term ism, we need more museums to be independent, sustainable in the long term and free from the funding whims of local government. It is up to the Arts Council to show the way forward.
Stephen Allen
MA Member
Head of Learning and Programmes, National Museums Scotland
23.09.2014, 17:41
So five days after the Indy Ref it's all about England. Ah well, business as usual. *sighs*
Alistair Brown
MA Member
Policy Officer, Museums Association
25.09.2014, 10:38
I don't think it's correct that everything is 'all about England' after the referendum. The point here - where the culture sector is concerned - is that the vote has caused a lot of people south of the border to wake up to the benefits that devolution has brought to Scotland. It is natural that a conversation should take place about how that might be replicated in other parts of the UK. There's nothing wrong with that.