“The media may have succeeded in creating Essex Man, but they would be hard pressed to resuscitate Wessex Woman.”
John Redwood MP, July 1992
If that is still the view of the Right Honourable Member for Wokingham, then Wessex Woman may wish to have a word with him. (Just visualising the power bracelets and maybe a red-and-gold cape.)
We have all come a long way in terms of breaking the mould over the past 20 years. Scotland’s decision to stay in the Union makes for yet more interesting times. A ‘Yes’ vote could have concluded the constitutional debate, for now, having lanced the boil, with the consequences for England to be picked up later. A ‘No’ vote not only ensures that it will run and run but that it will take in a lot more than Scotland. We could – if no more than potentially – end up with a solution that in total is just as radical a change as Scottish independence but with its effects spread much more widely.
The closeness of the vote should keep Westminster’s fingers off the Scottish Parliament’s powers (Tam Dalyell notwithstanding) and may lead to further powers being devolved. We cannot say for sure until we see what English MPs are willing to allow. Alex Salmond is correct to say that the focus should not be on how far ‘Yes’ fell short but on how far it has travelled. Momentum remains with the ‘Yes’ camp, with the rising generation enthusiastic about a Scottish future. Many of those nostalgic for a British past will not be around to vote next time the question is put. The promises of further devolution will surely be honoured only very reluctantly, if at all. Scotland will take note and Scotland will remember. The ‘No’ camp is already being branded as the ‘non-Yes’. There is no such word as ‘No’.
So Salmond was also right to say that ‘Yes’ failed to make its case “at this stage”. The issue now is what happens in the ‘inter-referendum’ period – however long that is – to change how politics is done in the UK. David Cameron has, quite properly, raised the West Lothian Question but it will take real political genius to answer it satisfactorily.
William Hague has been tasked with finding answers but signalled yesterday that it was “unlikely”there would be proposals for “another layer of government”. It seems he may not have fully grasped the argument yet. The key figure is not the number of layers of government but the overall cost of government. Inserting a regional tier saves money if it leads to better management of the budgets currently being spent/wasted in the region. This is what will happen once we are able to set our own priorities – which will differ from London’s – and cull the Quango State in favour of direct democratic control through a properly integrated regional government.
Our Secretary-General David Robins has been busy making this case to the region’s media. He started at just after 7:30 on Friday morning with BBC Radio Solent, joining a panel with John Denham MP. Then it was on to BBC Radio Bristol and BBC Radio Berkshire, with time out to help the Daily Echo with words and pictures for a feature. Today it was BBC Inside Out West who wanted an interview, for broadcast on Monday.
British politics in the 20th century followed a pattern. It took the Labour Party just under 40 years to get a Westminster majority. It took Plaid Cymru just over 40 years to win a seat in Parliament. We are 40 this year: will political life in Wessex begin at 40 too?