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Now is the time for all those who support a Yorkshire assembly to stand up and be counted

YDM Vice Chair, Stewart Arnold writes:

All the party leaders are making the right mood music about devolution to the English regions. For that we should be grateful. However, I am concerned that this commitment comes in the aftermath of an invigorating (for people) and sobering (for Westminster politicians)debate in Scotland. An important test will be in the weeks and months to come as Cameron, Miliband and Clegg get bogged down in delivering further powers to Holyrood and as the General Election next May beckons. It is beholden on all of us to keep the pressure on.

It’s also important that any plans for devolution involves a conversation with the people of Yorkshire at an early stage. The last thing we want is a one size fits all blue print created by a bureaucrat in Whitehall. If Scotland showed us anything it is that there is a willingness of people to engage in political issues as long as they feel their voice is being heard. Yorkshire should be no different.

So if devolution is on the table what form will it take? That still is up for discussion it seems. There is an eagerness for City Regions by some whilst a Yorkshire regional is casually dismissed. YDM, whilst welcoming the conversation that we are starting to have on devolution, nevertheless has a preferred option: a democratically elected, accountable assembly for the whole of Yorkshire.

The reasons why we see Yorkshire as a whole are well rehearsed and have been expanded on his blog in the past. Yorkshire is an identifiable community with definable borders going back hundreds of years. It has an incredibly diverse landscape, history and culture. It has been the home of some of the greatest writers in the English language. Its inventions have made an impact across the world. Some of the greatest companies in Britain made their start in Yorkshire. It has a huge sporting heritage (for example, finishing 12th in the 2012 Olympics medal count). It has a population of 5 million people, the same as Scotland and broadly in the same range as the Nordic states of Finland, Denmark and Norway. It has a flag, an emblem and a civic day. In short, Yorkshire is a country in miniature.

However, despite that diversity, industriousness and sense of community, Yorkshire performs badly. Yorkshire has some of the poorest areas in Northern Europe but as the successful hosting of the Tour de France showed we have the potential to do so much more. What we need is the ability to do things for ourselves, away from the dead hand of Westminster and Whitehall, and unleash the enormous potential which exists in ‘Gods Own County’. Something needs to change. It’s not about independence but about decision making powers closer to the people just as Scotland have had.

Yorkshire is also more than the sum of its parts: cities, towns, villages and countryside. That’s why City Regions don’t do it for us. (And that’s aside from the lack of democracy and transparency which City Regions and LEPs bring).

But in establishing an assembly for Yorkshire we don’t want just a replica of out-of-touch Westminster-style politics with its tribalism and dissembling. Nor do we want the assembly to be stuffed full of party hacks. What we want is a new way of doing our politics. New progressive thinking for all Yorkshire folk. For example, we would want to bring together the talents of people across the region; people with the calibre of a Gary Verity or a Jonny Mitchell or a Jessica Ennis-Hill or the thousands of others who make Yorkshire the amazing place it is to live.

Most importantly we want this to be a conversation with the people of Yorkshire. We need to harness some of the fantastic energy that was so prevalent in the Scottish referendum debate here in Yorkshire as we set out what sort of Yorkshire we want in the 21st century.

Now is the time for all those who support a Yorkshire assembly to stand up and be counted. So (unashamedly) as part of that, we will be publishing blogs and reproducing articles which promote the idea of a Yorkshire assembly as the way forward for devolution to God’s Own. To start off that process here is the piece in today’s Hull Daily Mail by the well respected political columnist, Angus Young.


‘Scottish referendum will reignite interest in John Prescott’s regional assemblies’

By Hull Daily Mail  |  Posted: September 19, 2014


No voters celebrate after Scotland rejected independence today. The huge turnout suggests there may be more interest in local devolution as championed by John Prescott , argues Angus Young

THE biggest winner in today’s Scottish referendum on independence is democracy.

Yesterday’s turnout was an astonishing 84.5%, peaking at 91% in some areas, the biggest in any kind of UK election in living memory.

The issue of Scotland’s future has triggered a level of public debate sadly lacking in recent national or local elections.

The past couple of months have also proved an interesting contrast to the events of ten years ago when voters just south of the border were given the chance to have their say on Lord Prescott’s devolution proposals.

His idea of creating directly elected regional assemblies was road-tested in the North East where the then Labour Government believed it had the best opportunity of securing support.

Instead, it was emphatically rejected with 77.9 per cent voting against in a 49 per cent turnout.

At the time, critics of the Prescott model had a field day.

They claimed it would create toothless talking shops and, worse still, another expensive tier of government with more politicians taking their seats on yet another gravy train.

Those arguments appeared to strike a chord in the North East while the then Deputy Prime Minister’s talk of devolving decision-making powers and funding from Whitehall became lost in the noise.

The resounding “no” vote prompted the Government to shelve plans for a similar referendum in the Yorkshire and Humber region, as well as the North West.

That loss of nerve denied people here the chance to have their say on quite fundamental local governance issues.

A decade later, one of the positive subjects to emerge from the Scottish referendum campaign has been a renewed focus on what lies ahead for the English regions in the aftermath of today’s result.

In the intervening years, limited powers and funding have been transferred to the regions from Whitehall despite weighty reports from the likes of Michael Heseltine.

Most of it has gone into the democratically unaccountable hands of Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Has the time come for the Prescott plans to be taken off the shelf and given a good dusting?

