Gordon Brown’s plan for a constitutional convention is likely to be stillborn, but his ideas for closing the yawning UK wealth gap deserve attention

A more federal UK is needed to create a more economically equal state and  buttress the Union’s survival, says the former prime minister Gordon Brown. New research starkly exposes the wealth gap between London and the regions more clearly than ever. The Northern Powerhouse plan for the north of England only scratches the surface and Brexit adds to the strains of Union cohesion. This is the gap that goes long way to a long way to explain the Brexit demand and the ” Brexit plus,plus plus ” revolt exploited by Donald Trump in the US.

The UK Regional-National Economic Problem, shows that while economic output per head, measured by gross value added, is near £43,000 a year in London – and as high as £135,000 in inner west London – almost half the UK population lives, in regions where output per head is below £22,325.

Indeed the regional divide is so vast that, at £13,500 per person, economic output in Gwent, Wales, is a tenth that of one of the wealthiest part of London; and in the Tees and Welsh valleys it has now fallen below that of Lithuania, Slovenia and Slovakia.

.. the divide in income, jobs and pay is increasing faster than ever. Average household incomes in Wales, Northern Ireland and the northern regions of England are around 60% of those in Greater London.

Three-quarters of Government and Research Council research and development spending is in the southern third of the country while the north-east receives only 7%. Even talk of a “northern powerhouse” cannot obscure a cut in regional aid from £3.3bn a year in the first decade of the century to around £2bn in the second.

As part of other remedy, Brown returns to his campaign to create a looser UK and returns to his idea for a Constitutional Convention to scope the issues. In addition he urges the governments of Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland to come together to argue for “a better deal” out of Article 50 and the transfer of powers including those over agriculture and the environment currently held in Brussels direct to them.

After last week’s Brexit court judgment, the regions and nations could unite and demand a better deal under article 50. Powers now held in Brussels – from decisions concerning regional policy, agriculture and fisheries, to social and environmental protection – should be repatriated not to Whitehall but to the regions and nations, giving them power over £2bn-£3bn of public spending.

So we need to engage the regions and nations in a UK–wide debate that is about much more than the terms of Brexit. For this reason, I advocate a People’s Constitutional Convention, modelled on the successful Scottish convention of 1989, which energised Scotland and built a consensus for progressive change. Such a gathering should start with everyday concerns – how to create more jobs, raise living standards and improve services – and ask what constitutional settlement can best meet our needs and aspirations.

A people’s convention could propose more power for the north and, in turn, encourage an outpouring of innovation, creativity and local decision-making in each region and nation. Such a convention could explore a more federal way for resolving the future role of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the UK.

After last week’s Brexit court judgment, the regions and nations could unite and demand a better deal under article 50. Powers now held in Brussels – from decisions concerning regional policy, agriculture and fisheries, to social and environmental protection – should be repatriated not to Whitehall but to the regions and nations, giving them power over £2bn-£3bn of public spending.

This begs the question of  whether  these  funding levels will be sustained, if the tap from the EU is turned off and a post Brexit government  imposes further cuts as a result of a smaller GDP and continuing debt repayment .  Whatever its analytical strengths, Brown’s plan for a constitutional convention – first aired and then dropped during his premiership –   is likely to prove too unwieldy to succeed, especially  if sponsored as he suggests by a distracted Labour party.  But it provides an agenda which deserves attention.

In the short  term,  the UK government have begun  consultations over Article  50 terms with the three devolved governments.  While  they were “constructive an amicable,”  no fresh light was shed on  the UK government’s negotiating strategy and the heat is unlikely to have been taken out of the subject.

 

 

 

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  • Kevin Breslin

    So it’s unwieldy not to have local solutions to local problems … how many people who voted Leave would agree with that mantra?

  • Tarlas

    Change will come, but it may be too late.

    It was interesting the weighting US states had based on population in the presidential
    election. Australia, Canada etc. also acknowledge population in their federal
    state systems. Yet I read recently on this sites that it would have taken 80%
    turnout of remain voters in Scotland, Wales and NI to overturn the Brexit referendum
    result. The Union is not working, the link below portraying savings is damning.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37504449