Guest blogger, George McManus writes:
SCOTLAND’S REFERENDUM – YORKSHIRE’S FUTURE
‘Stay with us Scotland’. The words of David Bowie delivered by his representative on earth Supermodel Kate Moss at the recent music awards had more impact on the Scottish independence debate than the interventions of 1000 politicians. ‘Why’ people have been asking, ‘should an ageing rock and roll star be even interested in the Scottish independence referendum?’ Well having spent the last 40 years trying to understand the subliminal messages of the brilliant Ziggy Stardust album, I wouldn’t dream of trying to second guess the great man. I can only conclude that we should all be interested none more so than the people of Yorkshire.
The same applies when we consider that the Silk Commission has recently reported into additional powers for the Welsh Assembly. There is every likelihood that responsibilities for the criminal justice system in Wales will move from Westminster to Cardiff. And why not? Surely the people of Wales are in a better position to decide on legal priorities, within nationally and internationally agreed parameters, than mandarins in London. People in Wales also want to ensure that more is done to protect Wales against the ravages of the weather and climate change.
Can anyone not have noticed how the whole debate on the winter weather, ignored by Whitehall when 1000 homes on the Humber were damaged by December’s storm surge, shot up the agenda when the playing fields of Eton were flooded? People are asking, ‘Why is it that Cornwall’s railways and its economy, have been severed by some bad weather when London is spending £15bn on a new Crossrail project and is pushing for High Speed 2 to be built from London to Birmingham?
Whether you’re in Wales, Scotland, Cornwall or Yorkshire it’s obvious that our political system is warped. The economy in London and the South East is booming while the rest of the country is in recession. And the situation is getting worse not better. As London’s economy grows, so more resources, human and otherwise are sucked out of the regions. Our system is broken and needs fixing.
But we’ve been here before. John Prescott’s admirable attempts at regional government in England were blocked by a Whitehall machine whose instinct is to centralise. Watered down proposals which would have created toothless talking shops overseen by overpaid politicians, the picture created for the public was of bloated administrators with their snouts in the trough. We must be clear with our vision.
All parties should now be urged to commit to democratically elected regional devolution in their manifestos for the next election.
We must make sure than we don’t make the same mistakes as in the past. History teaches us that people want better politics not more politics. I believe we should have a democratically elected assembly for Yorkshire, not Yorkshire and the Humber but Yorkshire using ancient not contemporary boundaries. Housed in York, it should be funded by block grant from Westminster and be empowered to decide its own policy priorities for economic development, education, health, transport and environment. Representation should be equal to the number of Parliamentary constituencies and based on the principle of 2 representatives for twinned constituencies to be returned on a gender balance basis ensuring minimum 50% representation of women representatives. It should be part of a root and branch re-organisation of local government, reducing the numbers of councillors but vitally giving councillors control over delivery and not just commissioning of services. Only then will we reinvigorate local government.
First step would be to establish a royal commission to look at proposals. Working with the Local Government Boundaries Commission, this should be required to report both regional and local proposals by the end of 2017. Next step would be to put its findings to a referendum of Yorkshire voters in 2019. If they vote for it then it could be up and running with elections to the new assembly to be held in 2020.
It could also be argued that the real dividing line politically in the UK is not the line which forms the Scotland/England border but that which defines the North/South divide. It’s no coincidence that the decision makers in Westminster only waken up to the problems of flooding when the South is affected. It’s time to stop complaining and to demand answers. It’s time for Yorkshire.
George McManus is a member of Beverley & Holderness Labour Party. He writes as a Scottish exile and is a member of Labour’s International Policy Commission. He is also an occasional blogger for YDM.
Stewart Arnold, Blog editor and rugby fan, writes
The decision by Leeds Carnegie rugby union club to rename itself as Yorkshire Carnegie from next season has not been without controversy. Some Leeds supporters are naturally annoyed that the name of their city has been dropped from the club name whilst other Yorkshire teams, such as Rotherham Titans, wonder how Leeds Carnegie can pretend to represent the whole of Yorkshire. Sadly this spat has somewhat hijacked the long held view of many that Yorkshire needs a top rugby union team. That doesn’t just mean a team playing for a season or two in the Aviva Premiership and scrapping to avoid relegation, but one that is consistently in the European competition, currently the Heineken Cup.
