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:
- 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.
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.