Skip to content

YDM blogger impressed by Yorkshire First conference

 

Wayne Chadburn from Penistone, who has contributed to the YDM blog in the past, has allowed us to reproduce his own blog piece from a couple of days ago, outlining his reasons why he is resigning from the Liberal Democrats and joining Yorkshire First over the issue of devolution to Yorkshire.

 

The post @LibDemVoice refused to publish

This morning I sent what would be my final post to LibDem Voice. It was to highlight why my brief sojourn with the Lib Dems was ending and why I was throwing my full support behind Yorkshire First.  As I expected, they refused to post it on the site.  They were good enough to tell me this.  However, I thought I would post it on here – not that it will get the readership it would have got had it got on LibDem Voice – nor possibly the plethora of negative comments. It is effectively my resignation letter from the Lib Dems.

I apologise for some repetition from my previous post.

I wrote on this site in March that I had switched from the Labour Party, which I had been a member of for more or less 27 years, to the Liberal Democrats. I did this with my eyes wide open and genuine positivity. I believed (and to some extent still do, particularly in relation to a number of the people in the party I’ve been in contact with) that the general views of the Liberal Democrats resonated with me more than the current Labour Party who I believe have become a party of micromanaging dinosaurs who secretly (or openly in the case of certain ex-shadow attorney generals) despise the mere mortals that elect them and speak mainly to the Westminster bubble.

What I have come to realise over the last few months is that, nationally at least, the Liberal Democrats aren’t much better. When joined I didn’t expect a fanfare or flowers or anything like that. I did expect maybe a membership card (or even a number!) and a general welcome to the party and maybe some contact from my local organisation. I had to contact the national party so I could ask whether my membership had been processed (the money certainly was taken from my bank account) and ask for a membership number so I could properly register on this site. I had no contact from the local party until my first post on Lib Dem Voice when I received some contact from next door Sheffield (I’d like to favourably mention in particular Joe Otten and Laura Gordon). If the Liberal Democrats want to keep a membership and rise from the current crisis maybe they need to treat their members and supporters better and actually make them feel welcome.

I can handle being ignored. I can handle maybe the local party having very little organisation because it is almost defunct. I got used to that in the Labour Party. What become the final straw for me in my short dalliance with the Lib Dems is the general disregard at the top, which treats its membership as a commodity not a partner. I attended the recent regional (Yorkshire and Humber) conference in Leeds at the beginning of November. I was particularly excited by the motion tabled by the Calder Valley PPC (who I have a great deal of time for) calling for devolution to Yorkshire – something I’m particularly passionate about if you read some of my posts on this site. This was roundly supported by the regional party. Then we hear from Mr Clegg and his persistent trumpeting of city regions. Effectively riding roughshod over his local party.

On Saturday I returned to Leeds as an interested but anxious observer at the first conference of one of Britain’s newest political parties – Yorkshire First. What I saw was ex-Lib Dems, ex-Labour, ex-Tories, even ex-UKIP members and those who have never been party members passionately talking about the future of Yorkshire and how it would fit into a more de-centralised United Kingdom. The difference being that the party leadership actually listened engaged and took on board the views aired rather than haughtily dismissing them. The atmosphere was one of welcome and openness. The views opined those of de-centralisation, social cohesion and fairness.

I now see the Lib Dems, like the other two major parties, as being a symptom of what it wrong with UK politics rather than a cure. My disillusionment in politics in general had reached its zenith shortly after the local Lib Dem conference – even in the Lib Dems there was over centralisation and micromanagement from the centre. I can understand the interest shown in UKIP by those disillusioned. However to me UKIP are a backward looking party which defines itself by what it dislikes. Yorkshire First are a party that is defining itself by what it likes and is forward looking and positive. I have therefore decided to throw my support behind them and end my brief membership of the Liberal Democrats.

In an election between the Lib Dems, Labour, Tories and UKIP I shall still be supporting the Lib Dems as given the choice they are certainly the best choice from the four. However if I am going to be honest with myself and my local community and actively support a party it has to be a party that values its members and wants to do things the right way. For me that is Yorkshire First.

I know many will say “so what” and throw the flip flopper label at me. I will take that on the chin because I believe I’ve finally found the real deal and I can already feel the disillusionment disappearing.”

 

Today is the 1,012th anniversary of the Saint Brice’s Day massacre, when King Æthelred the Unready ordered the killing of every Dane in the Kingdom of England

There are historians who follow this blog and if any can bring further light onto this event, particularly in a Yorkshire context, it would be interesting to read.

A view from Catalonia on their independence vote

As most will have noticed an informal vote on independence for Catalonia was held over the weekend which has showed more than 80% in favour. The non-binding vote went ahead after Spain’s constitutional court ruled out holding a formal referendum in the autonomous north-eastern region.

Catalan leader Artur Mas hailed the poll “a great success” that should pave the way for a formal referendum.

A Catalan independence supporter wrote to us yesterday:

 Over 2.300.000 votes. For having been an ‘illegal’ consutation defying Madrid’s prohibition it wasn’t that bad, was it? ;-) People flew many miles to vote, drove and did all they could to do it. It started with people voting in Sydney,… There are people who are still voting today.
 
It was such a touching day!, long queues, old people crying,…

This is an article from a British writer who’s been líving here for many years. I hope you like it.
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/10/catalonia-independence-referendum-example-to-world#start-of-comments

I hope you get all you want as well and the devolution is soon a fact!

Opinion: Limited Devolution may be ok for Manchester, but Yorkshire deserves better

Alisdair Calder McGregor, Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Calder Valley, has kindly allowed us to reproduce his blog piece from Lib Dem Voice. He writes that limited devolution might work for Manchester but Yorkshire deserves better. His view is somewhat at odds with those of his party leader but we welcome them as a very laudable contribution to the devolution debate. Talking of which don’t forget to watch BBC Look North’s Special on BBC1 at 22.35  More Power for Yorkshire? Tim Iredale asks if people in Yorkshire should have more say about the key decisions that affect their lives. The attractiveness of a Yorkshire assembly is given a good airing I understand.

