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At last – Humberside to disappear from Royal Mail database

Excellent news as reported on the ITV Calendar News website today. It is a change YDM has long supported.

Humberside removed from Royal Mail database

Campaigners are celebrating after a long-running battle with Royal Mail to have ‘Humberside’ removed from use. The ceremonial county ceased to exist in 1996, but letters have continued to be postmarked with the term. ‘Humberside’ has been removed from Royal Mail’s address database.

Letters being posted 
Royal Mail has removed Humberside from its database Credit: Press Association

Royal Mail can confirm that the technical change required to suppress the automatic reference to North and South Humberside as a Former Postal County on PAF products supplied to customers was implemented from July as part of a pilot scheme.

This now means that no Former Postal County details will be shown for all Postcodes previously tagged with a Humberside reference.

The actual change may take a little time to filter down through address lists as its implementation is dependent upon how frequently customers and businesses update their own data.

There may still be some instances where addresses may have North or South Humberside appearing due to organisations either not updating their databases or preferring to continue to use the locality which is beyond our control.

– Royal Mail spokesperson

Devo-Meagre Measures Makes Yorkshire something something …*

First time contributor, Councillor Kevin Rodgers from Doncaster, writing in a personal capacity, wants to encourage a ‘great debate’ on Yorkshire’s future.

 

Devo-Meagre Measures Makes Yorkshire something something …*

The two year long independence referendum in Scotland and its climatic crescendo to a No vote, has led to reflections elsewhere in this United Kingdom about how we go about the business of governance. Last Friday Englishmen (and women) who were constitutionally speaking abed awoke and though themselves accursed they did not have a referendum, and held their … well, lets say they found themselves wanting in the devolution stakes**. Unless they lived in Greater London.

In Yorkshire the issue of regional governance which disappeared off the map a decade ago has come back into contention with a variety of different views on how this can be achieved. Looking back ten years ago at the debate around the proposed English regional assemblies I can recall two things – a Yorkshire MP speaking at a party event in Leeds asking members what we’d like to see the Assembly do, and a wise old councillor who rightly identified that the proposed assemblies would draw powers up from local councils rather than down from Westminster. The assemblies were then an unclear and unpalatable receipe which were roundly rejected by the North East and were buried.

A decade later and the monster turnout in the referendum in Scotland demonstrates the depth and breadth that the Yes and No campaigns achieved which reached all levels of society and engaging voters in a way in which other campaigns can only dream of. It was the very polar opposite of the very staid debate over English Regional government ten years ago – and in my view there were two key differences: to have something at stake, and to go way beyond party lines.

The gravity of the question – how Scotland would be governed for all time – created a serious proposition to be debated with competing claim and counter claim from both the Yes and No campaigns. From outside Scotland we could observe the ‘Air War’ through the national media, but what we could not easily see was the meetings in cities, towns, and villages across Scotland where the question of independence was thoroughly exercised. What drove the number of people to pile into community centres to hear the arguments was simply that there was something to gained or lost that was tangible and mattered. The debate ten years ago on Regional Assemblies never elicited a response beyond a few meetings that a very narrow audience attended. Posing a serious question is absolutely key to generating a thorough and proper debate that people will want to participate in.

The independence debate in Scotland also reached beyond party lines as political partisans had to put aside their normal rivalries to either defend or break the union. But more than this – beyond mere party lines – was the ability of the Yes and No campaigns to reach a vast variety of groups across communities, interest groups, and work places. From the board room to the shop floor of business; through public, private, third and faith sectors; all the many parts of the great machine that makes up Scottish society were reached in the great debate. The turnout in the referendum demonstrates how far beyond simple party lines the debate penetrated.

The delivery of Devo-Max following the No vote will bring the constitutional question of the Asymmetric nature of devolution in the UK into sharp focus. As the General Election approaches there is a danger that the debate descends into English Votes for English Laws versus City Region Devolution – or to be more precise the Conservative view versus the Labour view. If the debate gets stuck in that rubric I fear that further progress to a proper considered view of how power and resources are distributed in England will be limited and difficult. The breadth and depth we have observed in the independence debate in Scotland needs to happen across the counties of England. But it needs to break out of the Westminster narrative.

