A People’s Constitution for Yorkshire : Setting out the Constitution’s aims

This is the first of a series of five discussion papers to be published over the next 14 months as the development of the People’s Constitution for Yorkshire gradually takes shape.  It is a consultation document and foretaste to our workshop on 17 May 2023 about the constitutions aims. 

Whether it be for the governance of a resident’s group, a community centre, or an entire region like Yorkshire, the first and often most difficult step in creating any constitution is setting out its aims, in other words the difference and positive impact it is intended to make.  

In our case, the foremost of these aims must be to secure for the Yorkshire region sovereign control of its own affairs as opposed to their being managed from outside by a centralised UK government and Parliament.  This could lead to the creation of an Elected Regional Assembly for Yorkshire.

The second is to introduce a new kind of democracy to Yorkshire.  One that combines effective citizen participation with unadulterated (genuine) representation.

Thereafter, to set out the social, economic, and cultural rights and standards we believe are needed to secure a fair, inclusive, and comfortable existence for Yorkshire’s citizens.

  1. Everyone living or working here in Yorkshire should feel that they truly belong, believe in themselves, and have the potential to lead fulfilling lives

Our colleague, Dr Simon Duffy in his publication “7 Keys to Citizenship” gives us a start in setting out the social, economic, and cultural standards needed to empower Yorkshire’s citizens.

We agree with Simon: citizenship, is the key to truly belonging, being valued, and leading a fulfilling life.  So, with this belief it seems nonsensical not to adopt these keys to empowering our citizens into our constitution, they are:  

  1. Purpose – having goals, hopes, and dreams and a structure for life and a plan to achieve this.  Having our own direction.
  2. Freedom – control and the ability to speak up and be heard and to be legally visible in society.  Taking charge of our own life.
  3. Money – to have money for what people need and control over how that money is spent; especially if it is money to help you get a life.  Having enough to live a good life.
  4. Home – a place that belongs to a person, where they have control over everything that happens there.  A place that can be the base for a person’s life. 
  5. Help – good quality help that enhances their gifts, talents and skills and ensures their social standing, freedoms, rights, and responsibilities in society. 
  6. Life – that people play an active part in their community including contribution through their love, gifts, and talents. Getting stuck in and making a difference.  Learning from others and them learning from us. 
  7. Love – that people’s rights to a range of loving relationships and with it the responsibilities for others are upheld.  Also, that the differences in society are revered and respected.

2. Promote and protect the Yorkshire dialect

The Yorkshire dialect is a strong part of our identity. 

Its origins can be traced as far back as to the Saxon era, although it has of course changed over time and different phrases are in use in different areas of the region.

Our dialect gives us a sense of who we are and connection to the people and places we love and belong to.

All dialects and accents are linguistically valid. We know from talking and listening to people across Yorkshire – our dialect is alive and kicking, something to be cherished.  As its custodians, we should ensure that it long remain a badge of our identity.

3. Create a truly multi-racial and multi-cultural Yorkshire

We celebrate that Yorkshire belongs to people of different skin colour who follow different beliefs and religious faiths.

Most of the time they get along together and are free to live the way they want.

However, despite legislation to prevent it, all too often, some Yorkshire people are still being picked on and bullied because they look different, speak a different language, or wear certain styles of clothing expressive of their religious or other persuasion. In some cases, they are even incorrectly blamed for violent terrorists activity. 

Such racists attitudes and behaviours are wrong and have no place in a modern Democratic Yorkshire.

4. Empower local neighbourhoods

Our Citizen Network colleagues in the Neighbourhood Democracy Movement (NDM) are already doing excellent work to empower local areas, making a real difference.  We share their vision of wanting to see:

  • Citizens everywhere talking about and making decisions together.
  • Everyone helping to make their neighbourhoods better places to live and work in, more welcoming to people from outside.
  • Neighbourhoods with the right to make their own decisions and control their own resources.
  • Flourishing community life, backed by well-funded public services, designed to meet local needs and aspirations. 

