Oastler Market, Bradford – our neighbourhood, our regional democracy

From the very beginning, Same Skies has been about building Regional Democracy up from the good stuff around us here. We are our own region and it’s up to us to take responsibility and make it even better. Instead of just resistance, cynicism or scepticism, we want to engage people in region building.

Our latest initiative takes us around the many markets of West Yorkshire where we have been asking people to draw maps of their own neighbourhoods, especially the good stuff, and talking about their hopes for the future of our region. Eventually we hope to put all of these maps together, building up that regional picture from below.

Our first event was at Keighley Market. On Saturday we had lots of fun at Oastler Market in Bradford. You can see many of the maps in the pictures below. You can also see for yourself the things that the passers by who stopped to draw and chat thought were significant in their neighbourhood.

It was very common for people who came to see us to talk about and draw parks, post offices, libraries, schools and shops whilst also being concerned about things closing locally (Haworth Road library) or services being reduced (street lighting in West Bowling). Some participants also expressed concern about the UK being ‘Londoncentric’ and that the vote to leave the European Union was in part a reaction against this.

Thanks to everyone for continuing to build our regional map with drawings of Bradford– look out other markets in West Yorkshire, we’ll be seeing you soon…

Advertisements

Where I’m calling from*

Summary

  • Yorkshire and the North are subject to the hegemony of power and influence concentrated in London.
  • This hegemony has a negative impact on the life and freedom of people here.
  • Many people in Yorkshire and the North do not have the same privileges as others in the region when it comes to life chances.
  • Future opportunities for all in Yorkshire and the North depend on acknowledging that hegemony and privilege.
  • That means actively building an alternative civil society that challenges and does not depend on London’s hegemony
  • It also means actively addressing the impact of privilege on people in Yorkshire and the North as an integral part of regional democracy here.

Introduction

A few weeks ago the Ridings of Jorvik Society (RJS) tweeted a well known video experiment that tries to explain the idea of privilege, particularly in a US context. The RJS wondered aloud what a ‘UKcentric one, region focused’ would look like. I had already been thinking about how far hegemony could explain the reality of life for people in Yorkshire and the North today. I now started to think again about privilege more deeply and what it might mean for people in Yorkshire and the North. This included the extent to which campaigns for self-determination, devolution and regional democracy challenged or exacerbated such privilege.

Hegemony

In this specific context, hegemony to me means the dominance of a way of thinking, doing and being that is most closely associated  with a specific region of the UK and which is exactly the same place where overwhelming political, economic, cultural and media power is centralised – London and the South East. That is not to say that all those who hold power are from London and the South East, but I believe that accepting the primacy of that way of thinking, doing and being smooths the path to power, status and financial wellbeing in the UK.

In terms of public transport, Tom Forth has described an ‘institutional bias’ that has merely ‘patronised’ us. This had led for example to most people in Yorkshire who actually welcome HS2 doing so because they have no genuine belief that London will ever do better (whether HS3/Crossrail for the North/Northern Powerhouse Rail or something else). George Monbiot has described how journalists ‘spend too much time in each other’s company’ and Paul Mason has described how this leads to people ‘seeing, faster than (the media) are seeing, a change in reality which (the media) are failing institutionally to deal with; and whose risks (the media) are refusing to understand’. Meanwhile Pat Kane has described this hegemony in part as ‘shared vocabulary and terms of reference, accumulation of capital of all kinds’ whilst Ed Carlisle has experienced first hand how our electoral system contributes to maintaining that hegemony.

Ultimately however the maintenance of this hegemony is most effectively sustained by our financial dependency on London. People who benefit from London’s hegemony use London’s hegemony to make decisions that maintain London’s hegemony. These decisions perpetuate Yorkshire’s (and other regions’) dependence and make challenges to London’s hegemony seem riskier. Whether it is about spending money (such as prioritising and investing in London’s schools or infrastructure over other parts of the UK) or it is about creating a political and legal climate (such as one that benefits types of industries concentrated in London but not one that benefits types of industries concentrated elsewhere), London continues to be economically successful because UK government has decided actively to do something to make it so. Even if sometimes that is a specific decision to get out of the way of capital or business. Each time these decisions are successful, they strengthen London’s case for being prioritised above everywhere else in any future return on investment analysis.

Privilege

Despite the fact that this hegemony has an impact on everyone living in Yorkshire and the North, many of our fellow citizens also benefit from or suffer disadvantage as a result of privilege. In particular there are a number of ‘protected characteristics’ (race, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, age and class) which have been shown to impact on an individual’s life chances. For example I write this as a white, heterosexual, able bodied forty-something male who attended a Methodist church in my youth, went on to University at 18 and has travelled widely on a UK/EU passport. I am aware of the privilege that contributed in many ways to me being able to take the time to think about, write and publish this article. I speak only for myself and from my own necessarily limited perspective.

Penny Wangari-Jones has described “overlapping and interdependent systems of advantage and disadvantage” where the “institutions that oppress are interconnected”. She suggests a need to “examine the structures of power that so successfully resist change” and that “solidarity is the key” through intersectionalism.

How does the hegemony of London and the South East contribute to privilege?

There is increasing awareness that hard and soft power in and over the UK is overwhelmingly concentrated in London but the question is whether that hegemony affects the life chances of people elsewhere. Given that I live in East Leeds, what does hegemony mean for us here in Yorkshire? Does living in Yorkshire mean you are likely to have fewer life chances? Does living in Yorkshire affect the range and quality of jobs available to you? Does living in Yorkshire affect your ability to bring about the changes you want to see in society? Does living in Yorkshire affect the quality of your health? In fact, does hegemony affect your freedom to be you? For example, does living in Yorkshire mean that your opinions are valued as highly? Does living in Yorkshire mean that the choices you make and the preferences you express lead to the same opportunities?

