Jayne Dowle: Yorkshire must unite to become a post-Brexit force to be reckoned with

IT'S a quiet life working from home, but my days are often enlivened by a jolly phone call from London. That's not a contradiction in terms, by the way. It usually takes the form of a chat with a young woman working in public relations or some other variant of the communications industry.

Yorkshire has a strong regional identity - even amongst young people.

As soon as she registers my accent, her voice will take on a nostalgic tone. “Are you from Yorkshire?”, she will ask. When I answer in the affirmative, her conversation will go all wistful and she’ll start to tell me about how she grew up in Harrogate or went to school near York.

Often, I’m questioned about the weather or the nightlife in Leeds but usually it’s house prices and cost of living. I’m no expert on cloud formations or cocktail bars, but I do know at first-hand the differences between here and everywhere else.

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I made the move back from the capital to my hometown of Barnsley 15 years ago this very week, so you can’t tell me much about the delight of the returning exile.

Yorkshire is particularly proud of its regional identity.

Time and time again I hear of other people wending their way back up north to re-establish their Yorkshire roots when they want to buy a house or bring up a family. And it’s not just due to the fact that our property prices are slightly more reasonable than those down south.

With several major cities, including Leeds, Sheffield and York, offering interesting and rewarding job opportunities, there is an economy here which takes some beating in any other region.

Some of our universities are among world-beating global institutions. Our beautiful coastline, countryside and countless historical sites attract millions of tourists every year. And there are 5.3m people living here. Such diversity means that there is a home for anyone, regardless of cultural background.

And let’s be honest. Yorkshire has a way of weaving a spell on people. You don’t hear of many people yearning for the halcyon days they spent in the Black Country or Swindon for example.

Only last weekend we went to visit my cousin, who earlier this year relocated from Hertfordshire with his Essex-born partner to live in a former bobbin mill in the West Yorkshire village of Steeton.

As I gazed from his kitchen window at the rain beating down on the stone roofs of the houses all around, and observed the eerie black silhouettes of the trees on the horizon, I wondered, not for the first time, what it is that makes Yorkshire so compelling.

Yes, there are still those outsiders who like to parody our accents and drop black pudding and whippets into every exchange, but their braying voices are being drowned out by a perceptible sense of regional self-confidence.

I’m not surprised then to hear then that Yorkshire came out top when British people were asked recently where they’d most like to be from – Essex and Kent were the least-popular. I’ll just say two words to that: the M25.

Anyway, family history website Findmypast DNA finds that 16 per cent of British people say that they wish they could trace their roots to God’s Own County.

Officially, it’s because we’re welcoming (22 per cent of people said so) and friendly (18 per cent), but I think there’s more to it than that.

I know these surveys are a marketing exercise dressed up as a bit of fun. However, there is what’s called a serious takeaway point to this one.

In the throes of Brexit, Great Britain faces an uncertain future. The assurances which have kept us together as a unit for centuries are being re-examined and in some cases, questioned and pulled apart.

The case for more distinct regional identities and, in Yorkshire’s case, more independence and self-rule under the devolution plans put forward by One Yorkshire, is a strong one. It’s not what Westminster wants to hear of course. However, it cannot be ignored.

We need more of this kind of national and regional debate. We are no longer a country prepared to take its orders direct from central government. Nowhere is this challenging tone more pertinent than in Yorkshire.

Yorkshire-wide devolution is favoured by 18 out of 20 of our local councils and backed by South Yorkshire mayor Dan Jarvis. These are clear facts, but still senior Ministers appear to find difficulty in accepting them and working with them.

Quite why a government with a very shaky House of Commons majority would want to ignore and deride the interests of more than five million people is beyond me, but it’s clear that we’re a force to be reckoned with.

As Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Pinnock of Cleckheaton told the House of Lords last month: “There is amazing unity in Yorkshire, bit of a historic moment, that, and a great campaign run by the regional newspaper, The Yorkshire Post, gathered support for the One Yorkshire deal. If the Government is not prepared to consider a One Yorkshire solution, perhaps it’s a bit frightened of Yorkshire…”

No longer a national joke, but a national enigma? I like that.