Each month, I offer a piece of my current writing on this part of my website. Sometimes, it will be a short story, a longer or couple of shorter poems or a comment piece. Some of these will be about to be published but by coming back, each month, you can try different flavours of my writing…

This month:

'Home rule for Yorkshire'

A couple of months of serious political pieces, I had began preparing this month’s ‘This Month’, with a more light-hearted piece, then the world happened around me.

When I was a primary school child, my Dad used to tell me tales about folks whom he knew across the Yorkshire-Lancashire border who actually wanted “home rule for Yorkshire”. That was fifty years ago and long before anybody had heard of a Mayor for London (or its later incumbents), when Scottish and Welsh nationalists were dismissed as anarchists, arsonists, bonkers or worse.

I loved my Yorkshire years – and easily understood why its attractions could support the case for home rule. Whether it was Bradford’s Asian eateries, the majestic and newly-refurbished Piece Hall (have you been yet?) in Halifax, York Minster with its surrounding medieval Shambles or the cathedrals in Ripon and Wakefield, the county had built diversity. Whether it was clifftop Whitby Abbey, the tops above Haworth or north Yorkshire’s Dales, Brimham Rocks or the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the landscape was enhanced by humanity’s influences. I had friends at Sheffield’s Urban Theology Unit and radical friends in Hull communes, and lived amongst a burgeoning, increasingly politicised crowd in Leeds. There was and still is a rich quality of life in Yorkshire. Every time I go back, and pass the ‘Welcome to Yorkshire’ sign, I smile in remembering Dad’s “Home Rule for Yorkshire” anecdotes.

But no longer! I knew it was not April 1st when a friend unfolded a recent newspaper article in the pub. It described the growing political manouverings to have a Mayor for Yorkshire. Before you laugh, perhaps I should remind you that Yorkshire has a similar population to Scotland and twice the economy of Wales. The Yorkshire Post remains one of the the few regional quality daily newspapers that gets noted by glitterati of Salford’s Media City and London newsrooms. Without upsetting anyone’s sports partisanship, Yorkshire has significant claim to be considered as a British region just as much, if not more than many others. I just hope that desire for a south Yorkshire mayor will allow Sheffield and Rotherham can be subsumed to get behind, thus giving their strength, to the bid for a Mayor for Yorkshire – with real powers over many of the issues that grip and control people’s lives.

The gulf between Labour-led conurbations and rural Tory Yorkshire will put everyone on their mettle. But across the county, people appreciate the forthright and plain speaking nature of Labour’s Ed Balls or the Conservative William Hague, whom some believe are the mayoral front-runners, rather than the real Westminster types and their apparatchiks. We shall see – but I support the idea of giving a regional mayor and their democratic cabinet power over planning and transport decisions, healthcare spending and co-ordinating social welfare or house-building policies. It’s beginning to work as we have seen in London or with the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales.

And there I was almost going to stop… but then the technically illicit Catalonian referendum took place. Rather than use the powers of debate, local consultation and discussion, the Spanish government sent in the militia to batter innocent civilans trying to exercise their voices, or precisely their votes in the biggest of straw polls imaginable. It took me back to the days of Franco’s oppression, the Spanish Civil War and Orwell’s excellent Homage to Catalonia. It’s twelfth chapter deserves re-reading by all who want to comment upon the current Catalonian crisis. Look, read and think what happens when people feel so disenfranchised by their national government. I understand why the contemporary nation of federalised Spain declares itself to be “indivisible” – but many Spaniards, Catalans, Aragonesques and others seem to have been unaware of it as the international media questioned them. The Spanish Government has much work to do in placating the Catalans and other regional groups who watch with interest and Mediterranean passion.

Perhaps, one of the parting gifts that Britain can offer in Brexit is to show its variety of decentralised regional patterns of governance be it the great city regions of London, Birmingham and Manchester or the nations of Scotland and Wales. “Home rule for Yorkshire” is not such a daft idea.

Andrew Francis
October 2017