In my opinion, living in Yorkshire has a specific impact on all of this. To take this beyond the previously discussed realm of elections, the media and political decisions about where and how money is spent, what does this hegemony mean for language for example? If the English you hear around you is not the standard English that you are expected to use in academic and professional situations, does that mean you have to learn how to use a version of English that is not your own to get on? If you are always surrounded by such English, does that give you an advantage in academic and professional situations? Is that because the English commonly spoken by people in certain places is ‘better’ than others or is it because the people who speak that form of English play a dominant role in UK society? Is there anything wrong with learning different forms of English or other languages? Does it seem fair that children growing up in certain regions of the UK have to learn the standard dialect of English in order to progress whilst others do not (particularly when those children are already growing up in a place that already offers more life chances)?

Isn’t this really all about class though? It is definitely the case that people from middle class backgrounds in Yorkshire and the North are often described as working class by the Londoncentric media, perhaps because the culture most readily associated with Yorkshire and the North from outside has its roots in working class lives. It could be argued that in many cases this element of privilege is more important but nevertheless there has to be a question about where, if at all, geography fits in to intersectionality. In previous years it was the case that citizens of Yorkshire and the North could in theory move to a better situation anywhere within the EU (even if they faced the disadvantage of ‘starting again’ in an unfamiliar place) but now even that movement may be restricted, as it has been for the majority of people from outside the EU for much longer.

Nevertheless the UK itself continues to enjoy freedom of movement. Why don’t we just ‘get on our bikes’ to London/South East? Many do. They find themselves struggling to find somewhere to live that they can afford. Often they are doing jobs that don’t pay enough to live a reasonable life. Maybe they are doing unpaid internships to try and get the contacts and experience to find paid work. Just like many people who were born and raised in London itself. Of course, the people from London itself do have a much better chance of benefiting from having friends, family and other contacts already nearby. Maybe they are even living at home, maybe some are even paying little or no rent, maybe some have food and other things provided by parents. A job interview probably means a relatively short hop on the UK’s best funded public transport system rather than an expensive and time consuming trip using (at least partially) the less reliable transport networks that run outside the UK capital.

Nevertheless that London model failed many of its citizens long before even the Grenfell tragedy and we should stand in solidarity with all those marginalised and all those who challenge that London model. Take Back The City and others at least have the opportunity to do that with a mayor (unlike most of the North) and an assembly elected by proportional representation (an electoral system not used anywhere in the North). Given the impact of London’s hegemony on housing etc for its working class residents there is also the question of whether it is good for London to be under such pressure and therefore the role of London based organisations in standing in solidarity with us here in the North.

As the US video demonstrates, there are factors related to race, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, age and class that create barriers for some and privileges for others. Growing up in London doesn’t mean privilege disappears. If however you live in Yorkshire and the North, you have an additional barrier. Living in Yorkshire and the North means that others elsewhere have an advantage simply by living in London and the South East that will give them opportunities you are unlikely to access. Some of that may eventually lessen by moving to London. But is it OK that you have to? What does it mean for the future of our society that moving to London and/or accepting its hegemony can make such a difference to life chances? Is it OK that “the North has even forgotten it was ever defeated”.

In my opinion, privilege is not only structural but it affects people globally (even if to greater and lesser extents). In the context of this article London’s hegemony ‘only’ affects the life chances of people living in a relatively small area of this planet, even if Jon Trickett and many others in the North feel like they are “the last colonial outpost of the British Empire”. Those life chances are still much better than those of many people around the world, even if they are worse than most other regions of Northern Europe. The impact of privilege and the impact of London’s hegemony are not the same thing but they are related enough that I hope fellow campaigners for regional democracy take privilege seriously and fellow intersectionalists take seriously how London’s hegemony affects people in Yorkshire and the North. I believe London’s hegemony contributes to privilege and by challenging it, we can build something better together.

What does this mean for regional democracy?

It seems to me that those of us in Yorkshire and the North who agree (even if only in part) with this analysis of hegemony and privilege should be seeking to make allies of those campaigning for ‘liberation’. We should actively try to understand and work in solidarity with those challenging privilege on an intersectional basis. This raises the broader question as to whether individuals in our region unable to benefit from one privilege or another actually want regional democracy. Our cause is no more righteous than any other, but its value is well understood by those whose regional democracy campaigning is already informed by their understanding of intersectionality. For example Leila Taleb has long argued that for a woman of colour trying to reach her full potential, living in Yorkshire and the North is an extra challenge she is obliged to overcome, not necessarily the most important but definitely an added one.

This has most recently come to media attention with the release of data about the intake to Oxford and Cambridge universities suggesting that it is harder for people from the North to enter the UK’s elite (and become part of that hegemony). Ultimately if the proposed answer is to get more Northern and working class students to Oxbridge, that means trying (and potentially failing) to succeed on the terms of those interested in retaining their own privilege. The only truly transformative approach would be to create alternative power balances to a system that puts so much power in hands of Oxbridge graduates.

