20 DECEMBER 1975, Page 30

A fool and his money

In praise of devolution

Bernard Hollowood

Homer said, "It looks as though Britain is cracking up."

"You mean devolution?" said Cartwright.

"Of course," said Homer. "After Scotland and Wales have achieved complete independence the rest of Britain will split up. There's nothing holding England together but the Rest team, the World Cup and similar international sporting events and there's a lot of evidence to suggest that Yorkshire, the Midlands or the South-East would do better at cricket and football than England."

"I see your point," said Carothers, "but would these separate, self-governing states be economically viable? 1 mean, what about the black spots, the areas of depression, a country like Cumbria or Cornishland, where unemployment is very high and industry is hopelessly handicapped?"

"Each country," said Homer, "would be separately represented in the EEC and would qualify for reconstruction grants. France and Germany mightn't like it, but they'd have to cough up: the combined vote of the former British states would always be the dominant factor in Common Market policy."

"I believe it's my round," said Stonier. "Eight gins-and-tonics, Elsie dear."

We were spending our pre-lunch Sunday hour at the water-hole known as the 'Cat and Compasses' and Stonier had been hanging back, backward in coming forward. His was the last of the eight rounds.

"Would these English nation states have a common policy in defence, foreign policy, transport and so on?" said Marsden.

"Doubt it," said Horner. "I'm quite sure they'd want complete independence. Not a bad thing either. Take defence. Each state would be too small to run an army or a navy or to employ sophisticated weaponry, and my guess is that they'd all go neutral, get out of NATO and disband the armed forces in their zone. They'd be defenceless, but does that matter in an age of super-giants? Yorkshire might be tempted to have a gunboat or two to protect its trawlers in Icelandic waters, but I've a feeling it would find better uses for its money."

"What about transport?" said Carothers. "Would there be frontier posts, baggage checks and the rest of the palaver? Because if so the Inter-City expresses would lose their point—" "You're forgetting that the British have already opted out of the efficiency rat-race," said Homer, "we pioneered the industrial revolution and I think we're ready now to pioneer an age of spartan leisure. There's already a revolt against assembly-line drudgery, and before long a four: or five-hour working day will be the norm in Britain."

"Then we shall be unable to pay for our imports," said Carothers. "What happens when our suppliers refuse to be fooled by our talk of import controls and just stop sending goods to a country or countries that can't possibly PO for them?" "All the countries of the British federation will be poor," said Homer. "There'll be staggering inflation and ditto unemployment' But there'll also be a back-to-the-land move' ment. Thousands toiling — for four hours a day. — to grow enough wheat, sugar, beans and soYa to feed ourselves. It can be done. Our intake of food will be halved and we shall be much healthier. Fewer coronaries, steadier blood' pressure. And because most of us will be riding bikes rather than cars we'll be altogether fibitkteer,, "Will the bikes be issued on National Health?" said Stonier, with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "Why not?" said Homer. "It would be up t° each state to decide. Mind you, not everybodY will approve of the increased leisure programmes and there'll be millions emigrating. Good riddance. We should be an infinitelY happier island if we could get the population, down to thirty millions. We'd have plenty or housing, schools, hospitals and room I° breathe. If we could get rid of twenty Milli°,1! we'd soon be almost self-sufficient in all the things that matter." "And when d'you think all this will happen?" said Carothers. "I've got great hopes for 1976," said Horner,: "Don't forget it's the bicentenary independence from America — a signifioan' date. If it hadn't been for that Boston Tea PartY and the subsequent fracas, we should noW be an offshore island of an English-speaking Union with its capital in New York, Boston or. Washington. And, heaven forbid, we should all be speaking in American accents, and drinking whiskey (with an `e') and Coca-Cola. Tell Pti what, let's drink to devolution. My round again' Eight of the same, Elsie. . . .