Such is the antipathy across the North in general towards today’s London-centric politics that I would bet a very different result to the one in 2004 would be almost certain

James Alexander: Scots show us the case for handing power to regions


James Alexander, Leader of the City of York Council and long time supporter of Yorkshire devolution, writes in a personal capacity in today’s Yorkshire Post


James Alexander: Scots show us the case for handing power to regions

Whire Rose county: Devolving power to the regions would be fairer

White Rose county: Devolving power to the regions would be fairer

THE North of England needs an Alex Salmond, not a Boris Johnson.

Today, the people of Scotland will go to the polls to vote on whether or not they wish to become an independent state. Whatever the outcome of this referendum, Scotland will gain even more powers than it has already enjoyed since the devolution settlement post-1997. I cannot help but see that devolution to Scotland, Wales and London has been matched only by greater centralisation in the rest of England.

Shadow Secretary of State for Local Government Hilary Benn MP described England to me as the last bastion of the British Empire ruled from London. What other western country would have a Government dictating to councils about how often bins should be emptied?

Yorkshire and the Humber is one of 12 recognised UK regions of the European Union. Our region has a population comparable with Scotland and an economy double that of Wales. Our population and economy is larger than many European states. We have a region that is brimful of economic potential, with ambitious businesses employing a talented and diverse population.

There are 22 local authorities in Yorkshire and Humber: one county council, five unitary authorities, seven districts and nine metropolitan boroughs. According to the Local Government Association, the coalition Government will have cut funding to councils to run local services by 40 per cent by the end of this Parliament. The situation is unsustainable – price inflation and growth in demand for services mean that in real terms the cuts are much deeper than the Government contends. In York we collect £66m a year in council tax but we spend £77m a year gross on elderly care.

Disappointingly, we are not seeing the Government modernise and cut costs at the same pace – the Conservative Party chairman, Grant Shapps, has said that if the whole of Government had to deliver the funding reductions councils had made, the national deficit would be erased. I am really concerned that If we have localities effectively going bankrupt, it will have a negative impact on inward investment, just as it has for Detroit in the United States. This will have a disastrous effect on the fragile recovery.

Government is therefore faced with two choices: increase funding to local government or reduce the cost. There are only two ways of reducing the cost: take away from councils the legal requirement to deliver certain services, such as elderly care, or begin rationalising public services.

There can be a better approach. By this, I mean finding a way to live within a reducing budget envelope. I think the answer lies in a merger of councils and other public services.

In Yorkshire and the Humber, there are 22 council chief executives and almost 100 senior managers. There are four police forces, four fire and rescue services and a plethora of NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups. It is about time we rationalised public services into regional or sub-regional structures.

This could reduce management costs, get better value for money through commissioning and procurement, harmonise fair pay and conditions and reduce the number of politicians. More importantly, we could use the larger geography to develop a stronger economic base.

I think that this could also be the start to Yorkshire and the Humber achieving Scottish-style devolution. Devolved parliaments and assemblies have given Scotland, Wales and London an even greater voice. In London, the taxpayer spend on transport is £2,731 per head. In Yorkshire and the Humber, it is £201.

Last year the Government decided to cut this region’s European regeneration funding by 56 per cent to divert tens of millions of pounds away from the region and into Scotland and Wales. Government needs to be fair. Councils, such as the one I lead, contribute £40m extra a year in business rates to London than they receive back. Leeds contributes £60m. Why can’t the region that staged the Tour de France reduce business rates to become more competitive? Why can’t we create bonds to pay for transport infrastructure? Why can’t we decide if we would like free prescriptions? Or to have no tuition fees?

The post-1997 settlement has left a democratic deficit in England and I believe the time has come for devolution and fairer funding to Yorkshire.

The Deputy Prime Minster, Nick Clegg, has advocated directly elected “metro mayors”. Directly-elected mayors have only recently been rejected by a number of the big cities. However, if “metro mayors” were concurrent with a convergence of public services across an area with devolved fair powers and fair funding, I, for one, am open to a conversation.

The UK will never be the same again after the Scottish referendum – the devolution genie is out of the bottle.

• James Alexander is the Labour leader of City of York Council. He is writing in a personal capacity.


From today’s York Press: Scotland really does decide now


Scotland really does decide now

11:48am Wednesday 17th September 2014

By Stephen Lewis

The people of Scotland go to the polls tomorrow in an independence referendum which remains too close to call. Whatever happens, there will be huge implications for the rest of the UK. STEPHEN LEWIS canvasses opinions in York.
Ian Gillies, Scots-born Lord Mayor of York

York’s Scottish-born Lord Mayor says he will feel a mixture of sadness and anger if his countrymen do vote for independence tomorrow. “I’d feel anger that they had made that decision, and sadness that they have felt they had to make it,” he says.

Cllr Gillies may have lost his Scottish accent years ago. But he lived in the Scottish coastal town of Buckhaven in Fife for the first eight years of his life, and went to Buckhaven primary school.

“If Scotland play England at football, I would always support Scotland,” he says. “But I have two daughters born in England, and four grandchildren.” If push came to shove, and he had to choose between applying for a Scottish passport or keeping his UK one, he’d certainly choose to remain a UK citizen. But he would be deeply saddened.

He accepts that to many Scots, the Westminster government seems a long way away.

“But there is more that binds us together than keeps us apart. There’s our heritage – for more 300 years we have been integrated. We’re commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the First World War this year. My great uncle was in the Black Watch. There are so many stories about fighting side by side. We should be a nation. Why do we have to have these people driving a wedge between us?”

