HISTORY shows that politics is too important to be left to politicians. However, political parties only start to take issues seriously when they are being hit in the ballot box.
How is that relevant to Yorkshire? Well, barely a day goes by without reports of how Yorkshire is being held back by the dead hand of Westminster and Whitehall.
Whether it is the ongoing North-South divide, the lopsided economic recovery, the lack of spending on transport infrastructure or unspent EU money, Yorkshire is suffering from neglect by London.
It would appear that Yorkshire is being taken for granted by the national parties. Something has to change. Yorkshire needs to be able to make more key decisions locally. How can we influence politicians to take this seriously? The upcoming European Parliament elections on May 22 perhaps provide the perfect opportunity to test this on the people of Yorkshire by presenting the case for devolved powers.
This is the only place where Yorkshire votes as a region. The elections should be about who we want to represent our interests in the EU Parliament. If Yorkshire was to have its own party what would it look like?
Firstly, it should have a regional focus. It should focus on influencing, supporting, and addressing issues that are relevant to the people, environment and society in our region.
Secondly, it should adopt an ‘independent-mindedness’, a great Yorkshire trait that means we should look at what works, not from an ideological standpoint. As a proud Yorkshireman, generally progressive and an independent thinker, I see no reason for being populist, or of the right. A Yorkshire Party should be ready to abandon tired orthodoxies of the left and right and look for good ideas across the political spectrum. So a Yorkshire party should be in the ‘pragmatic centre’ nevertheless with progressive views on economic, social and environmental issues.
Thirdly, it should support the devolving of powers to the least centralised authority capable of addressing those matters effectively – within Yorkshire, the United Kingdom and Europe.
Fourthly, it should be strongly regionalist, not separatist. A Yorkshire Parliament – yes; independence – no. The aim should be to build a stronger Yorkshire within the UK.
But isn’t this just another layer of government? A talking shop? Or a glorified county council? Whether the Scots vote to stay or not, the problems with the UK remain the same.
1. The UK is dominated by London and the South East, and is the most centralised state in Europe.
2. Government is too remote.
3. Local authorities have had powers increasingly taken away from them.
4. Confusion around roles and responsibilities between local, regional and national government.
5. England is not one homogenous country, and has different needs and requirements in different regions – what might be appropriate in the West Country may be plain wrong in Yorkshire.
6. We are already in competition – not just with the Scots but other parts of England, and indeed Europe. Those regions within Europe that have greater powers perform better, environmentally, socially and economically.
In addition the UK now has a track record of devolution – even London has it! The referendums that introduced the four devolved regions were only narrowly won but since then support has rocketed.
This is a great story to tell and reflects that government, closer to the people, works. It allows regional needs to be prioritised and addressed.
So why is there no groundswell of opinion amongst the traditional parties to encourage or suggest that the regions should have more power? Are they simply protecting their own national interests?
Is it time for this to be tested?
Yorkshire has its own sense of identity and cultural heritage. It has a rich diversity. It has a population the same as Scotland and an economy twice the size of Wales but the powers of neither. When Yorkshire pulls together it can win. Le Grand Départ demonstrated this perfectly.
Are the people of Yorkshire ready to demand a say in the future, to support our region and demand a Yorkshire assembly where the county’s undoubted potential can be unleashed?