Meet the Yorkshire Party - the English regionalists inspired by the SNP

Yorkshire Party leader Stewart Arnold (centre) launches the party's 2017 manifesto outside Wakefield Cathedral. Picture: Scott Merrylees/Johnston Press
Yorkshire Party leader Stewart Arnold (centre) launches the party's 2017 manifesto outside Wakefield Cathedral. Picture: Scott Merrylees/Johnston Press
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It has a mixed economy reliant on financial services and tourism, a population of around five million, and is famous for its rugged yet beautiful landscape.

The historic English county of Yorkshire and Scotland have much in common at first glance. But when it comes to local governance, there are many who are casting envious glances north of the Border.

One group is calling for establishment of a regional assembly, similar to Holyrood, to take decisions across the region.

The Yorkshire Party was set up by “three men and a dog” in 2014, co-founder and leader Stewart Arnold told The Scotsman.

Its membership is now in the hundreds and it fielded 21 candidates in last year’s snap general election, seven more than in 2015, pulling in 20,958 votes in total.

While the party remains a niche concern, its core aims reflect a frustration felt in parts of England that feel remote from Wesminster.

READ MORE: Devolution - but what about England?

Devolution to Wales and Scotland, and the restoration of a parliament in Northern Ireland, transformed how politics worked across the UK in the late 1990s.

Tony Blair’s Labour Government did plan to create at least three English regional assemblies, but the project ground to a halt when a referendum on the matter in the north-east returned a decisive no vote in 2004.

If a yes vote had been returned further plebiscites would have taken place in the north-west as well as Yorkshire and Humber.

Fast forward 14 years and the Yorkshire Party believes the time is right for devolution to the regions to be seriously considered again.

“The arguments for why devolution is important have not gone away,” said Arnold. “The economic crash accentuated the need for it. I think that’s when people started to realise that maybe one idea out of this was to get behind regionalism.

“The Yorkshire Party started off with various people from a cross-party point of view setting up a kind of campaign group - but then we thought of the example of the SNP and Plaid Cymru in the 1960s, and realised that to get the UK Government and the main parties to sit up and take notice you needed to hurt them at the ballot box.”

The party does not advocate independence but instead campaigns for the creation of a regional assembly covering the entirety of the historic Yorkshire county - which is today carved up between numerous different local authorities.

That goes beyond the the so-called ‘One Yorkshire’ model which is backed by 18 out of 20 local authorities in the region, and would lead to a directly elected mayor, similar to existing roles in Manchester and Liverpool, being voted in to power by 2020.

“The city deals and one elected mayor might suit somewhere like Birmingham, but we don’t think it suits somewhere as diverse as Yorkshire,” said Arnold.

“We would want as many powers as possible so we could set our priorities accordingly. We look at the Scottish Parliament as a model. Obviously, we are a long way from that, but it’s an example of what you can do.

“That’s not to say we would necessarily do everything the Scottish Government has done, but at least we could set our priorities.”

The rise of the SNP has provided inspiration to the Yorkshire movement, even if its end goals are different.

“One of the key things I take from the SNP is their success at the ballot box,” added Arnold. “The Hamilton by-election in 1967 made Harold Wilson and Ted Heath sit up and take up notice.

“There was a long process before that, but that was the catalyst.”