He has no problem with greater devolution for Scotland, he says. In fact he believes there is a case to be made for greater devolution for English regions such as Yorkshire, too. Yorkshire has a big population, and a larger land area than Wales. It makes no sense, as far as he is concerned, for politicians and mandarins in far-off London to be deciding whether money should be spent on a bypass in Wiltshire or on upgrading the A64 here. “We should have more say in how that money is spent.”

But independence for Scotland? No. There are just too many uncertainties, he says. How would Scotland defend itself? How much of the UK debt would it take on? How would it police its borders with ‘foreign’ England?

A vote for independence could split Scotland, and also potentially cause divisions with England, he worries. “We’re all part of one big country. Divided, we potentially fail.”
Martin Smith, professor of politics at the University of York

When the results of tomorrow’s historic referendum come through, Prof Smith will be surprised if the Scots have voted for independence. It may be very close, he says. “But I think the nos will win. I may be wrong.”

The polls, while they are up and down, do suggest a narrow win for the No vote – and he thinks there may be a group of undeclared No supporters: people who will vote no even though they haven’t said they will.

There are others who, when they get into the privacy of the voting station, decide voting for independence would be just too risky. “It you vote no, you know you are getting more of the same. If you vote yes… well, nobody knows what would happen.”

There is no reason why an independent Scotland shouldn’t be viable, he says – he thinks the no campaign is being dishonest when it questions whether an independent Scotland could keep the pound. The cost to the rest of the UK of denying the pound to Scotland would be just too great. “There would be all sorts of transaction costs for English business.” But, ten years from now, an independent Scotland would be very different, in ways we cannot predict.

The strength of the independence movement north of the border has caught Westminster politicians by surprise, Prof Martin says. He believes there are a number of reasons for it. The long campaign and the debate that have characterised it has got Scots people thinking about the possibility. There is also a strong anti-establishment element to the Yes campaign – and having the Conservatives in charge hasn’t helped.

There are also very real ideological differences north and south of the border. “In Scotland, the public sector and community sector are seen as legitimate,” Prof Smith says. Alex Salmond, therefore, has been able to make great play out of saying how he would defend the NHS. “The Conservatives, meanwhile, are seen to be privatising the NHS.”

Whichever way the vote goes tomorrow, he believes politics in Britain will be changed forever. Even if Scotland remains part of the union, it will have much greater powers of devolved self-determination. And inevitably there will be moves towards greater devolution in the rest of the UK.

He doesn’t think that will take the form of regional parliaments or assemblies. Instead, he believes, it will take the form of devolving greater decision-making powers to ‘city regions’ – a process which is already under way.

That will continue and become more formalised, he believes. Ultimately, as more power shifts to the regions, the brain drain to London may come to an end –which may be no bad thing.

If the yes vote wins tomorrow, meanwhile, the effect could be shattering. “In a sense, London will have failed and there will have to be a major shake-up. But whatever happens, there is going to be change.”
Stewart Arnold, an East Yorkshire businessman and academic who is Vice Chairman of the all-party Yorkshire Devolution Movement

WHICHEVER way the Scottish referendum goes tomorrow, there will be huge implications for the way the rest of the UK, and particularly England, governs itself, says Stewart Arnold.

Government in the UK is, at the moment, heavily centralised in London. Whether the Scots vote for independence, or merely some form of ‘devo max’, there will be many people south of the border looking enviously northwards and thinking ‘I might like a piece of that’, he says.

Mr Arnold, an East Yorkshire businessman and part-time lecturer at the University of Hull who chaired the Campaign for Yorkshire 2002-3, says that once the referendum is over and whichever way it goes, there will be a “desperate need for all people to sit down, get together and say ‘Right, this is what we want Yorkshire to look like in the 21st Century’”.

In fact, he says, there should be a National Constitutional Convention formed in different parts of the country to look at the most appropriate form of government for each region.

“That hasn’t happened up to now,” he says. “Instead all we have had is announcements from various party leaders that some very modest powers might be dragged out of Whitehall.”

In Yorkshire – a region with a “clear sense of identity and… a population as big as Scotland” – everyone from politicians, trade unions, business people and churches to the wider Yorkshire community should be called together for a “conversation about powers coming from London and a timetable for implementation”, he says. The aim should be to bring government closer to the people.

He would like, ultimately, to see a Yorkshire assembly with as many powers as possible: power over everything, in fact, bar defence, foreign policy and macro-economic policy.

And where should such an assembly be based? York would be the obvious place, he says. “There are no obvious buildings which could be used. But York is the place that binds the three Ridings together and it sits at the centre of the county.”
Graham Meiklejohn, a 40-year-old Scot who lives in York, works for the railway and also owns a public relations consultancy.

“Born in Dundee, raised in Edinburgh, living and working in York for the past decade, I have observed the arguments made during the Scottish independence referendum: arguments that have been passionate, heated and, in some cases, ugly,” writes Mr Meiklejohn.

“But they have lacked the substance needed to explain just exactly how an independent Scotland will run itself.

“Having read the Scottish Government’s paper on independence [Scotland’s Future] it failed to outline just exactly how this new country could be run. It makes many assumptions but the real detail of independence has not been thought through.

“A similar comparison can be made with the devolution referendum of 1979 that was rejected by voters. The case to say “Yes” wasn’t effectively made.

