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Screen Yorkshire is a rare example of how Yorkshire has the autonomy to attract investment

Interesting piece in today’s Independent suggesting how the global exposure to Yorkshire through the Tour de France is encouraging filmmakers to do business here. Completely understandable of course, but what is interesting is that the company responsible for attracting films and filmmakers, Screen Yorkshire, is a rare example of how Yorkshire has the autonomy to attract investment; seemingly, in this case, successfully. An example again, if needed, of the potential that could be unleashed if we had responsibility for a whole range of other matters. It also begs the question how much of this work would find its way here if this were centralised under something like say ‘Screen UK’? Diddly squat probably!


Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God’s Own Country

Adam Sherwin

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Hollywood is coming to Haworth. The spotlight shone on Yorkshire’s stunning scenery during the Tour de France is encouraging blockbuster movies to relocate to God’s Own Country.

Nidderdale, Skipton and Buttertubs Pass are shooting up the location wish list among filmmakers after the start of the bike race delivered global exposure to Yorkshire’s picturesque winding roads, hills and streets.

Jonathan Mostow, the Terminator 3 director, will shoot Hunter’s Prayer, a $25m assassination thriller starring action hero Sam Worthington, in Yorkshire next year, the production’s American producers Film Engine announced today.

Worthington, the Avatar star, plays a solitary assassin who is hunted across Europe after failing to kill a young girl, in the first US production to win investment backing from Screen Yorkshire, through its Yorkshire Content Fund.

Locations in Leeds, Wetherby and Bradford will also feature in Ridley Scott’s new Christmas family film, Get Santa, starring Jim Broadbent. On this occasion, the flexibility of Yorkshire’s locations will allow the county to substitute for Lapland.

Hugo Heppell, Head of Investments at Screen Yorkshire, said: “We often find that people outside the UK, and particularly in LA, have a limited knowledge of UK geography. They often equate the UK with London. There’s no question that an event like the Tour de France which takes our landscape and shows it around the world sends a clear message and helps put Yorkshire on the map.”

The Tour, watched by millions lining the streets and expected to deliver a £100m boost to the local economy, passed through areas of natural beauty including Ilkley, Wharfedale, Aysgarth – all have something to offer moviemakers.

“Yorkshire offers a range of locations from cityscapes to urban to coast and old-style landscapes. There are a couple more big productions coming which we can’t announce just yet,” Heppell said.

Productions currently shooting in the county include a BBC adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, the supernatural novel set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, which features York Minster and Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds.

Locations in Sheffield were used for Testament of Youth, a BBC Films take on Vera Brittain’s First World War memoir, starring Alicia Vikander. Henry Winkler, the Happy Days actor, is shooting his CBBC series Hank Zipzer in Halifax.

Government tax breaks for the film industry have made Hollywood investments in Yorkshire a more attractive proposition. Hunter’s Prayer, which also shoots in Hungary, must guarantee a minimum of six weeks production in Yorkshire, under the investment which utilises the £15m Yorkshire Content Fund, which is open to producers working in film, television, computer games and digital content.

Heppell said: “Hunter’s Prayer reverses the traditional co-production model. The talent and the director are coming from the US but the film is being fully-financed out of the UK and the profits will stay in the UK. It shows the strength of the UK film industry right now.”

Councils reminded to fly the flag for Yorkshire on Yorkshire Day

Last year (you might recall) the Yorkshire Devolution Movement wrote to all local authorities in Yorkshire urging them to fly the traditional white rose flag outside public buildings in their ownership but only a handful did so. Well YDM has done so again.

Nigel Sollitt, Chair of YDM, takes up the story:

“Although we wrote to all local authorities in Yorkshire last year well ahead of Yorkshire day on August 1st, only a handful took the decision to fly the White Rose flag. This was met with a lot of criticism from the Yorkshire public. This year in particular, after the outpouring of pride in Yorkshire during the days of the Tour de France when Yorkshire flags could be seen lining the route on both stages, we would want a better showing than in 2013.

“We are sure councils don’t need reminding this year, but we are writing to them all just in case!”

As we approach Yorkshire Day here is the definitive guide to the Yorkshire flag

Yorkshire Day, which is fast approaching, is traditionally a day for public buildings, offices, factories and individuals to fly the white rose flag in numbers. In previous years, YDM has been involved in a campaign to get local councils to hoist the Yorkshire flag on August 1 and indeed this year will be no different (but more of that another time). Meanwhile it might be instructive to repost this blog which gives something of a definitive history of the flag, the orientation of the rose and even the correct Pantone colour that should be used. It’s taken from a blog called British County Flags but unfortunately there is no contact address to give a hat tip to.


