We are NOT a Nationalist movement. We do not want nor see the benefit of separation. Rather we see Wessex as a piece of a jigsaw – with its own shape, dimension and image but contributing to a better and bigger whole.
Ever since the United Kingdom was finally formed in 1801, when the governments of Ireland and Great Britain were amalgamated, there have been calls for devolution. In the 1830s the question of Home Rule became part of the political agenda in Ireland. By 1886 the first Bill to establish this was presented but defeated in Parliament, finally passing in 1912 but implementation was delayed during the First World War. The Irish rebelled, leading in 1921 to the separation of 26 counties to form an independent Ireland and the remaining 6 forming a devolved government of Northern Ireland.
In parallel, a separate Scottish Office was created in 1885 and a Scottish Home Rule Bill was presented in 1913 but withdrawn. The National Party of Scotland (later the SNP) was launched in 1928 and campaigned initially for a devolved assembly but later for full independence. In 1979 a referendum on devolution failed but the repeat in 1997 led to the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1999. This was followed by an unsuccessful referendum on independence in 2014.
Plaid Cymru was established in 1925. By 1951 a Minister (later Secretary of State) for Wales was appointed. Wales then followed a similar path to Scotland between 1979 and 1999 when the Welsh Assembly was finally created.
The English dimension to devolution has often been raised but never resolved. A separate English Parliament within the UK would “balance” the other home nations in name only. It would represent 84% of the UK population, a recipe for repeated strife with the UK government, no matter how carefully demarcated respective responsibilities might be theoretically. England would be no more stable than Prussia within Imperial Germany or Russia within the Soviet Union. In those cases, stability was achieved only when the central state and its largest part were united under the same political control, exactly as happens with England and the UK today.
England with over 56 million people would still be the 5th most populous nation in Europe after Russia (144m), Germany (82m), France (69m) and Italy (59m). Not far behind is Spain 47m). Those 5 countries all have forms of devolved regional government; Russia – 80 autonomous republics and oblasts; Germany – 16 federal Lander; France – 18 metropolitan and overseas regions; Italy – 20 regioni autonome; Spain – 17 autonomous communities. Without a similar sub-national constitutional provision, England would be the world’s most heavily populated nation without any form of democratic devolution.
An English Parliament within the UK would do no more than devolve power from the centre to the centre, a huge waste of a unique opportunity. Even if based away from London, it would continue a longstanding and wholly unnecessary concentration of power, wealth and talent in one place, to the detriment of the vast majority. Statistics abound [examples needed] to show that London, by arguing its needs and the facilities that meet them to be ‘national’ needs and facilities, gains far more than its fair share of everything. This does not happen to anything like the same extent in those European countries with a tradition of federal or decentralised government.
Devolution in England has been discussed since at least 1879, when Gladstone stated “if we can make arrangements under which Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and portions of England, can deal with questions of local and special interest to themselves more efficiently than Parliament now can, that, I say, will be the attainment of a great national good”. Even Churchill, in 1912, recommended English Regional parliaments. The current model for English regions is based on the 1938 civil defence structure – not one designed for democratic purposes. In 1966 the Redcliffe-Maud Commission was appointed to consider the structure of local government in England and its 1969 report recommended establishing regional provinces based on the existing (modified 1938) split of England. The government accepted the recommendations but action was postponed. A new Constitutional Commission, reporting in 1973 under Lord Kilbrandon, rejected devolved regional assemblies, but a minority report backed the case for devolution, recommending 5 English regions. The government backed the main report.
After the 1997 election Labour resurrected the possibility of regional devolution. In 2004 referenda were considered for the 3 Northern regions but only held in the Northeast although without support. Central government had, however, started the process of creating City Regions beginning with a London Assembly in 2000. This has now been followed for Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Peterborough, Sheffield and Bristol.
This has created a hotchpotch of devolved administrations and none; Scotland has the most power to decide local issues, including raising taxes; Wales lags behind but seeks to close the gap; London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and other city dominated areas will now be given limited powers, with the promise of more to come; but shire counties have nothing – their citizens are now treated as 4th class within a supposed united kingdom. Even Cornwall was promised – by Labour in 2015 – its own assembly, but was fobbed off with a unitary council instead. Unlike these City authorities currently being created, which ignore the shire counties WR wants devolution for all – comprehensive and inclusive; not piecemeal and divisive.
Wessex has been a recognisable Kingdom/Region since the 7th century AD. It was Wessex that created England as a single entity. Even Eric Pickles, the Conservative Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government recognised its importance in 2012. When raising the Wessex flag at his offices to mark St Ealdhelm’s Day, he stated “Whatever one’s class, colour or creed, let’s have pride in Britain’s local and national identities. It’s right to celebrate the kingdom that paved the way for a united England: for today, (25th May) the only way is Wessex.”
Wessex has deep roots; to build a sustainable region you need firm, deep foundations, that’s what Wessex offers. When you have a real region that people feel part of, you can then begin to engage with them to get more actively involved and to create real communities. A survey in 2001 of major party candidates for the then 77 constituencies within Wessex showed that, of those who responded not one defended the artificial split between SE and SW; and over half agreed Wessex had a more distinctive and real identity.
Regional government is the norm across western Europe. Although regions exhibit a range of sizes and populations, comparisons can be drawn between regions in the different large countries, and between them and some of the smaller countries. Through trans-national institutions, such as the EU’s Committee of the Regions, they have been able to work together across borders. Various writers have expressed this idea formally as ‘the Europe of the Regions’ or, in Yann Fouéré’s phrase, the Europe of a Hundred Flags. If Europe develops in a more federal direction, regions could replace nation-states as the building blocks. Even if it does not, then European institutions provide a framework for regions to explore common interests without having, as they once did, to channel all communication through jealously suspicious national capitals. Wessex ports like Poole and Portsmouth have as much to gain from working with their equivalents in Brittany and Normandy as they do with somewhere as remote as Scotland. The Europe of the Regions does not prevent English regions working together as England, but neither does it force those down the Atlantic or North Sea coasts to view everything through an insular prism. Our founder, Alexander Thynn, saw great potential for regions in different parts of Europe to work together on common interests, ones not necessarily dependent just on proximity to the rest of a land mass. For example, a rural region like Wessex, facing transformation by a powerful metropolitan neighbour, may have much to learn from Normandy’s experience next to Paris or Brandenburg’s relationship to Berlin.
Regionalists are decentralists, so how can they support the EU? Part of the answer is that the EU is a profoundly decentralist project, defending space for Europeans to develop their own social model, one threatened by globalisation and by U.S. and Chinese dominance of the 21st century. Another part is ‘subsidiarity’, the view that nothing should be done at a wider level that can be done as well or better at a narrower level. That requires constant re-appraisal of just how close to people effective decision-making can currently reach: divide what can be divided but do not attempt to divide what cannot. A Europe of the Regions, unlike the old imperial nation-states or their fragmented local governments, combines levels big enough to cope and small enough to care.