“The second referendum to establish a Scottish Parliament in 1997 followed active discussion on just how devolution could work, learning from the failure of the first referendum.

“At the centre of this was the Scottish Constitutional Convention that brought all parts of civic society together to discuss the practical issues of what and how, making devolution a credible choice for Scotland.

“No surprise then that almost 75 per cent of voters said “Yes” when asked in 1997 if they wanted a Parliament in Scotland.

“The difference between 1997 and now is that, with the referendum tomorrow, voters still have no clear vision over how an independent Scotland would be run or manage its affairs.

“Asking those living in Scotland to dream of a better future with no substance is not a credible alternative to hard facts to support a “Yes” vote.

“Independence? No thanks. I’m proud to be Scottish and part of the United Kingdom.

“But just as Scottish devolution wasn’t dead when it was rejected by voters in 1979 coming back again in 1997, I don’t see Scottish independence being dead if it is rejected in 2014.

“It will come back on the agenda only next time joined by wider debates across England, Wales and Northern Ireland that could result in wider devolution and a strengthened, not separated, United Kingdom.

“If so, I’d vote for that.”
Views from York…

CHARLOTTE HUTCHINSON asked people in York about the prospect of Scottish independence.

Jade McCarlie, 24, Gillygate, York

“I would feel quite sad. It’s nice having the United Kingdom together as one, there’s a sense of belonging, like we’re all in it together. A lot of businesses in York and the north deal with Scotland, so I don’t think it would have a positive impact economically.”

Chris Mein, 67, a Keele University academic who lives in the city centre

“I’d be disappointed. I’m from Scotland and I don’t think it’s wise at all. It wouldn’t directly affect York, but maybe economically it would have an impact. It wouldn’t affect the culture of York though.”

David Jarman, contact centre manager, 53, lives in central York

“I’d be very disappointed. Breaking up the United Kingdom is unnecessary. They can achieve everything that they want without independence. There are too many unknowns economically with the currency, banks and all the trade. I work in the tourist industry and there are lots of customers from Scotland coming to York. If there’s a currency exchange it will become more expensive for them to come here. It’s a worry.”

Jason May, Tennis Instructor, 29, from Heworth, York

“I think it would be pretty daft to be honest. I don’t really see the point or get why they even want it. I don’t think it would make any difference to us here in York.”

Sarah Hird, Radiographer, 49, from Holgate

“I’d be sad. I can understand why they want to, but for Britain I think that we’re all better together.”

Jen Patterson, doctor, 24, from Glasgow

“I’d be really pleased. As a country we’d prosper, we have such a strong national identity. I work in the NHS too and we don’t want it privatised. We see what’s happening in England and it’s scary. I don’t think it would impact York at all. I’d still come to York as a tourist, it would be like going anywhere else, even if there was a currency exchange.”


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Golden opportunity beckons – whatever the Scottish referendum result

Excellent article in today’s Western Morning News

Golden opportunity beckons – whatever the Scottish referendum result

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 16, 2014


Dr Joanie Willett argues that with the result of this week’s Scottish referendum on a knife-edge the time is right for a more federal Britain.Three years ago, my colleague Arianna Giovannini and I wrote a research paper for a political academic journal, looking at the Assembly campaigns in Cornwall and the North East. We were really pleased that a good journal took the piece as it felt a bit like we were looking at history when we wrote it.

In the spring of 2011, no one was talking about regional devolution anymore, which we claimed had been effectively killed off by New Labour’s reluctance to hand over any real political control.

The Scottish Independence referendum has changed all of this. For the past year at least, it feels as if we have talked about little else. The situation is: if Scotland goes, there is going to be a massive amount of hand-wringing in England, whilst Wales will get restive, start flexing its muscles, and begin talking about Independence too. In the meantime, many parts of what I will loosely call the ‘English Administrative Area’ will have yet more ammunition for their argument that British government as it is now, is far too centralised.

We all know about Cornwall’s long running campaign for a Cornish Assembly. But Cornwall is not alone in being fed up with the haemorrhage of power from the regions towards Westminster that has happened over the last 30 years. Wessex, Yorkshire, and the North East all have their own campaigns for devolution.

The problem is that for all of the talk about North/South divides, HS3, and city regions; many parts of Britain feel that their needs are not properly attended to. It is also no coincidence that whilst London is one of the richest parts of the EU, other regions – such as Cornwall – remain desperately poor, and a Eurostat report in May found that Cornwall is “poorer than parts of Poland”. That territorial inequality within the UK has reached such epic proportions tells us something about the consequences of Britain’s over-centralisation.

Part of the reason behind this is because resources, investment, and the brightest talent migrate towards London and the South East, perceiving that this is where “things are happening”. Political power becomes economic power and the provinces are presented as increasingly marginal, unimportant, backward and parochial, reproducing London’s dominance.

At the same time as county councils have seen their powers reduced to a shell of former times, decimated further by years of austerity; regions have become increasingly confident about their identities because they play an important role in ensuring that local economies are competitive in the global economy. Local products carry the brand of the region from which they originate, protecting them from copy-cat products, encouraging sales through association with the symbolisms, history and imagery of the locality within which they are made.

For example, the Cornish pasty (and I’m sure the Devon version is also very nice…) is sold world-wide, but can only be marketed as Cornish if it is made here.