Yorkshire Flag


The flag of Yorkshire was registered in 2008. It bears a white rose


which has long been associated with the county. The white rose, also known as the “rose alba” or “rose argent”, was originally the symbol of the House of York  and is believed to have originated with the first Duke of York, Edmund of Langley in the fourteenth century, who founded the House of York as a cadet branch of the then ruling House of Plantagenet. The rose carried religious connotations, its white colour symbolising innocence and purity. It was accordingly also held to evoke the Virgin Mary, who was referred to as the “Mystical Rose of Heaven”. An alternative view is that a white rose was originally a badge of the Mortimer family whose member Anne married Edmund’s younger son Richard. Their son, also Richard, third Duke of York and father of Edward IV, claimed the throne through his Mortimer descent and therefore naturally displayed their white rose in opposition to the Lancastrian Henry VI, who bore a red rose. The white rose emblem of the House of York is found as a detail


in a book produced for Edward IV, the first Yorkist king. It has further been noted that the livery colours of the Plantagenets were red and white and thus the white and red rose emblems reflected the family split.

However it should be borne in mind that The ‘House of York’ was a line of aristocracy, which, whilst owning estates in the county, was based, not in York, but mainly in the south of England and Wales. During the civil war between the House of York and the House of Lancaster there were few ‘Yorkists’ in York, in fact, major Yorkshire land-owners were prominent supporters of the House of Lancaster! By the 18th century however there is an account of an event whose exact nature is a little shadowy but which has certainly inspired at least, a trenchant mythology that may have helped to develop the association of the white rose with the county. Sources report that at the Battle of Minden on 1 August 1759, Yorkshiremen of the 51st Regiment of Foot picked white roses from bushes near to the battlefields and wore them on their clothing. Some accounts describe this as an act of tribute to their fallen comrades after the battle, placing the flowers in their coats, although an alternative theory is that the flowers were plucked and worn during the advance as an act of bravado, placing them in the head-dress. Military historian C.E. Audax however, has written of this incident; in his work ‘Badge backings and special embellishments of the British Army’ published in the 1990s, he quotes one Major C.B.T. Thorp, who, in 1932 wrote “I have not seen any contemporaneous account of the battle which mentions the incident nor can I discover that prior to 1860 roses were worn by the Minden regiments on the anniversary of the battle.” He goes on to say “…nowhere can I find mention of roses until some years after the centenary of Minden the celebration of which was clouded by the aftermath of the Crimea and the Indian Mutiny.”

The Yorkshire Ridings Society itself on its website  writes “250 years ago, on the 1st August 1759, soldiers of the 51st Regiment of Foot, a Yorkshire Regiment, took part in the battle of Minden… Reports of the battle mention that the British Soldiers picked roses and wore them on their uniforms, possibly in memory of their fallen comrades. News was in black and white in those days so the colour of the roses is not known.” which even sheds doubt on whether the flowers in question were actually white! However there is certainly a “white rose” tradition arising from these events and on August 1st, Minden Day, a celebrated British military victory is commemorated by Yorkshire regiments with the wearing of white roses.

Whatever the precise circumstance were, events do indicate a developing association between the white rose of the House of York and the county of York, which reached its full development in the nineteenth century. The term ‘Wars of the Roses’ is believed to have been first used in the novel”Anne of Geierstein” by Walter Scott in 1829 who likely coined the term from the fictional scene in William Shakespeare’s play Henry VI Part 1, where the opposing sides pick their different-coloured roses at the Temple Church. Subsequently, the Victorian fashion for matters medieval, evident in the gothic architecture and numerous “follies”, seems also to have cultivated the link between York and the white rose symbol, with a crop of rose motifs appearing on the buildings of York!


In the twentieth century the association was extended to embrace the entire county; almost all Yorkshire civic arms registered in this period prominently feature a white rose e.g.


By contrast Yorkshire’s older towns, such as Leeds, Hull, and York itself, have no rose in their arms;


indicating the comparatively recent recognition of the white rose as the emblem of the county of Yorkshire.

The white rose also featured prominently in the arms of the local councils established in 1889 in the three historic divisions of Yorkshire termed “ridings”. This term, of Danish origin, referred to a “third” of the county and with separate judicial systems and lieutenancies the three Ridings operated effectively as separate counties. Accordingly a council was created to administer each Riding, which were each larger than many other counties. The arms of the West Riding Council,

WEST RIDING COAT ARMS awarded in 1927, distinctively feature a “rose en soleil”


a device adopted by the Yorkist king, Edward IV, upon his accession to the throne after the Battle of Towton. The emblem was fashioned by combining the rose of the House of York


with the sun badge used by Richard III


and was the punning reference in Shakespeare’s famous lines from Richard III;

                                               “Now is the winter of our discontent

                                       Made glorious summer by this sun of York.”

