The Yorkshire First Conference was held at Clements Hall in York on Saturday 7th November. Over forty members and supporters came together for a mixture of inspiring sessions which featured visiting speakers, workshops and a lot of discussion.
The first conference session centred on the activities of Yorkshire First to date with contributions on campaigning, organisation, social media, forming local groups and membership. This illustrated how far Yorkshire First has come in such a short time. The call for candidates for the 2016 local council elections was reiterated by several speakers.
Leader, Richard Carter, noted that European elections, Westminster and local government elections, by elections and getting our first councillors at Town and Parish level are sure signs of a party that will succeed even if we have a long road to travel. We fielded more candidates in our first Westminster election than any other party since the formation of the Labour Party!
Günther Dauwen, the director of the European Free Alliance (EFA) gave an informed overview of how the EFA works and how we could become more involved. The EFA offers a link with other like minded, progressive parties across Europe and a very welcome offer of a voice in the European Parliament via other EFA members who sit in the parliament. Full membership of the EFA beckons (we currently have observer status).
Günther recognised us as a “party seeking greater devolution, decentralization or autonomy for our region”. He said: “It is not for EFA nor Brussels to decide the way to go, it is the peoples of all the nations and regions we represent that engage in that decision.” And it was this common aim of subsidiarity for all EFA members that was so positively stressed in his presentation to the conference.
Hilton Dawson, the Chair of the North East Party, brought us up to date with devolution proposals in the North East of England with particular reference to the decision by Durham Council to hold a referendum on the issue (admittedly proposals which have been formed without any public involvement).
Hilton was clear that “The Northern Powerhouse is monumentally divisive and fundamentally undemocratic”. Clearly the NEP and Yorkshire First have much in common and the close relationship will continue. The conference applauded loudly when Hilton confirmed that the NEP has now won four recent by elections in its area!
The most animated session was when the conference split into small groups to discuss a “Road Map” towards devolution and how we could implement it. (one of the suggestions is now an action – read the piece below about letter writing). Suggestions in the report back came thick and fast and included:
- Focussing on key local issues such as fracking in rural areas
- The democratic deficit (especially that caused by our electoral voting system)
- Showing how devolution can save money by more informed local decision making
- Providing proof that the population of Yorkshire wants real devolved powers
- Making politicians have a conversation they don't want to have
- Make them show proof of the validity of their proposals
- Asking politicians from all parties to sign the Yorkshire Pledge
- Emphasising the 5 Es – Equality, Economy, Education, Environment and Energy
The final discussion led by Party Leader, Richard Carter focussed on the Road Map to a referendum on a Yorkshire Parliament. His call for first rate devolution mirroring that we see in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was tempered with an assurance that we wanted devolved powers within the UK. He emphasised the Yorkshire First objective of local and regional first – national and European where beneficial.
Again lively debate resulting in a definite agreement on increasing communication via the newsletter and using it to put suggestions from the conference out to members and pledgers.
Needless to say the discussion took us well past our planned finishing time and carried on in the pub afterwards. If you use social media why not have your say on devolution using the hashtag #OneYorkshire ?
A further conference will be called in the spring specifically aimed at the local elections. See you there?