 

Opinion: Limited Devolution may be ok for Manchester, but Yorkshire deserves better

The news that George Osborne is offering further powers to Manchester (if – and only if – they turn their backs on the democratic will of the people and implement an elected Mayor in spite of Manchester voting “No” to having one) has been enthusiastically accepted by the Manchester Labour Party, because, as with all local Labour parties, they very much prefer a government that cannot be scrutinized and wields power in secret, unaccountable meetings.

Yorkshire deserves far better than this Tory & Labour stitch-up of an end-run around democracy and accountability.

At the Yorkshire & Humber Regional Conference this past weekend, our outright opposition to the “city region” model for Yorkshire was made quite plain. The conference passed the motion outlined at the bottom of this post, calling for a radical devolution of power to Yorkshire as a region.

As is quite clear from this motion, the Liberal Democrats in Yorkshire & Humber do not want, and will reject, any attempt to further carve up Yorkshire to Tory & Labour gerrymandered specifications.

We will reject any form of devolution that increases the unaccountable city regions, which merely centralize power away from the town, parish & community councils that form people’s real attachment to government in Yorkshire.

If you want devolution to work, it has to be done by consent of the people, and people will not accept rule by Leeds. I lived for 7 years in Bradford – try going there and telling people they are going to be part of Leeds City Region – and then start running!

There is no reason to delay devolution in Yorkshire. We want a Yorkshire Parliament, we want it elected by STV, we want equivalent powers to Scotland, and we want it now.

The motion from last weekend’s Yorkshire and Humber Liberal Democrat regional conference reads:

Conference Notes that:
1. Spring 2014 Liberal Democrat Federal Party Conference in York passed Policy Paper 117 “Power to the People”, which included proposals for regional devolution
2. The Liberal Democrats and their precursor parties have a long-standing commitment to democracy and devolution
3. The current City Regions and combined authorities lack democratic legitimacy and accountability
4. Research by the University of Huddersfield indicates that 75% of Yorkshire residents are in favour of Yorkshire regional devolution
5. The population and GDP of Yorkshire is roughly equivalent to that of Scotland

Furthermore, Conference believes that:
i. Yorkshire forms a single recognisable region, with a common culture, dialect, and identity which is one of the strongest in the UK
ii. Power is best exercised by those directly elected by and accountable to the people, and at the closest possible level to the people

Therefore, Conference calls for:
A. Regional Devolution for Yorkshire, consisting of a single directly elected parliament
B. Election to the Yorkshire Parliament to be by STV in multi-member constituencies
C. Powers devolved to Yorkshire to be equivalent to those devolved to the Scottish Parliament
D. A corresponding reduction to the size of the federal parliament of the UK in Westminster once devolution is complete
E. The powers and funding of regional and sub-regional Quangos to be subsumed into the Yorkshire Parliament
F. Abolition of the offices of Police and Crime Commissioners for the Yorkshire Police forces, with the powers to be subsumed into the Yorkshire Parliament

Conference further calls for:
a. The Yorkshire Parliament to be responsible for conducting the consequential reorganisation of local government within Yorkshire, towards a single tier of primary authorities
b. Town & Parish Councils to be retained and strengthened, and unparished areas encouraged to form Town, Parish and Community Councils
c. A presumption that as much power as possible shall be devolved to these authorities

* Alisdair Calder McGregor is the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Calder Valley.

Musings on Elected Mayors for ‘Northern Powerhouses’

Many thanks to One Yorkshire Voice for allowing us to repost her blog piece outlining why she thinks power should not be concentrated in Yorkshire’s large cities.

November 4, 2014

Musings on Elected Mayors for ‘Northern Powerhouses’

Ever get the feeling politicians aren’t listening? Sorry, sorry, stupid question. This post could last forever if I go into detail on every single thing. My main criticism today is this plan for an elected mayor of Greater Manchester which emerged yesterday.

Two years ago, Manchester and many other cities around the country (Wakefield included) said no to an elected mayor in referendums. Only Bristol wanted one and I’m not sure how that’s worked out for them. Nevertheless, yesterday George Osborne announced that Greater Manchester would have an elected mayor, probably from 2017 onwards. Admittedly, it’s a slightly different proposal than the one previously offered but it’s still an elected mayor and the people of the Manchester area seem to be getting no choice in the matter.

The fact that the leaders of the ten councils affected have agreed to the proposals is worrying in itself. In my experience, politicians only vote for something which is good for politicians (side note: all the council leaders in this area seem to be white men) and I hear dissent is already coming from areas like Trafford.

For me, I suppose, it’s about the concentration of power and the guzzling up of resources. If – as seems likely if Greater Manchester is deemed a success – the experiment was replicated in other areas of the North, there is no prize for guessing what would happen. Power concentrates into one single area. Wakefield already suffers from this with the number of West Yorkshire initiatives centred on Leeds. A ‘Greater Leeds’ area would inevitably take in Wakefield. Not only are we their closest neighbour but as far as transport links etc go, we are fundamental to any success in terms of joined-up policy. Now, personally, I’m sick of being lumped in with Leeds. Wakefield is on its way to thriving again (despite the best efforts of our council to hamper such progress) and I don’t want us to become an outpost of a ‘Northern powerhouse’. Every city and town in the North should be considered its own powerhouse.

So I dislike the prospect of linking areas together with little regard for their individuality. However, I do favour more regional devolution based on assemblies rather than the concentration of power in one person in one area. Only this way can cities like Wakefield get decent representation alongside their more statuesque neighbours (as an aside I DO NOT agree with Labour’s regional senate proposals but that’s an argument for another day).

On the one hand, I appreciate the government finally recognising that the North needs to be seen as something other than ‘not the South East’. On the other, these decisions are so important that I don’t want George Osborne agreeing to them with a bunch of white, mostly middle-aged men, who I suspect don’t have the best interests of their areas at heart.

Excellent post from our friends at the Wessx Regionalists

Wessex Regionalists

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Reasons to be Regional

Two common objections to regionalism are that another tier of government means more politicians and more cost. It needn’t in fact mean either.

First though, let’s be a bit more broad-minded. We need government to be more effective and efficient – but to achieve that you need to invest, politically in the right people and financially in the right resources.