The Heineken Cup has emerged as the premier club rugby tournament over the past few years and vies with the 6 Nations Championship for outstanding rugby and has put many clubs on the map, not least the Irish provincial teams of Leinster, Munster and Ulster. These three teams have had a lot of success over the years and have engendered a sense of real pride in those provinces from their local communities. The singing of songs and the waving of flags are just part of a typical home (and indeed away) match experience. We in Yorkshire can only look on in envy as 18,000 will pack into Ravenhill, the recently extended home of Ulster, when they play in the Heineken Cup quarter final shortly. Beyond cricket, we are currently poorly served by teams representing ‘all Yorkshire’.
The glamour of the European-wide Cup is a lure for all Yorkshire teams. There is a lot of the season left before we can call the Championship but clearly Leeds is very well placed for promotion but there are up to four teams in it, including Rotherham. It could be that a team called Yorkshire is in the top division next year. What seems a long way off is that team competing in the European Cup on a consistent basis. Could it be that, in years to come though, despite its controversial birth, Yorkshire Carnegie fulfils the same totemic place in the hearts of the people of ‘God’s own county’ that supporters of Ulster and Leinster have for their provincial rugby teams as they triumph in Europe?
A pretty impressive array of devolved powers are part of the Silk Commission’s recommendations on the Welsh Assembly as reported today by the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-26407940
The Commission recommended that devolved powers should be extended to control over youth justice and policing and large-scale energy projects should also be the responsibility of the Welsh government.
Meanwhile, here in Yorkshire, we can only look on and dream…
George McManus, a sometime contributor to this blog, had an opinion piece in yesterday’s Yorkshire Post. Well done, George!:
George McManus: Why Yorkshire should watch closely as Scotland decides
People have been asking this question: “Why should an ageing rock ‘n’ roll star be even interested in the Scottish independence referendum?” Well, having spent the last 40 years trying to understand the subliminal messages of the brilliant Ziggy Stardust album, I wouldn’t dream of trying to second guess the great man.
I can only conclude that we should all be interested, none more so than the people of Yorkshire.
We may not have the right to vote in the referendum taking place in September, but we do have an interest in the outcome and, as a consequence, we should be doing all we can to influence the result.
Not only are our cultural and economic futures likely to be affected, but the political repercussions could be dramatic.
On economics, the Yorkshire economy is approximately the same size as that of Scotland.
For centuries, and long before the 1707 Act of Union which brought the UK into being, trade, economic and cultural links were commonplace between the likes of Hull and Aberdeen, York and Edinburgh.
Historically, as part of the ancient Kingdom of Northumbria, Yorkshire’s cultural and religious ties were stronger with Scotland than with the South of England.
It could also be argued that the real dividing line politically in the UK is not the line which forms the Scotland and England border but that which defines the North-South divide.
It’s no coincidence that the decision-makers in Westminster only woke up to the problems of flooding when the South was affected. Why, when 1,000 homes on the Humber were damaged by the storm surge in December, didn’t David Cameron say “money is no object”? Indeed that only happened when the playing fields of Eton were submerged.
Yorkshire also has a different political tradition to the South. Labour MPs form the bulk of those who represent this region at Westminster The same applies to the Scotland delegation. But while Yorkshire regularly votes Labour, without the presence of Scottish Labour MPs then we would be likely to see permanent Tory governments being imposed on Labour Yorkshire with all the tensions that could bring.
So the outcome of the referendum will impact on Yorkshire, whether we like it or not. And the impact on national issues could be just as dramatic. Take the area of defence. Without a unified Nato-based approach to national security, Westminster will need to look for alternative arrangements.
Where do you put the nuclear submarines and the early warning bases? And how do you pay for them if the funding stream from North Sea oil and gas is severed? It’s estimated that “Scottish” oil and gas will generate up to £500bn in the coming years. How do we fill that gap?
Take the monarchy. It was the Scottish King James who was invited to take the English throne in 1603 following the death of Elizabeth I. It could well be argued that our current monarch, with this antecedence, and coincidentally a Scottish mother, is more rightfully the Queen of Scots than the Queen of the English and the Welsh.
What if she decided to up sticks and relocate, full time, to Balmoral and Holyrood? Has anybody asked her how she feels? Has the Westminster government considered this?
Indeed, does the Westminster government have any contingencies in place in case there is a Yes vote?
We need to ask and we should be demanding answers now.
For my part, I believe voters in Scotland will vote with their hearts rather than their heads and recognise that we are better together.