Finally, bring together the collective intelligence and “user expertise” that already exists within our local neighbourhoods and communities to create a fairer and more inclusive Yorkshire, a region whose sustainable benefits can be enjoyed by all.

5. Create a thriving community-led housing sector

Community-led housing would not only be a way of addressing the current housing crisis but at the same time would provide the kind of  homes and neighbourhoods that our communities actually want and need. 

Its benefits are numerous.  It, above all, enables the residents themselves to have a more active, hands-on, role in planning and designing the housing and communal spaces they live and work in, and the social amenities they share.  It can also encourage them to play a more active part in addressing problems like fuel poverty and,  more generally, the pressing challenges of climate change.

6. Connect people with nature

Where we live shapes our lives.  Lots of us live in cities, far away from the countryside, where a large proportion of us have little or no contact with nature.  The Wildlife Trust has found that this disconnect affects our mental health, our children’s growth into adulthood, contributes to obesity, and has an impact on life expectancy. 

In the same report, published in 2018,  the Trust found that built in the right way, in the right place, new housing developments can make a positive contribution to nature and to the health and wellbeing of people who live there.  A full copy of this report is available on our website.

7. Build a modern industrial base

According to HM Government, the UK is already a leader in emerging fields such as artificial intelligence, advanced semiconductor design and quantum computing.  However, our future depends not on technological fixes but on our intelligent and democratically agreed use of accelerating technological development and virtual connectivity for the good of people and planet. Our job is to ensure that Yorkshire has its fair share of infrastructure and know-how to take full advantage of these and future opportunities and is not left behind, yet again.

Yorkshire is already ahead in green technology which is particularly evident around the Humber.  This sector not only has the potential to help tackle the climate crisis –  with cleaner transport, reduced air pollution and better insulated homes  –   but also to create sustainable jobs and improve people’s quality of life.  

It is essential that Yorkshire puts itself ahead in research and development in not only these two areas, but others too if we are to secure our rightful place, not only in the national but global marketplace.  

8. A fairer, more even distribution of wealth

There is something ugly about the unregulated accumulation of wealth by a bunch of oligarchs, while small businesses are having to close down, and people like nurses to rely on foodbanks to get by. 

Small and medium sized businesses find themselves stifled by the growth of large conglomerates whose profits are lost to the region.  For example, community wealth building models, such as that in Preston, provide small and medium sized businesses with a better chance, create local employment, and enable local communities to retain the wealth they generate.

9. Provide more free time

People should have more freedom to lead meaningful lives, to pursue personal goals, whether in the world of the arts, conservation, traditional crafts, sport, or through continuous and further education.

Increased automation, provided it is democratically controlled and managed responsibly, could provide greater freedom leading to, for example, a reduction in the statutory retirement age, the introduction of a shorter working week, and of more flexible working arrangements, such as home or hybrid working contracts.

10. Sustainability

We have a responsibility to do all we can, not only to offset the carbon damage already done  –  better flood defences and reforestation  –  but also to protect ourselves and the rest of the world from further damage.

Sustainability entails evaluating the environmental impact of economic activity and moving it in directions that will create a more liveable future.

Mounting biodiversity loss, an emerging global water crisis, and many other manifestations of global environmental change make it essential that we switch to a green economy.

 A green economy must be geared to support sustainable levels of consumption and production.  It means leaving behind us the model of mindless global lineargrowth that still dominates mainstream economic thinking.  It will need to be low-carbon, resource-conserving, diverse, local and circular.  It embraces new models of economic development that address the challenge of creating prosperity within planetary boundaries.

What next?

The next stage will be to design a constitutional framework for Yorkshire that gives shape to a regional structure capable of achieving these aims and aspirations.   Meantime, please be thinking and talking about all these issues, and come with your ideas ready to contribute on May 17. Click here to book your place https://tinyurl.com/3zv2ysy2

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