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Now is the time for all those who support a Yorkshire assembly to stand up and be counted

September 19, 2014

YDM Vice Chair, Stewart Arnold writes:

All the party leaders are making the right mood music about devolution to the English regions. For that we should be grateful. However, I am concerned that this commitment comes in the aftermath of an invigorating (for people) and sobering (for Westminster politicians)debate in Scotland. An important test will be in the weeks and months to come as Cameron, Miliband and Clegg get bogged down in delivering further powers to Holyrood and as the General Election next May beckons. It is beholden on all of us to keep the pressure on.

It’s also important that any plans for devolution involves a conversation with the people of Yorkshire at an early stage. The last thing we want is a one size fits all blue print created by a bureaucrat in Whitehall. If Scotland showed us anything it is that there is a willingness of people to engage in political issues as long as they feel their voice is being heard. Yorkshire should be no different.

So if devolution is on the table what form will it take? That still is up for discussion it seems. There is an eagerness for City Regions by some whilst a Yorkshire regional is casually dismissed. YDM, whilst welcoming the conversation that we are starting to have on devolution, nevertheless has a preferred option: a democratically elected, accountable assembly for the whole of Yorkshire.

The reasons why we see Yorkshire as a whole are well rehearsed and have been expanded on his blog in the past. Yorkshire is an identifiable community with definable borders going back hundreds of years. It has an incredibly diverse landscape, history and culture. It has been the home of some of the greatest writers in the English language. Its inventions have made an impact across the world. Some of the greatest companies in Britain made their start in Yorkshire. It has a huge sporting heritage (for example, finishing 12th in the 2012 Olympics medal count). It has a population of 5 million people, the same as 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, Yorkshire is a country in miniature.

However, despite that diversity, industriousness and sense of community, Yorkshire performs badly. Yorkshire has some of the poorest areas in Northern Europe but as the successful hosting of the Tour de France showed we have the potential to do so much more. What we need is the ability to do things for ourselves, away from the dead hand of Westminster and Whitehall, and unleash the enormous potential which exists in ‘Gods Own County’. Something needs to change. It’s not about independence but about decision making powers closer to the people just as Scotland have had.

Yorkshire is also more than the sum of its parts: cities, towns, villages and countryside. That’s why City Regions don’t do it for us. (And that’s aside from the lack of democracy and transparency which City Regions and LEPs bring).

But in establishing an assembly for Yorkshire we don’t want just a replica of out-of-touch Westminster-style politics with its tribalism and dissembling. Nor do we want the assembly to be stuffed full of party hacks. What we want is a new way of doing our politics. New progressive thinking for all Yorkshire folk. For example, we would want to bring together the talents of people across the region; people with the calibre of a Gary Verity or a Jonny Mitchell or a Jessica Ennis-Hill or the thousands of others who make Yorkshire the amazing place it is to live.

Most importantly we want this to be a conversation with the people of Yorkshire. We need to harness some of the fantastic energy that was so prevalent in the Scottish referendum debate here in Yorkshire as we set out what sort of Yorkshire we want in the 21st century.

Now is the time for all those who support a Yorkshire assembly to stand up and be counted. So (unashamedly) as part of that, we will be publishing blogs and reproducing articles which promote the idea of a Yorkshire assembly as the way forward for devolution to God’s Own. To start off that process here is the piece in today’s Hull Daily Mail by the well respected political columnist, Angus Young.

 

‘Scottish referendum will reignite interest in John Prescott’s regional assemblies’

By Hull Daily Mail  |  Posted: September 19, 2014

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No voters celebrate after Scotland rejected independence today. The huge turnout suggests there may be more interest in local devolution as championed by John Prescott , argues Angus Young

THE biggest winner in today’s Scottish referendum on independence is democracy.

Yesterday’s turnout was an astonishing 84.5%, peaking at 91% in some areas, the biggest in any kind of UK election in living memory.

The issue of Scotland’s future has triggered a level of public debate sadly lacking in recent national or local elections.

The past couple of months have also proved an interesting contrast to the events of ten years ago when voters just south of the border were given the chance to have their say on Lord Prescott’s devolution proposals.

His idea of creating directly elected regional assemblies was road-tested in the North East where the then Labour Government believed it had the best opportunity of securing support.

Instead, it was emphatically rejected with 77.9 per cent voting against in a 49 per cent turnout.

At the time, critics of the Prescott model had a field day.

They claimed it would create toothless talking shops and, worse still, another expensive tier of government with more politicians taking their seats on yet another gravy train.

Those arguments appeared to strike a chord in the North East while the then Deputy Prime Minister’s talk of devolving decision-making powers and funding from Whitehall became lost in the noise.

The resounding “no” vote prompted the Government to shelve plans for a similar referendum in the Yorkshire and Humber region, as well as the North West.

That loss of nerve denied people here the chance to have their say on quite fundamental local governance issues.

A decade later, one of the positive subjects to emerge from the Scottish referendum campaign has been a renewed focus on what lies ahead for the English regions in the aftermath of today’s result.

In the intervening years, limited powers and funding have been transferred to the regions from Whitehall despite weighty reports from the likes of Michael Heseltine.

Most of it has gone into the democratically unaccountable hands of Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Has the time come for the Prescott plans to be taken off the shelf and given a good dusting?

Such is the antipathy across the North in general towards today’s London-centric politics that I would bet a very different result to the one in 2004 would be almost certain

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4 Comments
  1. I have been watching some of the comments about the prospects of English devolution on television today and am quite horrified at some of the proposals. Personally I believe in devolution of UK powers to England as a whole – something that the politicians clearly do not want.

    However, if those with power are determined to have devolution to an even more local level, within England, then as a Yorkshireman I believe that the only other option would be to devolve to Yorkshire as a whole.

    Like Scotland, Yorkshire has a proud history and is a distinct distinctive region. I think that any capital of a future devolved Yorkshire should be this historic city of York.

    It does seem that like devolution of England, devolution to Yorkshire will definitely be off the table. I think the preference for those with the power is to force city regions, or city states on us which, as far as I am concerned, is the worst possible option.

  2. Hi there – read your article and blog. Whilst I live in the Highlands of Scotland, and I am English, I thoroughly agree that there should be proper devolution to England. We have an EU Parliament, a UK Parliament, devolved parliaments for Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland BUT NOT FOR ENGLAND. Only London was devolved at the onset of devolution discussions. This created an imbalance in the UK and as a line management exercise needs to be rectified. I am pleased the Prime Minister is showing some initiative given the result of the Scottish Referendum, wherein I actually voted for independence. I managed to get a small comment in the Inverness Courier ahead of the referendum on the above. Here’s hoping and all the best. Lesley McDade http://www.lesleymcdade.blogspot.com – see post January 2014.

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