The combined badge seemingly indicated that the House of York, the white rose, was now combined with the kingship, the royal badge of the sun. The above image of a white rose from Edward IV’s book, in fact, looks rather like the rose is depicted against the rays of a sunburst. The rose en soleil device is incidentally said to have been the cause of the result of the Battle of Barnet in 1471 when Edward IV confronted the Lancastrian De Vere, Earl of Oxford, whose men wore a silver star. Through a mist De Vere’s ally the Earl of Warwick mistook the star for Edward’s rose en soleil and charged his own side. The resulting confusion lost the Lancastrians the battle!

The rose en soleil badge was very specifically designed to represent Edward, Duke of York, as King; its appearance in these arms, in the twentieth century, is therefore a rather marked statement of the perceived association of the white rose with the locality. Not only was a basic white rose a symbol of Yorkshire but even the specifically royal, highly adorned one, was appropriated as a county emblem. Accepting this, the use of this device by the one riding does seem rather arbitrary, as any of the three might have an equal claim to use what was evidently regarded as a symbol of the whole county. To judge from military insignia however, it is arguable that the white rose was initially perceived as a more specifically West Riding emblem. It may be noted for example, that a white rose featured in the military colours of some local militia regiments during the Napoleonic period. A notebook in the National Army museum dated circa 1812, shows the regimental colours of some Yorkshire forces, of which only the Craven, Strafforth & Tickhill, Wakefield and West Halifax regiments included a white rose  –  several on the first named and one in the centre of the banner, for the other three. These locations are all located in the West Riding. Even so the white rose in this era seems not yet to carry any overt Yorkshire symbolism; none of the other regiments bore a white rose. Most other militia units used borough or town arms, the Southern Regiment of West Yorkshire Yeomanry, for example, raised in Doncaster in 1794, disbanded in 1821, used the arms of the city of York to signify ‘Yorkshire’ generally; none of them it seems deemed a white rose an appropriate symbol to depict on their standards. A century later however, the white rose had become a defiantly Yorkshire device. In chief, or at the top of the shield, on the West Riding arms, are three more white roses representing the three Ridings of the county of Yorkshire. This feature was common to all three Ridings’ council arms and is an unequivocal statement that a white rose represents Yorkshire generally.


It was therefore inevitable that a white rose would feature on the county flag of Yorkshire but who first placed it upon a blue piece of cloth, appears to have been lost in the mists of the not far distant past. All references to the origin of the flag of Yorkshire speak of it having appeared in the 1960s, the Registry itself describes the flag as dating from 1965, although exactly when, where and how this came about remains unclear. It is pure speculation but one conceivable inspiration for the blue flag bearing the white rose may be the colours and devices borne by the county cricket team.

The badge of Yorkshire County Cricket Club


was designed by Lord Hawke, in the early days of his captaincy in the nineteenth century. Inspired by the use of a red rose by Lancashire, his rose however was not a real flower but featured eleven petals to represent the eleven players of the team. Yorkshire’s club colours are dark blue, light blue and yellow for the 1st eleven and plain blue for the 2nd eleven. These are knitted in bands forming the v-neck of each player’s sweater. The limited overs team, Yorkshire Vikings, wears the colours in the players’ overall uniforms. Use of these colours goes back to the start of the 20th century at least, although why these colours are used is unaccounted for. It does seem likely that with blue being so prominently used to represent the county in a sporting context that the colour became naturally accepted as the county colour, generally. As can be seen above, the club badge appears against a dark blue background and indeed a dark blue flag bearing this stylised white rose is raised during matches as seen here in this photo from Scarborough in 2003.


This is very similar indeed to the Yorkshire county flag, as seen in previous decades,


which was also a dark shade of blue.

Curiously in 1989 the magazine “This England” issued a chart of the Traditional Counties of England


along with a series of stickers depicting the arms associated with each county – basically those used by the former county councils in most cases. There was of course no Yorkshire county council so it was necessary to invent the “arms” issued for this county and the sticker for Yorkshire shows a white rose on a, red, background!


The chart and stickers also appeared in an article in the publication “The Coat of Arms” no.153 (Spring 1991) by Ralph Brocklebank who remarks on the red field, which remains unexplained. One wonders if the red shield in this chart may have been inspired by the arms of the former West Riding Council – which was partly red and featured a large white rose? Brocklebank himself suggests that the West Riding council arms could be used to represent the whole county (as previously noted), rather than just a rose on a plain field, red or blue.

