30/04/2014

Back to the Middle Ages?


As Scotland prepares to vote for independence could this start a return to the old kingdoms of Britain?

It was recently announced that Cornish people are now officially considered a minority. This puts them on an equal status with the Scots, Welsh and Irish and obliges both government departments and other public bodies to take their views into account when making decisions. It may also be interpreted by some- not least the bevy of Cornish political groups- as a signpost on the way to devolved and quite possibly independent status at some time in the future. And if you think that’s unlikely then bear in mind that Scotland could be a totally separate country to the rest of the UK within five years. Is this the start of a return to the map of medieval Britain?


Once upon a time there was no Great Britain or even England. Instead we had a collection of kingdoms like Mercia and Wessex who would battle each other and behaved as separate countries. Though they are long gone (though sometimes reflected in county names) the country has always maintained strong regional identity. You only have to look at cities that seem to collectively dislike each other to see that, for example Manchester and Liverpool.
A number of large cities now have elected Mayors with more powers than local councils giving them increasing autonomy but some of them are now joining together with smaller towns to introduce regional councils with a view to planning ahead for the area. Then there is London which already has the economy and population of a small country. The case for the Greater London area to become an effectively independent city state has been expressed more often in recent years; in the capital some resent the idea that a proportion of the money they generate is flowing outwards to subsidise other less prosperous regions. Elsewhere some would say that not enough of this wealth is spread beyond the confines of the capital. There is also the question of the new high speed rail project and whether it will really help the regions or just suck more people into working in London?


Map of England 2040?


There is certainly an argument that regional government is more attuned to the particular needs of different economic areas. It is a familiar complaint that- never mind the EU in Brussels- even Westminster does not really understand the nuances of different areas of the country. Is the current debate about whether we should stay in the EU or not really just a manifestation of a deeper lack of trust in remote government as a concept and a feeling of disenfranchisement? If we returned to the kingdoms of the Anglo Saxons would everybody be better served? Or would it simply be an overly complex web of trade deals and agreements that nobody properly understood? Or, worse, would rivalries between kingdoms lead us into a real Game of Thrones?!
As you’ll know if you’ve ever been involved in any sort of locally based committee; whether a parish council, board of school governors or neighbourhood group certain types of people like to take charge of such things and they are often acting more out of self interest than consensus. They can end up no more representative of what people want than a distant government could be. It is harder to even quantify what people do want; it is unlikely you can keep everyone happy however much you scale down so called `big government`.
So if the trend seems to be all heading towards regionalism you can imagine that some of those kingdoms could one day make a return, at least in principle. The amount of helmet wearing and axe wielding would probably be limited but with new parents apparently reviving medieval names again perhaps it won’t be too long before the machinations of Ethelred of Wigan or Millicent of Norwich affect us all!


No comments:

Post a comment