Recalling the people’s republic of South Yorkshire | Letters

Many Yorkshire folk would welcome a Catalan-style revolt, says Michael McGowan; political parties should unite in supporting a region of the north of England, writes Brian Loader; plus letters from Andrew Milroy, Phil Coppard and Glyn Turton

The words of Simon Jenkins are spot on about the urgent need for Yorkshire devolution and for the region to have a common voice in national and international politics (Will neglect drive Yorkshire to a Catalan-style revolt?, 4 January), especially as relations between the UK and Europe are in disarray. Since the campaign for a Yorkshire co-operative parliament was launched five years ago in Sheffield by the Yorkshire regional council of the Co-operative party, conferences and workshops have been held across the region and demands for Yorkshire devolution now command wide support from business, trade unions, local authorities, universities and the voluntary sector. And the region is especially blessed with the brand name of “Yorkshire”, which reflects a shared and common identity of a region of rich diversity of its people, a mix of urban and rural life, and of culture and history.

As the centralist behaviour of both Labour and Conservatives has reduced local government to local administration and the present government continues to ignore the legitimate demands for a devolution deal for Yorkshire, I believe many would welcome a Catalan-style revolt, but will personally not be holding my breath.
Michael McGowan
(Former Labour MEP for Leeds), Leeds

• In supporting a devolved Yorkshire, Simon Jenkins runs the risk of repeating the same mistake as Labour’s policy of regional assemblies which heroically combined the extra costs of administration without providing the critical mass that would bring economic and cultural benefits. Such approaches act to fragment these smaller regions from each other and play into the hands of out-dated parochial jealousies. A more progressive vision would instead devolve the same powers enjoyed by Scotland to the whole of the north of England. This region, with a population of just under 15 million, already has a significant industrial base, outstanding areas of natural beauty, a vibrant civil society, world-class universities, dynamic cities, fine air and sea ports, a wonderful historic heritage, impressive creative media industries, winning sports teams and facilities and much, much more.

These combined provide stronger potential for economic, cultural and political development. What the region lacks is the investment in high-speed railway infrastructure that is seemingly regarded as necessary for London’s prosperity but not the north’s. If the parties are serious about devolution and rebalancing the economy, then they should unite in supporting a region of the north of England.
Brian Loader
Ingleby Arncliffe, North Yorkshire

• The Sheffield city region project was flawed from the start. As Simon Jenkins observes, it is Whitehall’s policy to whittle away the power and influence of local government. This has been the case under all governments since 1979. Political pragmatism meant local Labour groups took the bait of the post-2010 Osborne devolution policy of divide and rule, patronage power and ad hoc grants, on the basis of “we need the money” rather than standing united on the higher ground of principled opposition to the Tories. I doubt this political managerialism could have happened in the post-1979 election years when opposition to the Thatcher government involved proudly proclaiming “the people’s republic of South Yorkshire” and “Derbyshire Supports Nuclear Free Zones”. Perhaps the people of Barnsley and Doncaster are looking back to the future and the “minor explosion over South Yorkshire” might be the spark needed to ignite wider effective principled resistance and constitutional change.
Andrew Milroy
Chesterfield, Derbyshire

• It is a shame that Simon Jenkins omits to mention the act of political spite by Eric Pickles to disband the regional development agency Yorkshire Forward – along with the other RDAs – when the coalition government took power in 2010. All that was needed was to convert the chair of that body into an elected “mayor” post and to give the mayor the freedom to appoint their own board or cabinet. The rest of the architecture was in place. Much of the story of regional devolution since then has been to cover up for that wasted opportunity. No wonder then that the present Tory secretary of state is loath to concede a “One Yorkshire” solution.
Phil Coppard
Former chief executive, Barnsley MBC 2000-2012

• Simon Jenkins quotes David Cameron as saying, “we knew Yorkshire people hated the rest of us, but I never knew they hated each other”. This strikes me as just about the only political lesson he learned. The Danes probably knew the nature of the beast when they divided the county into three ridings. You can buy a T-shirt with an outline of the map of England printed on it and, within that, the outline of Yorkshire. Inside the county boundary is the legend “Right” and outside the word “Wrong”. Yorkshire folk are united only by a sense of superiority to the rest of the world and a generalised grievance against it. Beyond that, nowt. Sheffield thinks the “One Yorkshire” movement is a power grab by Leeds. Leeds thinks Sheffield has ideas above its station. The Tory councillors of North Yorkshire would rather be seen dead than sit in a council chamber with Sheffield socialists, and so it goes. What the Danes put asunder, let no man or woman join together.
Emeritus Professor Glyn Turton
Shipley, West Yorkshire

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