The blue flag was promoted by the Yorkshire Ridings Society (YRS) which was formed in 1974, in the wake of the legislation which abolished the Riding councils, to preserve the county’s true, whole identity.  Again, exactly when they first started to promote the blue flag is unclear; the society was operating in 1989 so if the blue flag was being promoted at this time the red shield on the “This England” chart is curiouser still! By the turn of the twenty first century the blue flag had become quite prominent and with the advent of the Flag Institute’s registry moves were made to see the design registered as the county flag. The YRS cited the case of a Ryedale farmer who in 2003 was summonsed, but not prosecuted, for flying the “Yorkshire flag” at a time before the liberalisation of flag flying regulations and that this was one of the motivations to secure registration of the design. Its ultimate registration was not completely without controversy however.

The late William Crampton, founder of the Flag Institute, had considered a possible Yorkshire flag in the 1990’s, which placed the rose en soleil, now firmly associated with county, at the centre of a Saint George’s cross.


Michael Faul’s, ( now editor of the Flag Institute’s journal, Flagmster,) design had a Scandinavian cross in English colours, in recognition of the lengthy and significant Dano-Norwegian presence in York and the surrounding county, a neat encapsulation of the region’s  history. The rose en soleil emblem of Yorkshire was retained.


This latter version became an established contender for the county flag and was taken up by the Yorkshire Dialect Society and the “Campaign for Yorkshire”, which sought to establish a Yorkshire parliament.

Another contending Yorkshire flag was designed by Mrs Olive Snaith of Goole, which was also a white rose on a blue background and essentially the same as the flag that was registered, although interestingly the hue of this flag is significantly lighter than the shade of blue used in earlier versions of the registered design

Yorks Snaith

In 2008 prior to the registration of the Yorkshire flag, Michael Faul had called for all three contending designs to be given an equal chance to be registered, his flag having already been manufactured and flown by expatriates abroad and used by local bodies. In Devon, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire and Orkney, the designs were the winners of local competitions and he hoped for a similar opportunity in Yorkshire. The YRS favoured blue flag however, was also endorsed by the Lord Mayor of Hull and the Admiral of the Humber and other local representatives and ultimately the high profile of the Yorkshire Riding Society proved unassailable and their preferred design was registered as the county flag.


In 2013, Michael Faul’s flag was submitted to the competition to select a flag for the West Riding. With its colour scheme of red and white and its use of the rose en soleil device the design was similar to the arms of the former West Riding Council so there was a certain familiarity in the pattern. The flag was the winning entry in the competition and was duly registered as the flag of the West Riding by the Flag Institute on May 23rd 2013.

As has been remarked the Yorkshire flag in earlier days had been dark, like the colour of the flag used by the Yorkshire County Cricket Club. Here is a Yorkshire flag in a dark shade, displayed at Mickle Fell, the highest point in the county, which was purchased in April 2008, two months before the Yorkshire flag’s registration.

Mickle Fell

At the time of registration the exact shade of blue used in the Yorkshire flag was fixed as Pantone 300


This shade is the one used in the Scottish national flag, not quite as dark as the early versions of the flag but not varying from it by a great degree. In practice however, the adoption of this slightly lighter blue shade appears to have given rise to the production of Yorkshire flags of an extremely light blue colour as evidenced by this version flying outside the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2010.


Such very light blue flags appear to originate in the Far East where perhaps the guide of pantone shades is not recognised or followed.

This recent innovation is not welcomed by many as it seems to have changed the whole character of the recognisable county flag. One wonders also if the above “Snaith flag” may have been an influence in this change of colour? The YRS  itself refers to this colour change on its website where it states simply “ In the past this has been a dark blue background but more recently a light blue background has become fairly common. “

The orientation of the rose is also worthy of consideration. The rose in the registered design sits on one sepal, forming the base of a letter “Y” for Yorkshire, with the other two sepals at either side of the top petal. However, in the East Riding the tradition holds that the rose is depicted with a sepal at the top, that is, the inverse of the registered rose. It is posited that this reflects the fact that, as noted previously, not every land owner in Yorkshire supported the Yorkist claim to the throne, especially in the East Riding! This was not reflected however in the orientation of the white roses used in the arms of the East Riding Council.

The date of the battle of Minden, August 1st and the subsequent reported wearing of white roses by the Yorkshire regiment, is now commemorated as Yorkshire Day, when white roses are worn and the Yorkshire flag is raised. This photo depicts celebrations in Micklegate, York in 2011.