This kind of thing is happening across many other parts of Britain too, and means that local identity is not just important for the people who live there, but that is useful as an economic development tool. In turn, local identities are becoming valued in ways that they never were previously.

Paradoxically, whilst many parts of Britain are increasingly comfortable and vocal in their identities, they are also becoming more and more politically marginalised.

It is no surprise therefore, that Yorkshire’s devolution campaign bases its rationale on the need for a cohesive and unified body to better represent Yorkshire’s inhabitants, and provide a stronger voice for the region.

Equally, the Cornish Assembly campaign calls for “…a greater say in how we are governed…. Setting out the right democratic priorities for Cornwall (to) provide a stronger voice for our communities in Britain, in Europe and throughout the wider world”.

These are not parochial campaigns to preserve some kind of imagined rural idyll, resistant to change and reluctant to join the 21st century. Instead, these are campaigns that are about building stronger regions within the UK, providing the space for innovation and dynamism through better representation of citizens, and enhanced visibility in the sites of power.

And regional devolution movements have never had such a good opportunity to make their case heard. Whatever the result of the Scottish referendum, Westminster politicians finally understand that Britain needs some form of decentralisation.

However, the offers on the table are rather weak and unsatisfactory. The Conservatives focus on the North/South divide, without addressing the South-East/everywhere else divide. Labour suggests “city regions”, or possibly “county regions”. But the powers on offer are minimal and do little for political decentralisation. The Liberal Democrats have recently supported “metro Mayors” which would not be limited to cities, but could also be applied to rural areas, and which essentially give more powers to local authorities. But this does not adequately address the direct relationship between regions and central government, with no opportunity for mayors to come together, deliberate, and decide on the distribution of resources on a UK-wide basis.

In a brave new world where we will see big changes in how Britain is governed whatever the result of Scotland’s vote, tinkering around the edges doesn’t go far enough. Political decentralisation is back on the agenda with a vengeance. This is a golden opportunity to discuss what a more federal Britain might look like.

Dr Joanie Willett is a lecturer in politics at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus

Huddersfield University survey shows 75.8% want devolved power to Yorkshire.

A survey by Huddersfield University presented on the BBC Politics Show yesterday showed 75.8% want devolved power to Yorkshire. It can be seen here about 53 mins in. There are several other interesting findings too not least the strong sense of ‘Yorkshireness’ which exists in God’s Own. That 75.8% incidentally is roughly in line with the recent polls in the Yorkshire Post which put support for a devolved assembly in the high 60s.

Also, views to this blog (since its inception in March 2013) passed 20,000 earlier today. Many thanks to all those who have dropped by to read and comment and especially to all those who have contributed. This month in particular has seen record views (now running at over 80 a day), perhaps not surprising given the interest the Scottish referendum is generating in the whole idea of devolution to Yorkshire. As someone has said the devolution ‘genie is out of the bottle’. It cannot be put back inside. The fight now is for devolution to take the shape of a body with maximum powers, still within the UK, that can have a positive impact on the lives of the people, the economy and the environment of Yorkshire.

Yorkshire Post: White Rose can bloom in daring new Britain

From yesterday’s Yorkshire Post: the Saturday Essay by Richard Carter, leader of Yorkshire First.

White Rose can bloom in daring new Britain

WITH less than two weeks to go before the Scottish referendum, all eyes are on Scotland. Do they want a divorce or marriage guidance?

For us at Yorkshire First we see the birth of a new nation. A nation that must address over 300 years of marriage, and build an inclusive state, where all play an active part in creating a successful next 300 years.

Whether Scotland is a part of this renewal is the only question that the Scots are currently deciding. Whatever the outcome, a New Britain is now in play. A once in 300-year opportunity to cast off the shackles of the past and a chance to finally address the over- centralising British state.

To look again at how the state engages people as citizens, not just consumers of services. To look again at how we build a United Kingdom that works for the whole country. Every part of it. Where we are all proud to celebrate our differences, with recognition that we are all part of building a New Britain. Together.

It is a sad indictment that we live in the nation with nine of the 10 poorest areas in Northern Europe. London by contrast is the richest. If the existing UK structures are working so well, why is it that London appears to be hoovering up the wealth, vitality, and energy of the regions of the UK?

We do need a strong London, but not at the expense of the regions. Indeed, in many ways, the regions are the answer to many of London’s issues. But it seems it is not seen in that way.

Following a Yes or No vote, a significant period of nation-building will be required. The Scottish vote should not be seen as an end point. It is an opportunity to build this New Britain.

The action should be seismic. The status quo cannot continue. A new, inclusive settlement that identifies clear roles and responsibilities for local, regional, and national government is required. Each should have clear budgets and identifiable taxes that clearly sit with each tier. Real accountability. Real decision-making powers. A fairer democracy.

The Scots have shown us the way. How to engage all parts of Scottish society in a conversation about their future. That same energy is now needed here.

For this to happen a “conversation” is needed to agree a New Britain, one that is stronger, more resilient and less prone to break-up. It is a time for ideas and innovations to build a future where all parts of the UK are successful – not just London. A conversation not dominated by the diktat of the UK government. A conversation that allows all parts of the UK to discuss their varying needs, strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities. Their ideas on how to address those needs.

The first task, whatever the outcome in Scotland, is to understand what kind of new nation we want to build. It will be a time for listening and a time for agreeing change that has the broadest support across the country. It is not a time for party politics.