More politicians aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Fewer politicians mean fewer ways to scrutinise government and hold it to account. Over the past 50 years we have seen repeated cuts in the number of local councillors, in the range of services they oversee and in the power that ordinary, backbench councillors have to make decisions. So, to sum up, we have less democracy. We have less ability as voters to influence what public money is spent on.

More cost isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Cost is not the same thing as waste. If we want better services, or even services no worse than those we have now, then they have to be paid for. But a system of government that pretends it can reduce costs by centralising decisions is missing something. It is missing the fact that centralised solutions tend to be standardised solutions that might not be what we need or want. They will be shaped by what the centre thinks we should have, and the centre’s thought in turn will be shaped by lobbies whose outlook we may not share.

Back to the devolution debate. Politicians are looking for easy answers, by empowering existing local councils, or at worst setting up joint authorities, or maybe sweeping up all the powers into the hands of a metro-mayoral Caesar that bankers can trust to do the right thing. But localism, as we have learnt, is a lie. Localities are only being empowered to make the decisions that the centre would have made anyway if it had had direct control. And even in theory, there are practical limits to localism because big, strategic decisions are beyond the capacity of a fragmented local government system. Councils aren’t going to get powers to re-shape the NHS or the railways. They aren’t going to be able to make laws or set income tax rates. Is the devolution debate in England a sham, just like localism?

Of course it is, if a new tier of government is ruled out on ideological grounds. Had that been the starting point, the Scottish Parliament and the London, Northern Ireland and Welsh Assemblies could never have been created. The number that matters isn’t the number of tiers. It’s the overall cost of government – and the extent to which government is seen to deliver what it promises.

Will regionalism mean more politicians? That, ultimately, is a political choice. One way forward is to argue that if two-thirds of decisions are moved out of Westminster into regional hands, you then cut the number of MPs by two-thirds to match. Since most Assembly Members would live within commuting distance of the assembly venue, there’d be none of the nonsense of flipped second homes in London necessitated by having a constituency hundreds of miles away. (In a smaller House of Commons, everyone would get a place to sit down if they turned up for a popular debate, which isn’t possible today.)

So on to cost. A regional assembly will cost more, won’t it? Here are five reasons why not. It comes down to political will. A Wessex assembly is likely to be run by politicians with enough sense not to impose unnecessary burdens on the electorate and so the savings below are savings they are likely to make. They are savings that an assembly government led by the Wessex Regionalist Party would certainly prioritise.

  1. Moving government out of London cuts costs

That’s why much of the back office work is already done in places like Wales or Northumbria. Labour and property costs are lower there and there is very limited need to travel back and forth to London. But devolution means the top jobs have to move out too. Some of the mandarins who currently advise Ministers in Whitehall will instead be advising a Wessex government. These are jobs that command big salaries. That spending power is then put into the Wessex economy, not the London economy. It’s also worth noting that savings aren’t confined to the political sphere – the media would also have to become less London-obsessed and there would be a bigger role for the regional newsrooms and production centres busy following debates in the regional assemblies. Lobbyists too would need to decentralise.

  1. Integrating the region manages costs better

Regional administration already exists. What is missing is regional government. Most government employees do not work in London. The work of government is carried on in the regions through a tangle of quangos and local offices, all of which could be rationalised as part of an integrated regional government. Something similar happened in local government in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the various Improvement Commissioners, School Boards, Boards of Guardians and the like were replaced by unified councils levying a unified rate. Integration saves money. The Welsh Government has merged three of its environmental quangos into one and delegated some of its own powers to it in order to save £158 million over the first ten years. That’s money that can then be spent on services or used to reduce taxation.

It’s often said that an assembly will need an expensive new headquarters. That’s not how public sector property works. The stock of public buildings turns over constantly as older buildings are replaced by new ones with lower running costs. Eventually, the same money will be spent on new buildings by the UK as by a Wessex assembly.

Meanwhile, Wessex civil servants will go on working in the same places that they worked as UK civil servants. Assembly meetings can be rotated around our leading cities if that’s seen as a way to prevent any one of them fancying itself as a new London. Winchester is our historic capital, Bristol is our largest city, Bath already has its Assembly Rooms. But if we’re serious about a new, decentralised approach to government then we need to re-think the whole idea of a capital city. Along the lines of a network that allows all areas to have a share in the work of governing Wessex. That means departments locating where their main customers are, or the geographical focus of their work. It means politicians being willing to travel and able to see things not just from their own constituents’ point of view.

This isn’t revolutionary. Germany and the Netherlands are two examples of countries where the work of government is shared out. Germany’s Constitutional Court is in Karlsruhe, not Berlin – deliberately distanced from the other institutions of government. The Dutch capital is Amsterdam but the seat of government is The Hague; the broadcasting centre is Hilversum.

  1. A democratic region delivers better value for money

The point of devolution is the power to do things differently. Not only does regional administration already exist, so too does a regional budget, even if it’s currently split between numerous government departments. A Wessex assembly can see to it that the money is used wisely, setting its own priorities, which may well differ from those handed down from Whitehall. With law-making powers too, an assembly can really tailor services to what its area needs.

  1. A strong region can defend its budget

When Michael Gove was Education Secretary, he dreamt up a plan to fund every school in England directly from Whitehall, cutting out local education authorities. The bargaining power of a single LEA against the might of Whitehall is limited. The bargaining power of a single headteacher is non-existent. Regions big enough to stand up to Whitehall bullying will get that money out of London. They will have the resources to commission their own research to challenge official figures and to brief the media with it. It will no longer be a one-sided dialogue. Regions with taxation powers will be guaranteed a degree of financial freedom from Treasury interference.

Local government services have borne the brunt of austerity, while the UK State protects its own. The Welsh Assembly too has seen its finances cut but within its budget it has found the money to increase local government spending by 3%, at a time when English local government is looking to cut spending by 7%. Applying the Welsh model to Wessex and other English regions could create a coalition of opposition to the City-driven priorities of the London regime.

