An edited version of this article appeared in the Big Issue in the North magazine dated 24/30 November.
A former Kirklees Labour councillor has become the first candidate at the 2015 general election for Yorkshire First, a new party that campaigns for devolution to the region.
Paul Salveson represented the Golcar ward in the Colne Valley constituency until stepping down last year, and recently left the Labour Party on grounds that it is “too centralised and has failed to address the regional devolution question.”
He will now try to unseat Colne Valley’s Conservative MP Jason McCartney in next year’s general election. Salveson hopes to build on Colne Valley’s history of radicalism, in which it elected independent socialist Victor Grayson and radical Liberal Richard Wainwright as MPs.
It is over a decade ago since Labour deputy leader John Prescott advanced a series of northern regional devolution initiatives. However in November 2004, North East voters overwhelmingly rejected proposals for an elected assembly. Its responsibilities would have included activities mainly carried out by central government bodies, including regional economic development.
The negative vote meant similar referendums in the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber were abandoned and Prescott was heavily criticised for an exercise costing £11 million. He had said before the vote: “If devolution fails here, we won’t be back for a considerable period of time.”
Yorkshire First says that with a population bigger than Scotland the time is ripe for a Yorkshire parliament similar to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh National Assembly and the London Assembly. The party has not yet established the exact structure of the parliament, the establishment of which would require a referendum. There appears to be a broad commitment to making town and parish councils much more effective and for the establishment of a fairer voting system based on proportional representation.
According to Richard Carter, the Oslo based business advisor who set up Yorkshire First, “Prescott’s plans failed because what was being proposed was a glorified county council talking shop with no real powers. Also we now have examples of how successful devolution can be.”
Yorkshire First was launched ahead of the 2014 European election, when it gained 1.5 per cent of total votes. It intends standing in half of the Yorkshire and Humber seats in 2015.
It believes that if Yorkshire has greater control over its own resources this will lead to better decision making on economic affairs and generate additional finance for social spending.
Yorkshire First candidates include former Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem members. They must abide by the Bell Principles formulated by the former independent MP Martin Bell. These demand that politicians behave to the highest of standards and are guided by “considered evidence, our real world experience and expertise, our constituencies and consciences”.
Might a lack of a clear set of policies lead to some its candidates putting forward reactionary ideas?
Not according to Salveson, who said: “Yorkshire First is a socially progressive alternative as we reject bigotry and have a strong commitment to social justice and equality of opportunity alongside the need for a more balanced UK.”