There are less than 200 days before the next general election and it is likely that only a general principle on English devolution will emerge in the aftermath of the promised Devo-Max legislation. If the people of Yorkshire are to begin the process of recasting the County’s relationship with Westminster it cannot be on the same limited terms as ten years ago. Instead it is up to our own civic society, at all levels, to take a leaf from the Scottish experience and to ask our own searching questions to encourage a great debate over our own future within the broader settlement in a newly united kingdom.

* apologies to Stephen King and Homer Simpson

** apologies to William Shakespeare

 

A letter in today’s Daily Telegraph – could it be put any better?

A letter in today’s Daily Telegraph – could it be put any better?

SIR – Having won more medals than most countries at the 2012 Olympic Games, and now restored to its rightful place as county cricket champions, for one region of the UK, devolution’s time has surely come.

Home rule for Yorkshire!

Mike Davison
Holywell, Huntingdonshire

Two views from the Conservative party on Yorkshire devolution

Two views from the Conservative party on Yorkshire devolution.

Firstly, an oped by Julian Smith, MP for Skipton and Ripon, aptly titled: Now it is Yorkshire’s turn to stand up for devolution.

Secondly, from Richard O’Callaghan, a Conservative activist in Leeds, who kindly agreed to us reproducing his excellent blog piece which first appeared on Conservativehome. (Sadly views not shared by too many as you will see by the subsequent comments which can be found here)

 

Richard O’Callaghan: Conservatives should embrace regional assemblies

So the Union lives to fight another day. It now falls to those of us who love our country and don’t want to see her become “one with Nineveh and Tyre” to make sure that the experience of the past few months, when Britain was on the brink of dissolution, is never repeated. Incremental reform will not be enough; only boldness will do.

Our political masters’ panicked promise of additional powers for Holyrood means that the question of a more equitable constitutional settlement for England can no longer be ducked. This is not only right in principle; it is essential for the future of the Union that England, and her mounting frustration that the West Lothian Question has so far elicited no answer, does not become a second front in the battle to breakup Britain.

The Future of England survey reveals that English attitudes towards Scotland have hardened during the course of the independence referendum campaign and we cannot take for granted that the threat to the Union will only ever come from north of the River Tweed. After all, who would have thought only a generation ago, when The Troubles were at their height, that Scotland, not Northern Ireland, would be the horse most likely to bolt from the British stable?

Without doubt, one of the chief drivers behind the ‘Yes’ vote in Scotland was disillusionment with Westminster politics. But as Bob Geldof said, speaking for the rest of Britain in Trafalgar Square:

“We’re all f**king fed up with Westminster”.

Disillusionment with the political establishment is just as acute in England (and Wales) as it is in Scotland, a fact attested by the rise in support for UKIP in all three countries. A change in the constitutional arrangements for England therefore must be seen as an opportunity not only to right a wrong in the post-devolution arrangements, but to change the way we do government and politics in this country for the better.

There are a number of responses to the English Question but the one I support – regional assemblies – is the model which traditionally, Conservatives have been most hostile towards.

First, though, let’s consider the alternatives: Whilst an all-England Parliament, as advocated by ConservativeHome, would satisfy England’s desire for an institutional expression of its national identity, it would not bring about any great change in her political culture.

Even if the new Parliament sits outside London, decisions over domestic affairs would still be taken in the same centralised way, with uniform solutions applied from Berwick to Land’s End. The same problem exists with the English-votes-for-English-laws option, favoured by the Prime Minister.

You can’t have an English legislature without an English executive; what right would a British Labour government have to make decisions if we had a majority Conservative Parliament or Grand Committee for England? This solution provides no closure to English grievances and I’d bet is simply storing up problems for the future.

Another alternative is the super-localist option, suggested by Daniel Hannan and recently, the think tank ResPublica. This regards counties and city regions as the most appropriate devolved units. My concern with this is that there simply isn’t the talent and level of political engagement to make devolved democracy at such a local level a success.

