6.3 What is the main requirement for regional government? Is it a shared identity?
If we compare the UK with other Western democracies such as Spain, Italy or Germany – all endowed with decentralised structures allowing various degrees of political autonomy for their regions – we discover that strong regional identity, as in Catalonia, the Veneto and Bavaria, is always a very important feature. However, some newly created regions such as La Rioja and Madrid in Spain also exercise devolved powers. What unites them is a common interest; the belief that regional government may generate economic prosperity and a shared awareness that devolution may improve services, deepen democracy and, in most cases, reduce their peripheral status.
For instance, the creation of Spanish political autonomous institutions has added to the dynamism of civil society, generating a sense of common regional identity where it did not previously exist, and strengthening it where it was little more than a weak idea. Devolution has contributed to the generation of regional identity by creating and promoting regional flags, anthems, folklore, cultural traditions and art. While some of these elements originate in the local cultures now integrated within the boundaries of the autonomous community, others are the product of invention. It is interesting to note that whether indigenous or invented, cultural distinctiveness both generates and strengthens the collective identities of each autonomous community. It is possible to conclude that devolution – and with it, the creation of regional institutions corresponding to autonomous communities lacking prior historical or cultural identities – is often conducive to the emergence and strengthening of separate regional identities. Nowhere more so for Spain's historical nations – Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia – where there is a clear connection between past and present experiences of autonomous institutions, law and a separate political and cultural identity that accounts for the sheer force of nationalist feelings.