  1. A region understands its businesses better

Far from being a burden on the region’s businesses, a Wessex assembly would be in a strong position to help them succeed. Its powers would include education and training, transport, housing, planning, economic development, tourism and the arts, agriculture, forestry and fisheries. It would be well placed to take on new responsibilities that may emerge at the regional scale, such as oversight of infrastructure and public utilities. The more powers that are devolved, the more incentive the region has to make a success of them because the more that success will be reflected in the assembly’s own rising revenues.

Businesses that have a hard time convincing BIS or the banks in London can expect a different reception in Wessex, especially if they can show how their plans fit with specifically regional aspirations. A Wessex assembly will be one part of a wider expression of the Wessex ‘brand’, with tourism in particular benefiting from a more coherent narrative but with related industries like food & drink and music also potential beneficiaries.

There are many reasons to be regional, but doom and gloom are not among them. The small scale, territorial integration and flexibility of action that come with being a region are precisely what’s needed to respond to the challenges of the 21st century.

Devolution and Decentralisation: A student view from York

Richard Crawshaw is a second year Social and Political Sciences student at the University of York and Vice Chair of York Student Think Tank. He says:
“We recently held of policy lab looking at what was next for the rest of the UK following the Scottish Referendum. The policy lab had some interesting conclusions, which I’ve written up into a blog post about the discussion and some thoughts on devolution from our Think Tank.”
We are delighted to reproduce the findings below.

Devolution and Decentralisation: A student view from York

Last Thursday amidst the hustle and bustle of the first week of teaching at the University of York, I presented a policy lab to the York Student Think Tank entitled The Scottish referendum: Where do we go from here? Despite being held on a dreary October evening, there was an impressive turnout which included a wide range of students from postgraduates to fresh faced first years, from locals to southerners and even international students. This crowd, which took me by surprise, suggests an increasing and wide level of interest in the topic, an interest not limited to the northern regions of the UK.

The York Student Think Tank use the concept of a policy lab. A policy lab is an open event which usually consisting of a 10-15 minute introductory presentation on the subject at hand which then breaks off into groups to discuss and debate the key questions and issues. We favour this format for our weekly events as it allows for the inclusion of a wide range of people, including not only people who are already interested and knowledgeable on a subject, but also those who would like to know more. This basic format is all about making our policy process as inclusive as possible.

As the event went on and discussion began, the groups covered a wide range of issues. Is the UK over centralised? Is devolution and decentralisation inevitable? Is devolution a slippery slope to separation? Can we heal the north south economic divide without some form of devolution or decentralisation? One proposal suggested extending cultural investment in the North, investing in northern theatre and arts in order to stimulate growth throughout those sectors. The general mood erred away from the breakup of the union and towards a breakdown of the concentration of power in Westminster. Many suggestions revolved around giving regions control over their own budgets, un-interfered by central government, to spend how they saw fit on what their regions needed most.

Not everyone supported more decentralisation, pointing out that breaking down layers of government could become costly, complex and a maze of bureaucracy and red tape. A warning perhaps that any move to introduce a new layer of government must be carefully considered, not a rushed proposal of half thought out ideas, it must not simply draw power up to the regions but simultaneously draw power down from central government. Another danger highlighted was the idea that devolution and decentralisation would not appease regional movements, which would then begin to move towards separation. That said, if we look towards our European neighbours, we see countries like Germany with strong regional governments are not facing calls for separation.

Rarely is a consensus on a solution to any issue is reached in a concise manner, but that’s not exactly the point of a policy lab. The point is rather to allow students to realise that they can, if they choose have a say in the policy making process and we aim to inspire students to have their say. I believe the policy lab as a concept is something we need more of in the policy process, open to all, accessible policy making from the bottom up. In terms of the great decentralisation and devolution debate, involving ordinary citizens is needed even more. A constitutional convention should be convened open to all and if it takes 10 years, it takes 10 years. What is most important is to make sure any future settlement on devolution is owned by the people and not a quick fix for politicians.

Our policy lab ended typically without any grand consensus on the solutions to the issues we face today, which was much to be expected. However one stark discovery was made. After extended discussion we realised that no one in the room believed that the status quo was sustainable. We broadly agreed that at some point something would have to change. For me this highlights the problems of the state we are in, people are beginning to lose faith in the current structure of our political system and are uncertain and divided on the solution, but none the less people are searching for alternatives. This should serve as a warning to our political class.

The devolution question can only be solved by the people in the regions, not by politicians or political parties, who many feel have already mistreated and neglected large sections of the country. The growing rift between ordinary people and the political establishment can only be healed by politicians seceding power, giving citizens a stake in their communities handing control over budgets and key sectors to the regions. The failure to respond to the growing calls for decentralisation could set some of the most neglected regions on the path to separation. As regional political parties strengthen their movements and more evidence emerges of the a reinforcement of regional identities, the major parties risk losing entire regions of the country to regional parties in the long run.

John Prescott: It’s time to have a Devolution Revolution

The sentiment is to be applauded and it’s good to see John Prescott get a new lease of life in his aim of regional devolution. From The Mirror on Saturday. Full article piece below:

 

 

Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott says regions in the north should have the same powers as Scotland

Ten years have passed since the North East turned down the chance to have its own elected regional assembly.

But as Scotland has shown, people are now more passionate about power and resources being taken out of the hands of the Westminster elite and moved closer to home.

The Scots may have rejected full independence but they only did so because they were offered more control of their affairs.

And as Westminster prepares to honour that “vow” of more devolution north of the border, it’s vital we get the same south of it.

The Tories believe the answer is City Regions like Greater Manchester and Liverpool, with more money and resources to deliver growth and stronger local government.

But for growth to spread across a region, you shouldn’t concentrate it in big cities that compete against each other for jobs and investment.

Councils need to work together not against each other, especially when it comes to strategic planning and improving transport.

My regional assemblies, with appointed local councillors, and Regional ­Development Agencies did a great job of developing these ­strategies, which I called the Northern Way. My vision was to see a corridor of towns and cities across the M62 with better transport links that shared growth and prosperity more evenly.

