Richard Carter: The public must have a say in the region’s future

WHETHER the Smith Commission has delivered more ‘home rule’ to Scotland depends very much on who you to speak to.

Nevertheless there is no denying that devolution continues at a pace north of the border, building on the massive public engagement evident during the Scottish referendum.

Meanwhile in Yorkshire (a region with similar population to Scotland, let’s not forget) we hear more and more about ‘devolution’ ahead of Wednesday’s Autumn Statement by the Chancellor.

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The Westminster parties seem to be falling over themselves with promises that Northern cities will get more powers. But do not be fooled. Things are apparently being decided again, with no public say. Some might call it a stitch up; an attempt to prevent real change. We think it is an attempt to silence debate, essentially to maintain power at Westminster.

When the leaders of our councils negotiate away democracy we should be very concerned. Last week ‘Private & Confidential’ documents have been circulated amongst the local leadership entitled Northern Devolution: West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership Joint Response.

I cannot tell you what is in it as we do not know. There is no debate and no public consultation. Just the parties that have failed us for the last 40 years negotiating away our democracy. But never mind, we will find out their decision soon enough. Interesting how when we want more powers, and an elected assembly we must have a referendum. When our leaders decide something, we just have to accept it. No discussion, no public say, just what we are told.

This attitude has got us to here in the first place. The UK is failing when nine out of the 10 poorest areas in the whole of northern Europe are here; three of them in Yorkshire.

By contrast the richest of all is inner London. It is painfully evident that our country is not working in the best interests of the people of the region. It is good to have a strong London, but it appears to be succeeding by sucking the life out of our – and other – regions.

But there are other ways. Bottle the energy of the Scottish referendum, add some Yorkshire spice (Henderson’s, clearly) and let the debate begin.

We have examples of first rate devolution in Scotland and Wales. Yorkshire needs the same in order to build a stronger region that works for all the people of the region, with more say in our own affairs. Local and regional first; national and European where necessary or beneficial.

Yorkshire First, after just seven weeks of existence, achieved 19,000 votes in the only place where the region votes as one – the European Parliament elections. We achieved a higher percentage share of the vote in our first election than the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and Ukip did in theirs.

We campaigned on the need for Yorkshire to have a stronger voice in the UK and the EU through a directly elected, transparent, accountable parliament.

The past week was a significant one for us as we held our first conference and announced our first ever parliamentary candidate.

Paul Salveson, a respected local campaigner and expert on transport issues, has been chosen to put our positive message forward as the candidate for Colne Valley in next May’s General Election.

As Shadow Education Secretary Tristam Hunt recently said to a meeting of sixth form students in the Colne Valley: “You have the great virtue of living in a marginal constituency and governments rise and fall on your vote.” Indeed they do!

Paul’s selection will be followed by others as Yorkshire First stands candidates ahead of what will be the most open election in years. A vote for Yorkshire First will influence not only Colne Valley but many key constituencies across the region. This time your choice really does matter: a positive choice for which party you want, not who you do not want should be the basis of any system.

At our first ‘assembly’ we explored how we could influence the future. A good day with an endorsement of our positive approach, focus on solutions that can help us build a prosperous region and one that all who are born in, or live in Yorkshire are proud to call themselves Yorkshire folk.

Our candidates, both parliamentary and local council, will give the public a positive alternative and will focus on building support for an elected regional parliament with powers similar to the Scots.

In a crisis of democracy, the answer has to be democratic and can only be achieved by engaging and listening to the people. No stitch ups, no cosy deals, no secret arrangements between local and national leaders.

The future of Yorkshire and our country as a whole is too important to be left to politicians. The people must have their say.

• Richard Carter is leader of Yorkshire First.