The reality of London is that decisions affecting Yorkshire and much of the North (though rarely just our region) are made there by people who spend the overwhelming part of their lives there in professional and social contact with other people who spend the overwhelming part of their lives there. There is little doubt that most of those people genuinely feel that the decisions they make are in the best interests of people across England or the UK (or Europe or the World). Many feel aggrieved at the suggestion that their decisions are not in the best interests of people in Yorkshire. The reality of life for people in Yorkshire however (particularly in comparison with those in London and the South East, particularly compared with those living in other regions of Northern Europe) suggests that this good will towards Yorkshire has not been enough. A Londoncentric perspective on what’s best for Yorkshire has been given a long and reasonable chance to succeed but it hasn’t worked. The future must be different. The future must acknowledge that London’s hegemony over Yorkshire, not just in the political sphere, has to come to an end and that the UK as a whole has a responsibility towards Yorkshire (and any other self-defined regions that also want to do so) to actively get out of the way so that Yorkshire (and the other regions) can determine their own futures autonomously.

And the reality of this hegemony is that the one affecting the life chances of people in Yorkshire is the same one that is a barrier to a fairer, more inclusive politics in the UK as a whole. To bring about social justice anywhere on this island means breaking up the hegemony and creating alternative, more diverse, geographically spread, balances of power (perhaps learning from rhizomatic organisation as described by Lou Mycroft here). We need to build, support and network organisations and civil society autonomous from London to challenge and provide counter balance whilst at the same time all of those emerging institutions of regional democracy must be aware of privilege and active allies in addressing that privilege within our region.

I described many of these possible organisations in October 2015. Since then the biggest change affecting where I live has been the increasing awareness of the Yorkshire Post of its own potential in challenging London’s hegemony across partisan lines. I hope this continues and it increasingly challenges privilege within Yorkshire too.  Same Skies also started to build a timeline of initiatives relevant to West Yorkshire based on this principle.

There are many good organisations based in London who want to be ‘national’ but in reality having a head office in London means it is hard for them not be part of this hegemony, living, socialising and working in London with people who do the same. Charities and pressure groups have limited funds and this hegemony means it makes most sense to base their limited resources in London, making doing things there so much easier and therefore so much more likely (such as this event talking specifically about why ‘England without London’ voted leave in the EU referendum). When funding cuts cause reductions in provision, the last places to go are those in London (for example, a number of ‘national’ refugee charities retreated to London in early/mid 2000s despite asylum seeker dispersal to places with far less provision and experience than London).

Equally political parties whose primary focus is to gain power at Westminster prioritise the power of Westminster and see everything through the prism of whether it will make their chances at Westminster better, not whether it is in the best interests of people here in Yorkshire and the North. The argument is always that Yorkshire will only be OK when X party is in power at Westminster (i.e. when it gains a greater share of power in London’s hegemony), Yorkshire just needs to trust in them and accept those times when its interests are contrary to those of the party. But when will that moment come? Under all three of the UK wide parties to have held power at Westminster, the reality of London’s hegemony has continued to have a negative impact on the lives of people in Yorkshire. It continues to be the case that London head offices can impose their will on local branches to suit the ‘national’ agenda. What will it take for ‘national’ parties to challenge that hegemony?

For example, despite talk in the Labour party about radical change, it cannot happen without addressing London’s hegemony, as described by Ben Wray in this class analysis of the UK’s constitution. In fact the only place in the UK where there is a significant challenge to London’s hegemony (a thriving, alternative civil society) is the only part where any of Labour’s 2017 manifesto has been delivered. A place which sees its own increasing freedoms as contributing to the North’s liberation from London’s hegemony and where Gramsci’s ‘trenches in front of the elite’ were the most recent successful challenge to London’s hegemony on this island (as described by Allan Burnett in response to Paul Mason). Equally it is noteworthy that Andy Burnham has described how he only really started to understand this when he left Westminster.

Conclusion

Much of what I have described here could apply to many parts of the UK, especially the regions of ‘England’. But ultimately this is all about ‘where I’m calling from’. This is how it looks from here. A fair future for Yorkshire and the North can only be decided by those who live here. No matter the sincerity of motives and intelligence of analysis, a Londoncentric UK has only perpetuated privilege and injustice. Something better can only happen if London no longer has hegemony over people in Yorkshire and the North and all of us here work towards a future where privilege plays no part.

In conclusion, I believe that:

  • we all must make more effort to address the reality that where you live/grow up affects your life chances.
  • we must put the concept of hegemony at the heart of regional democracy campaigning (including its implication that we need to act ‘autonomously’ to genuinely be able to reach our full potential).
  • amidst the growth of regional democracy in Yorkshire and the North, it is essential that we all actively take responsibility for addressing the impact of privilege on our fellow citizens.

Ian Martin is a member of Same Skies based in East Leeds

* With apologies to Raymond Carver

Keighley Market – our neighbourhood, our regional democracy.

From the very beginning, Same Skies has been about building Regional Democracy up from the good stuff around us here. We are our own region and it’s up to us to take responsibility and make it even better. Instead of just resistance, cynicism or scepticism, we want to engage people in region building.

Our latest initiative takes us around the many markets of West Yorkshire where we have been asking people to draw maps of their own neighbourhoods, especially the good stuff, and talking about their hopes for the future of our region. Eventually we hope to put all of these maps together, building up that regional picture from below.

Today we had lots of fun at Keighley Market. You can see many of the maps in the pictures below. You can also see for yourself the things that the passers by who stopped to draw and chat thought were significant in their neighbourhood.

