The Scottish referendum was always going to be about Scotland until the result was called. Whatever the outcome this morning, the commitment made by all party leaders to devolve further powers in the event of a No vote means that the geographical scope of the devolution debate will inevitably widen. Nick Clegg said as much yesterday in Yorkshire.
Whilst the detail remains to be hammered out, the direction of travel is clear, and things are moving fast. With more powers set to flow from Westminster to Holyrood, decisions will rightly be taken much closer to the people they concern. This begs the question, why shouldn’t those living in Yorkshire benefit just as much from this principle as their Scottish counterparts?
In this period of flux ahead of a new devolution settlement for the United Kingdom, it is vital that in Yorkshire we invoke the spirit of this summer’s Grand Départ and seize the opportunity to grasp more control of our affairs.
The way we won and delivered the Tour de France showed the world and the rest of the UK just what a confident, dynamic and visionary place Yorkshire can be. We have the strongest brand of any English region, known and admired around the world.
Of course, many key decisions on devolution will be taken in Westminster. However, the more work we do here to establish a clear picture of what we want and how we achieve it, the better we will be able to influence Government thinking over the coming weeks and months.
Let’s not wait for the policy wonks in Whitehall to impose their proposals on us. Let’s seize the initiative ourselves and shape the coming devolution settlement to Yorkshire’s advantage. Every political leader, but more importantly every Yorkshire woman and man, should be part of the conversation.
First, we need to define what we want. This Government has already handed more power over transport and economic development to Yorkshire combined authorities and given local communities more say over planning decisions, but which other policy tools do we require to deliver further prosperity and well-being in the region?
Second, we need to ask ourselves difficult questions about our governance structures in Yorkshire – Combined Authorities just getting off the ground and often colliding with City Regions, LEPs launched but yet to fully fly, and multiple layers of town, parish, district and county councils.
Of course, we muddle through and can work together, as we showed in July, but can we honestly say we are in a position to make full use of new powers that could soon be on offer? A root and branch review of Yorkshire governance structures is well overdue.
Third, we need to solve the ongoing issue of who speaks for Yorkshire. A regional assembly has rightly been rejected as superfluous and expensive, but how can local authorities work together to make sure that we all sing from the same hymn sheet and win big when we compete with other regions? How do we ensure democratic oversight and accountability for decision makers?
Fourth, we need to think beyond Yorkshire, across the Pennines and up the A1. We need a devolution settlement for the United Kingdom that works not only for the cities and rural districts of Yorkshire, but also for Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and all the fine towns and villages in between. We need a settlement that will encourage us all to work together to ensure we build better links across the North of England.
For me, the most important message from the Scottish referendum was that, despite widespread disdain for traditional politics, people turned out in droves to have their say on an issue that mattered.
So whatever your political persuasion, whatever you do for a living, whatever your age, and whether you’re from Pontefract or Bridlington, Richmond or Doncaster, let’s seize this opportunity to revitalise local government and start to debate what’s best for Yorkshire.
Julian Smith is the Conservative MP for Skipton.