Mark Casci: Increased devolution can help put our divided country back together

Vince Cable MP, Pro-EU campaigner Gina Miller, Tony Robinson and Caroline Lucas MP join with crowds taking part in the People's Vote march for a second EU referendum at Trafalgar Square in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday June 23, 2018. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Vince Cable MP, Pro-EU campaigner Gina Miller, Tony Robinson and Caroline Lucas MP join with crowds taking part in the People's Vote march for a second EU referendum at Trafalgar Square in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday June 23, 2018. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: John Stillwell/PA Wire
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For those of us sick to death of hearing the ceaseless drone surrounding Brexit this week will prove a trying one.

Theresa May’s hard-won deal will be rejected and we as a nation will return to square one.

Will Yorkshire devolution take shape in 2019?

Will Yorkshire devolution take shape in 2019?

The idea that we will somehow find any closure on this topic seems more laughable than ever as we face up to being more of a divided country than has been seen since the Civil War.

I have long-argued in this column that, aside from pitting friends and family members against each other, Brexit has inflicted considerable damage on this country simply by paralysing Government to concentrate on anything else.

For nearly three years the navel-gazing has continued on a daily basis, leaving any prospect of genuine constitutional reforms not so much as on the back burner but more accurately locked in an old trunk and buried under 15 feet of cement.

There was, however, a glimmer of hope over the weekend with an incredibly interesting and exciting suggestion from a Cabinet minister, one that could be an absolute game-changer for Yorkshire and the North of England.

Northern Powerhouse Minister MP Jake Berry said the Government is considering a proposed new department for the North of England.

Northern Powerhouse Minister MP Jake Berry said the Government is considering a proposed new department for the North of England.

Jake Berry, Northern Powerhouse Minister, suggested that the North should be allowed to set its own rate of taxation and floated the prospect of a new department for the North of England, with its own secretary of state, to drive forward transport, education and devolution.

When Tony Blair set about decentralising the country with devolved parliaments for the Home Nations he failed to implement such an arrangement for the North, home to 19 million people.

This failure has led to widespread feelings of disenfranchisement in the North, a fact underlined when vast swathes of the North voted in favour of leaving the European Union.

Mr Berry’s suggestion could go someway to restoring parity in the United Kingdom and set about rebalancing our economy away from the South East.

MPs are due to vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal.

MPs are due to vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal.

The key question has to centre around how meaningful these powers would be.

Clearly, such a move would not be implemented without sufficient safeguards and it would be an absolute prerequisite that somebody elected oversees the process.

Given that most of Yorkshire lacks a mayor it could find itself excluded from the process, while areas with their act together on devolution would have yet another string to their bow.

Devolution in Yorkshire can be as divisive as Brexit but, unlike the latter, the options on the table are genuinely good.

Mayors to match Dan Jarvis in Sheffield, if elected for the rest of the region, would enjoy significant powers to shape the region’s destiny.

Better still, a One Yorkshire deal – still the most popular option among business leaders – would create a devolved economy to rival much of Europe.

If nothing else, this latest offer of increased powers should serve to focus the minds of our local politicians, some of whom were rightly compared to ‘blocks of granite’ by outgoing Sheffield LEP chairman Sir Nigel Knowles in his last few days in office.

We could be set for some rough days ahead of us in the next year. Our economy is barely growing.

And, while I have sincere and well-founded doubts about how our economy and society will fare in the short-term from us leaving the EU, I feel strongly that more localised decision-making can help offset any fiscal or social damage we may suffer.

Those who advocate for another referendum call it the People’s Vote.

Rather than concentrating on gimmicks like one-off votes why not give this country’s citizens a say on the day-to-day matters that actually matter.

This empowerment of the North could be a vital step towards healing this great nation.

We are, and hopefully forever will be, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

We need measures that keep this kingdom united more urgently than ever.