IMG_2531IMG_2534IMG_2535IMG_2539IMG_2545IMG_2547img_2552.jpgIMG_2553IMG_2554IMG_2541IMG_2546img_25401.jpg

Thanks to everyone for beginning our regional map with drawings of Keighley, Oakworth, Steeton, Silsden, Cowling Hill and Sutton in Craven. We’ve now got a big gap between Keighley, Huddersfield and Leeds on our wall – look out other markets in West Yorkshire, we’ll be seeing you soon…

IMG_2559

Article 50: A personal view on Yorkshire, the UK and the EU

This blog reflects the personal views of Same Skies campaigner Ian Martin from East Leeds.

The future of Yorkshire really matters to me. This is my home, whatever happens here, whether our future is positive or negative, it will directly affect me and my family. I believe it my duty, our duty, to stand up where we are and look out positively. This includes engaging positively and working collaboratively with people beyond whatever borders surround us. For the many issues we can’t address as Yorkshire alone, we need to look outwards and more often than not in our past the EU was a better outlet, a more appropriate scale and a more positive partner than the UK. The EU made possible the dream of Yorkshire’s citizens collaborating with those in Nordrhein-Westfalen and Lombardy without our ambitions being filtered through the very different perspective of London.

For that reason, I can totally understand why Scotland (that voted in referenda to remain in the UK and then subsequently in the EU) may have to make the choice to leave one international body (UK) in order to remain in an international body that has better served its needs (EU). Here in Yorkshire, we don’t have that same question. Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, although it has not had the chance to express its opinion on being bound to England and the UK. Given the referendum, the only international body we can be a part of in the near future is the UK (which remains part of the UN, NATO etc).

I became politically aware at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Bosnian refugees arrived in my suburb and their stories, as well as those of East Germans finally free to speak across borders, convinced me of the benefits of European unity. I was inspired to learn German and eventually benefited from the EU’s ERASMUS programme to study in Trier for a year. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, I voted Remain, I felt that was in the best interests of Yorkshire’s future. I accept I lost. I accept that most people who voted ‘leave’ in the referendum don’t see the EU as the appropriate level at which to make any decisions about our future. I accept that for now most people who voted in the referendum would prefer those decisions to be made in Westminster. The question that needs to be asked though is about whether people here in Yorkshire and elsewhere will be given the choice as to whether those decisions should be still be taken in Westminster in future.

I’m also aware that the defeat of the Remain campaign may be in the longer term best interests of the EU itself. For as long as I remember, the UK has been an awkward partner to fellow EU members, often acting as a brake on the positive ambitions of other members towards a more integrated continent of solidarity. And not just in governmental terms, the only part of EU-wide decision making that is directly accountable to its citizens (especially as it is under a proportional system) has been consistently ignored by those whose job should be to scrutinise its work – how much have we learned about the European Parliament from press and broadcast media in the UK?

After decades of being half in and half out, it could be something of a relief for the UK and the EU to start again. The boost to support for the EU in most member nations as a result of Brexit may allow it to create a genuine pan-European electorate giving assent or otherwise to the vision of a federal body with minimum standards of quality of life for all its citizens. The UK in future may decide it wants to negotiate access to some or all of that. Without being members of the EU, UK representatives will have had no role in designing, developing, consenting to or scrutinising any of it but we may decide that it is attractive enough to nevertheless accept EU terms. In fact over time, that lack of political impact on decisions made by our nearest neighbours that affect us may be a key argument for those campaigning for Yorkshire (and the rest of what this island becomes) to rejoin the EU.

IPPR North have been lobbying for the voice of the North to be heard in Brexit negotiations, including through a Northern Brexit Negotiating Committee, and I hope they will succeed in making this happen with a diverse range of voices and perspectives from throughout the North. For me, all of this should be focused on the future and in particular on the future of young people in areas of fewer opportunities (including parts of Yorkshire). The referendum took the UK out of the EU and put power in the hands of the UK government for now. If the UK government is going to take seriously our future here in Yorkshire, here are a few things I want it to do:

  • To ensure that people in Yorkshire have the widest possible opportunities to live, work, travel, study and play in the EU (and beyond) without any ‘right’ being effectively hindered by bureaucracy.

  • To be fair to other regions of Europe and to ensure that Yorkshire continues to benefit from the ideas and energy of people from elsewhere, the UK government needs to get out of the way of us actively making EU citizens welcome and ensure they benefit from the same rights here as do Yorkshire’s citizens within the EU.

  • To ensure the continued active promotion of ideas and perspectives sharing through exchange programmes, such as ERASMUS.

  • To maximise access to opportunities for organisations (including businesses) within Yorkshire and that these are based as a minimum on employment rights, environmental standards, public procurement transparency and consumer protection (developed by the UK government as part of the EU’s decision making processes) for as long as democratically elected bodies within Yorkshire consider them appropriate.

  • To ensure the replacement of EU Development funds (that have benefited Yorkshire even when UK government has ignored our needs) and make sure that decisions about them are taken by democratically elected bodies within Yorkshire itself

  • To ensure that Yorkshire can continue to play its role in contributing to continent wide peace and solidarity programmes, including welcoming refugees arriving at EU borders and making safe routes available for them to reach Yorkshire instead of risking the Mediterranean and other crossings.

But most important of all, now that the UK as a whole has answered the question of its role within the EU, surely it is the time for people here in Yorkshire to decide on how we want to be governed within the UK too? Surely this time of change for the UK is exactly the time when Regional Democracy should blossom?

