Diana Wallis: Time for Yorkshire to shape its future

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WE are now one month away from the vote on Scottish independence. The polls may well indicate a ‘no’ vote, but whatever the outcome it seems that all the main political parties agree that the process of devolution north of the border is one that will continue.

The Scots can expect extra tax-raising powers and ultimately may be able to do just about anything, save defence and foreign policy, for themselves.

A lot is being written and said about what this means for England; I am much more interested in what it means for Yorkshire.

Having had the privilege to represent our great region for 12 years in the European Parliament, I always thought we were ‘underpowered’, especially in comparison to those smaller European states – such as Denmark and Estonia for example – which have similar or smaller populations to our region.

Here everything revolves around London, especially when it comes to money and resources.

Over the years I served in the European Parliament, I found our region lost out because of some blockage or other in Whitehall.

I recall bureaucratic barriers preventing easy access to EU money made available after the floods of 2007, when I watched regions in other countries such as Austria access the same funds quickly and directly without it being channelled and creamed through their capitals.

The same when money has been readily available from the EU for BAE Systems at Brough or for our leading carbon capture and storage projects – it is more often than not Whitehall which closes down the possibilities for Yorkshire. I recall one time when I tried to champion our needs and being famously labelled ‘a Yorkshire bore’ by a member of my own party.

At least the Scotland debate does seem to have raised an awareness in London that there is an imbalance in England which needs addressing.

However this seems predominantly to focus on cities. Why? This potential course of action just pits one city against another and excludes the rural areas; just because the ‘Boris-land’ model works for London does not mean it is the right template for everywhere else, and certainly not for Yorkshire.

Governments have acknowledged before that different solutions suit different areas. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have differing settlements and Cornwall is starting a different journey with acknowledgement of it having ‘national minority status’.

So to Yorkshire. If the Grand Départ showed anything, it was that Yorkshire is the sum of its parts: cities, villages, towns and countryside pulling together. Let’s not let London pull us apart. We have shown what we are capable of together, something which maybe frightened a few folk down south.

I have come to the conclusion that the only way forward is not to hang around waiting for some crumbs to be offered from Whitehall and Westminster, but to get on with it in the same brilliant way that Gary Verity and his team did when it came to the successful staging of the Tour de France. We have to start somewhere, just the same as the Scots did before us. We have a strong brand, a sense of identity and shared history and culture so let’s at least confront London on our own terms.

A Yorkshire Pledge has been launched with just that in mind. The pledge, initiated by Yorkshire First, says ‘the time has come for us to have more control over our affairs, to enable us to build a stronger region within the United Kingdom and calls for Yorkshire to have the decision-making powers to shape its own future’. This is a laudable aim which I have no problem in supporting and would urge others with the best interests of Yorkshire and its people to do the same at www.yorkshirepledge.org.uk

This could be the beginning of our own journey in Yorkshire. Clearly in the aftermath of the Scottish vote there will be change in England.

I would rather see Yorkshire shape its own future than have a southern one imposed on it.

Diana Wallis is a former MEP (Lib Dem) for Yorkshire and the Humber.