Five million Scots should of course be represented. But so should other regions. Yorkshire has a population of five million, an economy twice that of Wales. But with the powers of neither.

How can regions such as Yorkshire be adequately represented? Our region needs to be part of the discussions. Others do too. It will be our New Britain as much as anyone else’s.

But we have no voice. Neither do other regions of England. We, like other parts of the country, have had every “strategic” body systematically stripped away since 1974. All governments since then have consistently rearranged the deckchairs, rather than fixing the hole in “Titanic” Yorkshire.

Yorkshire has 22 councils. It has one county council, covering the least populated north of the county. They have different roles, responsibilities, systems and electoral cycles. We have four police forces and city regions, local enterprise partnerships and other quangos that make decisions for us now. And get the money. But how do we influence it? Where is the public voice? Where is the voice for Yorkshire?

Yorkshire has over 1,200 councillors. Twice as many individuals as it takes to run the country. What do they do? We think they do their best. But it is not good enough. We think it is their duty to stand up for the region, to address our challenges and opportunities. But they cannot. He who pays the piper calls the tune. And that is the UK government.

Councillors are now effectively the implementers of Government policy. At the moment you might describe them as the Government’s official executioners. It is almost pointless voting. No powers? No point. That cannot continue.

Monies are now being allocated to local enterprise partnerships that are business-led. Again, where is the public’s voice? Unelected, sitting at the side of local authorities starved of funds, grateful for the crumbs from the Government’s table. Our different local enterprise partnerships are competing against each other for your funds. That cannot continue. They were, and are, our funds. The region should be accountable for them.

There is no unified voice, anywhere, except Welcome to Yorkshire. Just look at what can be achieved when the region is united, pulling together. We can perform, and beat the competition.

Imagine if we actually had the powers to act to address our challenges, opportunities and priorities. In our way. To build a stronger region within the New Britain.

Labour’s proposals for England are yet more tinkering, when much more is needed. The Tories’ U-turn on devolution is astonishing to see. When they talk about Wales or Scotland, that is. But their logic cannot stop there. The same logic applies to the regions of England.

Some marriages end in divorce, acrimony and bitterness. Some get through it and begin a new, exciting future, either together or separately. We believe now is a time of hope, an opportunity that comes around rarely. A time where we can build a New Britain that we all have a stake in.

Stronger, outward-looking, confident and able to address our 21st century challenges. A New Britain fit for the next 300 years.

The two questions are: will the people of Scotland choose to be part of it or not? Will we continue the fixation with Europe or fix our disunited kingdom?

It is time to get our own house in order. It’s time for change. Seismic change.

• Richard Carter is the leader of the Yorkshire First Party, which is calling for greater devolution for Yorkshire.

From Democratic Audit – The logical solution is federalism and English regional assemblies

As Scotland decides its future, lie back and think of England

By The Author

England is unique amongst the constituent nations of the United Kingdom in being directly governed from Whitehall and Westminster, with Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland all enjoying differing degrees of autonomy over their own affairs. Recent polling has showed that the English people are broadly in favour greater powers for England and Eunice Goes argues that the time is right for a British federalism and English regional assemblies. 

Credit: Matt Buck, CC BY SA 2.0

For many English people, the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence is a reminder of England’s Cinderella status in the United Kingdom. While Scotland and Northern Ireland enjoy a large degree of self-government, Wales has significant administrative autonomy (and is in the process of gaining a wide range of new legislative powers), England is entirely governed by Westminster and Whitehall.

But this constitutional state of affairs is no longer considered acceptable by many English who feel overlooked by Westminster politicians and short-changed by asymmetrical devolution. In particular, English voters seem to resent the fact that Scottish MPs can vote on matters that affect England whilst Scottish issues are (mostly) decided by the Holyrood parliament.

An opinion poll commissioned by the universities of Edinburgh and Cardiff revealed that 62% of English voters agree that, following a no vote, “Scottish MPs should be prevented from voting on laws that apply only in England”. This hardening of attitudes towards Scotland is hardly shocking but what came as a surprise to many is that 54% of voters supported the idea of an English parliament.

Until now the Westminster elite assumed English voters were not interested in self-government. That was a comforting thought to those who believed that the best answer to the “West Lothian question” was not to ask it.

But in reality the English were never given the chance to taste genuine self-government. Proposals for an English Parliament were never contemplated and for good reasons too. As a representative body of the largest and richest nation of the United Kingdom, an English Parliament would dwarf the devolved bodies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and would reduce Westminster to political and constitutional irrelevance.

The eight English regional assemblies proposed by the last Labour government in 2003 were an unsatisfactory solution too. Those regional assemblies had so few legislative powers that they were little more than talking shops. So it is not surprising that in 2004 voters from the Northeast of England voted no on the referendum that proposed to create what they saw as an extra layer of politicians and bureaucrats.

The 2004 referendum in the Northeast of England put an end to the debate on English devolution, but maybe it is time to revisit the idea of regional assemblies. The result of the Scottish referendum may make it a necessity. If, as the opinion polls suggest, Scottish voters reject independence, the train is already in place for Westminster to grant further fiscal powers to Holyrood. The three main parties have recently given assurances to Scotland about the scenario of “devo-max”.

And as MPs and peers return to Westminster in the coming weeks they will pen the final amendments to the Wales Bill which will grant more powers, including borrowing and taxation powers, to the Welsh Assembly. These two developments will emphasise the asymmetrical nature of devolution and will foment further English resentment towards the non-English MPs sitting in Westminster.

