In the context of Yorkshire regional government, or devolution if you wish, the term engagement is all about the involvement of people in this crucial subject which could transform lives for the better beyond recognition. Given the importance of the topic, you would think that engagement would not be a problem and that the public in general would be queueing up to have their say and to influence policy makers. This does not appear to be the situation, however. Interest appears to be largely restricted to a fairly diverse group of activists which includes politicians, local and national; business people; some labour and community group representatives; some members of the media establishment and Yorkshire devolution enthusiasts. The public in general do not appear to be showing much interest in regional government.

Why this is so should concern us all. What can be more important than the future prosperity of the region and, in some cases, the very existence of local government and many of the services we have come to depend on?

The topic has been given a fair amount of coverage in local and national media but it has rarely been what you might call the hot topic of the moment. True, it has been dramatically overshadowed by Brexit and the internal squabbling of the UK’s two major political parties. It could also be said that the major parties have not done enough to promote Yorkshire devolution. This may be because they either don’t believe in it, as is the case with the current government, or they see it as some kind of threat. The 18 councils that support One Yorkshire, the coalition of the willing, have made some effort to engage the public and in the case of the South Yorkshire referendum this produced very positive results but generally these efforts have been nowhere near enough to bring the vast majority of the Yorkshire public on side.

It is probably fair to say that emotions sway people when it comes to making political decisions. A calm, cool, collected and pragmatic approach to governmental structures and economic problems may be the right way to manage our affairs but it is unlikely to appeal to the public and it almost certainly will not win arguments when pitched against political disrupters. If we want to get an effective form of devolution for Yorkshire, then we need to get passionate about the benefits and equally passionate about the consequences of failure. We need to press these arguments home at every opportunity. Failure to act could mean the current system of local government could soon fail altogether and without an effective form of devolution we, in Yorkshire, could be left with nothing. Yorkshire itself might no longer officially exist. Services, whatever are left, could be presided over by a few commissioners appointed by Westminster. Inaction is not an option because this could simply pave the way for extremists.

We should not under estimate the difficulties involved in communicating especially when many people are simply not interested. People tend not to be too bothered until the schools have closed down, the bins are not being emptied and trains and buses no longer run, by which time it is probably too late to do anything about the problems apart from take to the streets! Then there are those who appreciate what we are trying to say but believe that their opinions and actions can do nothing to influence the process. Others may say that they appreciate what we are saying but then take a totally illogical option because that is what they have always done. Let’s call these combined objections the “inertia syndrome”. I think this is something that we will just have to live with. An interesting thing about the “inertia syndrome” is that it can sometimes disappear especially if a tipping point is reached when the majority opinion changes. I don’t think we will reach anything near this level of engagement but if a small percentage of people come over to our way of thinking, this could be enough to tip the balance in our favour.

Clearly, Yorkshire’s main political parties and others directly involved in the One Yorkshire initiative are in the best position and have the resources to take the campaign forward but those of us in the “supporters cadre” have an obligation to be involved in the regional government campaign and to ensure that our leaders maintain their resolve and hold their nerve when opposition forces try to distract, manipulate and undermine the campaign which they constantly seek to do.
Those of us in the “supporters cadre” need to be much more media savvy in order to keep the topic in the public eye at all times. We also need to be aware of the impact that our communications are having. Feedback is essential. We need to be sure that we are reaching our target audience and that the impact is positive. If we are not reaching our audience or the impact is negative, then we need to know why and be in a position to take remedial action.
In short, One Yorkshire and the rest of us need to “up our game”.

It is estimated, in some quarters, that Brexit has already cost the UK 2% of GDP and we are not even out of the EU yet, so, as well as having to cope with years of neglect and under investment, Yorkshire will now also have to cope with the vagaries of a badly executed Brexit process. A Yorkshire regional government promoting “brand Yorkshire” is probably the best opportunity we have to address any negative impacts of Brexit and to get the Yorkshire economy moving up several gears. A Yorkshire regional government could also afford us some protection against the worst excesses of a failed Westminster political system. However, we have little chance of achieving any of this if the regional government/devolution movement cannot even engage Yorkshire’s own people in the process.

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