George Osborne scrapped the Northern Way, realised he’d made a mistake and tried to bring the concept back as the “Northern Powerhouse”. But he thinks they can be powered by City Regions like Manchester and Liverpool. That might help cities but what about towns and rural areas?

We need to think bigger and fairer. The North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber have 15 million people – three times as many as Scotland – with an economy worth more than £200billion a year.

If you travel by train the 126 miles from Liverpool to Hull it would take two and a half hours.

The same distance from London to Newark can take just 75 minutes.

So let’s have a body that sees all three areas working together as a super region – the North – on economic development, housing and transport. The other super regions would be the Midlands, the South West and London with the South East.

David Cameron’s answer is to have English laws for English MPs. But that would not only create second class members, it would also be the first step to an English Parliament, which would be even more Westminster focused.

The problem of the West Lothian Question – ­Scottish MPs voting on English matters – could be solved by giving regions control over the same areas of policy as Wales and ­Scotland. Gordon Brown, whose powerful campaign saved the Union, made an equally powerful speech this week saying just that. He said giving regions the same powers as Scotland would create a fairer, more equal Union.

It makes sense to let the regions keep more of their share of the tax take, have more control over their land for house-building, distribute benefits and have a greater say over transport – even rail franchises.

So the timetable and legislation for Scottish devolution must include a commitment to reform and empower the English regions too.

I believe that if the people of the North East were given the kind of powers and resources Scotland is getting, they would grab them with both hands.

So let’s start a debate about how and where we want our regional money spent. By central Government in a ­Westminster bubble, with money given to preferred areas to buy votes? Or closer to home so we can all have a greater say and share in the growth and ­prosperity?

It’s time to have a ­Devolution ­Revolution.

YDM’s submission to the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in Parliament is holding an inquiry looking at the future of devolution in the United Kingdom, in the light of the Scottish referendum result.  Among the questions the Committee will be considering are how devolution should be taken forward in Scotland, and whether England, Wales and Northern Ireland should be offered the level of devolution that has been discussed in relation to Scotland. Nigel Sollitt, Chair of YDM, has made the submission below.

Deadline for written submissions is Thursday 23 October 2014

Devolution, But Which Devolution?

Submission to the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee

Regarding:

The Future of Devolution after the referendum.

Written by Nigel Sollitt, Chair, Yorkshire Devolution Movement

Introduction:

The referendum on Scottish independence has put beyond doubt that these isles are discontent with the current system of centralism under Westminster and Whitehall. The degree to which that discontent is felt is demonstrated by the fact that, despite Scotland already having devolved powers to a greater extent than any other part of the UK, independence was only averted by the way just over 5% of voters voted.

Had it not been for the late promise from London of more far reaching powers if Scotland remained in the Union, that small percentage of voters may well have voted the other way and the Union be heading for dissolution. Since that promise was made, the call for greater devolved powers has been echoed by Wales and Northern Ireland who, like Scotland, have also enjoyed devolution since 1999.

But what of England?

Democratic Imbalance:

Surely no right-minded person would dispute that the United Kingdom should be a union of equals and that that must include democratic equality? Yet, the UK is void of such equality and has been for the past fifteen years! Of the four Government Regions of the UK to enjoy devolution, Scotland has more decision making powers than any whilst N Ireland and Wales have more than London which, in turn, is the only Government Region of England to be devolved at all. England is the only one of the four home nations to be without devolved power and of the twelve Government Regions of the UK, all eight without devolution are in England!

Far from democratic equality, this demonstrates a UK with four tier devolution ranging from no devolution to something approaching devo-max. For the UK to be a union of equals all its citizens must enjoy equal opportunity, not only to devolved power but to similar degrees of devolved power. As things stand, the imbalance is such that whereas all other nations and Government Regions of the UK can make representations on this matter through their respective devolved seats of power, England and all but one Government Region of England have no devolved seat of power to do even that.   These imbalances must be corrected!

Correcting the Imbalances:

A starting point in correcting the imbalances is to look at the parts of the UK that already are devolved and identify which empowers and represents people most. Once that has been identified, UK-wide democratic equality could be achieved either by replicating it throughout the UK or by scrapping it where it currently exists and replacing it with something else throughout the UK.

With the current public demand for greater devolution of powers, any government proposing to replace existing devolution with something offering less would be a government committing political suicide. The only realistic choice therefore is to offer to the whole UK either the best powers and representation that currently exists or something that offers even greater powers and representation. To do neither would allow the democratic inequality within the UK to remain unresolved and the disharmony that that causes among the British people to continue!

As already mentioned, of the four devolved seats of power that exist within the UK, the Scottish Parliament enjoys by far the greatest degree of powers. Being a directly elected parliament, the model in Scotland gives transparency and accountability. Its MPs are chosen by the people to represent them in an open arena rather than to make decisions behind closed doors. As the people of Scotland identify themselves as ‘Scottish’, the ‘Scottish’ Parliament also represents their identity.

None of the other three devolved seats of power in the UK offers greater powers and representation in any respect than that enjoyed in Scotland and each of them falls short of Scottish powers and representation in at least one respect. The standard of devolution enjoyed in Scotland is therefore clearly the best that currently exists in the UK therefore, as a minimum, is the standard that should be enjoyed by all citizens of the UK in order to resolve the current democratic imbalance.

But is it the best standard to adopt?

Alternative Levels and models of devolution:

Whereas there is no ambiguity whether referring to Scotland, N Ireland or Wales either as a nation or as a Government Region because each is both, England is one of the four UK nations but comprises nine of the twelve Government Regions. ‘Regional devolution’ therefore means something quite different to England than it does to any other UK nation. In addition to national or regional devolution, the case of England is further complicated by proposals for devolution to traditional counties; sub-regional level such as districts or City Regions and to super-regional level such as ones based on the pre-Norman Earldoms of England (Wessex, Mercia etc). Then there are the models of devolution that have been proposed: These include directly elected parliaments/assemblies, directly elected mayors, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), Combined Authorities and Empowered Local Authorities.

