Review: The Yorkshire Yellow Book 2019

If Liberal success is to be more than transitory, it needs to be based on a clear vision that can easily be transmitted to and acclaimed by the electorate.  On this basis, Yorkshire’s Liberal heritage is about to be reborn. The Yorkshire Yellow Book 2019 is bursting with ideas about how a future Yorkshire should develop.  Importantly, these ideas are evidence-based and embedded in sound Liberal principles.

The theme of the book – a devolved Yorkshire administration – is set out clearly in an excellent Foreword by Chris Haskins (former chairman of Northern Foods).  Illuminating comparisons between Yorkshire, Scotland, and London are made by David (Lord) Shutt. Yorkshire, with a population almost identical to that of Scotland, has higher unemployment but a lower GVA per head.  Both have GVA figures far behind that of London. Despite its relative prosperity, though, London is to receive over 50% of planned future transport spending in England, even though its extensive transport system is already massively subsidised by the rest of us.  New ways of sharing are obviously needed.

In this context, the authors build a convincing case for devolution. They emphasise that Yorkshire is a strong “brand”, with a recent track record of sparkling achievement in areas as diverse as sport (the Tour de France) and culture (Hull’s successes as City of Culture in 2017).  Philip Knowles points out that the party constitution implies Yorkshire’s entitlement to local decision-making on matters including health, education, agriculture and transport. Other valuable essays examine how Yorkshire devolution could work as part of a broader federal structure, as well as avoiding over-dependence on Leeds.

I was pleased to note scepticism about proposals for elected mayors, because it is difficult for the public to hold them effectively to account.  Rather the authors show a preference for devolution more along Welsh or Scottish lines, which two decades show to have delivered local accountability and to have engendered self-belief (as if that were lacking in Yorkshire!)

Chris Haskins rightly reminds us that for devolution to be won, “it is essential to get the people of Yorkshire enthused about the project.”  This reflects how, as Ian MacFadyen reminds us, the foundations for the Scottish parliament were laid by the Scottish Constitutional Convention.  Under the able leadership of Canon Kenyon Wright, this brought together Labour, Liberal Democrats, churches and other elements of civil society to build consensus on how devolution should work.  It was crucial to gaining public buy-in and to the subsequent success of devolution in Scotland.

If you hear echoes of community politics, that is intentional.  Michael Meadowcroft describes how Yorkshire retains its geographic identity in non-state organizations.  Freda Kelsall’s excellent essay on the arts and community in Yorkshire, and Julia Gash’s experience of establishing a Eurozone in Sheffield (no, really) keep us aware that, in Julia’s words, “politicians don’t actually have all the answers or indeed the power … you can make things happen with or without them”.  On the evidence of this book, Liberal Democrats in Yorkshire have certainly established strong links with the people who make things happen.

The Yorkshire Yellow Book 2019 will be of interest far beyond the county boundary.  It is a template for other regions that wish to develop a powerful Liberal vision and the essays within it will interest all who are interested in ways of building a truly decentralised Liberal society. At only £8, it’s a bargain.  Highly recommended

The Yorkshire Yellow Book 2019, 212pp, Beecroft Publications, ISBN 978 0 9930909-6-7


* Nigel Lindsay is a former Liberal councillor in Aberdeen and a longtime activist in the party, but consider himself an internationalist first and foremost.

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  • I like the reference to a decentralised Liberal Society. There is a question about the feasibility of Yorkshire as a region and people usually oppose another layer of government, as they see it. Yet decentralisation and localism can be life enhancing and the Liberal Democrats are not talking enough this at the moment. It is interesting the EU treaties have a paragraph stating that decisions should be made as close as possible to the people. That means that we need to tell people we are a party of BOTH internationalism and localism. I was disappointed that both our candidates for President only emphasised internationalism in response to a question about being a one-issue party at their first hustings.
    There is such a thing as Society, even though it cannot clearly and simply be defined and it is very important. So much of life is enhanced by things that cannot properly be achieved either by central government or by just a few individuals meeting together. Jonathan Sacks (former leader of the UK Jewish Orthodox community) has made this point in one of his books.

  • @ Alan Roughley “Surely the whole of Northern England , from Hadrians Wall down to the Humber and the Dee, would make more sense. Please look at the map”.

    Are you going to cede the top bit of Cumbria above the suburb of Stanwix in Carlise, plus Longtown and Brampton… as well as the top bit of Northumberland including 90% of the City of Newcastle to an independent Scotland, Mr Roughley ? Newcastle United might have to join the Scottish Premier Division though Carlisle United could hang on to their EFL status by a few hundred yards.

    As you say, ‘look at the map’.

    On the more positive side, good to see some of my old friend David Shutt echoing what I said as PPC for Sowerby in 1967…. and for Nigel Lindsay’s wise comments.

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