More importantly, the mood also changed in England. English devolution is no longer a cause defended only by fringe groups such as the English Democrats. This cause is gaining some momentum amongst English (and some Scottish) MPs. More importantly, English voters seem to be open to the idea. As Professor Michael Kenny showed in his book The Politics of English Nationhood, Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh devolution, rising mistrust towards the European Union, and the sense of economic and cultural insecurity brought by globalisation have contributed to the rise of an English national identity.

In Westminster, the three main political parties have been aware of the changing mood in England but for a variety of reasons – namely electoral considerations and a fear of stirring the wrong type of nationalism – do not know how to respond to it. The parties of the coalition seem to be in two minds about it. Having abolished the English regional development agencies in 2010 the coalition has recently promised a £6bn fund to boost development in the English regions.

The Labour Party seems less confused but it is equally timid. This spring, Labour leader Ed Miliband made proposals for devolution of fiscal powers to English cities. But they are too modest, too technocratic and do not seem to either recognise rising English national identity or to address the constitutional problems created by Scottish and Welsh devolution.

In fairness, these are not easy problems to solve. Having ruled out big bang solutions like an English parliament, piecemeal proposals such as regional representation in the House of Lords or those made by the McKay Commission leave the fundamental problem of the English question unanswered. But this does not mean that there are no other options.

As the Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael recently suggested there is a “logical conclusion” to this constitutional conundrum. That logical solution is federalism and English regional assemblies. He may well be right.

Note: This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. It represents the views of the author and not those of Democratic Audit or the LSE. Please read our comments policy before posting. 

eunicegoesEunice Goes is associate professor at Richmond University’s School of Arts, Communications and Social Sciences. She obtained her PhD in political science at LSE in 2002. Her research interests lie in political parties and ideologies.

The only way to overcome the UK’s regional imbalances is to have a massive re-organisation of local and national governance

First time YDM blogger, Wayne Chadburn, argues that the only way to overcome the UK’s regional imbalances is to have a massive re-organisation of local and national governance.

Wayne Chadburn writes:

If I was being flippant, I could suggest that if Kim Jong Il was the British Prime Minister he would feel relatively comfortable at the way power and influence is concentrated in Westminster.  The UK is one of the most centralised countries in the developed world.  Decision making at nearly every level lies in the hands of a small elite within Westminster – an elite which, more and more, seem to come from the same socio-economic background.  This would not be a major issue if each of the regions of the UK had an equal share in the economic spoils.  However, as we know, as well as being a highly centralised country, the UK is also one of the most regionally imbalanced economies in the developed world.

To try to demonstrate the regional imbalance that exists within the UK let us consider one of the measures that economists use to assess the value (and hence power and influence) of a region’s economy – gross value added (GVA).  GVA per capita gives a good indication of the value of each region’s economy.  As it is stated per capita, it accounts for differing populations in each of the UK’s regions.  In London, the GVA per capita is in excess of £37,000.  The only other region which has a figure above £20,000 is the South East which is in excess of £23,000.  Yorkshire and the Humber’s figure is only £17,500 – less than half that of London.

Is this because those in Yorkshire, the North East or South West are lazier or more inefficient than our London brethren? No!  Whilst the capital of every country should expect to lead the rest of the country economically, the degree with which our capital dominates is unprecedented.  The reason is not laziness nor is it lack of potential.  It is, to a large extent, because decision making at Westminster is focused primarily on what is best for the economy of London with the hope that trickle-down economics will ensure that regions like Yorkshire will get some of the tit-bits to fall from London’s table.  To arrest this growing inequality – without detracting from the strength of the London economy – radical and urgent action is needed so that important decisions are made not just to benefit London, but to benefit the whole UK.  The only way this can happen successfully is to allow each region the power to decide and direct its own economic strategy, building on its strengths and developing its weaknesses.

Attempts by government in the near past and present have all failed to address the crux of the problem – a transfer of power from Westminster to the regions. The last government put in place the QUANGO regional development agencies.  These were abolished by the current coalition government and in their place are smaller scale Local Enterprise Partnerships and City Regions.  Labour have said that if they return to power in 2015, they will build upon these and devolve an extra £4bn to the City Regions – but they will have no democratic mandate and will lay at the whims of changes in the future composition of Westminster.

An English parliament has been mooted by some as an answer but how would this be any different to the current status quo?  Whether they based the parliament in London, Leeds or Louth the central problem would still remain – decision making would still be based on the dominant needs of London first and the rest later.  The Lib Dems have probably come further along the road by offering ‘devolution on demand’ where a single council or councils comprising more than a million people would be able to apply to have powers devolved such as those enjoyed by the Welsh assembly.

To me as a current Lib Dem supporter, this is too weak and doesn’t go far enough.  Firstly, the threshold to this happening would be difficult to overcome – at least a two-thirds majority on each council involved.  Secondly, imagine the ridiculous situation where a city, say, has no devolved powers, but the surrounding area does.  It could lead to an even more confusing patchwork of devolved authorities and areas with centralised control.  No, we need to be far braver and more radical.

