WHATEVER THE result of Scotland’s independence referendum – and, as the polls narrow, it is no longer safe to assume that supporters of the Union will be victorious – the implications for the future of Yorkshire and the rest of England will be considerable.
It may well be that common sense yet wins out and the Better Together campaign makes the most of the 10 days remaining before the ballot. It could, for instance, stop trying to frighten Scots with tales of economic disaster and make a heartfelt case for the UK as a country that the Scots have played an integral role in creating and whose achievements have forged an indivisible bond between its peoples, the breaking of which would diminish all our futures.
Of course, these truths are self-evident. But, for much of the campaign, the UK’s political leaders have behaved as if they are so self-evident that they are not worth mentioning.
Indeed, George Osborne was at it again yesterday. The Chancellor forsook the opportunity to make an emotional appeal to Scottish hearts and to turn the type of language used by the separatists against them.
Rather than do the hard work of trying to sell Britain to the voters, he instead opted to buy them off with another promise of further devolved powers should they toe the line and vote No.
But even if the Chancellor’s bribe is successful and the Union is saved, the English question, indeed the Yorkshire question, remains. Why should Scotland have devolved powers amounting almost to independence when Yorkshire, a region with a similar population and economy, barely has control over its own spending?
This is a question at the heart of today’s report by the RSA City Growth Commission which argues that over-centralised decision-making is stifling economic growth in city-regions.
In spite of repeated promises, the limited spending power which the Government has so far devolved to Yorkshire falls far short what is required.
After the Scottish referendum, however, this is a question that cannot be fudged any longer. Indeed, as today’s report says, the future of the nation’s biggest city-regions, such as Leeds, is more important for UK economic growth than what happens in the rest of Scotland combined.
Passengers pay more for less
THE REGION’S beleaguered rail passengers can be forgiven for thinking there is no such thing as good news about Britain’s railways.
The announcement that the Chancellor is knocking one per cent off the annual fare rise for 2015, for example, will count for little among off-peak commuters on Northern Rail faced with rises of up to 117 per cent.
Although it has hardly trumpeted the news, the fact that fares are rocketing while subsidies to train companies are being cut means that the Government has decided that it will be the passengers, those who actually use the railways, who will pay for their considerable upkeep, rather than the general taxpayer.
This would be easier for passengers to stomach, however, if they felt they were getting value for the exorbitant amounts of money they are being asked to pay.
Passengers paying the new Leeds-Bradford off-peak return fare of £6.50, for example (an increase of a mere 38.3 per cent), might expect some flexibility in ticketing, greater reliability, or more comfortable journeys rather than the dilapidated carriages they are expected to travel in.
What they expect and what they will get, however, may turn out to be two very different things.
Correcting primary-school failure
THE KNOCK-ON effect of years of primary-school failure, with hundreds of thousands of children failing to grasp the basics of literacy, are now hampering the performance of secondary schools and being felt in wider society as more and more employers complain of job applicants who can neither read nor write properly.
To be fair, there have been some improvements in recent years, with the ability gap between low-income children and their better-off counterparts narrowing. But the picture is still a dismal one, according to new research published by the Read On. Get On. literacy campaign.
The importance of this campaign cannot be over-emphasised. But with illiteracy now spanning the generations in so
many families, getting children the parental support that campaigners say is so helpful can be very difficult.
This is why, hand in hand with the drive to improve primary schools must go an effective adult-literacy campaign in recognition of the generations let down by years of failed education policies.