The knife has long been pointed at the South's throat, and if
we are not used to it by now then we ought to be.
One of the most telling effects has been in the gradual
disenfranchising in the political numbers game, with
successive realignments of electoral boundaries which reflect
population imbalance, meaning that over the next 50 years or
so we could find the South Island represented in Parliament
by half a dozen or so electorate seats along with perhaps a
handful or two from the noncombatant list.
Auckland's population growth and economic power has for so
long been touted as "good for the country", especially by
Aucklanders, that few have commented upon let alone argued
the case for objection on the grounds of the top-heavy strain
the nation has to shoulder to maintain Auckland's population
The spirit of independent regionalism has intermittently
appeared in southern provincial politics, more frequently of
late as the South's share of the state's resources have been
spread ever more thinly, but there is as yet no serious hint
of a revival of South Island political and economic
The creation of Greater Auckland and its impact may well
foment such a revival over time, for the dream of sovereignty
needs a strong motive and Auckland may provide it.
It will require geographical unity and a continuing belief in
the South's remoteness from the capital and its obsessive
concern with expanding the northern megalopolis.
MMP has delivered to small political parties an opportunity
to exert leverage quite out of proportion to their numerical
strength, and the creation of a political movement, perhaps
like the Scottish precedent, has a better chance of life
today than it ever has had in the past.
Unity and co-ordination, however, have never co-existed in
comfort in the South Island, for which we may blame
provincialism and the historical memory of independent
The English founders of Christchurch sneered at the Scots
digging in at Dunedin, and vice versa, and the flavour of
that contempt remains to this day manifesting itself not just
in sporting clashes, but also in comparisons as ridiculous as
the daily maximum temperatures.
So the urgent prospects of political unity are probably
remote, but that does not contradict the matter of whether
the South Island can find a community of political interest,
even if initially it is a matter of the regions having
continually to speak up for themselves against the
ever-growing weight and influence of the so-called "super
It is a familiar story - examples exist all over the globe.
London and Paris surged ahead of their rivals, turned
themselves into big cities and metropolises, and took on such
economic or governmental power that their way of life became
divorced from that of the country as a whole.
One needs only to view - however contemptuously - the
domination of Auckland parish pump "news" on our television
The disappearance of any national attempt to provide regional
news was as marked an acknowledgement of Auckland's economic
power as it was of its disdain for the rest of the country.
But make no mistake, the creation of a unified Greater
Auckland is the most significant governance event since the
centralisation of political control in Wellington.
The efforts by South Island mayors to unite to challenge the
presumed new power of the Tamaki isthmus is to be commended
as an essential reaction, but also one which needs a
carefully worked out agenda.
It will be a futile gesture if it merely becomes a matter of
the mouse squeaking whenever the elephant trumpets.
So far, there has been an almost complete absence of details
about what the mayoral forum hopes to achieve, let alone its
structure, funding and organisation.
From Christchurch, Bob Parker has floated the idea of
combining South Island tourism agencies and their budgets to
jointly promote the island's attractions, rather than
individual regions - an idea well worth exploring.
But why stop with tourism? A whole range of services in which
government funding is required could well be advocated in
unified form, from roading to health services, tertiary
education to air services.
It may well be that quite soon South Islanders recognise that
the broader political lesson to best counter the troublesome
effects of big-city dominance does not lie in such examples
as Scottish devolution or a South Island party, but in the
creation of a broader and more permanent political movement
which speaks for all regional and provincial city interests
throughout the island.