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Lack of policy cohesion may cost Lib Dems votes in Yorkshire

March 16, 2015

In response to the Lord Tyler piece on Liberal Democrat Voice, YDM Chair, Nigel Sollitt, posted this comment two days ago:

On 27th October 2010, Rt Hon David Blunkett MP asked the PM if he could think of one single reason why the people of Yorkshire should not determine their own priorities and one reason why they should not have their own White Rose Parliament. The PM failed to give Mr Blunkett any reason in either respect and I have yet to hear anyone give a response to what I call ‘the Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough question’ that cannot be either defeated in argument or dismissed as rubbish! The truth of the matter is, if any part of the UK enjoys the benefit of determining their own priorities through their own devolved Parliament (or similar institution), there can be no reason why Yorkshire should not!
Like Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Greater London, Yorkshire is a recognized territory defining a strong identity. Yorkshire has a larger land mass than Northern Ireland and Greater London combined, a larger population than Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, a stronger economy than Northern Ireland and Wales in total and the potential, with devolution, to have a stronger economy than Scotland. In fact, on a worldwide scale, in terms of land mass, Yorkshire is larger than 91 countries and in terms of both population and economy, Yorkshire is pretty much on par with the Republic of Slovakia which beats 131 countries on population and is 62nd best on economy. Yet, despite all this, unlike Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Greater London, Yorkshire has no devolved government in order to make its own decisions!
No part of the UK should enjoy greater devolution and democratic benefit than any other part yet in today’s UK there are seven tiers of this ranging from near devo-max in Scotland to ‘devo-lacks’ in Yorkshire and other regions! In between we have the varying levels of powers devolved to assemblies, mayors, city regions, LEPs and combined authorities. This imbalance can only be redressed by either reducing devolution to those who have more, increasing devolution to those who have less or a combination of both, and let’s face it, there is no way Scotland is going to be stripped of any powers it already enjoys! Scotland therefore sets the benchmark for the devolution and democratic benefit that must be distributed throughout the UK to achieve equality. That benchmark includes the powers devolved; the recognition of traditional boundaries and of the heritage, identity and loyalties of the people living within them; the standard of representation enjoyed by the people; the level of transparency and accountability offered to the people and the devolved institution most capable of delivering all those things, a directly elected parliament; all things for which the Yorkshire Devolution Movement has been campaigning over the last three years and of which we are determined to realize!
I have the greatest respect and admiration for Alisdair McGregor and his fellow Yorkshire Lib Dems; Alisdair for having the inspiration and commitment to drive the recent adoption, at regional level, of policy for a Yorkshire Parliament and Yorkshire Lib Dems for having the courage to adopt that policy despite having no backing from national level and despite their leader being committed to City Regions. I have similar respect and admiration for Lord Paul Tyler and Sir Nick Harvey who recently brought fresh thinking not only toward Lib Dem devolution policy at national level but to the major parties in general via their Centre Forum document, “A Devolution dialogue– Evolution or revolution?”. Particularly pleasing is that in both Lord Tyler’s proposal for devolution on demand to top tier institutions of regions with populations of at least one million and in Sir Nick Harvey’s proposal for regional governments and restructuring of local authorities, the Yorkshire Devolution Movement is acknowledged and Yorkshire is specifically cited to support their respective cases.
Lord Tyler says, “Then there are huge areas like Yorkshire, which (even without ‘the Humber’) numbers just under five million. There is a longstanding campaign for a Yorkshire Assembly/Parliament, which would certainly demand an Assembly under the Devolution Enabling Act the Liberal Democrat Conference has endorsed. Local government in each area could be a matter for that area, subject to Devolution Agreement to which all the authorities in the area had signed up at the outset.” He adds, “I agree, too, that while local leaders would necessarily take a lead, the process could and should include wider civic society. If the local County Council leaders in Yorkshire, were recalcitrant about a Yorkshire Assembly, they should be answerable at such a convention to the Yorkshire Devolution Movement.” He goes on to say, “The Yorkshire Devolution Movement, for example, is clear that they would retain councils beneath a new Yorkshire Assembly in order to devolve ‘powers to the least centralised authority capable of addressing…matters effectively within Yorkshire’. Sir Nick Harvey sums up, “Yorkshire (even without suborning part of Lincolnshire into ‘the Humber’) numbers just under five million. This is a much more credible basis for devolving serious power, Yorkshire has a strong identity and as Paul Tyler points out there is a campaign for a Yorkshire Assembly. Yorkshire would still need strong Local Governments underneath to represent its very different constituent parts, but like London it would be a good candidate for a first wave of our process.”
However, surely if Lib Dems were intent on adopting the establishment of a Yorkshire Parliament or Government as national policy, they would have said so at the same time as announcing their support for the establishment of a devolved assembly for Cornwall? They did not do so! In addition to this, a couple of weeks ago YDM asked the three Lib Dem MPs holding Yorkshire seats, Greg Mulholland, David Ward and Nick Clegg, where they stand in respect of a Yorkshire Parliament but NONE of them took the opportunity to express their commitment to the idea! Whilst the policies within the pages of the Lib Dem manifesto remain to be seen, this does not bode well for the establishment of a Yorkshire Parliament being amongst them! If it is not, where would this leave those to whom the matter is of great importance? With both Yorkshire First and Greens having clearly committed to this already, would Lib Dems run the risk of losing Yorkshire voters and members alike due to the apparent lack of cohesion on this issue between national and regional levels and between party leader and other key personnel? We await the manifesto with great interest!

 

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