 With thanks to Ian Sumner, Flag Institute librarian, for additional research and images.


Sir Ian McGeechan: ‘We have the advantage…of a natural Yorkshire identity and it is about making the most of that’

There is an excellent interview piece in today’s Yorkshire Post with Sir Ian McGeechan, Yorkshire Carnegie’s executive chairman. The large part of what he says focuses, naturally enough, on what plans he has for rugby in the county, but he does make a revealing comment, one which should be noted by all those who think the way forward for devolution in Yorkshire is through its cities exclusively. He says:

“The thing I noticed when I lived away from the county for 20 odds years is that people say ‘I am from Yorkshire’, not from Leeds, Sheffield or Hull, so you have got an affinity to something and a name that is a lot stronger than an affinity to one town.

“We have the advantage, as last weekend showed with Tour de France, of a natural Yorkshire identity and it is about making the most of that.”

Here at YDM we couldn’t agree more. The full interview can be found here.

Mary Dejevsky’s excellent piece for The Independent yesterday

Below is Mary Dejevsky’s excellent piece for The Independent yesterday where she reflects on the ‘sense of identity, pride and good will to all’ which was so noticeable in Yorkshire over the past days and goes on to talk about devolution recognising Yorkshire as a unit of governance.

Mary Dejevsky
Wednesday 9 July 2014
You didn’t have to be roadside in Yorkshire this week to realise that England is changing

There was a sense of identity and pride – the future is local

While the peloton, as we have learned to call it, whizzed its way through the Yorkshire Dales in the most perfect weather last weekend, I regret to say that my thoughts were less on the cyclists than on the crowds. It was not only the turnout that impressed – at points the riders could barely squeeze their way through – but the spirit. It was as though London 2012 had been resurrected in Yorkshire.

Everywhere exuded those very un-British attributes of enthusiasm and positivity. Everyone seemed determined to prove that Yorkshire could put on a show, that Yorkshire was equal to the best of the best, that Yorkshire could give its guests a terrific time. There was a sense of identity, pride and good will to all.

Having spent most of my teenage years in Sheffield, I have to say that this is not particularly how I remember at least that bit of south Yorkshire. Along with the grittiness symbolised by the defunct blast furnaces, there was a chippiness about the city, whether in relation to Leeds or (still more) to Manchester. Sheffielders tended to introversion; their university, their shops, their football, were all so wonderful that you didn’t need to stray further. As a newcomer you were suspect; but leaving was akin to treachery.

When Gary Verity – who, as chief executive of Yorkshire’s tourist agency, led its bid for the Grand Depart – observed something similar, noting the chip-on-shoulder attitudes he met after returning to Leeds from years in London, what he said struck a chord. But he was right, too, about the change. The Yorkshire I saw last weekend – all right, on television –was reborn. Not because of the sprucing up, though there had obviously been some of that, but because of what seemed to be a new, still self-reliant, but no longer defensive, spirit. In staging the first two legs of the Tour, Harrogate, Leeds and Sheffield had managed to bury their rivalries and pull together.

Which prompted me to muse whether now might not be the time to revisit John Prescott’s ill-fated project for a more regionally governed Britain. A decade ago, the then Deputy Prime Minister had proposed the creation of regional assemblies for England, partly in response to Scottish and Welsh devolution. But everything came to an ignominious halt when the North-east – the first region to be asked whether it wanted such an assembly – turned it down, massively, in a referendum.

London is no longer the only place demanding that property taxes be spent where they are raised. Yorkshire now has the bit between its teeth, and the Core Cities group, representing major cities in England, said this week that it wanted something similar, plus the right to raise loans. MPs on the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, for their part, have contrasted the relative financial autonomy enjoyed by New York or Frankfurt, with the constraints on, say, London or Manchester.

The actual divisions proposed by Prescott may not have been the right ones: the old counties command abiding loyalties and Yorkshire, for one, probably warrants its own unit. I wouldn’t mind betting, though, that the next government – whatever its complexion – will find itself taking another look.

In the meantime, I offer these two postscripts to Le Tour de Yorkshire. One: there is more to Gary Verity than his bluff and sometimes self-important manner in recent weeks might suggest. First, he is not just head of Welcome to Yorkshire, he also farms successfully, and sustainably. Second, he worked in the City of London for many years, moving back north after his wife was diagnosed with cancer. He’s a native returned. When, as it surely must, a knighthood comes his way, let it be for services to Yorkshire. But not only to Yorkshire – my second postscript. If the reports of how Yorkshire prevailed over Edinburgh and Florence are correct, and they ring true, what clinched the argument was not just the landscape or Gary Verity’s get up and go, but the rapport he established with the director of the Tour, Christian Prudhomme, and his sense for what makes the Tour, and the French, tick.

