T’House of Commons

It seems that everywhere in the United Kingdom wants more say in how they’re governed these days; the Welsh assembly is having its powers increased to similar levels to the Scottish parliament, while Scotland itself is voting on independence. Now, it seems, Yorkshire wants a slice of the devolutionary action too.

Although not quite vying to become a great pudding munching, flat cap wearing, whippet owning republic of the North yet, calls for Yorkshire to have its own assembly have increased quite dramatically recently. In 2012 the Yorkshire Devolution Movement, a group devoted to “campaigning to secure a directly elected regional assembly for Yorkshire”, was founded and while still a relatively small movementyorkshire rosehas gained some rather influential supporters, including earlier this year York City Council leader, James Alexander.

However, I can see the potential benefits a devolved assembly could bring to the region. For starters, devolution gives areas with distinct cultural identities unique recognition, and while Yorkshire hardly has the independent history and unique social characteristics of Scotland or Wales, I would argue Yorkshire has much more of a distinctive cultural identity than London, a region granted its own assembly in 2000.Being Yorkshire born and bred myself, having lived in Yorkshire all my life and now studying at one of its best educational institutions, I have to admit until recently I had not given this issue much thought and even now I’m not entirely sure where I stand on this: on the one hand I think adding an extra layer to the already bloated and complicated web of county, district, borough and town councils that currently account for local government cannot be a good thing and there’s infinite questions about what kind of powers such an assembly should have, Yorkshire has little history of self-governance after all.

However it is not just in terms of cultural identity that Yorkshire surpasses other already devolved parts of the UK: with a population of 5.3 million people, this makes it a similar size to Scotland and a GDP twice the size of Wales’, accounting for about 8% of British economic output and distinctly larger than the economies of many European countries.

All of these facts seem to make a strong case for devolution, but ultimately there is still one major question that needs to be asked: do the good folk of Yorkshire actually want it? I would scarcely have considered it until hearing more about it in the news earlier last year and even now I cannot bring myself to passionately support or reject it. It has to be said that I’ve encountered very few people who passionately support the cause.

Let’s also not forget that Yorkshire almost did get a vote on limited autonomy in the last decade: a devolution referendum, brainchild of Hull MP John Prescott had been planned for 2004, but was dropped after the North East region – who had also been offered devolution – rejected the proposal by a whopping 78%. Although times are different now, the North-South divide arguably widened since the recession and it must be taken into account that the vote was held in a different region, the message is hard to ignore. Perhaps we English, unlike our Scottish and Welsh friends, simply can’t get fired up about self-governance.

With little polling on the issue, historical examples like the North East referendum are pretty much all we have to go on. Given the lack of enthusiasm for devolution in other parts of England recently, perhaps Yorkshire is not quite ready to have its own assembly yet. The day for Yorkshire autonomy may yet come, but I’m pretty certain it is not today.

2 Comments

  1. Edwin Bloodaxe
    05 February 2014 - 12:24 GMT

    Some very good points in the main, however, one or two errors:

    You say, “…. Yorkshire hardly has the independent history and unique social characteristics of Scotland or Wales ….” and, “…. Yorkshire has little history of self-governance after all.”

    In fact, Yorkshire does have an independent history and it actually goes further back in history than either Scotland or Wales. Yorkshire became an independent Kingdom, then known as ‘Deira’, in 626AD after King Edwin had successfully united the former Brythonic kingdoms of Ebrauc, Dunoting, Elmet and Meicen under his reign. In November 866 the Danes invaded Deira, killed its King in battle in 867 and changed its name to Jórvíkskyr which, together with further lands anexed to the west, formed the Kingdom of Jórvík under Halfdan Ragnarsson in 875. Yorkshire remained an independent kingdom until the death of Eric Bloodaxe in 954AD when her people accepted Eadred, the king of the rest of England, as their king. Even after this, Yorkshire retained her Danish laws, traditions and customs as an autonomous Earldon until, as a reprisal for being unwilling to give up that self-determination to the Normans, around 100,000 Yorkshire folk were either slain or left to starve to death as a consequence of William the Bastard’s Harrying of the North in the winter of 1069/70. Despite this, Danish remains a strong element of Yorkshire’s geneology and heritage which is evident to this day in many of our placenames, surnames and spoken words. It could be argued that the Yorkshire people have been Anglo-Briton or Dano-Angle but, although now officially part of England, the Yorkshire people have never actually been Anglo-Saxon!

    Regarding the question of autonomy returning to Yorkshire through a devolved parliament, you say, “… adding an extra layer to the already bloated and complicated web of county, district, borough and town councils that currently account for local government cannot be a good thing ….”. In response to this you have hit the nail on the head when you say, “.. currently account for local government …”! In establishing a devolved Yorkshire the whole system of government would need to be restructured and in that restructuring their is plenty of scope for streamlining and cost saving whereby your concerns of ‘adding an extra layer’ would not be an issue. You have mentioned the Yorkshire Devolution Movement and I refer you to an article on their web-site in respect of this very issue:

    http://yorkshiredevolutionmovementt.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/a-devolved-yorkshire-parliament-and-the-question-of-cost/

    Finally, you suggest that Yorkshire folk may not be ready for devolution today. That may be the case ‘today’! However, the Welsh and Scots once said that of their respective devolution and now, not only are they in their second decade of having their own parliament/assembly, but they now like devolution so much, that, as you have said, they want more of it! It is only a matter of time until the Yorkshire nation sees that their future is also best placed in the hands of their own people through their own parliament and that is why it is so important that those who spread the word, like the Yorkshire Devolution Movement keep doing so!

  2. Richard III
    10 February 2014 - 09:55 GMT

    Excellent! Yorkshire may not be ready for devolved parliament at this precise moment in time but every day more and more Yorkshire folk are expressing their support for such change. In a recent poll by the Yorkshire Post over 80% said that Yorkshire should have more control over Yorkshire matters and in a not too distant day Yorkshire will be ready to take that control. Then her people will reap the rewards of making their own decisions, being responsible for their own destiny and unleashing Yorkshire’s true potential through a devolved Yorkshire parliament.

    PS Please bring me home and bury me in York Minster!

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