Alyn Smith: Yorkshire needs local accountability

SCOTLAND is in the midst of a democratic renaissance, and I detect the first stirrings of it in Yorkshire, too.

Our referendum may have been six months ago but the conversation continues. It is, of course, up to the people of Scotland to decide how best to organise ourselves and interact with the wider world, and those discussions are contingent on nothing.

However, we can certainly share our experience, and as a friend of Yorkshire, I see parallels between attitudes in Scotland and the county to the distant and dysfunctional Palace by the Thames.

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When I say I’m a friend of Yorkshire, I mean it. I was a student at Leeds University, regular visitor to Headingley and felt very much at home in the county.

We have a lot in common. Indeed, within the EU, we all have a lot in common, whether we come from Dunfermline, Doncaster, Dusseldorf or Dubrovnik.

And there’s the rub. In our multi-lateral inter-connected world where borders matter less, having faith in the people who represent you and speak for you is even more important.

Tired and remote systems of government are being challenged as local campaigners stand up for where they are from.

In Scotland, democracy is flourishing, party membership across the Yes movement is through the roof and traditional politicians are panicking.

I detect a little of that attitude in Yorkshire, too, and while democracy in Yorkshire is your business, more power to your elbow.

The need for locally accountable politicians has never been greater. I think Westminster is simply broken and as the political spectrum on both the left and right fragments the two-party system of Westminster politics will become increasingly difficult to justify.

The recent furore over who should be invited to the pre-election leaders’ TV debates illustrates perfectly the chaos that already exists.

Yorkshire lies about halfway between Scotland and London and shares more in its political outlook with Scotland than it does with the English South coast.

The former MEP Diana Wallis, with whom I have worked in the European Parliament and who is now standing for Yorkshire First, is entirely right to point out that Yorkshire has “a larger population than Scotland; an economy twice size of the Welsh but the powers of neither”. The need for localised accountability is clear.

Yorkshire, like Scotland, is split between town and country. The needs of these two must be balanced. Tory proposals for so called ‘city states’ are, I believe, simply a route to division, setting city against city and losing rural voices from policy-making.

We need to develop political structures that encourage collaboration and development, not divide communities. Co-operation between the Northern regions of England and Scotland would enable politicians to push forward policies that encourage economic growth

Just one example is that the transport links between the two areas are woefully inadequate. The current high-speed rail proposals show that the focus of UK politicians is always London and that if the rest of the UK is to compete we need to work together, backed up by locally accountable politicians who actually control the economic levers of power.

As the recent Lord Ashcroft polls have shown, the forces unleashed in Scotland’s referendum are far from exhausted.

The SNP is clearly in a strong position to increase the number of MPs we currently have and we will use those voices to promote Scotland’s case and progressive politics.

I hope that co-operation between the various Northern English regions and Scotland will increase.

Gordon Brown wrote before the referendum that a No vote in Scotland would result in “a system of government as close to federalism as you can have in a nation where one part forms 85 per cent of the population”.

This promise has already come apart, and the people of Scotland are actively debating our future. Independence for Scotland is not about being separate or apart, it is about joining the world, as ourselves.

Making our own decisions at home and working with our friends and neighbours, as ourselves, not waiting for a distant UK establishment to solve our problems for us.

I can only see benefits for Yorkshire in having a similar conversation, too.

Alyn Smith is a MEP in Scotland for the SNP. He is a graduate of the University of Leeds.