God’s Own Country could soon be its own country

Earlier this year, Scotland’s ambitious hopes for independence were quashed. Now, a new revolution is brewing – and it’s a bit further south of the border.

Yorkshire wants to go it alone. And despite how it sounds, the concept is being taken very seriously.

Ever since David Blunkett first coined the term “White Rose Parliament” in 2010, the Yorkshire Devolution Movement have been pushing the prospect of a Yorkshire that stands on its own two feet.

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The YDM representing

Gareth Shanks, the YDM’s secretary, said: “The Welsh and the Scots have their own parliaments that they elect and that make their own decisions for the area. We essentially want the exact same thing – but for Yorkshire.”

The proposed change would see Yorkshire being treated in the same way as London, with its own parliament able to make their own decisions independent of Westminster.

Despite the debate gaining more momentum recently, with high-profile supporters including Labour deputy chairman John Trickett and the regional Lib Dems, Gareth insists the idea of an independent Yorkshire is not a new thing.

He says: “It’s been an idea for a while – it existed online for a few years before I got involved. It’s one of these things that’s always buzzed around on the edges of mainstream politics but now has been getting a lot of traction.

“You’re even getting Tories, who have always been opposed to devolution, coming out and saying they want a regional mayor as well. There’s a shift towards this regional idea, which is what we want, and away from a city deal idea concentrated on the urban areas.

“George Osborne is really trying to push having city mayors instead, but the people of Yorkshire are almost completely opposed to that. Devolution has to come from the bottom up, it has to be validated by the electorate.”

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Never the twain shall meet

Like the Scottish Referendum before it, much of the support for the movement comes from a disillusionment with Westminster politics.

Gareth says: “London doesn’t know what’s best for Craven, Huddersfield, Leeds, York or Harrogate. We’ve seen a real enactment of the North-South divide because of it.

“Before the election, the Conservatives were promising this huge boost for the Northern infrastructure – and then afterwards, they said they couldn’t afford any of it because they needed to save to build a new airport in London.

“You get this sense that everything’s centred into London, and that the government only care about London. Everything’s so concentrated on London that it puts areas like Yorkshire worse off – and a Yorkshire parliament is the best way to deal with that.

“If you look at the four regions of the UK that already have a devolved parliament (London, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), over the past five or six years they’re the only regions that have seen any sort of GDP growth.”

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A dramatisation

When asked how a victory could benefit students of unis like Leeds, York and Sheffield whose homes are further flung, Gareth insisted that the benefits wouldn’t be limited to the Yorkshire born-and-bred.

He said: “The Scots and the Welsh have cut tuition fees, and you could enact something like that. I know it’s only people from there who get it, but it’s an interesting thought. I’m paying nine grand at the minute and I’d really like to be paying three grand.

“You could definitely improve the quality and standards of the universities, and Yorkshire already has some of the best universities in the world. It really helps finalise that Yorkshire brand and bring in more students from around the world.”

Despite the YDM’s lofty ambitions, it doesn’t look like we’re about to see a rogue Yorkshire state – at least not yet.

Gareth said: “We’ll concentrate on getting our own parliament and then we can have the independence debate. We don’t want to bite off too much.”

So no tax for importing Yorkshire Tea, then?

“Oh God, no. I could never support that.”

@thebobpalmer