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Devolution – a serious threat across Britain

Buses in Hull bedecked with advertising for the devolution project. Photo @imagesBV/Alamy Stock Photo.

Why is it that those in the working class most in favour of the EU tend to also favour the break-up of Britain?

The enthusiasts for devolution also enjoy denigrating Britain and imagine that in doing so they are “holding power to account”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Instead, they are helping those in power who seek to weaken or dismantle any nation state that stands up to predatory transnational capitalism. The world’s multinational corporations don’t want to deal with nation states that uphold their own sovereignty.

Separation, devolution, federalism, regionalism, localism, and deregulation all aim to break up Britain in one way or another. Breaking up Britain will let multinational corporations operate more freely.

Workers need a united, independent Britain plus industrial self-reliance, wherever possible, if we are to provide for our needs. Yet politicians of all parties are doing their utmost to break up Britain, in several different ways – in England as well as Wales and Scotland.

In 2022 the government said that by 2030 every part of England that wants a devolution deal, backed up with long-term funding arrangements, will have one. But it’s not just an option – this is a key plank in the government’s misnamed Levelling Up strategy, tied to funding.

The Labour Party is equally committed to increased devolution, with calls for “double devolution” and permanent devolved self-government for Scotland and Wales. It proposes a “Take Back Control” law if elected to government, to increase the level of devolved powers throughout Britain.


Devolved local powers in England are always imposed. The last and only time people in England were asked about devolution was in a 2004 referendum. The North East of England voted 78 per cent against it for their region.

Since then national and local politicians have pushed on regardless, increasingly determined to introduce devolution in various forms. But without a clue as to how it could ever be an answer to the nation’s needs.

And since they ignore the views of the majority – on Brexit and net zero as well as devolution – people have little faith in politicians. In December, Ipsos reported that trust in politicians is at its lowest level since their annual poll began 40 years ago, with only 9 per cent of the public now trusting politicians to tell the truth.

Twenty years since the referendum, the North East is to have devolution imposed, with no vote. On 2 May there will only be an election for a mayor to lead a combined authority, along with similar elections for the East Midlands, and York plus North Yorkshire. Four more areas will be forced to follow suit next year.

Even so, some workers might be cheering these changes on for supposed local benefits. As a class we recognise that Westminster does not serve us and politicians are not to be trusted. Creating lots of mini parliaments – or mayors with presidential powers – solves nothing about the way Britain is governed. Rather, it makes things worse.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority was set up by a devolution agreement in 2015. This was the result of a deal between national (Conservative) and local (Labour) politicians. This has set the pattern for devolution in England ever since.

The combined authority in Manchester has entered a series of deals with central government leading to further devolution. As with its original creation, the people of Manchester have not been involved.

The authority is led by a directly elected mayor. Turnout in elections has so far been low, at around 30 per cent. That’s typical elsewhere too. In 2017 a Tees Valley mayor was elected on a turn-out of 21 per cent.

The leaders of the ten councils of Greater Manchester and the mayor jointly run the authority. They work through many committees, boards and panels. Such convoluted arrangements, with little clear accountability, belies the claim that devolution gives power to the people. Just as with the EU, devolution distances people from the decision-making that affects them.

Last year, Trailblazer Devolution Deals between central government and Greater Manchester and West Midlands were announced with great fanfare. The two combined authorities will now have a “single pot” budget from central government.

They will have flexibility on dividing spending between devolved services: health, transport, skills and employment, housing, economic development and, inevitably, net zero.

This does nothing to reverse decades of cuts to local council budgets which continue to devastate local services. It’s a way of managing decline.

‘The mirage of local control is used to deliberately lead workers up a blind alley…’

Back in 2015, the conceit of those involved in devising the Greater Manchester devolution deal was that local politicians would be able to make better use of reduced resources if central government had a lighter touch. That has not happened: overall resources have reduced further.

Additional tiers of government do not help towards the development of a national plan and priorities for the use of our resources. Devolution, by its nature, deliberately prevents that happening.

It has taken nearly nine years, but public transport in Greater Manchester is on the way to greater integration and regulation with the roll out of the Bee Network. This is to be welcomed but we had integration and regulation – without devolution – before Margaret Thatcher’s 1986 deregulation of bus services outside of London.

Another claim made back in 2015 was that devolution would allow the people of Greater Manchester to benefit from the integration of health care and social care. But NHS England created 42 Integrated Care Systems in 2022; it did not need mayoral authorities. Integration of health care and social care can be part of a national plan without devolution. That goes for any service.


Newly painted buses, as in Manchester, might be seen as a positive aspect of devolution. But freeports are the other side. They are to a great extent outside national laws and regulations. They show what really lies behind the breakup of Britain of which devolution is part – giving finance capital easier access to the wealth created by us, the people of Britain.

The TUC sees the risk to workers in freeports. But it does not connect that with devolution or the agenda of political parties to serve global capitalism rather than the people of Britain.

The government has created eight freeports in England, two in Scotland, and two in Wales. They are aiming for at least one in Northern Ireland and are in “discussions with stakeholders in Northern Ireland about how best to deliver the benefits associated with freeports there.” And naturally the EU is in the mix – for example we learn that Thames Freeport is “ideally located next to major population centres in Europe’s biggest consumer market”.

The mirage of devolution and local control is used to deliberately lead workers up a blind alley. It’s promoted by opportunists and those wanting to further their careers, of course. But it is also the favoured policy of politicians and others who desperately seek ways to prop up capitalism, the cause of the problem, rather than confront it. The experience of workers across the “four nations” nonsense  is that all devolution does in the end is to increase running costs, create opportunities for graft, and above all divide workers.