I think they will listen to David Bowie rather than Alex Salmond or David Cameron, and vote no, recognising that devolution in a United Kingdom is the best solution all round.
When that time comes, I believe the people of Yorkshire will see the advantages of the Scottish arrangement and demand a Parliament for Yorkshire within the United Kingdom.
In the meantime, we should be having our say, demanding answers and doing all we can to influence the outcome.
George McManus is a member of Beverley & Holderness Labour Party. He writes as a Scottish exile and is a member of Labour’s International Policy Commission.
Richard Carter (richard@yorkshiresense) writes
Fulub Hosking, a Cornish Nationalist who has commented on many occasions over the past year, responded to a YDM post highlighting the Leader of the Lib Dems on the London Assembly supporting some form of devolution for Yorkshire, thus:
In Cornwall we are more than used to various Lib Dems announcing their support for Cornish devolution, but it is all just hot air when time comes to propose changes and then vote for them in Parliament. It is only the existence of the SNP and Plaid that have driven the agenda in there (sic) respective countries, and forced change. The YDM is a great initiative – it generates debate – but don’t expect much more than warm words until Yorkshire has its own autonomist party that hits the others where it hurts, namely in the ballot box.
This, combined with the lack of response from the political leaders (from councils to MPs) set me thinking. Are we taken a little for granted by the national parties? How can we not only get devolution on the agenda but build up a head of steam and apply pressure?
The upcoming European Parliament elections on May 22nd perhaps provide the perfect opportunity to test this on the people of Yorkshire by presenting the case for Yorkshire. This is the only place where Yorkshire votes as a region. The elections should be about who we want to represent our interests in the EU Parliament. A national party, or a party with the regions interests at heart?
So if Yorkshire was to have its own party what would it look like?
Firstly, it should have a regional focus. It should focus on influencing, supporting, and addressing issues that are relevant to the people, environment and society in our region.
Secondly, it should adopt an ‘independent-mindedness’, a great Yorkshire trait that means we should look at what works, not from an ideological standpoint. As a proud Yorkshireman, generally progressive and an independent thinker, I see no reason for being populist, or of the right. A Yorkshire party should be ready to abandon tired orthodoxies of the left and right and look for good ideas across the political spectrum. So a Yorkshire party should be in the ‘pragmatic centre’ nevertheless with progressive views on economic, social and environmental issues. Above all, however a new party should want to build a self-assured and outward-looking Yorkshire where the decisions affecting Yorkshire people are taken locally.
Thirdly, it should support the devolving of powers to the least centralised authority capable of addressing those matters effectively – within Yorkshire, the United Kingdom and Europe.
Fourthly, it should be strongly regionalist, not separatist. A Yorkshire Parliament – Yes, independence – No. The aim should be to build a stronger Yorkshire within the UK.
Yorkshire has its own sense of identity and cultural heritage. It has a rich diversity. It has a population the same as Scotland and an economy twice the size of Wales but the powers of neither. I would want to see a democratically elected, accountable assembly for Yorkshire where the county’s undoubted potential can be unleashed.
What do you think? Should this happen? Would you support it?
Twitter – richard@yorkshiresense
Writing on Lib Dem Voice website ahead of her party’s debate at York in a couple of weeks time, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats on the London Assembly, Caroline Pidgeon, has written that devolution would be good for Yorkshire.
As previously blogged here the Liberal Democrats are discussing a wide-ranging policy motion ‘Power to the People’ at their Spring Conference 7-9 March. One element of this is the party’s proposals for devolution in England; a proposal seemingly without some difference of opinion within the party. Nevertheless, Caroline Pidgeon, says unequivocally of her party’s policy paper, ”I truly believe the proposals would be good for Cornwall and London, but also Birmingham or Yorkshire, if that is what local people wanted.”
An endorsement from a senior Lib Dem leading a group in successful devolved assembly is welcome and can be added to those from across the political spectrum.
The much-anticipated speech by Jon Cruddas to the New Local Government Network took place yesterday. Jon Cruddas is the Labour MP heading up the party’s Policy Review which in turn will contribute hugely to the Manifesto for the 2015 General Election and thus gives an early indication as to what Labour’s priorities are. The full speech on ‘power, democracy and devolution’ can be found here.
It is clear that devolution is a big part of what could be on offer and Jon Cruddas makes this point early on:
We will redesign the relationship between central and local government to spread power out to our cities and regions.
