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Devo-Meagre Measures Makes Yorkshire something something …*

September 26, 2014

First time contributor, Councillor Kevin Rodgers from Doncaster, writing in a personal capacity, wants to encourage a ‘great debate’ on Yorkshire’s future.

 

Devo-Meagre Measures Makes Yorkshire something something …*

The two year long independence referendum in Scotland and its climatic crescendo to a No vote, has led to reflections elsewhere in this United Kingdom about how we go about the business of governance. Last Friday Englishmen (and women) who were constitutionally speaking abed awoke and though themselves accursed they did not have a referendum, and held their … well, lets say they found themselves wanting in the devolution stakes**. Unless they lived in Greater London.

In Yorkshire the issue of regional governance which disappeared off the map a decade ago has come back into contention with a variety of different views on how this can be achieved. Looking back ten years ago at the debate around the proposed English regional assemblies I can recall two things – a Yorkshire MP speaking at a party event in Leeds asking members what we’d like to see the Assembly do, and a wise old councillor who rightly identified that the proposed assemblies would draw powers up from local councils rather than down from Westminster. The assemblies were then an unclear and unpalatable receipe which were roundly rejected by the North East and were buried.

A decade later and the monster turnout in the referendum in Scotland demonstrates the depth and breadth that the Yes and No campaigns achieved which reached all levels of society and engaging voters in a way in which other campaigns can only dream of. It was the very polar opposite of the very staid debate over English Regional government ten years ago – and in my view there were two key differences: to have something at stake, and to go way beyond party lines.

The gravity of the question – how Scotland would be governed for all time – created a serious proposition to be debated with competing claim and counter claim from both the Yes and No campaigns. From outside Scotland we could observe the ‘Air War’ through the national media, but what we could not easily see was the meetings in cities, towns, and villages across Scotland where the question of independence was thoroughly exercised. What drove the number of people to pile into community centres to hear the arguments was simply that there was something to gained or lost that was tangible and mattered. The debate ten years ago on Regional Assemblies never elicited a response beyond a few meetings that a very narrow audience attended. Posing a serious question is absolutely key to generating a thorough and proper debate that people will want to participate in.

The independence debate in Scotland also reached beyond party lines as political partisans had to put aside their normal rivalries to either defend or break the union. But more than this – beyond mere party lines – was the ability of the Yes and No campaigns to reach a vast variety of groups across communities, interest groups, and work places. From the board room to the shop floor of business; through public, private, third and faith sectors; all the many parts of the great machine that makes up Scottish society were reached in the great debate. The turnout in the referendum demonstrates how far beyond simple party lines the debate penetrated.

The delivery of Devo-Max following the No vote will bring the constitutional question of the Asymmetric nature of devolution in the UK into sharp focus. As the General Election approaches there is a danger that the debate descends into English Votes for English Laws versus City Region Devolution – or to be more precise the Conservative view versus the Labour view. If the debate gets stuck in that rubric I fear that further progress to a proper considered view of how power and resources are distributed in England will be limited and difficult. The breadth and depth we have observed in the independence debate in Scotland needs to happen across the counties of England. But it needs to break out of the Westminster narrative.

There are less than 200 days before the next general election and it is likely that only a general principle on English devolution will emerge in the aftermath of the promised Devo-Max legislation. If the people of Yorkshire are to begin the process of recasting the County’s relationship with Westminster it cannot be on the same limited terms as ten years ago. Instead it is up to our own civic society, at all levels, to take a leaf from the Scottish experience and to ask our own searching questions to encourage a great debate over our own future within the broader settlement in a newly united kingdom.

* apologies to Stephen King and Homer Simpson

** apologies to William Shakespeare

 

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One Comment
  1. YORKSHIRE ISN’T NOR EVER WAS A COUNTY BUT A REGION OF ENGLAND, A REMNANT OF A KINGDOM. Using ‘county’ reduces the power of the argument. Devolution must mean that, regional power over transport, health, planning etc. Westminster must only be for national policy decisions, economy, defence, welfare etc.

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