Stewart Arnold: People of Yorkshire must push the case for control of destiny

Can Yorkshire gain genuine devolution?
Can Yorkshire gain genuine devolution?
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ALTHOUGH the precise timing is unknown at the moment, it looks very likely that the Scots will face another independence referendum by the end of the decade.

Whatever one thinks of the desirability or otherwise of Scottish independence, we can only look on in some envy from here in Yorkshire as the people north of the border get to decide their future. This idea of engaging with the people in order to determine the future direction of one’s community, is a million miles away from the process we have here in Yorkshire.

Yorkshire’s own path towards taking more control remains rancorous as council leaders and central Government continue to squabble in the not quite smoked-filled rooms.

Meanwhile, the Yorkshire people remain locked out of the process and can do no more then press their faces to the windows looking in and wondering what the hell is going on. The Northern Powerhouse, city regions and elected mayors are, unsurprisingly, unfamiliar to most.

And it doesn’t stop with Scotland either. The leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, said on Monday “now is a good time for people in Wales to think about what is in our own national interests and how we can best unlock our country’s potential in this new constitutional scenario”. If necessary, she said, that would mean a Welsh independence referendum if Scotland voted to leave the UK. In Northern Ireland, there are calls for a referendum on Irish unification.

Brexit has forced the nations of the UK to reconsider what is best in the interests of their peoples and in consultation will plot a course into the future. This is the stuff that is so patently missing from Yorkshire.

It’s not as if there isn’t good work going on in Yorkshire. Last year the Democracy Matters Citizens’ Assembly project, which had previously met in Sheffield, published its report answering the question as to how new regional powers can be established in a form that is supported by the people who live locally.

In West Yorkshire, there is the excellent ‘We Share the Same Skies’ collective which takes a bottom up or citizens’ approach as to how devolution might look. To these can be added a plethora of groups and individuals all with important and salient ideas.

Nobody in Yorkshire is proposing independence, it’s just we want more of a voice. Most of us can agree that we want a better Yorkshire. We want better communities, better schools, better transport, better housing.

“We want a better environment and a better economy. We know that regional democracy and greater self-determination from Whitehall are part of building that better future. And we all want to play a part in how it looks.

Like the people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, we want to be involved in shaping the future. The involvement of the people could be the key to unblocking the logjam we face when it comes to our own devolution. Quite simply if the politicians can’t engineer a solution, then the people have to take back control.

It will be even more galling come early May when Greater Manchester, the Tees Valley and several other places get to vote in mayoral elections. Elected mayors have never been the first choice for the Yorkshire Party when it comes to meaningful, inclusive devolution but, nevertheless, those elections will highlight just how far behind we are in Yorkshire when it comes to taking some control of our own affairs.

This feeling of being left behind will be further exaggerated when Scotland has a second referendum and discussions continue in Wales and Northern Ireland. In just about every other part of the United Kingdom people will be engaged in helping to frame a future for their communities.

Except not in Yorkshire. Here, political leaders will continue to quarrel and squabble. It is as if the Brexit referendum never happened. Yes, the campaigns on both sides left a lot to be desired, but people in Yorkshire were engaged in the process. Their voice was heard. And they were listened to.

So, if we can’t get agreement from the top down, then it must come from the bottom up. Yorkshire folk are level-headed and shrewd enough to break open the devolution logjam we have in this county. I trust them to deliver. So let’s do it!

Stewart Arnold is leader of the Yorkshire Party.