Comparing the Alternatives to Devolution in Scotland:

To compare the alternatives to devolution in Scotland we need to compare them in terms of the identified aspects and various models & levels of devolution:

Degree of Power:

Scotland has the power to pass both primary and secondary legislation on all matters except foreign affairs, defence, immigration, constitution and social security. Unlike devolution elsewhere in the UK, Scotland also has limited tax-raising powers that were recently extended by the Scotland Act 2012. It is inconceivable that powers of such quantity, variety and magnitude could be dealt with in any arena other than a parliament or assembly. If they could, the need for a UK Parliament to deal only with the reserved matters must be at least questionable and the need for the current devolved parliaments/assemblies even more so! So to achieve democratic equality purely on the basis of ‘degree of power’, England must also have parliament(s)/assemblies either at national level or at sub-national level (e.g. each region/traditional county, super region etc) in order to deal with that degree of power.

Transparency, Accountability and Representation:

Neither LEPs, Combined Authorities, Empowered Local Authorities or City Regions would offer the transparency, accountability or representation that is enjoyed by the people of Scotland. Each of these models has varying combinations of the following shortcomings: decisions made behind closed doors, decisions made by people who have not been chosen by the public they serve and decisions made for which no-one is clearly accountable. In the Scottish model, on the other hand, MPs are directly elected by the people they serve and they represent them in an open arena where accountability is clear and appropriate action can be seen to have been taken where necessary. Parliaments/assemblies are therefore clearly the best model to achieve democratic equality in terms of transparency, accountability and representation.

Representing Identity:

As the people of Scotland identify themselves as ‘Scottish’, the ‘Scottish’ Parliament directly represents their identity. The identities of the Welsh, Northern Irish and Londoners are also directly represented by their respective parliaments/assemblies. This is because devolution was offered to each of them at the level that reflects their identity.

Identities are determined by centuries of heritage and history; they already exist. It should therefore be the identities of people determining regions, not regions imposing non-identities upon people. Not paying due consideration to identity has already met with opposition, particularly from those parts where identities are strongest. For example, in Cornwall, 50,000 people petitioned the government for a Cornish Assembly and the Cornish have successfully campaigned for National Minority status. In Yorkshire the Yorkshire Ridings Society was founded in protest of the boundary changes of the Local Government Act 1972, ‘Humberside’ and ‘Cleveland’ have been abolished due to local opposition, permanent signs have been positioned to mark the boundary of the traditional county, Saddleworth Parish Council refuses to yield the White Rose as its symbol despite coming under a Lancashire authority and the people of Yarm are currently battling to return to Yorkshire administration from Stockton Borough Council.

To achieve democratic equality in this respect then, in deciding the level to which power is devolved, due consideration must be given to the identities of people and the level must reflect those identities as much as viably possible.

English Parliament:

An English Parliament would obviously have all the attributes and capabilities of the Scottish Parliament. However, from a regional perspective, to devolve from Westminster to an English parliament would simply be to replace one remote, central seat of power with another. It would still leave London as the only devolved Region within England. Also, there are very strong identities within England such as ‘Cornish’ and ‘Yorkshire’ which an ‘English’ parliament would fail to represent in the same way as the ‘Scottish’ Parliament represents ‘Scots’ or the ‘London’ Assembly represents ‘Londoners’.   (See ‘Representing Identity’ above)

Super Regions:

Whilst devolving to super regions may provide some improvement in some respects compared to an English parliament, whether that would be sufficient to be acceptable by the people of any super region proposed will depend on how the various parts of that super region relate to it. For example, if a parliament for the North of England sited in Manchester was proposed, the Yorkshire people are likely to reject it for not representing their ‘Yorkshire’ identity, the people of Northumberland are likely to reject it for it being sited too remotely and the people of Liverpool are likely to reject it for being sited in a rival city.

Regions and traditional counties:

At ‘Representing Identity’, above, the point was made that to achieve democratic equality in that respect, the boundaries of regions should be determined, as much as viably possible, by the identities of people rather than false identities being imposed on people by politicians deciding the regional boundaries.   Some regions created by the Government may either sit well with the identity of the people within them or their people have insufficient sense of regional identity to be particularly concerned. Other regions created by the Government, however, do not sit well with the identities of people at all and they would choose boundaries for their region that exactly matched the boundaries of their traditional county.

This is certainly the case in both Yorkshire and Cornwall and even the Lincolnshire folk in the ‘Yorkshire and the Humber’ region would prefer to leave that region to be with the rest of their county-folk.   So in order to achieve democratic equality in respect of representing identity, the boundaries of the regions themselves need to be revised in order to accommodate that equality.

Like either an English parliament or a super region Parliament, parliaments/assemblies for regions/traditional counties would offer all the attributes and capabilities of the Scottish Parliament.   However, unlike them, regional/traditional county parliaments/assemblies would also bring democratic equality by resolving the issues of remote, central seats of power; London being the only devolved region within England and, representing identities (given that the regions are revised as discussed above).

One final consideration here: With London being an established devolved region since its people voted in favour of a devolved assembly in 1998, regional devolution in England is already underway!

LEPs, Combined Authorities and Empowered Local Authorities:

None of these are adequate to deal with the same quantity, variety or magnitude of powers that the Scottish Parliament deals with. (See ‘Degree of Power’ above). None would offer the transparency, accountability or representation of parliaments or assemblies. (See ‘Transparency, Accountability & Representation’ above). Neither do they represent the identity of people. (See ‘Representing Identity’ above)

City Regions:

It would be absolutely impossible for City Regions to correct the democratic inequality that currently exists. England is not a city nor is it made up entirely of cities! In fact, by far the majority of communities either in England or in any of its regions and counties are not cities. Therefore this model of devolution would exclude by far the majority of communities from devolved empowerment and representation. Far from improving matters, devolving power via city regions would cause disharmony between communities within counties and regions in addition to the disharmony that already exists between the UK’s nations or Government Regions. Also, it is City Regions where elected Mayors might be an option, however, the idea of elected Mayors was recently resoundingly rejected!

Conclusions So Far:

On considering all the foregoing points, the following conclusions are drawn:

1. There are currently democratic imbalances between the various parts of the UK at both national and regional levels in terms of degree of power and representing identity.

