On the eve of the Manchester premiere screening of Mike Leigh's "Peterloo" (the first outside of London premiere), Councillor Geoff Reid (Lib Dem, Eccleshill) wound up a debate on Yorkshire Devolution with a reference to the 1819 Peterloo Massacre and the struggle for women's suffrage.
"The week before last I reviewed “Peterloo, the story of the Manchester massacre” for an obscure weekly newspaper known as the Methodist Recorder. On 2 November the film Peterloo will be on general release. Next year 2019 is the bi-centenary of an event on St Peter’s Fields, Manchester. Disenfranchised working people converged on Manchester in a disciplined fashion, singing a few hymns and when they weren’t singing hymns they sang campaign songs to hymn tunes. They were campaigning peacefully for universal suffrage and the magistrates set the hussars on them. There was carnage.
This year 2018 we have marked the centenary of votes for women.
Events from 200 and 100 years ago remind us that the extension of democracy, was achieved through persistent campaigning and a long, long struggle. It did not come through spontaneous generosity on the part of governments. People demanded it and kept on demanding, and some even died for the cause.
In our own times Scottish devolution came about after years of struggle and thinking and campaigning and in the event this was something the Blair Government got right. It was one of the first things Blair did because he didn’t need to invent it - the spade work had already been done. The Scots talked amongst themselves - political parties, faith groups, trade unions, academics, writers - they made their demands and got appropriate devolution.
On the Lib Dem benches we do not see devolution as simply about moving money around, whether it be through combined authority, city region or, God help us, an elected regional mayor. Power to the people, power to Yorkshire, is about the extension and enhancement of our democracy. We should demand it, we should campaign for it and we see little virtue in a celebrity based substitute for the full monty of regional devolution.
At the time of Peterloo central government simply referred to the Northern District. The chair of the Salford Quarter Sessions was an Anglican clergyman but he lived at Ackworth near Pontefract. The Northern District military Commander Sir John Byng lived in Yorkshire as well. When he should have been co-ordinating crowd control in Manchester he had a pressing engagement at York races.
And in our own time regional policy based on the whole North still does not ring true. The Northern Powerhouse has turned out to be neither nowt nor summit. George Osborne who devised it as a way of pacifying the natives has retreated to a comfortable pulpit at the London Evening Standard. The Northern Powerhouse press releases are heavily Manchester focussed anyway. A few more flights from Manchester to China does nothing for our collapsing bus and rail services in Yorkshire.
It is right to talk about serious Yorkshire devolution and time to see through vague government noises about the North. We have a long way to go in extending the representative democracy we have inherited in these islands. We need elections producing elected representatives who can generate and scrutinise policy. We don’t need another winner takes all post. We make no apology for insisting that what is good enough for Scotland is good enough for Yorkshire. That is the level of democracy we should be aiming for and fighting for - and demanding."
The motion for a devolution deal for Yorkshire is as follows:
1. That many English regions across the country are benefiting from devolution deals that have been agreed over the past few years.
2. Despite the benefits of devolution, the current model of city regions, LEPS and combined authorities are lacking in democratic accountability.
3. That the concentration of political power in the hands of a single directly elected Mayor is not as democratic as a proportionally elected body.
4. The population and GDP of Yorkshire is roughly equivalent to that of Scotland
Furthermore, Council believes that:
5. Yorkshire forms a single recognisable region, with a common culture, dialect, and identity which is one of the strongest in the UK
6. Power should be devolved as far as possible with decisions that affect residents being made by Local Government.
Therefore, Council calls for:
7. A regional devolution deal for Yorkshire, consisting of a single directly elected parliament
8. Election to the Yorkshire Parliament to be by single transferable vote method in multi-member constituencies.
9. Powers devolved to Yorkshire to be equivalent to those devolved to the Scottish Parliament
10. The powers and funding of regional and sub-regional quangos to be subsumed into the Yorkshire Parliament
11. Abolition of the offices of Police and Crime Commissioners for the Yorkshire Police forces, with the powers to be subsumed into the Yorkshire Parliament.