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English regional devolution: the case of Yorkshire

Mike McCartney

2nd August 2021

A new survey on identity suggests a strong case for more devolution for England's best county

In the lead up to Yorkshire Day (1st August) this year, there was widespread coverage of the outcome of a large survey of Yorkshire residents.

According the the BBC:

"People in England's biggest county consider themselves more Yorkshire than English, according to an online survey.

The Yorkshire Society's Big Yorkshire Conversation had more than 4,500 responses collated by the University of Hull.

The county has more than five million inhabitants.

Stewart Arnold, from the university, said: "It isn't saying they are not English but they just feel more Yorkshire".

The survey asked questions on identity, the use of Yorkshire by brands and devolution.

And in an "interesting" result according to Mr Arnold, more than 57% of respondents answered they felt "More Yorkshire than English" while only 9% said it was the other way round. About 30% felt "Equally Yorkshire and English".

So what does this have to do with English regional devolution?

As a reminder on the arguments for and against more regional devolution, see below.

These can be considered as the arguments in favour of English regional devolution

  • It is much more efficient to have the regions concerned with policy delivery involved in the formulation of policy,
  • On a related note, this would additionally this would relieve the burden on central government.
  • Evidence from the Celtic arenas suggests that there are clear benefits to bringing the government closer to the people since policies can be designed to fit the needs of the people in different regions
  • The governmental structures we have now are in need of remodelling: local government was designed to fit the needs of the mid-nineteenth century and central government expanded in the middle of the twentieth to meet the demands of that time.
  • Since the (unelected) Regional Development Agencies were scrapped in 2012 there is a lack of strategic co-ordination across many regions (except London, and Greater Manchester for example) with regards to economic development, regeneration, plans to boost employment, and so forth.
  • It would provide a counter-point to London-centricism; it is difficult to think of another polity that is so dominated economically and politically by its nation’s biggest city.
  • The regions in England need to have a platform that will give their area a voice enabling them to lobby central government for increased funding.

These can be considered as the arguments against English regional devolution

  • If every region in England were to have some sort of devolution, then regions would be fighting amongst themselves for the same amount of money that was available before.
  • Government would not be brought closer to the people unless the devolved powers assume real powers – as in Scotland.
  • Any new structures would merely add an extra layer of bureaucracy.
  • Regional assemblies would do little to improve economic performance within the regions.
  • Claims that devolution would usher in a new form of politics have not been borne out by experiences in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

And back to the survey results:

"More than 73% of respondents thought Yorkshire should have more decision-making powers, like Scotland and Wales.

How such a move could work was closely split between two options, a Yorkshire parliament and giving more powers to local authorities.

However, if there was a referendum about a county parliament a majority of respondents (56%) said they would vote for one, with only 23% against."

From the BBC here: Yorkshire strength of identity revealed by survey answers - BBC News

As someone who has lived in the county for nearly twenty years, most of my adult life, and also as someone who is in favour of pushing government power down the level that is as close to the people as possible, there is a case, I think, for a Yorkshire Parliament, covering areas well known as being in what was known as the County of York, such as York, Leeds, Bradford, and Leeds, but also Middlesbrough and Hull. This regional government would take responsibility for what is the English NHS, it would have a great deal of fiscal autonomy, and so on. And beneath that, far more power to the newly created regional governments like the West Yorkshire Mayor. Then looking further down the road, if Scotland declares itself independent, then maybe there is even a case for an independent Yorkshire. Why not?!

Anyway, any referendum on the issue is unlikely to have anything to do with this writer, because I'm moving south to London (again) next week. Of more immediate interest to me, therefore, is what Sadiq Khan is up to, and thinking about what more powers the Greater London Authority has.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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