It is now inevitable that more powers will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament—Westminster must follow this up by empowering other English citiesby Lucy Webster / September 19, 2014 / Leave a comment
It was quite something, yesterday, to know that the future of my country was about to change. I am 19, and I have yet to cast a vote in a national election, yet every election to come will now be affected by today’s result. Scotland may have answered the independence question pretty emphatically (55 per cent to 45 per cent in favour of No is a decisive margin), but the result has simply started another debate: what to do now?
I am about to go into my second year at university—and worries about job hunting, house finding and all sorts of adult-life things are beginning to bubble away at the back of my mind; on top of which I am painfully aware of the £27,000 I am soon to owe the government. Even though I have always cared deeply about politics, the decisions made now have never felt more personally relevant.
The only thing we can be sure of is that more powers will now be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. With a general election already visible on the horizon, it seems unlikely that the three main parties will renege on their promises to hand over powers to Edinburgh. But with Scotland staying in the Union, it will be difficult to grant it special treatment without doing so elsewhere. Cries of unfair advantages would go up across the country.
To its credit, the coalition did try to devolve power to English regions and cities—and its proposals were mostly rejected. Perhaps it is fair to say that the regions lack a sense of binding identity (I have never heard someone describe themselves as a West Midlander), but I don’t believe this is true of the cities. Having grown up in London and recently left the city for the countryside of Warwickshire, I feel that my status as a Londoner is a crucial part of my identity. Maybe this is because almost all conversations in term one followed a “what do you study?” and “where do you come from?” pattern, but I also believe it is because being from a big city gives you a different outlook—one based on rushing around and paying exorbitant amounts for a drink.
Getting the train from Coventry, where Warwick University is based, up to Birmingham for a day or down home to London for a visit, the difference is clear. The two big cities have a hubbub about them which you can’t feel elsewhere; a sense that here the economy moves a little faster, cultural events occur more regularly, and that the lights shine a little brighter (although maybe that’s my homesickness and silly romanticism talking). The shops open later – I was horrified to discover that the centre of Coventry is shut from 5pm – and people’s lives are oddly dominated by the trials and tribulations of public transport. This is why I believe that cities should have control over themselves, so that they can deal with the unique problems they face, but also maximise their benefits.
There is also the glaring point that London operates in a separate plane from cities the size of Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. While these northern cities may never rival the capital, their potential should be cultivated. With house prices in London eye-wateringly high, the thought of moving back after university leaves me with a furrowed brow and declaring to my parents that I will be living at home for ever, a prospect as worrying for them as it is for me. The draw of London for me is of course personal, it is home, but it is also a career calculation—where better to look for a job in journalism? Yet it would be nice to know that I could access some of those opportunities elsewhere, in places where the cost of living isn’t quite so prohibitive.
If the other cities are to become places Londoners move to, rather than places people leave in order to come south, then they need to do more. They need to entice big businesses away from the capital, which means they need better transport links, better parking, and better PR profiles. All this requires an authority dedicated to bringing all this together and really achieving something. Knowing that I could get a job in Birmingham, Liverpool or Manchester with no more difficulty than in London would certainly make them more attractive come graduation. London will always be home, but the promise of an affordable meal would win out over views of St Paul’s Cathedral any day. Give the cities the power to draw me in.