So, along with the knighthood, how about the Légion d’honneur for Monsieur Verity, too?

The Times today – ‘Yorkshire wants its own seat of power’

An article in The Times today picks up on the similar argument in yesterday’s FT that the success of the Tour de France over the weekend in Yorkshire has ‘fuelled talk of independence, or at least devolution, for Yorkshire.’ There is a name check for the Yorkshire Devolution Movement and although we said that education and health should be policy areas (amongst others) which are devolved to the region, we would not have included tourism. The whole point is that tourism is one of the few areas where Yorkshire has a certain autonomy and because of that was able to secure le Grand Depart for ‘Yorkshire’. The issue is, given what we achieved with tourism, the potential is there to achieve so much more for people and the economy. Just give us the powers!

Times article


As the Tour de France is about to start what we said a year ago is even more poignant

As le Grand Depart is ready to, well, ‘depart’, Yorkshire takes centre stage in the sporting world (notwithstanding the World Cup and Wimbledon) for the next few days. The opening ceremony in Leeds yesterday evening whetted everyone’s appetite and showed at the same time how friendly and enthusiastic we can be here. Yorkshire is in the spotlight and there is no doubt we will give a great account of ourselves. It begs the question, of course, what else we could achieve if we had the same devolved powers in other areas as we do in tourism? The potential to do so much more has always existed; we just need the tools to exploit it. It’s not the first time YDM has highlighted this. In fact, we go back to March 2013 and one of the very first blog posts when we drew attention to this dilemma. It is worth reproducing that below as it remains as poignant a year on:


Tour de France success shows the value of devolution to Yorkshire

There can’t have been many in Yorkshire who weren’t thrilled when the Tour de France organisers announced plans for the opening stages of the race in 2014 to be held in our region. Credit, rightly, has gone to Gary Verity and his team at Welcome to Yorkshire for the unceasing lobbying they put in over the months. The enthusiasm has been subsequently tempered somewhat by the Government’s decision that no public money would be spent on what will be the largest sporting occasion the region has seen in a generation. This stinginess of course contrasts with the £9 billion of public money put into the London Olympics. It would be inconceivable that should London have been awarded a stage or two of the Tour de France that Boris Johnson would not have been immediately inviting himself to Downing Street and banging the drum for his city.

The successful Yorkshire bid for the Tour de France highlights two things. Firstly, where the region has the kind of devolved powers (in this case tourism activities) to make the case for Yorkshire then it can be successful. Secondly, however, we still miss out on money because the region is unable to act with a singular voice. The imbalance in spending on transport infrastructure between the north and the south is well documented and yet is about to become worse. In addition to the several billions of pounds of taxpayer’s money already committed to South East England’s Crossrail project comes the news that the rolling stock for the line will be bought for three quarters of a million pounds out of the public purse. This contrasts with the few thousands needed to maintain the DalesBus service as reported by the Yorkshire Post recently or the electrification of the TransPennne line so desperately needed (and a commitment to new rolling stock – not the ‘hand-me downs’ from Crossrail).

The conclusion is that devolution of powers to Yorkshire works; let’s have more of it.

Why Osborne’s ‘Boris of Leeds’ is not the answer

There is no comparison between the London of which Boris is elected Mayor and the Leeds, Sheffield or Hull that the Chancellor proposes has an elected Mayor.

Firstly, Boris’s London is one of the twelve government regions of the UK whereas the Chancellor’s proposal refers to mere cities within government regions of the UK. To compare with London on that basis, the Chancellor would have to be proposing a Boris for another one of the twelve government regions of the UK such as ‘Yorkshire and the Humber’, ‘The North East’ or ‘The North West’

Then there is the fact that London, with its population of more than 8.2m, easily has the critical mass to be effective and efficient as a devolved entity. Compare this with the Leeds population of less than 1m, just 752,000, and it becomes clear that Leeds has nowhere near the critical mass required. It would inevitably find itself in a position where it has to collaborate or combine with other entities in order to achieve anything worthwhile, as has been proven by LEPs and local authorities recently with their ‘collaboration agreements’ and ‘combined authorities’.

A further consideration is ‘identity’. Whereas Boris is elected Mayor of an area called ‘London’ which is populated by people who identify themselves as ‘Londoners’, the people of Sheffield or Hull or Leeds all identify themselves as’ Yorkshire’ or ‘Tyke’ and most would not even consider there being an identity pertaining to their particular city. Can you imagine someone from Leeds thinking of himself as a Leodensian rather than a Yorkshireman?

