WHAT next for Yorkshire? This is the key question as Westminster’s leaders look to empower the English regions – and the North in particular – after Scotland rejected independence.
Yet this is not a new question. John Prescott was advocating regional assemblies 10 years ago to counter the advent of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly was rejected, and it has taken the threat of a constitutional crisis for David Cameron to acknowledge the public’s unease with this lingering democratic deficit – and the anger caused by the arrogant assumption that English taxpayers will continue to subsidise the Scots via the ubiquitous Barnett funding formula.
Contrary to Lord Prescott’s advocacy, another tier of local government is not the answer and this, thankfully, does not appear to be on the table.
Taxpayers want key policies allied to economic growth and infrastructure improvements to be delivered effectively and efficiently. The cost of government is already far too expensive.
But the public’s expectations go further. They want the power devolved from to organisations that are directly accountable to voters. There is already unease at the number of unelected quangos and bodies who are being given unfettered powers. Transparency and scrutiny are non-negotiable – these safeguards are critical to restorating trust in local, regional and national politicians.
And they are uneasy over the Government dictating the terms of the debate – Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith summed this up in yesterday’s newspaper: “Let’s not wait for the policy wonks in Whitehall to impose their proposals on us. Let’s seize the initiative ourselves.”
How Yorkshire, and Mr Cameron, square off this proverbial circle remains to be seen, even more so when set in the context of the Government’s existing strategies for the North and George Osborne’s promise to turn the region into an “economic powerhouse” on the back of two high-speed rail lines.
It would have been challenging enough without the backlash from the Scottish independence vote and, specifically, the Prime Minister’s divisive decision – in conjunction with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg – to agree to an unilateral extension to the Barnett formula alongside the devolution of new powers to the Scottish Parliament.
His counter-argument was yesterday’s hastily-announced decision to link this to the passage of new laws that would curtail the influence of Scottish MPs at Westminster when it comes to matters pertaining to England. This blurring of the issues will make it virtually impossible for a political consensus to be reached, Mr Miliband intimated as much, and also neglects the historical fact that it was English Tories who imposed the ‘poll tax’ on Scotland at the end of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership.
Such jingoistic tokenism plays straight into the hands of emboldened Scottish nationalists – Alex Salmond did not sound like a man ready to give up the fight despite his slightly surprising resignation yesterday in which he blamed a Westminster ‘stitch-up’ for the defeat – and those disillusioned voters south of the border who have lost all faith in the political establishment.
Mr Cameron did attempt to draw a line under these ructions when he said it was “time for our United Kingdom to come together and to move forward”, but it is difficult to see how this is possible when so many politicians are primarily motivated by the next set of opinion polls and their own self-preservation ahead of the next election.
It is another oversight – symptomatic of the PM’s wider complacency – that Mr Cameron has not yet asked for Parliament to be recalled so democratically-elected MPs from all corners of the United Kingdom can scrutinise his proposals, and how the whole of Great Britain can be governed effectively and equitably. This should be the first page in the new chapter of British history now being written.
Respected at last: Brian Clough and Leeds United
THE grudging respect that Leeds United fans now have for Brian Clough, 10 years after Old Big ‘Ead passed away, is testimony to the adage that ‘time is a great healer’.
Four decades after his acrimonious 44-day reign ended at Elland Road, there appears to be a realisation that Clough was a phenomenon whose like will never be seen again. He was, after all, a flawed genius who turned Nottingham Forest, a provincial Midlands club in the old second division, into European champions in the space of three sublime seasons.
Perhaps his temperament may not have been best suited the 24/7 scrutiny that managers endure today, but football is littered with big-name clubs who would benefit from a Clough-like leader. And, ironically, Leeds United is the most obvious example of this.