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 movementhas 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.