19 Nov 2015

Devolution for Merseyside: Where's the mandate?

Tonight I was the only Wirral councillor to vote against George Osborne's devolution deal for Merseyside. My colleague's in Liverpool voted likewise. We all support real devolution but recognise the gaping democratic deficit makes this whole process fundamentally flawed and unacceptable to anyone who calls themselves a true democrat. My specific reasoning is outlined below. Needless to say my call for the people to have their say was rebuffed by Labour and the Tories, all voting together for something the public have had no say on.

Statement on devolution for Merseyside by Cllr Pat Cleary

We live in an overly centralised state. Almost everyone recognises that power is far removed from local communities.

The Green Party strongly believes that a vibrant, healthy democracy has local engagement at its core.

If we look at democratic trends in Scotland and we see an engaged population where people's views matter and their votes really count thanks to proportional voting both to local councils and the Scottish parliament.

Of course, people here see this and they feel left out. They too want their voice heard and votes that are equal across society.

To some extent, the government has twigged this and recognises it needs to do something. But, of course, this government doesn't want what has happened in Scotland to happen here. They don't want real devolution that trusts people to make their own choices for where they live.

Therefore, what we get is an imposed version of devolution where very limited powers are centralised in the hands of a remote mayor rather than a remote minister.

So, in this imposed version of devolution, who asked the people of Merseyside what to ask for?

Who is asking them them whether this Tory version of devolution is acceptable?

Who cares whether people think a metro mayor is a good idea?

In truth, our minority elected government are scared of the people. They are scared to ask them what they really want because they know they will get answers they don't want to hear.

Devolution that is not rooted in democracy will undermine our democracy. It disenfranchises our citizens and gives those who despise politicians more reasons to despise us even more.

I know there is widespread dis-satisfaction with this deal. Our council leader correctly acknowledges that it has been "rushed and politically driven".

But what is completely absent here is any mandate from the people and we don't, as a council, have to accept that.

So, let's ask them. Lets explain why this plan is or isn't worth accepting. Let's ask if they want these powers concentrated in the hands of a mayor with minimal democratic oversight.

They might say "Yes, in the circumstances, this deal really is better than nothing".

They might say "No, bad devolution is worse than no devolution".

But if we don't ask them we potentially face decades of deficit. Not of the financial kind that we hear about every day. Not even of the environmental kind that this devolution report has absolutely nothing to say about. But, rather of the democratic kind that this process is supposedly based around but clearly does not understand.

So I echo the call made by Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society who said yesterday: "It would be a huge mistake for these important decisions about local democracy to be made behind closed doors. It's vital the public in the region get a say - otherwise, these devolution plans risk floundering and becoming an unpopular mess."

Dodging the democratic deficit is neither reasonable or necessary. Legislation enabling this deal will not be passed until next year. Voting for a Mayor in 2017 is clearly not the same as asking people if they wanted one in the first place.

There is now a clear window of opportunity to seek a mandate from the public.

So my question for the leader of the council is simple. Will he do the right thing by our democracy and seek legitimacy for this process by holding a referendum in May 2016 at the same time as the local elections?

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