Whereas ALL London benefits from the devolution bestowed upon London, vast tracts of Yorkshire would be excluded from the Chancellor’s proposals altogether and the cities that were not would be limited in their ability by their lack of critical mass. As previously mentioned, they would need to combine and collaborate in order to achieve. So why not do that from the start and have a single devolved entity which both has the critical mass and respects the identity of people? Why not have a devolved Yorkshire?

A proposal for the Anglo Saxon Kingdoms to be the basis for devolution for England

An entertaining but bonkers take on devolution in England.


A Point of View: Taking England back to the Dark Ages

Man dressed up as Saxon

Thirty years ago this autumn, I began a degree in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Cambridge University. Us ASNaCs, as we were known, were a happy band, who understood that Vikings had no horns on their helmets, who yearned to yomp across Iceland, and who venerated Bede above all the saints. In more recent times, I’ve often been reminded of those student days by the debates over Scottish independence, not least because I love to point out to SNP stalwarts that Edinburgh started out as Edwin’s burgh, founded by Edwin, King of Northumbria. It never seems to go down well.

Anyway, bear with me, because a serious point is going to emerge from these memories of the mead hall. You see, for me, the issue of Scottish independence is not about what happens to what might become “the nation again” of Scotland, but about how those of us who are left behind, manage to cope in our new disunited kingdom.

Scotland would end up a nice size, about five and a quarter million people. As Mr Salmond wishfully dreams, that’s about the same population as those prosperous egalitarian Nordic countries across the North Sea which once ravaged our shores with swords and axes, rather than sombre detective stories and traditional knit pullovers.

Meanwhile, setting Wales aside, England would be left with a cumbersome 53 million plus. Which represents a bit of a problem.

“What happens if we put away again the swords and spears, and think in terms of England as heptarchy? ”

Because size does matter. It seems to me that progressive, reasonable, pacific and prosperous states – like the Nordic countries, or Switzerland or New Zealand – tend to be less than 10 million people. That’s almost intimate, for a nation. Citizens of smaller countries feel pride and connection. The population is small enough to have deliberative public policy, which takes account of local needs. The health service and the education service seem less distant from everyday lives. Folk feel more involved and valued. I can imagine how Scotland might achieve that, with only five million. But what about the rest of us?

Here’s where those years of studying Anglo-Saxon history come in. Before Alfred the Great unified the English in resistance to the Danes, England was not one country. Between about 500 and 850 AD, it was a heptarchy, meaning seven kingdoms, although in truth the number tended to fluctuate. If memory serves, the leading members of the heptarchy comprised Northumbria, Wessex, Mercia, and East Anglia. The others were Sussex, Kent and Essex, although there was quite a bit of boundary change happening for the three centuries or so that this era lasted – all very much Game of Thrones.

Alfred the Great Alfred the Great united the English in resistance to the Danes

What happens if we put away again the swords and spears, and think in terms of England as heptarchy? Divide 50 million by seven, and you would get a neat set of seven countries, each at seven million souls. Wessex gets the West country and Bristol and the Thames Valley and the South Coast. Cornwall has just been recognised as a distinct region, and this way the whole South West gets to control its own destiny.

The Anglo-Saxons

Sutton Hoo helmet

From barbarian invaders to devout Christian missionaries, the Anglo-Saxons brought 400 years of religious evolution and shifting political power to the British Isles.

Mercia would be the Midlands and up as far as Manchester, home of manufacturing, with heavy metal and indie music as important exports. Northumbria has the rest of the North. East Anglia could take over Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire as well as Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. That leaves Kent and Sussex to fight over the South East, with London as a new statelet on its own. I haven’t done the maths yet, but I imagine you could do something neat to balance it all out. So then you would have Scotland, Wales and seven English territories on the island of Britain, all of approximately the same scale, and all with a chance of building a sense of identity for themselves. It’s no coincidence, that these statelets would be about the same size as the average American state or a Nordic country.

There would be plenty of advantages. Rationalisation of the 30 or so British police forces is long overdue, and this way there would be seven obvious territories for separate police forces. Sport would become very interesting, as the seven home nations battled it out with each other, and with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland at cricket and rugby and football. The new dispensation would suit the traditionalists, because it would be rooted in a history going back to the Dark Ages, and it would suit progressive types, because it’s all about devolution and bringing power closer to the citizen.

