Guest blog by Elaine Calder from Halifax
A couple of years ago we made a long planned move to Scotland. Both my husband and I have family connections to Scotland and we wanted to be a part of the growing Radical Independence movement there. We lived in quite a remote area, so when a family member became ill back here in Yorkshire we decided we needed to return here to support them.
While we were in Scotland we were very impressed by the level of debate and engagement from grass roots level concerning the Independence Referendum. A lot of thought and consideration was being given by people there to decide on their own future. They were thinking about what they wanted and how they could go about getting it. One of the organisations that was set up at the time was the Common Weal movement. Common Weal (CW) is a ‘think and do tank campaigning for social and economic equality in Scotland’. It is a non-party movement concerned with bottom up social change. CW helps to provide creative thinking to provoke debate without prescribing limits. Even after the narrow victory of the No vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum, the Common Weal has given the people of Scotland a storehouse of ideas to feed Scottish politics for the future. They have produced a ‘Book of Ideas’ to offer ways of doing things differently to create a better Scotland. It is a vision for the next Scottish parliament from 2016.
Since we returned to Yorkshire there has been a lot of talk about Yorkshire as a region receiving some powers devolved from Westminster. We do not know what these powers will be but I feel at least the discussion around regional democracy gives us a chance to get together to discuss what we want rather than just accepting what is imposed on us by central government.
Having seen the positive impact of discussions during the referendum campaign in Scotland, I took part in the event in Bradford on 7th November, ‘What Kind of Region Do We Want To Live In?’. It was good to meet people from a wide range of backgrounds from different parts of West Yorkshire. Many things were discussed at the event but we did all feel that people in our region have different priorities to the priorities of the current London model . We all felt that we are fed up of ‘Me First’ politics and that the current talk of devolution all seems to be about what someone above wants us to have, on their terms, rather than the people who live here who have different priorities, making the decisions. The discussions we had, seemed to me to mirror the CW principle of ‘All of us First’.
Regional Democracy must include us, the Book of Ideas puts this as ‘ Nothing about us, without us, is for us’. People living in the region should be at the heart of any discussion about the future of our region. One of the only things that we do know will be part of any devolution deal promoted by the government is that we will get to elect a mayor for the region. During the General Election campaign earlier this year, CW promoted the Red Lines campaign which asked people to consider their own values, their Red Lines, and to vote only for a candidate who stuck to their Red Line issues under the slogan “Small can be powerful, your vote can count”. I feel that this approach could be adopted here in Yorkshire. We could have local meetings to discuss what our Red Lines are and campaign on them. For example, in the case of electing a mayor, we could promote a referendum on changes to the system and an assembly directly elected by PR as Red Lines for any mayoral candidate. I feel that such a Red Lines campaign could help to engage more people in regional democracy, encouraging them to believe that they could actually have a say in the kind of society they want to live in. At the moment, the whole devolution subject seems to be far removed from people’s actual lives.
The Book of Ideas highlights the true aspirations of people, home, security, work, community, recreation, public service and respect. These were all topics that came up in the discussions at the Bradford meeting. We all felt that we had had enough of me-first politics, where greed, profit and elitism has taken us away from our own core values of humanity and equality and that a collective well being was at the heart of the society we want to live in.
The Book of Ideas provides creative ideas encompassing almost everything needed to envision and create a better Scotland, from tax and investment to energy and housing or from infrastructure to economic and social equality. Scotland is more than a step ahead of us, so some of the content of the Book of Ideas is not relevant here in Yorkshire just yet. What it does provide though is a starting block for discussion. What came out of the Bradford meeting was the notion that we here in Yorkshire, like the people in Scotland want a society which puts All of Us First.
Elaine can be found on Twitter @elainecalder
Common Weal can be found on Twitter @Common_Weal