As regards the city regions proposal, it would be unfair to give devolved powers to, say, the Leeds and Manchester city regions whilst withholding them from Cumbria and North Yorkshire. Furthermore, those living in the towns around Manchester and Leeds identify themselves as Lancastrians and Yorkshiremen/-women, not as Mancunians and Loiners.

If there is a happy medium, it would seem to be found in the regions. Nine or ten provinces (a term which better suggests political entities than mere geographical areas) would each administer roughly the same number of people as the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.

Opponents of regional assemblies argue that there is no appetite for them in England. But how do they know? No one’s ever really tried to sell the idea; New Labour made a hash of it and the people haven’t been properly exposed to the arguments. One referendum in one region ten years ago hardly counts as a final rejection of the idea.

That’s not to say the standard regions we currently have are the best. In many cases they fail to reflect local identities and realities on the ground. It would make more sense, for instance, to have assemblies for Yorkshire (without North Lincolnshire), Lancashire (incorporating Merseyside and Greater Manchester), and The Borders (Cumbria, Northumberland and Co. Durham).

Perhaps we could also resurrect the historic identities of Mercia (East and West), East Anglia and Wessex (the area of southern England that’s not quite the West Country and not quite the Home Counties).

This model of English provincial government would be in the best traditions of the Tory Party: more local decision-making resulting, thanks to the end of the subsidy stream from Westminster, in financial responsibility. I also believe it would lead to a blossoming of provincial civic culture, with provincial media, currently in long-term decline, resurgent as the most important political decisions would be taken at home.

For the UK as a whole, regional assemblies would solve the problem of what to do with the House of Lords (make it a representative body for the English provinces and British Home Nations) and allow for a badly-needed slimming down of Westminster, thereby dealing with the objection to regional assemblies on the grounds that they’ll create more politicians. For the Tory Party, this model offers the prospect of a regeneration of the party in the North and Midlands, with the establishment of provincial-level party organisation which would be more representative of the country as a whole.

In making the case for Britain in recent months, unionists have made great play of the benefits to the UK of “unity in diversity”; I see no reason why England shouldn’t likewise prosper from this principle.

 

New democracy for a new Yorkshire? – a personal view from east Leeds

Ian Martin, a first time blogger from Leeds, believes that we need to quickly decide what we want and then build coalitions to demand nothing less.
New democracy for a new Yorkshire? – a personal view from east Leeds
I struggled to get to sleep on Thursday night. The adrenaline kept me awake. Could it really be that Scottish teenagers debating politics on TV had given me the kind of sleeplessness that I normally only felt the night before the bad old days of Leeds Rhinos’ ill fated trips to Wembley? Eventually I gave in and switched on the coverage of Scotland’s vote to remain part of our Union. All day my mind continued to whirr with the implications and later that day I saw some interviews with shoppers in Leeds market on the teatime TV news. They worried that our part of this island taking control of our destiny in a similar way would mean the same old politicians grabbing more powers for themselves and costing the taxpayer more. But does it have to be this way? Wasn’t the real success of the referendum debate the way in which the people of Scotland started to reclaim their part of this island from those who had let them down?

I was excited by the way in which the Scottish referendum campaign engaged people in a discussion about feelings of powerlessness and how to regain democratic control over decisions about their lives made by a centralised and seemingly unaccountable London-centric elite. In particular, it convinced me that here too we must harness that energy to build democratic consent for directly elected governance as close as possible to the people and that has reserved powers not just to control budgets allocated from a federal (UK wide) level but also to raise and spend its own revenues.

As well as opportunities however, I felt that these developments also presented dangers. From above, there is a danger that the lessons of voters engaged by new, different and grassroots approaches to democratic engagement will be missed and an approach to devolution that most suits those who already hold power will be imposed on us. At a more local level, there is a danger that this energy for change will be exploited by UKIP and far right organisations who will try to divide communities by appealing to notions of identity based on accidents of birth. My fear for Yorkshire in particular is that our strong sense of cultural identity will become exclusive in nature – to me, governance must be based on anyone who lives there and be welcoming to anyone who wants to live there and make it a success.