Newcastle upon Tyne at night Newcastle – “Northumbrians already fly their flag with pride”

For most of my adult life, I have lived in regions that were proud of their identity, and keen to throw off the shackles of central government. Twenty years ago, I moved up to Newcastle, and in my experience, most Geordies are itching for their bit of home rule. Northumbrians already fly their flag with pride. After that, I lived for five years in Switzerland, which has been a confederation of small independent republics since the medieval period. Geneva and the other 25 cantons all rule themselves very happily, with a strong sense of local pride and distinctiveness. And now I live in Norwich, where Norfolk patriotism has a rural fervour of its own. So all this makes perfect sense to me.

A woman with Union Jack face paint and a man with a Scotland flag

In September voters in Scotland will go to the polls to decide whether or not to become independent. Campaigners and commentators have made much of the implications for people north of the border – but how would an independent Scotland impact on the rest of the UK and Europe?

Each of these new seven states, together with the other countries of the Disunited Kingdom, could set its own policies. People could decide which type of regime they wanted to be a citizen of, and move house to somewhere they felt they belonged. These new states would compete with each other economically, as well as in terms of sports and culture, and this competition would drive up standards for everyone. Forget the Dark Ages, it could be a new Golden Age, thanks to the re-thinking which Scottish independence would surely force on the rest of us who were left behind.

Of course, there would be disadvantages too, as I realized when a North American friend pointed out to me that my plan was reminiscent of the debate about state rights that often dominates US politics. The 50 US states average about five million citizens each, and they can often be resentful not just of federal dominance, but also of their neighbours. South Carolina once squabbled with Georgia about who could call itself the “peach state”. As water becomes scarce, states argue about who is entitled to run hydro-electric or irrigation schemes on shared rivers. States have often tried to uphold more conservative legislation than the federal government, for example with regard to racial equality, gun control or more recently gay marriage.

South Carolina sign

Then I remembered that another drawback of localism might be nimby-ism (Not In My Back Yard). When citizens think at the level of their immediate community, they fail to see the common interest that they share with others in their wider society, so they reject that hostel for recovering drug addicts. They tend to be more short term than long term in their analysis, so they reject those wind turbines. They can end up being selfish and defensive and competitive with others. After all, the word parochial literally means “relating to a parish” but it has become a synonym for having a narrow outlook. I am not sure that it’s just a coincidence that Switzerland is one of the more reactionary and anti-immigrant nations in Europe.

My view is that we need fewer borders, not more. That’s why the European Union makes sense to me. I worry that if we were to go back to historical precedent for the basis of our political units, we would end up fighting medieval battles, not with bows and arrows, but with immigration rules and tax regimes. In the 21st Century, surely it’s time to celebrate what unites us, not what divides us. If we are ever to overcome the problem of climate change, we think globally and act globally. I do love the idea of bringing back the heptarchy, both because I think smaller countries work better, but also because I love traditions. But, proud as I am to be an East Anglian, I think I am first and foremost a human being.

Scottish Tories scramble to support Better Together campaign

Scottish Conservatives leader, Ruth Davidson has said that Scotland should receive full control of income tax, should the nation turn down independence.

She went on to add that Holyrood should also receive powers to control VAT, some controls over tax bands and rates along with an independent Fiscal Commission to produce Scottish forecasts.

It should be noted that when Ruth Davidson started her successful leadership bid in 2011 one of her main policies was being strongly opposed to any form of fiscal autonomy, what a drastic shift!

The plans include a cut in the treasury block fund, in which Westminster give devolved areas a set amount of money and the parliaments spend it as they see fit, which is designed to increase financial autonomy.

It does appear that the Tories, who were originally opposed to devolution and vetoed a devolution max choice in the upcoming referendum, are seriously regretting that mistake as the polls start to show hope for the Yes side.

Regardless of the result referendum, the SNP have claimed a fantastic victory, even if the No side clutches the trophy, the nationalists have promised Scotland a raft of new powers as the UK tip toes away from being the most centralised nation in Europe.

The Lib Dems, who support regional devolution in England, say that Scotland should raise 50% of what it spends.

Labour want to see the 20p tax rate devolved, along with more powers for Scotland’s islands.

In related news, Yorkshire Devolution was mentioned in a recent parliament session. Barry Sheerman MP for Huddersfield ask Greg Clark MP (Minster for state in the Cabinet office) why “Yorkshire, who has a bigger population than Scotland” still has no democratic voice.

Mr. Clark MP replied that the West Yorkshire and Sheffield combined authorities give Yorkshire a big enough voice.

Which is an interest view, being as it ignored the other half of Yorkshire.  


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