WITH less than two weeks to go before the Scottish referendum, all eyes are on Scotland. Do they want a divorce or marriage guidance?
For us at Yorkshire First we see the birth of a new nation. A nation that must address over 300 years of marriage, and build an inclusive state, where all play an active part in creating a successful next 300 years.
Whether Scotland is a part of this renewal is the only question that the Scots are currently deciding. Whatever the outcome, a New Britain is now in play. A once in 300-year opportunity to cast off the shackles of the past and a chance to finally address the over- centralising British state.
To look again at how the state engages people as citizens, not just consumers of services. To look again at how we build a United Kingdom that works for the whole country. Every part of it. Where we are all proud to celebrate our differences, with recognition that we are all part of building a New Britain. Together.
It is a sad indictment that we live in the nation with nine of the 10 poorest areas in Northern Europe. London by contrast is the richest. If the existing UK structures are working so well, why is it that London appears to be hoovering up the wealth, vitality, and energy of the regions of the UK?
We do need a strong London, but not at the expense of the regions. Indeed, in many ways, the regions are the answer to many of London’s issues. But it seems it is not seen in that way.
Following a Yes or No vote, a significant period of nation-building will be required. The Scottish vote should not be seen as an end point. It is an opportunity to build this New Britain.
The action should be seismic. The status quo cannot continue. A new, inclusive settlement that identifies clear roles and responsibilities for local, regional, and national government is required. Each should have clear budgets and identifiable taxes that clearly sit with each tier. Real accountability. Real decision-making powers. A fairer democracy.
The Scots have shown us the way. How to engage all parts of Scottish society in a conversation about their future. That same energy is now needed here.
For this to happen a “conversation” is needed to agree a New Britain, one that is stronger, more resilient and less prone to break-up. It is a time for ideas and innovations to build a future where all parts of the UK are successful – not just London. A conversation not dominated by the diktat of the UK government. A conversation that allows all parts of the UK to discuss their varying needs, strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities. Their ideas on how to address those needs.
The first task, whatever the outcome in Scotland, is to understand what kind of new nation we want to build. It will be a time for listening and a time for agreeing change that has the broadest support across the country. It is not a time for party politics.
Five million Scots should of course be represented. But so should other regions. Yorkshire has a population of five million, an economy twice that of Wales. But with the powers of neither.
How can regions such as Yorkshire be adequately represented? Our region needs to be part of the discussions. Others do too. It will be our New Britain as much as anyone else’s.
But we have no voice. Neither do other regions of England. We, like other parts of the country, have had every “strategic” body systematically stripped away since 1974. All governments since then have consistently rearranged the deckchairs, rather than fixing the hole in “Titanic” Yorkshire.
Yorkshire has 22 councils. It has one county council, covering the least populated north of the county. They have different roles, responsibilities, systems and electoral cycles. We have four police forces and city regions, local enterprise partnerships and other quangos that make decisions for us now. And get the money. But how do we influence it? Where is the public voice? Where is the voice for Yorkshire?
Yorkshire has over 1,200 councillors. Twice as many individuals as it takes to run the country. What do they do? We think they do their best. But it is not good enough. We think it is their duty to stand up for the region, to address our challenges and opportunities. But they cannot. He who pays the piper calls the tune. And that is the UK government.
Councillors are now effectively the implementers of Government policy. At the moment you might describe them as the Government’s official executioners. It is almost pointless voting. No powers? No point. That cannot continue.
Monies are now being allocated to local enterprise partnerships that are business-led. Again, where is the public’s voice? Unelected, sitting at the side of local authorities starved of funds, grateful for the crumbs from the Government’s table. Our different local enterprise partnerships are competing against each other for your funds. That cannot continue. They were, and are, our funds. The region should be accountable for them.
There is no unified voice, anywhere, except Welcome to Yorkshire. Just look at what can be achieved when the region is united, pulling together. We can perform, and beat the competition.
Imagine if we actually had the powers to act to address our challenges, opportunities and priorities. In our way. To build a stronger region within the New Britain.
Labour’s proposals for England are yet more tinkering, when much more is needed. The Tories’ U-turn on devolution is astonishing to see. When they talk about Wales or Scotland, that is. But their logic cannot stop there. The same logic applies to the regions of England.
Some marriages end in divorce, acrimony and bitterness. Some get through it and begin a new, exciting future, either together or separately. We believe now is a time of hope, an opportunity that comes around rarely. A time where we can build a New Britain that we all have a stake in.
Stronger, outward-looking, confident and able to address our 21st century challenges. A New Britain fit for the next 300 years.
The two questions are: will the people of Scotland choose to be part of it or not? Will we continue the fixation with Europe or fix our disunited kingdom?
It is time to get our own house in order. It’s time for change. Seismic change.
• Richard Carter is the leader of the Yorkshire First Party, which is calling for greater devolution for Yorkshire.