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March 6, 2014

Guest blogger, George McManus writes:


‘Stay with us Scotland’.   The words of David Bowie delivered by his representative on earth Supermodel Kate Moss at the recent music awards had more impact on the Scottish independence debate than the interventions of 1000 politicians.   ‘Why’ people have been asking, ‘should an ageing rock and roll star be even interested in the Scottish independence referendum?’  Well having spent the last 40 years trying to understand the subliminal messages of the brilliant Ziggy Stardust album, I wouldn’t dream of trying to second guess the great man.     I can only conclude that we should all be interested none more so than the people of Yorkshire.

The same applies when we consider that the Silk Commission has recently reported into additional powers for the Welsh Assembly.  There is every likelihood that responsibilities for the criminal justice system in Wales will move from Westminster to Cardiff.    And why not?   Surely the people of Wales are in a better position to decide on legal priorities, within nationally and internationally agreed parameters, than mandarins in London.   People in Wales also want to ensure that more is done to protect Wales against the ravages of the weather and climate change.

Can anyone not have noticed how the whole debate on the winter weather, ignored by Whitehall when 1000 homes on the Humber were damaged by December’s storm surge, shot up the agenda when the playing fields of Eton were flooded?    People are asking, ‘Why is it that Cornwall’s railways and its economy, have been severed by some bad weather when London is spending £15bn on a new Crossrail project and is pushing for High Speed 2 to be built from London to Birmingham?

Whether you’re in Wales, Scotland, Cornwall or Yorkshire it’s obvious that our political system is warped.   The economy in London and the South East is booming while the rest of the country is in recession.  And the situation is getting worse not better.   As London’s economy grows, so more resources, human and otherwise are sucked out of the regions.   Our system is broken and needs fixing.

But we’ve been here before.  John Prescott’s admirable attempts at regional government in England were blocked by a Whitehall machine whose instinct is to centralise.   Watered down proposals which would have created toothless talking shops overseen by overpaid politicians, the picture created for the public was of bloated administrators with their snouts in the trough.   We must be clear with our vision.

All parties should now be urged to commit to democratically elected regional devolution in their manifestos for the next election.

We must make sure than we don’t make the same mistakes as in the past.   History teaches us that people want better politics not more politics.   I believe we should have a democratically elected assembly for Yorkshire, not Yorkshire and the Humber but Yorkshire using ancient not contemporary boundaries.    Housed in York, it should be funded by block grant from Westminster and be empowered to decide its own policy priorities for economic development, education, health, transport and environment.    Representation should be equal to the number of Parliamentary constituencies and based on the principle of 2 representatives for twinned constituencies to be returned on a gender balance basis ensuring minimum 50% representation of women representatives.   It should be part of a root and branch re-organisation of local government, reducing the numbers of councillors but vitally giving councillors control over delivery and not just commissioning of services.   Only then will we reinvigorate local government.

First step would be to establish a royal commission to look at proposals.   Working with the Local Government Boundaries Commission, this should be required to report both regional and local proposals by the end of 2017.  Next step would be to put its findings to a referendum of Yorkshire voters in 2019.   If they vote for it then it could be up and running with elections to the new assembly to be held in 2020.

It could also be argued that the real dividing line politically in the UK is not the line which forms the Scotland/England border but that which defines the North/South divide.    It’s no coincidence that the decision makers in Westminster only waken up to the problems of flooding when the South is affected.     It’s time to stop complaining and to demand answers.  It’s time for Yorkshire.

George McManus is a member of Beverley & Holderness Labour Party. He writes as a Scottish exile and is a member of Labour’s International Policy Commission. He is also an occasional blogger for YDM.



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