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Why I want Yorkshire to have the powers to shape its own destiny by Stewart Arnold, lead candidate for Yorkshire First – the party for Yorkshire

May 14, 2014

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Why I want Yorkshire to have the powers to shape its own destiny

by Stewart Arnold, lead candidate for Yorkshire First – the party for Yorkshire

http://www.yorkshirefirst.org.uk/

 

The celebrations on Yorkshire Day on the 1st August every year show just how proud the people of Yorkshire are of their own county . Probably no other part of England has quite the same sense of distinctiveness and individuality. 

Yorkshire is an identifiable community with broadly definable borders going back hundreds of years. It has an incredibly diverse landscape, history and culture. Its people are seen as trustworthy, honest and blunt speaking. Yorkshire has ten universities, a broad manufacturing base, a thriving services sector, tourism, farming, fishing, dales, moors, wolds, minsters (including one of the great cathedrals of Europe), cities, market towns, villages, ports, beaches, cliffs, rivers and Jessica Ennis-Hill. It has been the home of some of the greatest writers in the English language. Its inventions have made an impact across the world. It was the original base to some of the greatest companies in Britain. It has a huge sporting heritage (for example, finishing 12th in the 2012 Olympics medal count). It has a population of 5 million people almost identical to that of Scotland and broadly in the same range as the Nordic states of Finland, Denmark and Norway. It has a flag, an emblem and a civic day. In short (and I am not the first to coin this phrase), Yorkshire is a country in miniature.

However, despite that diversity, industriousness and sense of community, Yorkshire (along with the Humber), across all most indices performs badly against the national average. Whether it is the unemployment rate, productivity, house prices, levels of poor health, Yorkshire performs very badly. Yorkshire has the second lowest rate of construction in the UK and the region is tenth out of twelve regions for attracting inward investment from larger private sector companies.  Frankly, both economic and social progress in Yorkshire over the past couple of generations has been pitiful as the region continues to be in the bottom two or three of all English regions against most measures. Something needs to change.

The successful bid for the opening stages of the Tour de France shows us what is possible for this extraordinary region. Tourism is one of the few matters where Yorkshire can speak with a relatively independent voice. It was solely the voice of Yorkshire as ‘Welcome to Yorkshire’ had no assistance or support at all from central government in securing the opening stages of this prestigious sporting event. It was therefore Yorkshire determining its own destiny through its own efforts. It should set a yardstick for other areas of investment, for example, in transport where Treasury figures show London enjoyed spending-per-head of £644 in the last financial year and Yorkshire just £251.

In other parts of the UK this idea of determining their own destiny has been well established for several years as the process of devolution has been continued: Scotland will be voting for independence in a few month’s time; Wales, after a referendum in 2011, has enhanced law making powers and London apparently thrives with its own assembly and Mayor. For Yorkshire, despite Lord Heseltine’s best efforts in urging more money to be spent to reduce the north-south divide, decision-making rests firmly with those in Westminster and Whitehall. No surprise then that many in Yorkshire are angry.

I have long believed that just as Yorkshire has a distinct identity in the same way as Wales, Scotland and London, then it too should have powers to make decisions that are genuinely made in Yorkshire to put the interests of Yorkshire folk first. In fact, the matter of devolution has been one of my personal political driving forces for the past fifteen years or so. I wrote my first pamphlet on Yorkshire devolution in 2002 and later chaired the all party Campaign for Yorkshire ahead of the referendum on an elected assembly that never was never granted us. The devolution issue has gone on the back burner for a while but the rationale has always remained and the way the recession has aggravated the north south divide has given it prominence once again.

So I was very pleased to meet up with some like minded folks in March 2013 to set up the Yorkshire Devolution Movement. YDM was set up to bring together people from all walks of life who want to work to put the case for Yorkshire to have greater decision making made in the county itself and to help provide the economic, social and environmental benefits which would come with that. Some have moved on further, of course, by subsequently setting up a political party to fight in the ballot box. Elections allow the party to put across the case for devolution to Yorkshire and to put political pressure on the Westminster parties. And, of course, to win representation at all levels in order to serve the people. I was delighted therefore to be selected as the lead candidate for the new party (Yorkshire First) for the European Parliament elections on 22nd May 2014. In this unpredictable electoral year we have every chance of getting representation in the European Parliament where, incidentally, Yorkshire First would most likely sit with the European Free Alliance, the home to the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

I have never really understood what successive governments have got against letting communities decide what’s best for them. I can only assume it is a fear of letting go of power. Yet every government of the last 100 years has recognised that things are different in the North and different measures need be applied. So, in Yorkshire, we have had in recent years, Regional Development Agencies, a Minister for Yorkshire, City Regions, Local Enterprise Partnerships, amongst a pot-pourri of other quangos and initiatives. Yet none have overturned the fundamental fault with the UK economy that it is too heavily weighted to London and the South-east. This is not about independence. What is needed, however, is for policies made in Yorkshire and for Yorkshire that would rebalance the UK economy and which at the same time would help to unleash the amazing potential we have here. In short, greater self rule for Yorkshire!

 

This piece is based on an opinion column I wrote for the Yorkshire Post in August 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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