I campaigned for the UK to remain in the European Union alongside others and we couldn’t convince enough people to get out and vote that way. The UK will no longer be a member of the EU and that means Yorkshire will not be part of the EU either. Nevertheless I will continue to think of myself as European and support the development of the European Union. I will continue to believe another Europe is possible. I will continue to buy the New European newspaper and encourage it to reflect the experiences of Europeans in all parts of this island. I will apply for individual EU membership if and when the time comes. And once the EU has had chance to move forward without the brakes placed on it by the UK’s elite, I may well be amongst those campaigning for Yorkshire to rejoin fellow regional democracies in the European Union.

Will West Yorkshire have the courage to make Devolution Democratic?

Thursday’s meeting of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority will have important implications for the future of more than 5 million people. Leaders from cities and towns around Yorkshire are meeting to discuss next steps in the long anticipated “deal” which would devolve certain powers and monies from Whitehall to Yorkshire in exchange for a directly-elected mayor. A deal for West Yorkshire has fallen behind other cities like Manchester because of disagreement on many issues, including geography. Should we have a mayor for West Yorkshire only? What about a mayor for all of Yorkshire, or part of it?

We don’t have a position on just how big the mayoralty should be. This post is not about the pros and cons of the current plan. The question we are raising is how many of the five million people affected by Thursday’s meeting even know that it is happening? How much do people know about the devolution deals being made?

Like most people in Yorkshire, we are in favour of having more voice. We certainly want a better Yorkshire. We want better communities, better schools, better transport. We want a better environment and a better economy, and know that regional democracy and greater independence from Whitehall are part of building a better future.

But building a better future is about Democracy, not Devolution. If devolution is about people, where are the people?

We urge the WYCA to have the courage to open up the politics. Let more people know what is happening. Let them engage effectively. Let civil society play a bigger role in developing a devolved regional democracy – not just the big charities and big businesses and big universities, but the small voices and the small places, the neighbourhoods and communities and civic actors who make this place great.

And don’t forget – no matter the result of Thursday’s decisions, Yorkshire and West Yorkshire will have to make their case to Whitehall. Broader public support can help make that case stronger.

We recognize that democracy is messy, and can seem inefficient. After months and even years of delay, delay caused by the complexity of Yorkshires already fragmented politics, who in their right mind wants to add more voices? Isn’t that a recipe for more stagnation? Shouldn’t the politicians just get on with it? Isn’t that why we elected them?

We aren’t protesting the decision today, nor are we saying that it should stop. Whatever the geography of the deal that comes together, leaders need to recognize that this is just the first step. The next steps are the ones that need to be more open, more democratic, that need the benefit of debate and engagement. The Combined Authority’s own plan recognizes the importance of ‘fostering a wider community conversation’.

Starting from today, we call on the leaders of Yorkshire and West Yorkshire to make this ‘wider conversation’ happen. Don’t set up a standard consultation. Instead, hold special surgeries to talk about regional democracy. Reach out specifically to civil society organizations, including those who represent underrepresented voices like young people, women, BME and working class communities, and work with them to build a dialogue. Provide funds for outreach and education. Work with local universities and colleges to engage students and develop creative ideas for engagement and activism.

This is an unprecedented opportunity to build a better politics for the region, to engage people in region-building and not just resistance, cynicism or scepticism. Devolution is technocratic, business-as-usual with leaders in a different place. Regional Democracy is a new way of engaging people, focused on building a strong and diverse civil society capable of working with political parties and with local and regional agencies to help keep and build the promise of more local and regional decision making. If Yorkshire’s leaders try to build a new administrative apparatus without strengthening civil society, it won’t result in the type of transformation people are yearning for.

We the people of Yorkshire and West Yorkshire can be strong allies of elected officials and government agencies in devolution, but only if we are building Regional Democracy, not just some new lines on a map.

Let the people of Yorkshire help you build a better regional democracy.

This blog was written by Leeds resident Alex Schafran with contributions from other members of the Same Skies network.

 

 

Some reading for the end of 2016

At the end of last year, we collected together some of the pieces of writing that had got Same Skies members thinking that year. Many of these articles and blogs are still worth a look and given how much people seem to appreciate that list, we have decided to do the same again for the end of 2016.
As ideas of nations, regions and working together across borders became increasingly part of people’s conversations in 2016, we looked back at two very prescient articles. In 2011 John Baxendale looked specifically at the North.And in 2014, Debora McKenzie wrote in the New Scientist about the role of nation states across history and their future relationship with regions and international co-operation. These thoughts also reminded us of the Necessary Group, a creative attempt at a positive regional identity for our friends in the North West.
So often the Big Issue in the North has been a great source of news from and ideas about places in the North. Here Hannah Mitchell Foundation member William Bolton proposed we work from the bottom up to create a ‘Northern Umbrella‘.
Ultimately this is all about our #RegionalDemocracy, our future as a community of humans. Here Frances Bee had some interesting thoughts on what a successful human community could look like.
But what is #RegionalDemocracy for? What do we want to do differently with the responsibility we take for our own futures? Throughout the year, we have published great ideas from people around West Yorkshire. One of these proposed trialing a Citizens’ Income in West Yorkshire.  We watched with interest as devolution in Scotland enabled it to move beyond a sanctions based approach to tackling poverty and local authorities in Glasgow and Fife announced plans to trial forms of Basic Income.
Meanwhile former Same Skies blogger Penny Wangari-Jones made a powerful film with advice for people in West Yorkshire about how we could actively stand up against racism, including direct and immediate support for its victims.
We also found some thought provoking ideas for our future in other places:
– A partnership in the Borders suggested how we could harness the power of the wind for a greater social good.
– The model of local energy co-operatives in Germany made a lot of people consider if they could be part of our future here.
– The Lucas Plan suggested a possible model for addressing the needs of local economies in the West Yorkshire currently dependent on the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
– Blogger James Walsh proposed an alternative vision for the Northern Powerhouse… the Northern Greenhouse.
These ideas are all about #RegionalDemocracy, about us taking responsibility for actively making good things happen in our region. But that doesn’t mean we can or want to be completely oblivious to the wider social, political and economic context and how those who currently hold power over us are seeing the future.
David Marlow looked at this year’s referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU and considered how the “strength & requirements of London’s narrative distort top-down attempts” at positive change. Whilst Philip McCann gave a very clear summary of what he called the ‘UK’s regional economic problem’ and Craig Berry argued hopefully that it might be “possible to go with the grain of existing devolution deals while broadening out their scope”.
The perceived opportunities and dangers for local authorities in negotiating ‘deals’ with central government were given particularly useful background in this piece about the ‘Strange Death of Municipal England‘ whilst Alex Harrowell gave a detailed and fascinating overview of struggles for power in one of our cities that he knows very well, Bradford.
What about you? Is there anything you have read over the last year that has really got you thinking about #RegionalDemocracy and your hopes for our shared future?
Best wishes for 2017 from all at Same Skies.

