“God’s Own County”- Yorkshire’s push for freedom from Westminster

Image credit The Independent

Starting to sing from the same hymn-sheet as people in Wales

A FEW days walking in the Yorkshire Dales after Christmas proved to be a real eye-opener.

It wasn’t just because of the warm and the down-to-earth nature of the people there. It wasn’t just the jaw-dropping scenery (you can see why it’s called “God’s own county”). And it wasn’t just the fantastic range of local food and drink on offer either.

But it was also because of the growing sense that more people in Yorkshire are now warming to the idea of a Parliament for the region, and the ability to run their own affairs. They are starting to sing from the same hymn-sheet as people in Cymru with our own desire to be free from Westminster.

The “Yorkshire Party”, formed in 2014 now boast hundreds of members, and gained over 20,000 votes in the general election last year in the county. They are regularly clocking up 15%  and upwards of votes in local elections. Their growing influence as a party has also persuaded 17 local authorities to support the idea of  a “One Yorkshire” economic region- as opposed to the city region model based around Sheffield that Westminster wanted to impose.

A long standing and enduring regional identity

Some are even calling for full Independence for Yorkshire. Indeed an unofficial “International” Soccer Team has been established there and which managed a respectable 1-1 draw with the Isle of Man National Team in their first outing a couple of weeks ago.

Although Yorkshire is not a nation like Wales- it has a long and enduring regional identity which stretches back almost the exact amount of time as Wales’s own national identity- 1,500 years. It even has a village called “Wales” within the county- dating back to that time when Welsh was actually spoken in the region.

With  a population of 5 million, an economy which is larger than Wales’s economy, 10 universities, three thriving cities in Leeds, Sheffield and Bradford, a string of stunning market towns, and a growing tourist and food and drink industry: Yorkshire certainly has a lot going for it.

A pragmatic not ideological approach to politics

And after Brexit, the Yorkshire Party sense an opportunity for a complete re-set in UK politics, with the old loyalties to the traditional political parties under threat like never before.

The leader of The Yorkshire Party, Stewart Arnold says: “ Our policies don’t come from any ideological position as such, only what’s best for Yorkshire as a whole” Amen! That’s exactly the kind of pragmatic, beyond the old “left-wing” versus “right-wing” ideological politics that Gwlad want to see for Wales as well.

In talking to people here, it’s obvious that they share a lot of the same concerns that people have here in Wales.  There is a feeling that Westminster is far too distant to really care about them at all, with the difference in expenditure in public transport a graphic example of that- (£315 per head in Yorkshire, compared to £1,019 per head in London). The appalling state of the roads and railways in Yorkshire is a real bone of contention for people here.  And the continuing social and economic decline in the region over the past generation or so is also a very sore point with Yorkshire folk.

A much looser and less dominant England?

One of the concerns that people have about Independence for Wales is that Wales would then be flanked by a behemoth of a nation of 55 million people, which would still dominate proceedings.

But the exact form that England will take in future is an interesting question to ponder. Yorkshire’s own desire for moving forwards with its own unique identity could well lead to other configurations in its wake (e.g you can imagine the north-east of England wanting recognition for its own identity as well. The Midlands might want to follow suit). A much looser patchwork of strong regions and a re-defined English identity is one possibility.

It could well be that the iron grip that London and the South-East have had over the running of these isles since Norman times, eventually persuades not only Scotland and Wales to forge their own paths but also some of England’s own historic regions as well.

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