We need a massive re-organisation of local and national governance.  Regional assemblies of the kind promoted by the last Labour government are not the answer.  These were just talking shops which added an extra level of local governance with no real power exchange.  No, regional assemblies will work if they are large enough to have economic muscle but not too large that they are dominated by one area, as currently happens.  They should have real and meaningful powers – similar to those given to currently to Scotland, potentially going as far as scrapping VAT and introducing a local sales tax, levied by the region to increase each regions self sufficiency.  Clearly the devolution of many powers will cut the influence of Westminster and the number of MPs sent there should be cut accordingly, helping to pay for regional government.  Lower down, district, unitary, city, metropolitan and county councils should be abolished offering yet more financial savings.  Many of their powers would lie, along with those devolved from Westminster, with the regional assemblies.  Other more local responsibilities could be devolved down to parish and town councils.  This would produce a simpler and potentially cheaper (or at least cost neutral) governance.

Some of the most successful economies on Earth use this much more federal system – the USA, Canada and Germany to name just three – why can’t we?  The recent Grand Depart of the Tour de France showed Yorkshire in all its glory.  It also, I believe, generated a confidence in what Yorkshire can achieve which hasn’t been seen before, certainly in my lifetime.  I have always been proud to be from Yorkshire, but never before have I felt so sure that Yorkshire can do so much more for itself if it is allowed the power to do it.  I know I am not alone in this and I feel sure similar sentiments would be echoed across the UK.

Wayne Chadburn (@waynechadburn) is a Liberal Democrat member from Penistone.



Move civil servants North and more transport powers to the regions are the latest ideas on ‘devolution’ to be thrown into the hat

Two different articles relating broadly to devolution. Firstly we have Lord Haskins, Chair of the Humber LEP, who wants parts of the civil service to be moved to ‘the North’. Article is here.

Secondly, from the Yorkshire Post, IPPR North argues for giving transport powers to the regions.

Yes to both but on their own they don’t advance the case for strong regional devolution. YDM is encouraged by the engagement of various individuals and organisations in the debate but really these latest ideas have to be considered in a broader debate about what powers and functions are devolved from London. Until this happens these laudable ideas will be lost like chaff on the wind sadly.

The Guardian calls for a national constitutional convention

The Guardian recognises what many of us have thought for a long time in that whatever happens in Scotland there needs to be a rethink in the way England is governed. In their editorial on Thursday 21st August they call for a national constitutional convention. The comments (hundreds of them) which followed the online publication of this editorial can be found here and are worth a read.

The Guardian view on a parliament for England

Events in Scotland will force the English to rethink the way they are governed. It’s time for a national constitutional convention
Suggestions that the demand for an English parliament represent an English nationalist moment should
Suggestions that the demand for an English parliament represent an English nationalist moment should be handled with care. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

A parliament for England is not yet an idea whose time has come. But it may gradually be getting there. The BBC reported this week that a large new survey by Cardiff and Edinburgh universities shows 54% support in England for its own parliament, four times as many as those who disagreed. Ukip’s deputy leader was quick off the mark to welcome the finding yesterday, lending some support to those who argue that his party is in reality less a UK independence party than an English nationalist one. The English home rule issue is also causing stirrings in the Tory party, where the rightwinger John Redwood has recently called for an English parliament, while Boris Johnson has suggested fresh powers for English cities should have more priority than any further devolution to Scotland.

Suggestions that the demand for an English parliament is finally up and running or, even more, that such calls represent an English nationalist moment should be handled with care. There have been similar polling spikes on English self-government in the past but they have evaporated, though this one may not. And English feeling takes many different, and sometimes antagonistic, forms in the different regions and social classes of England, which have rarely come together as a political force in modern times. Moreover, it seems clear that these new developments are overwhelmingly a response to the current events in Scotland. More than anything else they seem to represent a wish not to be left out rather than anything more positively focused.

It should also be remembered that when English voters have been offered more devolution, which they often have in recent years, they have mostly rejected it. This happened in the north-east referendum in 2004, which was rejected by a four-to-one margin, and in the elected mayoral referendums of 2012, when nine out of 11 English cities turned the idea down. Attempts to whip up English resentment about Scottish and Welsh devolution, or even the West Lothian question, have not got far beyond the Tory thinktanks. Explicit English nationalism of any kind remains very much a fringe political phenomenon.

This time, though, may be different. The same survey by Cardiff and Edinburgh reveals a more resentful and perhaps more bloody minded feeling in England about Scottish nationalist demands. If Scotland votes yes next month, English opinion says Scots can sink or swim on their own; while if Scots vote no, there is little English appetite to continue the UK public spending settlement embodied in the Barnett formula. The UK political parties have promised a more magnanimous approach, whatever the outcome, but the issues will be out there and the rightwing London press may not hesitate to fan them.

One way or another, events in Scotland are forcing the government of England and Britain on to the future political agenda too. Whether the momentum is primarily generated by nationalist feelings or by constitutional rebalancing, or a combination of the two, is less important than the plain facts that things are moving and that decisions will be needed. Whatever the outcome in Scotland next month, the remaining nations therefore need to begin a focused conversation about the nature of the union and its democracy.

Yes or no on 18 September, British governance is going to change afterwards. England’s voice has to be defined within the new settlement, whether in an English parliament or in new rules on English matters at Westminster. And English devolution will have to be addressed too, whether through a devolved parliament, devolution to the regions, or to existing local authorities. A federal dimension in the Westminster parliament will also be on the agenda. A constitutional convention, similar to that which paved the way for Scottish devolution in the 1990s, seems a more promising forum than any other. But the thinking and talking all need to start now and to conclude within a finite time. If they don’t, the right answers could be left at the mercy of events.


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