Regional Democracy – a recent timeline from West Yorkshire

Regional Democracy comes from below, it’s about being positive and actively taking responsibility. Devolution by necessity comes from above, ceding responsibility from the top downwards. Maybe the two will meet on the way.

Here is a first attempt at a timeline of Regional Democracy as it relates to where we live, West Yorkshire. They are developments from within the region for the region, initiatives not dependent on those who already hold power nationally.

Autumn 2011 – Hannah Mitchell Foundation (HMF) is formed, ‘working for a fair and prosperous North of England within a federal Britain’

Spring 2012 – HMF launches publicly. Its’ website archives are a key record of many developments towards Regional Democracy.

Summer 2012 – HMF’s first AGM

2012 – Yorkshire Devolution Movement (YDM) is launched, ‘campaigning to secure a directly elected regional assembly for Yorkshire’.

June 2013 – Hannah Festival 01 takes place, including the launch of the first Hannah Directory. This is bottom up, asset based, unsubsidised, creative activity to build consciousness of what we would now call “regional democracy”. The Hannah Mitchell in Hannah Directory is from Hannah Mitchell in Hannah Mitchell Foundation, in 2013 they were directly connected. The kickstarter is a key document.

Summer/Autumn 2014 – Hannah Directory conversations took place at the Star and Shadow (Newcastle) and Leeds Summat.

April 2014 – Yorkshire Party formed to contest the European Parliament elections as ‘a progressive political party made up of autonomous local groups and individuals who are united by a shared belief that Yorkshire needs a voice at European, national and regional level’. It was originally called Yorkshire First.

October 2014 – Potentially the earliest documented use of the term “regional democracy” by a West Yorkshire activist in recent times, HMF founder Paul Salveson.

May 2015 – Following responses to the ‘Yorkshire free, fair and fun for all?’ video in October 2014 and this subsequent Culture Vulture article  in August 2015, a group starts to come together at the JUST West Yorkshire offices in Bradford through social media and personal contacts. The group were positive about democracy that could bring about real change closer to where they lived but also felt that debates about ‘devolution’ had been all about those who already held power, whether political or in business. The group wanted to engage a more diverse range of voices in the debate about the future of their region and was partially inspired by the way that new voices and ideas became a big part of the debate about the future of Scotland.

Spring 2015 – “*Doing devolution without permission from politicians.*”: Hannah Directory conversations at Notwestminster (Huddersfield) and Festival of Debate (Sheffield). “There is a new enthusiasm in England for devolution to local and even regional government, but ordinary people can’t yet see how they can get involved and help make it happen. In this workshop we will listen to each other, talk, and come up with ideas together to start doing devolution from the bottom up as soon as we walk out of the room.”

June 2015 – Northern Citizens’ Convention organised by HMF and others in Huddersfield

November 2015 – The group meeting at JUST West Yorkshire made the conscious choice to talk about ‘regional democracy’ rather than devolution and organised the ‘What Kind of region do we want to live in?‘ event in Manningham. This included videos & photoboards of people around West Yorkshire talking about their responses, and an Open Space model ie. no hierarchy of speakers or fixed agenda where all could suggest themes/discussions. 40% of attendees at that event were female and virtually none of the attendees had attended a ‘devolution’ event before. Following the event, this group became a loose network of people in West Yorkshire called Same Skies. This network is positive about regional democracy, open to working with people from all parties and none and actively tries to engage diverse voices. The network also runs the ‘We Share The Same Skies’ collaborative blog of hopeful ideas and the related Twitter account.

January 2016 – University of Leeds hosts the ‘Power to the North’ event where Leila Taleb first starts to share Same Skies’ vision for Regional Democracy publicly.

April 2016 – Same Skies’ first explicit ‘Regional Democracy’ workshop takes place at Leeds Summat.

May 2016 – Same Skies members publish an article adding more detail to their vision for Regional Democracy.

June 2016 – HMF launch the Northern Network , ‘an open network of people in the North committed to social justice, tolerance and democratic reform for an inclusive, creative and decentralised North’.

This is a working document originally drafted by Andy Wilson. What are we missing? What else should we add? Please contact us with your ideas below or via Twitter.