Reading on, it is not entirely clear how power is to come to the regions. There is some suggestion that local authorities might see more powers but a wholesale transfer of powers does not seem to be an option. However, it is encouraging that the thinking is clearly going in a direction we can applaud and YDM will press over the coming weeks for a significant shift of power away from Westminster and Whitehall to Yorkshire to be included in the final version of Labour’s manifesto.
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrats are having a vigorous debate on the merits of Yorkshire assembly on their website.
Eyes were on his
There have a been a couple of op-ed pieces in the Yorkshire Post over the past few days (by Linda Riordan MP and Professor Jeffrey Henderson) as our friends at the Hannah Mitchell Foundation push for devolution to the ‘North’. This is, of course, not the preferred option of YDM but nevertheless we welcome the contribution to the devolution debate as the rationale for clawing powers away from London in both pieces is sound.
On another note, Calderdale Liberal Democrats have been in the media locally saying that Yorkshire should be given a regional assembly like Scotland and Wales. This is in light of the proposals to be debated by the Liberal Democrats at their Spring Conference in York in a few weeks time (as previously reported on this blog). As we reported it is not evident from the words in the motion that a directly elected assembly for Yorkshire is something which is unambiguously proposed, but YDM understands that Calderdale Liberal Democrats will be proposing an amendment to clarify this.
This all adds to the momentum for devolution in some form. What is needed now is a coherent policy which the people of Yorkshire can get behind. That is why a Yorkshire wide conversation is so key. YDM will continue to campaign for this in the coming weeks and months.
An excellent report (DecentralisationPaper – FINAL_0) by the Institute for Government on devolution has just been published. There is a great deal of interesting material here and should be required reading for any policymaker or indeed anyone with an interest in the whole devolution question . A number of particular points to pick out though:
P. 24. Devolve to appropriate units of power
power should be devolved to technically appropriate units. ‘Appropriateness’ typically relates to the policy objectives of the reform itself. For example, attempting to empower local areas to boost economic growth probably requires devolving power over economic enablers (e.g. skills funding, back-to-work programmes, transport and network infrastructure) to structures that span the functional economic geography of an area.
Also P.24 decentralise by creating a new layer of sub-national government as the vessel for decentralised powers.
Crucially, the creation of this layer should not be tied to the abolition of another, and powers should be transferred downwards from central government and its agencies, rather than upwards from existing sub-national political structures.
P.25 On ‘resistance from the public’
Implement reform before or without a vote
There have been attempts to overcome the problem of the status quo bias by giving voters experience of a reform prior to a vote. One way is to implement a limited form of the policy prior to the vote. For instance, it was originally proposed that existing local authority leaders could be converted into ‘shadow mayors’ in the run-up to the 2012 polls. A similar, but distinct way would be for a referendum to be held a period of time after the reform has been implemented.
However these methods would not deal with the problem of disengagement. Apathy or lack of information, combined with low-salience issues are likely to mean that the only people who can be relied on to turn out and vote in a referendum are those who feel strongly about it. Not only does this make the results unpredictable, it could also undermine the purpose of a referendum – to ‘lock in’ a reform through an unambiguous demonstration of public support. So another method to consider for overcoming this obstacle would be instead of offering a referendum, to simply implement reforms, albeit following principles of good policy making.
Following the news that the Liberal Democrats will be debating devolution as part of their constitutional reform motion at their Spring Conference in York, Hilary Benn is hinting that Labour will follow suit. In an interview with The Guardian today, Hilary Benn, the shadow communities secretary, wants some sort of devolution to local communities.
A final key argument for devolution, he says, is the crisis of confidence in our politics. “We are looking at how you change the relationship between central and local government and how to use public resources to the best effect at the local level.”
Benn says councils are realising that to do certain things, such as co-commissioning the work programme, they need a critical mass. “The most exciting thing for me is that the map is being redrawn as councils recognise their shared interest,” he says. “If you are going to have a transport plan for the Leeds city region, for example, then Leeds, Bradford and Kirklees need to talk to each other.
“We are saying that powers will be devolved, but you need to get yourself organised in a way to use them effectively.”
It seems to imply that Labour sees large local authorities or city regions as the way forward which is not our preferred option. However, he does say that a ‘critical mass’ is needed. Frankly Yorkshire with its 5 million people provides that critical mass.