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Is it time for devolution to Yorkshire?

May 8, 2014

An essay by Chris Stone, studying Journalism at the University of Sheffield:

A new political party has been launched demanding devolution for Yorkshire in the form of an elected assembly.

Yorkshire First are putting forward 3 candidates for the upcoming European parliament elections for the region of Yorkshire and the Humber. Their party website makes clear they want devolution but not independence.

“Yorkshire has a larger population than Scotland and an economy twice the size of Wales, but with the powers of neither.” is stated on the home page of their website. “We are the new party that wants to put Yorkshire first”. In 1997 Wales and Scotland were both given referendums on devolved powers under the New Labour government. Scotland voted 74% yes to a devolved Parliament, 63% yes to tax varying powers, both on a 60% turnout. Wales voted 50.3% yes to a regional assembly on a 50% turnout.

One can’t help but feeling a little bit of déjà vu however. In 2003 Yorkshire and the Humber, North East and North West of England were all set to be given referendums for elected regional assemblies for each of their regions. However in 2004 the North East voted 77.9 % no, on a turnout of just 49%, after which the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber referendums were abandoned.

I got in touch with Yorkshire First asking them why they think now is any different to when the idea was flirted with 10 years ago, and they replied “remember we were never given the chance to vote when the NE had a referendum; seems to us there is a different mood now”. They also referred to the powers on offer in 2003-4 as a “glorified county council” saying they would not support the same offer “no powers, no point”.

Linda McAvan, a Labour MEP for Yorkshire and Humber questioned why the party is running in the European elections, considering the EU parliament has no say over devolution matters. “it’s odd to try to send people to the European Parliament to lobby for something which has to be delivered by the UK government.” However Yorkshire First told me “This is a long term plan to get other parties to support devolution. We will consider standing against known opponents of devolution in the General Election”.

The top candidate they are fielding is Stewart Arnold,a former Liberal Democrat councillor and who has campaigned for Yorkshire devolution for over 10 years. The second is the party’s founder Richard Carter, a business advisor currently living in Oslo, he is originally from Holmfirth in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

So what makes this time around any different? Is it because the economy is in a worse state than it was in 10 years ago, and the north was arguably hit harder than anywhere else in the country by the recession. Nigel Sollitt, the Chairman of a related group, the Yorkshire Devolution Movement, told me when referring to the 2004 referendums that “In 2004 little was known about devolution, but now we have the benefit of seeing the advantages it has brought Scotland and Wales over the last 15 years”.

Does Yorkshire First really have a chance come May 22nd? A poll conducted by the Yorkshire Post on March 17th asked the question “Should Yorkshire have it’s own regional assembly?” to which 62% voted yes. So there appears to be support in Yorkshire for devolution, however, Yorkshire First’s biggest challenge is getting the word out about the new party, made even more difficult with very little funding.

The party is just over a month old, but they have already been the feature of some on-line articles, including one in the Yorkshire post, one in the Guardian which seemed to cause quite a stir, accumulating 358 comments. They’ve even attracted attention from overseas, with an on-line article featuring in “”. Their Facebook group however only has 232 likes, and on twitter just 71 followers, suggesting not many people have heard of the new party. If Yorkshire First want a serious chance of winning this May, they are going to need a lot more coverage and publicity to get the message out to the 62% of Tykes who said wanted a regional assembly for Yorkshire. Failing that they are going to need a lot of people to make up their minds once they see, at the bottom of ballot paper (due to alphabetical order) the party “Yorkshire first”.

Yorkshire First state that they need 1 out of 8 votes cast in the region in order to gain a seat, at the moment they seem big underdogs to do so. But stranger things have happened, let’s not forget the BNP managed to win a seat last year in Yorkshire and the Humber, so the odds of a minority party winning in this region is not unheard of. Whether or not they will be able to pull it off, it seems as though someone has finally taken a stand for the White Rose County, and has given Tykes the chance to hurt politicians where it hurts the most, in the ballot box.


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