2.  In correcting those imbalances, democratic equality in terms of transparency, accountability & representation should also be achieved.

3.  The model and level of devolution most capable of delivering democratic equality in terms of degree of power, representing identity and transparency, accountability & representation is devolved parliaments/assemblies at regional level.

4.  Regions should be determined by the identities of people, not imposed on people by politicians and therefore the boundaries of existing government regions need to be revised, particularly where identities are strongest, such as the traditional counties of Yorkshire and Cornwall.

5.  The degree of powers that are devolved to each region of the UK should be consistent throughout the UK.

Devolution Beyond and Before the Regions: 

The delivery of devolution should not stop at regional level, it should filter right through to the lowest level that needs it. The basic principle must be to devolve appropriate powers to the appropriate level. The introduction of a regional assembly gives the opportunity to review local government at the same time to ensure that happens.

This would allow issues at each level from individual settlements to the region as a whole to be dealt with without needing to seek permission or go cap in hand to a higher level.

As Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are both nations and Government Regions of the UK, this model could be applied to all the UK nations. In the case of England only, a national parliament would not be required as, between UK and regional parliaments, there would be very little, if anything, for an English Parliament to deal with.

A new Magna Carta? Critique – Submission to the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee

By Charles Ashton

Introduction

Does the UK need a codified Constitution?

The current constitutional settlement of the UK is largely based on the principle of Parliamentary Supremacy. This supremacy, I would suggest, was envisioned by our forefathers as being supremacy over the Monarchy in order to prevent a return to the largely absolutist system which existed prior to the Civil Wars of the 17th century.

This situation begs the very real question, “who controls parliament”? Traditionalists would, no doubt, argue that the people control parliament through the mechanism of regular elections. The lie of this is exposed by the current UK Government extending the life of the current Welsh Assembly, by one year, to 2016 on the questionable grounds that Welsh voters would be confused by having to vote in both General and Assembly elections on the same day.

This single act is not only an extremely worrying indication of the intellectual disdain with which our political class views the voting public but also of the ease with which the democratic process of the UK is able to be subverted insofar as not only were the public not consulted in advance, neither was parliament, the Home Secretary simply made an Order and the Welsh people were stripped of their democratic rights, in relation to the Welsh Assembly, for a period of 12 months. That the Welsh Assembly Government colluded in this subversion of democracy merely serves to show that this “fast and loose” attitude to democracy pervades at least two tiers of government in the UK.

Any written Constitution worth having would act to curtail the, currently unlimited, power of government, at all levels, in the UK. I have given, above, one example of how our current settlement, based on Parliamentary Supremacy, is not only open to abuse but has actually been used to abuse the rights of the people. So far, in our history, the UK has been lucky, relative to some countries, in that the principle of supremacy has not been too badly abused over the centuries but I, for one, would not like to take the risk and believe that the UK requires a written and codified Constitution which limits the power of government and sets out the rights and responsibilities of all UK citizens and residents.

If so, which of the three options offers the best way forward?

The Proposed Constitutional Code

The main problem with adopting a Constitutional Code, of the type proposed in the Committee’s Report “A New Magna Carta” is the simple fact that it lacks statutory authority and as such could, potentially, be completely ignored by the government at any given time without any legal redress being available to the people of the United Kingdom.

In this regard a Constitutional Code completely misses the point of a Constitution, which surely is to place limits on the power of government, at all levels, thus allowing the population of a country to maintain control over their country and destiny.

The Proposed Constitutional Consolidation Act

The Constitutional Consolidation Act, as proposed by the Committee’s Report, has a number of flaws, not least of which is its sheer length which, at 371 pages, almost certainly protects it from the danger of ever actually being read by anyone other than the most dedicated of political anoraks.

As well as the aforementioned issue of length there is the issue of the turgid and technocratic language in which it is written which, I would suggest, may well protect it from ever being understood by any layman unfortunate enough to find themselves reading the thing.

The very idea that a realistically workable Constitutional Settlement could be achieved simply by stapling together any number of existing statutes and government manuals, which virtually no one outside of parliament is even aware exist, is at best delusional and at worst a deliberate effort to prevent the British people from ever being able to limit the power of the state.

Another serious flaw in the concept of a Constitutional Consolidation Act is the very simple fact that it is merely an Act of Parliament and as such is able to be modified, or even repealed, by an equally simple Act of Parliament at any time in the future thus lacking one of the crucial elements of a true Constitution, the principle that the Legislature and Government, at all levels, are bound by it.

The Proposed Written Constitution

A fully fledged, written Constitution is, by definition, be the only rational option for a lasting Constitutional Settlement in the United Kingdom.

Having said that, the document proposed by the Committee’s Report suffers from the same fatal flaws, of length, 109 pages, and turgid, technocratic language, as the proposed Constitutional Consolidation Act which would very probably protect it too from ever being read and understood by the average person in the street. Such a

document gives the impression of an attempt by the political class to muddy the waters, as it were, with regard to the powers of the state.

What needs to be included in/excluded from your favoured option, if you have one?

A written Constitution

The most enduring and arguably most successful, written Constitution on the planet is 20 pages long and includes 26 Amendments since its creation in 1787. I refer, of course, to the Constitution of the United States of America.

The key, I believe, to the enduring success of this document is its pure simplicity which allows every US citizen to understand not only how their government is structured and works at all levels but also the limitations placed on the state, by the Constitution, regarding individual rights and freedoms. It is this simplicity that allows any 10 year old American child to be able to name and explain, at the very least, the first 10 amendments or Bill of Rights, to the Constitution with confidence and the knowledge that those rights cannot be removed or changed without the expressed consent of the American people.

Any fully fledged Constitution must, by definition, be above the government and only able to be amended or abandoned by the expressed will of the people. This being the case it must naturally follow that it must be created by the people rather than by government thus the first thing I would exclude from any written Constitution for the UK is the political class, by which I mean holders of elected office at any level of government and Civil Servants from any level of government, from any involvement in its development.