Same Skies – an update

Same Skies is a loose network of people from West Yorkshire working together on the basis of the following principles:

– We’re positive about regional democracy

– We’re open to working with people from all parties and none

– We actively want to do something to engage a more diverse range of voices

We originally came together through social media and personal contacts in early 2015 to organise the ‘What Kind Of Region Do We Want To Live In?’ event in Manningham in November 2015. We were all positive about democracy that could bring about real change closer to where we live but we felt that debates about ‘devolution’ had been all about those who already held power, whether political or in business. We wanted to engage a more diverse range of voices in the debate about the future of our region. We weren’t sure what to do next, so we invited some people who had shown an interest in Same Skies to join us for a few hours in Leeds to talk about the place we all live and work; what kind of place we want it to be in the future; and what things we might do to help get there?

The mix of women and men at the small gathering came from Bradford, Keighley, Huddersfield, Halifax and Leeds with a range of different backgrounds, from community food growing and teaching to journalism and technology. We also had varied motivations for attending, including being inspired by people taking responsibility for the future of where they live; wanting to find new ways to bring people together to talk about the future; and a feeling that people’s voices here aren’t fairly heard in the national conversation.

We quickly settled on a key question: What do we want to do to help catalyse a wide ranging conversation about Regional Democracy in West Yorkshire?

This led to the following key themes:

  1. Focus on issues not structures

One of the key messages from the Manningham event was that people weren’t talking about structures, they were talking about issues, such as health inequalities. All at this gathering shared stories about and expressed concern that talented, energetic people in West Yorkshire often feel that they need to move to London. Some people reported that around where they live, people worried about jobs and poverty. Even within West Yorkshire, there was resentment that “all the money is in Leeds”. Many also reported a feeling that there’s only so much to go around and given that many people’s lives are difficult, “it’s the easiest thing to do to blame the immigrants”. At the same time, others felt immense frustration at the circumstances that led to this lack of solidarity, “If you don’t know what it’s like to leave everything, you can’t understand.”

2. Explain what we mean by Regional Democracy

We think Regional Democracy is people working together as equals for our common good and taking responsibility for making it happen. We don’t think the final constitutional and bureaucratic form of that is the most important thing at the moment, the most important thing is to recognise the need for cooperation and to get started on cooperating at all levels. We support other regions who want to do the same, but it’s not for us to say how they get started. We all live in West Yorkshire and so this is where we do our stuff.

Despite the appeal for many people of ‘taking control’, control is still 300 miles away and so if we want to get listened to in a national conversation, we need to meet the devolution coming down with something from the bottom coming up. The aim should be to “bring as many decisions back here as possible, but not just to give them to one person”

We also tested our commitment to democracy by considering whether more people participating was a good outcome in itself, even if those people had different views to ourselves. We decided that “Regional Democracy is about building solidarity”, journeying through the differences and not dismissing them but carrying them with us and building trust. It’s about creating a space in which people can have conversations, to find out what common interests they have. It was suggested that democracy is everything that you could wish for in the place where you live so the key was in identifying what that was by encouraging people to ask themselves what it means to be in West Yorkshire now, and what they want the future to be.

3. Ask positive questions to a wider range of voices

We all agreed that ‘if you live here, you are West Yorkshire’ but that many people feel like they weren’t part of any meaningful conversation about the future of their region. If we are to help address this, we need to think carefully about what we ask, who we ask, where we ask it and how. In particular we need to start from the level that people are at in terms of this conversation and go to the places where people already are (including working with others who are trying to help people be more politically engaged). Given that we want to build solidarity, we will ask a positive question that opens a dialogue, such as: What do you like about where you live? What would you like to happen in future? The responses to these questions could be collated into a celebration through the format of a video online or a fanzine distributed in the place where the conversations took place.

Summary

We have an idea of why we’re here and what we mean by Regional Democracy, we know we want to focus on issues not structures and we want to engage a wider range of voices through positive questions. Our next step will be to agree specific actions. We’ll meet again in Huddersfield in early December. If you’re interested in joining us, please get in touch here.

Report by Ian Martin, thanks to all who attended and to Diane Sims and Andy Wilson for the notes.

#RegionalDemocracy and the EU – a view from West Yorkshire

This blog reflects the personal views of Leila Taleb (Bradford), Andrew Wilson (Huddersfield) and Ian Martin (Leeds). All are members of the Same Skies network.

 

An unusual thing happened on Sunday morning. The newspapers were full of celebration for the benefits of freedom of movement within the EU. Well, the back pages anyway. A lad from Gloucestershire had grown up on the Algarve after his family moved there to work in 2004. Eric Dier eventually joined the junior system at Lisbon football club, CP Sporting, and scored the opening goal for the England team at Euro 2016.

Funny how things can look very different from another’s perspective. Funny how both the Leave and Remain campaigns during the EU referendum seem to be talking about a very narrow perspective on our future. It’s not one that we recognise. It’s not one that seems to be interested in the future of us here in West Yorkshire.

For example, there seems to be very little interest in hearing the voices of young people about their future prospects in the region and beyond. We know that many young people are struggling to find work and that many are therefore leaving to find work elsewhere. Even an optimistic view of the government’s current efforts in the North would suggest that young people may still need that option for years to come. Is there a danger that those who don’t need the opportunity to benefit from EU freedom of movement for work will vote to deny that opportunity to young people in the North? Is it really fair to suddenly limit our young people to jobs in the South East even though their parents could also work freely around the EU (such as on German building sites)?