For these reasons I believe that we need to quickly decide in each area what we want and then build coalitions in those areas to demand nothing less. The future governance of the UK must come up from the people and not simply be a continuation of our futures, including our system of governance, being determined by a London-centric establishment that has not well served those of us outside London’s commuter belt (nor the least powerful members of society within London itself). It must be a federal system that assumes power lies with the people and decisions should always be taken at the closest possible level to the people it affects. This means neighbourhoods/parishes, cities/districts and also representatives from all the regions sitting in place of an abolished House of Lords. It also means regional governance partially funded through the abolition of county and unitary authorities and given the success of Scottish democracy, I think those elections should be by proportional representation including the enfranchisement of 16 and 17 year olds.

Two further key demands must be that:

- We develop a federal system of governance for all of the the UK at the same time, recognising that people in Mansfield and Plymouth are just as disenfranchised from power as in Northern England and Cornwall. Equally those in East Anglia and the South-East should have the opportunity to be part of a London centred region if they prefer to maintain that relationship over more locally based structures. We must avoid the trap of undermining our democracy with equivalents of the West Lothian question and the envy of those in Northern England at the ability of those just north of the border to make decisions about the costs of personal care and higher education.

- We resist all moves towards an English parliament which by its very nature would concentrate even more power over areas far from London in the hands of those who have benefited most from our London-centric establishment. We must never allow the democratic rejection of a North East Assembly with no real powers to be used as an example of how people want England wide rather than regional governance. Scotland’s electorate were engaged by questions of governance with powers, everyone else in the UK should have the right to vote on bringing similar powers closer to a geographic population of a similar size.

Based on this, I think there are three options for my own area, Leeds, and I hope that in agreeing or disagreeing with my proposals it will also encourage people to think about what might be the preferred options for their own area:

Leeds City Region – This would seem to be the option most favoured by the current government and therefore would meet the least resistance in going forward. It also seems to be about the smallest, realistic size for governance of this nature and therefore the likeliest to be able to focus on an area’s specific needs (even though tensions between Leeds and Bradford in particular would need to be balanced). As the preferred option of government however, its implementation is therefore the most likely to be controlled from the centre on terms that suit the centre and would also be primarily based on existing structures controlled by the local establishment and of questionable democratic legitimacy (such as low voter turnout and non-elected ‘partnerships’). If this option were preferred, there are also difficult questions about what happens to the rest of Yorkshire (could it be a separate region based on York? Would Sheffield also be a viable city region?) or to the rest of the North (city regions based on Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle with separate regional governments for each of the rest of Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Borders ie. Cumbria and North East?).

Yorkshire region – The Grand Depart of the Tour de France gave us an inspiring example of what can be achieved from within Yorkshire without a London lead and presented an open, positive, inclusive and internationalist vision of Yorkshire that could be embraced by a wide variety of civil society. It may not be as close to the people as a city region but there is an existing and widely felt sense of identity that could bind city and country together in a way that may not work in other existing government regions. This would clearly help in building popular support for regional governance that is demanded from below rather than imposed from above – notwithstanding the earlier concerns about an exclusive definition of Yorkshire identity. I could see both sides of why people in Grimsby and Scunthorpe would or wouldn’t want to be part of such a region. Obviously they should decide this for themselves and be welcomed if they wanted to join Yorkshire.

United North – The scale of governance uniting all three existing government regions in the North would make for a powerful body with the ability to bring about greater change than a city region or region on its own. There is clearly some sense of ‘Northern’ identity and of common interests that would make this a possibility from a popularity point of view but it would be the option most likely to lead to a new elitism distant from the people in its capital. Whilst Manchester would seem a considered choice, with Leeds putting forward its own claims, another option would be to look at the German balance of city specialisms – Manchester media and culture, Leeds legal and financial, Newcastle/Liverpool international trade and political power in Middlesbrough?

The Scottish referendum debate got me thinking about my area and how people in my area could start to make sure that more of the decisions that affect us are decided by people we elect to stay close to us, both literally and metaphorically. What do you want in your part of our island? How can we make sure that it is us and not the same tired old elites who lead the agenda? It will only happen if we make it happen.

ends.

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

preexxmain

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

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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.

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