Cllr Sally-Ann Hart is a member of Rother District Council
I was rather perturbed at William Hague’s recent comments about Brexit. He was minded to support Britain remaining in the EU for fear that ‘Brexit’ could lead to the break up of the UK.
Despite the outcome of the Scottish Referendum in 2014, and the fact that the SNP did amazingly well in May’s General Election, I believe that the majority of Scots still value and wish to remain in the Union. Nevertheless, a clear message is being sent, not only from Scotland, but also from the North of England, Cornwall, Wales and Northern Ireland. This is that far too often, and for far too long, our ‘peripheral’ regions from London feel neglected and marginalised by Westminster politics. A recent example is a York resident, regarding the flooding, saying:
“If Mytholmroyd was in Syria or down South, we would see the Government handing out £50 million just like that, but because we are up North it’s like we don’t exist.”
As a half Scot brought up in Northumberland and educated in Newcastle, with university and an early career in London and now living for the past several years in rural East Sussex, I understand these sentiments – and many like them – very well. The North-South divide, feelings of neglect and marginalisation, are very real perceptions, right or wrong, for many people living far away from London and the Home Counties.
Devolving more decision-making powers from central government to individuals, local communities, councils and regions of the UK and giving them more say and control on issues that directly concern them – passing ‘power back to where it belongs’ (Greg Clark) – is a positive step. After all, ‘all politics is local’ and such measures should bring social, economic and political benefits to our communities.
But, my worry is that unless we combine such devolution and localism with policies that promote national ‘inclusivity’, the country may become more fractured, disparate and marginalised. We need to promote unity within our one nation and develop policies to that end. It is right that local communities and regions should have more decision-making powers on matters that directly affect them, such as tourism, education, transport, police and health.
It is also right that central government, the UK Parliament, makes decisions on matters which affect the whole of the UK such as foreign policy, defence and national security, and taxation. We need to ensure that promoting both a regional and a national focus ensures the maintenance of a one nation society.
Whilst the UK is moving towards devolution and localism, the EU is moving towards an ever closer union with increased restrictions, directives and central federal control. It seems to me that our agenda for the UK is totally at odds with the current EU project.
Without a direct mandate, Tony Blair and the Labour Government took the UK further into a federal EU and at the same time powers were devolved to Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.
Since then, it certainly appears that devolution has not reduced the appetite for independence, particularly in Scotland where the SNP’s goal is complete separation. Britain is made up of four great countries, each with different traditions and identities. Historically, we have always celebrated and respected our differences whilst enjoying the support and benefit of being one nation.
The EU’s aim is to stamp out national identity and the result of this is becoming ever more apparent in our nation. If we combine devolution with localism, and a real desire to preserve our Union, and if we try much harder to put the interests of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland first, we may well find that leaving the EU would be the best thing for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: by restoring our national pride.
As a Conservative, my fundamental beliefs in the Union and in maintaining the United Kingdom’s independence from a European federal superstate are paramount. I believe that we can support and stand in unity with the countries of the EU without being subsumed by it.
As the Iron Lady once wrote:
“To be free is to be better than to be unfree – always.”