If we are to provide those opportunities for our young people here in the North, history shows it is actually the EU that has been much more interested in and supportive of the regions than the UK’s own government.  The EU was there for the North, as part of investments made all over the continent, in the wake of deindustrialisation. Left in the hand of a centralised UK government viewing this island from a narrow Londoncentric perspective, things would have been even worse. Given our island’s history, it is mostly the EU’s commitment to solidarity between regions and its redistribution of funds raised from the UK and other member states that has enabled the North to invest in regeneration despite the best efforts of Whitehall. Investing in the North in the 1990’s helped us prevent the sort of decline that has befallen places like Detroit and a lot of that is due to investment from the EU. When that relationship between Yorkshire and the EU has been strained, it has been due to decisions made in Whitehall.

We believe that our region does best when it can have direct relationships with other parts of the world, rather than when our needs are mediated into nothing by the dominant interests of London and the South East. The EU currently enables that opportunity for regions within the EU and the fact we actually have much more in common with other regions of the EU, such as Nordrhein-Westfalen, than with the South East means we want to develop our region’s role within the EU, not throw it away. For example the developers of the impressive transport infrastructure serving the dispersed industrial cities within Nordrhein-Westfalen could tell us more about how to address the chronic transport problems in West Yorkshire than anyone in UK government.

In fact most of the good models for how to do better #RegionalDemocracy come from other EU members. For example, despite its problems France’s progress in decentralisation and regional reorganisation is much better than the UK. France’s second and third tier cities are much better off compared to Paris than cities like Leeds and Bradford are compared to London, despite similar histories of centralisation, monarchy, empire and war. This is not to mention the impressive efforts of Germany’s federal states in addressing regional inequalities despite the challenge of absorbing former East Germany and powerful Dutch cities that are currently using their freedoms to trial new ideas such as basic income. There is much to be learned from our EU partner regions and the EU itself provides great possibilities for funded exchanges and collaborations to make it happen.

Like many, we are concerned about a democratic deficit in the EU but not in the way that the Leave campaign like to present it. To us the questions about democracy in the EU are actually questions about democracy in the UK (and other member states). When people are unhappy about EU decision making (which is fair enough, especially when it comes to issues like policy towards Greece’s crisis), they are unhappy about decisions made by member state governments together or by the Commission using powers given by member state governments together.

When the UK government makes decisions that are Londoncentric or which fail to take into account the needs of the most vulnerable, we are especially affected in the regions. The UK government often takes this attitude into EU Council of Ministers’ meetings, for example in getting special treatment for banking in the City of London but not for steel in industrial Britain

For us therefore the failure of democracy in the UK leads to a failure of democracy in the EU. Sorting out UK democracy is the first step to sorting out the democratic deficit in the EU. Sorting out UK democracy means a big role for #RegionalDemocracy. This would be totally in keeping with the EU principle of ‘subsidiarity’ ie. decisions made at the lowest appropriate level.

If we want to sort out EU democracy, we need to base it first on reforming UK democracy towards #RegionalDemocracy and not by giving even more power to Westminster. Even if you distrust Brussels, do you really trust London?

Leila recently took part in EU referendum debates organised by JUST West Yorkshire and South Leeds Life as well as Made In Leeds TV’s Between The Lines Remain or Leave special.. She will also take part in a BBC Radio Leeds debate at Bradford College on June 15th.

What do new migrants think about our region?

In a guest blog, Pria Bhabra and Rosemary Brookes reflect on their experiences working on the Migrant Access Project in their part of our region.

Leeds is an amazing and diverse city that has so much to offer for all the citizens that live here, new and old. But if you are new to the city, how much do you actually know, and how do you learn to navigate your way through to services and society?

Working with some of the new migrant communities through MAP is fantastic as we learn so much about their culture, how things were back home and how different things are here. Different individuals say there are both good and bad things both here and back at home, but feeling safe is why many are here. There is a lot to learn as new migrants start to integrate, for example the specific way we define ‘safeguarding’ is something new, something not discussed within communities because it’s not a definition that really existed back home, but they are learning in their own way to understand the bigger picture.

Do we all understand Leeds in the same way? How does it look through different eyes? Yes, there are some pictures and views of Leeds that are put out at a corporate level, but for each individual who lives in Leeds and are part of its existence these ideas and images may not be exactly the same.

In April, MAP was invited to attend a workshop for Leeds 2023 European Capital of Culture bid bid. We had the opportunity to hear people’s thoughts and visions of Leeds, but also a chance to share our own views. Two volunteers came along with us, Michaela came to the event representing the Roma community, and Bei came representing the Chinese community. For Michaela, Leeds was about different communities and cultures. It was good to see that people of Leeds are starting to learn about different communities and work with them, and she wants this to grow. Also, Leeds is a friendly city with opportunities. It’s about looking at some of the things that are negative such as deprivation, but also seeing the good. For Bei, she similarly saw the options that Leeds could offer, whilst highlighting some of the city’s contrasts in terms of prosperity, history, architecture and culture.

Every time MAP meets someone from a new migrant community, both staff and new migrants learn more about what Leeds is now, and what it should ideally be. These ideas may vary from person to person, but overall MAP, and the majority of people we meet, want Leeds to be a safe place to live and raise children, just like everyone else.

The Migrant Access Project (MAP) is developed by Leeds City Council, Touchstone and Feel Good Factor, aiming to reduce pressures on services where migration has impacted the most whilst helping new arrivals to put down roots in Leeds. It works with different migrant communities, often training volunteers up to become members of Migrant Community Networks through leadership training. For more information about MAP, or anything else in this blog, please contact Pria Bhabra pria.bhabra@leeds.gov.uk