For a written Constitution for the UK to be an enduring success it must not only enshrine rights and freedoms but also resolve all constitutional questions, such as devolution/Federalisation, powers/limits of the state, elected/appointed House of Lords, directly elected/current system PM/DPM, in full and final settlement thereby ending the constant drip drip drip of constitutional debate the UK has been subjected to since devolution in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Devolution/Federalisation

There are, I would submit, two great flaws in the way devolution has been implemented in the UK. The first, and most glaring, is simply that England, and thus the vast majority of the UK population, have been completely left out of the process and secondly there is no consistency to which powers are devolved and which remain with Westminster leading to confusion as to what different levels of government are responsible for.

Commonly known as the Westlothian question I do not feel the need to explain the issues involved in the question of the lack of English devolution however there are a number of options available to resolve this question.

Firstly, the current devolution settlements for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland could be unpicked and replaced with a system that has MP’s from the 4 Home Nations sitting in their respective Assemblies for 3 weeks of the month, dealing with devolved matters, and spending 1 week of the month sitting as a UK parliament dealing with issues affecting the whole country. Due to the requirement to unpick the current devolution settlements this option would, in all likelihood, be politically untenable due largely to the perceived reversal of the current devolution settlements. It would also raise questions as to the standing, in the UK parliament, of the members who hold the post of First Minister in the devolved assemblies and their potential subordination, at the national level, to someone who is junior to them at the devolved level. This second issue could of course be avoided by way of a directly elected PM who, as the Executive arm of government, would be wholly separate from the legislature but this would then raise issues of Executive succession should the PM be unable to continue in office for any reason. On the whole this would potentially be an overly complex and constitutionally difficult option despite its initial appearance of simplicity.

The second option, which has recently come to prominence, is to devolve powers to larger cities around the UK. This option contains, without exception, all the flaws of the current devolution settlement in that it fails to deliver devolved power to vast numbers of the English population who live outside the main centres and, as yet, there does not appear to be any agreement that each City would have the same powers or what those powers would be.

Option 3 would be to create a devolved English parliament, completely separate from Westminster, to administer England only affairs. Whilst this would appear, on the face of it, the simplest and most workable solution, being that it retains the integrity of the 4 Home Nations as distinct geographical entities, such a settlement would not be without its problems. For example, what may be right for the people of Cornwall may not be right or desirable for the people of Yorkshire. The other extreme of this argument, that each county be cast adrift on the sea of devolution, is, of course, wrought with even greater problems. Whilst there are some counties which, due to their size, population and resources, could no doubt quite happily thrive under devolved administrations there are others who would equally struggle.

This brings us to option 4, a Federal settlement based loosely, as a starting point to be refined as far as possible by negotiation, on the pre-Norman Kingdoms of England with Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland making up the other 3 Federal Regions of the UK to a total of 10 Federal Regions. I would suggest retaining Westminster as the seat of a much reduced Federal government simply because of the location of the Departments of State.

Powers/Limits of the State

Obviously there would potentially be a fair amount of negotiation over what powers would be devolved and what powers would be retained by the Federal government and as such I would suggest a good place to begin such negotiations would be to look to what powers the Scottish Parliament holds.1 The only pre-condition required for this part of a written Constitution is that all regions making up the Federal UK must hold the same powers.

Whilst it would be for the individual regions to decide the makeup of their own assemblies, within UK wide Constitutional minimums, it would be for the regions, via a Constitution, to also set the number of MPs and frequency of Federal elections. I would suggest a maximum of 250 Lower House MPs elected, if I may borrow from the US Constitution, every 2 years. Roughly 1 MP per 245,000 head of population would deliver just under 250 MPs based on the current UK population.

Elected/Appointed House of Lords

The House of Lords is a British institution with a long and illustrious history. It was the first of our national institutions to place limits on the power of the Monarchy, with the Magna Carta in 1215, and as such is arguably the Grandfather of western democracy. However, sadly, I feel its time has passed and it must, as a legislative chamber, now be consigned to the mists of history.

Over the last century, starting with the Parliament Act 1911, successive governments have limited the power of the Lords, created Life Peerages, removed all but a handful of Hereditary Peers from the House and attempted to create an elected Upper House. This blind tinkering has created an Upper House rammed to the gunwales with retired MPs, party hacks, political donors and other assorted fellow travellers whose only rational for being there is to stack the chamber in their party’s favour.

The LibDems attempted to create an elected Upper House with 300 members, elected for 15 years each with no right of re-election and thus no electoral accountability. To say that this idea was ill-conceived is to stretch my capacity for kindness to breaking point.

There is no doubt that a Federal UK, with a written Constitution, requires an elected Upper House however its predominately revising role means that its numbers only need be small, 10 Senators from each region of the UK with 2 from the Federal Capitol making a total of 102, elected for 6 years with 1/3 up for re-election every 2 years at the same time as MP elections.

Directly elected/current system PM/DPM

A major flaw in the way the UK central government functions is that whilst in theory the Executive and the Legislature are separate, given that the Monarch theoretically holds executive power, in practice it is the PM that holds this power. This is an important flaw in our system as the PM is also the individual who controls the legislature resulting in a complete absence of the separation of powers, the theory of which forms the basis of our system of government.

Being that it is unlikely that handing practical executive power back to the Monarch would ever be politically viable the only option left, to ensure separation of powers, is a directly elected PM/DPM, standing on a ticket in the same way as POTUS/VPOTUS, thus ensuring that the legislature is free to hold executive power to account.

Foreign Treaties

Any UK written Constitution must make it illegal for any UK government to make any treaty with a foreign power, or powers, having the effect of transferring any powers overs the laws, government, judiciary or people of the UK to any foreign power or supranational body or organisation. Any existing laws having that effect must be, by definition, repealed by the creation of a UK written Constitution.

Written by the people

In any written Constitution it must be implicit that it is a full and final Constitutional Settlement, amendable only with great difficulty and only at the behest of the people. It must be a document easily read and understood by all those subject to its provisions and assured rights under its protection. In view of this it is necessary to exclude any elected, or previously elected, politician from the process of forming a written UK Constitution thereby ensuring that the protections, rights and limits on state power act as a protection for the people and not a mechanism for controlling them.

 

Charlie would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this piece so please post them below – YDM

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,982 other followers