Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL LINFORD

WHEN on March 1, 1979 the people of Wales voted by a margin of four to one against plans to create an elected assembly, most pundits assumed that the idea of Welsh devolution was permanently dead in the water.

It was a reasonable enough assumption to make at the time, but what goes around tends to come around in the world of politics, and 18 years later, the same idea was put to the Welsh electorate again, this time resulting in a narrow 'yes' vote.

The National Assembly for Wales has since proved itself to be a highly effective political voice, enabling the mainly left-leaning principality to develop distinctively Welsh policies on such matters as education and health.

It also succeeded, in the 2006 Government of Wales Act, in winning additional powers from Westminster, in so doing demonstrating the truth of its political architect Ron Davies's famous dictum: "Devolution is a process, not an event." So, nearly a decade on from our own four to one referendum vote against a regional assembly, could the North East be about to witness a similar turnaround? So decisive was the September 2004 vote that most commentators, including myself, were doubtful that the question of North East regional devolution would ever find its way back onto the political agenda.

But the Coalition's dismantling of key political institutions such as the Government Office for the North East and development agency One NorthEast has left a perceived vacuum at the heart of the region's politics.

Now a new political party is set to be formed with the specific aim of becoming the region's answer to the Scottish and Welsh nationalists and spearheading the drive to what it calls "devolved democracy."

I should declare something of an interest here. In my last ever front-page story as this newspaper's political editor in 2004, I reported on moves to set up just such a party, with a former Labour deputy leader of Newcastle city council among those involved.

On that occasion it came to nought, but given the lack of interest shown by the mainstream parties in addressing the region's needs, it doesn't hugely surprise me that it has come back onto the horizon. …

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