LETTER: Labour's local conundrum

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Indy Lifestyle Online
NICK COHEN argues that New Labour lost its courage when it came to devising regional assemblies for England ("How New Labour lost its nerve", 23 July). It would be more accurate to say that New Labour looked at the proposals in more detail, saw how unpopular they would be with most English voters, and wisely backed off.

Nick Cohen is right to point to the constitutional imbalance which would arise from the establishment of a Scottish parliament - the infamous West Lothian question. Labour's regional assemblies were dreamed up to cope with this intractable issue, and that issue still remains.

Within the frames of reference of the devolution debate so far, there does not appear to be any solution to this conundrum; least of all, as Cohen advocates, imposing change on England from above. But on the not unreasonable supposition that the driving force behind demands for a Scottish parliament is, as in the north of England, a "resentment of the privileges that 'London' and the 'South' are believed to enjoy", the debate could at least be conducted on a more rational basis if the fiscal transfers between south-eastern England and the rest of the UK were to be clearly set out (we know they are massive in the case of Northern Ireland), and whether they have increased or decreased over the 16 years of Tory rule.

It may well be that what the Scots really want is not so much a talking- shop parliament in Edinburgh with puny tax-raising powers, but equitable treatment with the Home Counties and a reinvigorated system of proper local self-government. Such a solution would be applicable throughout the UK without constitutional implications, perhaps most significantly in Northern Ireland where it would most easily accommodate the differing loyalties which tend to be geographically localised.

Simon Partridge

London N2

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