Although the name strikes a resemblance to a fascist collective we’d all soon rather forget, Yorkshire First say that they come in peace. Formed in 2014, the party are determined to devolve God’s Own Country from the rest of the UK. Scoring 1.5% of the EU vote last year, in, well, Yorkshire, the party are now challenging the big three in the general election to ‘hurt the ballot box’.
Dr Bob Buxton is a Physics teacher at Leeds City College, and is a standing candidate for Leeds North West for Yorkshire First.
I spoke to Bob about his enthusiasm for railways, the barons that are running Yorkshire, and his love of Germany and Switzerland.
How did you first get involved in politics?
Quite a few years ago, I was a Conservative. I campaigned around Leeds unsuccessfully. I didn’t join one year, with their stance on tuition fees being quite a big one for me. But being Yorkshire First isn’t about being anti-Labour, anti-Conservative or anti-Liberal. It’s just a central belief that Yorkshire should have control over its own affairs. If you look at the spending per head to London and the South East. We’re not getting a fair share. We pay the same taxes and the same rates, but we’re just not getting the same back.
So you wouldn’t say the party lies on any political spectrum?
No, just the opposite. It’s not left nor right, it’s just a matter of taking the right decisions. It’s a good cause to follow. You’re allowed to have a certain degree of independence in Yorkshire First. You just need to believe in devolution, the Bell principle of politics, and then, within reason, form your own local campaign. No, just the opposite. It’s not left nor right, it’s just a matter of taking the right decisions. We want people to be below the poverty line, so I suppose that’s left-wing. That’s just humane, in fact.
Individual candidates, within reason, can sort out their own, localised, manifesto. I’m very hot on local topics, transport especially. The airport link from Leeds Bradford to the city centre still hasn’t happened. That was in the master plan eleven years ago. We might have well-meaning local politicians, but they can’t make it happen. It is devolution because we need it.
Would these decisions be made by city by city, or for the county as a whole?
If I was living in Lancashire, I’d want devolution in Lancashire. A lot of people in Cornwall want devolved powers, so we’ve worked closely with them. If you look at Germany, they got rid of tuition fees. If you look at Scotland, they never introduced them in the first place. Greater localisation means greater accountability. It isn’t a unique idea at all. In Switzerland, half of public spending is with your town council and your parish council, never mind your city council. It’s the bottom up. You spend money locally and Switzerland has a great economy. An individual MP can’t say ‘ooh that’s the party line I can’t do anything about that’. People can’t make excuses.
People in the North do have their concerns regarding Westminster-centric politics. Do you think there was a defining moment when enough was enough?
A lady in the Arndale (shopping centre in Leeds) said she could remember a home rule for Yorkshire campaign. People have made this argument in Scotland since the Thirties. People haven’t been so bothered about this in the past because it’s the information age. People now know that it’s £5500 per person spent on transport in London, whereas it’s 10% of that per person in Yorkshire. Hopefully people are starting to realise now that the powers that we have just aren’t enough. We have a handful of barons running Yorkshire. We’re a first rate county, we want first rate devolution, not a third-class excuse for it. London are spending three quarters of a million on a garden bridge. Couldn’t we spend that money on railways? That makes more sense to me.
Would Yorkshire get its own First Minister? Would we have our own capital?
We’d have a First Minister of some kind, whatever the title is — we haven’t decided on that yet. I’d want a European style top-up system, where you’d vote for individual candidates — if you want me to really go off on that, I can do — I’m not scared of coalitions. Coalitions are not necessarily a bad thing. I’d rather see coalitions and people voting for a greater degree of independence. You wouldn’t have one person, like the all-powerful Tony Blair for example. We’d have a First Minister, if that’s the name we end up with.
We don’t want a new capital city. We’d be Leeds-centric instead of London-centric. We don’t want an updated version of the feudal system. We certainly wouldn’t want any grandeur like that, oh no!
Where does Westminster fit in?
First of all, it doesn’t mean abolishing Westminster at all. The scale of politics goes from your local council to even the UN. We wouldn’t get sidetracked, like Scotland did, by a very expensive parliament building. There’s no reason why we can’t use current existing buildings. The council building isn’t that busy. There’s six full council days a year. I don’t want to swap London-centric for Leeds-centric. We could have some meetings in Sheffield, and all around the county, that’s not a problem.
A lot of people say ‘we don’t want more politicians’. No, we don’t. We need fewer city and borough councils. We need to reduce the number of politicians by about a thousand. The reduction would mean an increase in their effectiveness. I would like to have a better system than first past the post though.
Why should people vote for Yorkshire First?
I want devolution for all of the UK, quite simply. Each region has to decide how they want to do that. If you want devolution everywhere, vote for Yorkshire First, because that’s how it’s going to happen. For international students, it’s important to vote for us too. The government wants to attack skilled foreign graduates, and I find that to be absolutely bizarre. It’s polite xenophobia to the point of self-harm. If we don’t have foreign students in the country, who’s going to run the NHS? We need engineers as well. Teaching — well there’s a massive shortage of skills there. International students won’t want to study here, and education is one of our biggest exports. We have nine out of ten of the poorest areas in Northern Europe, even though we’re one of the wealthiest nation in the world.
Quite simply, some people might say that you are mad.
What I think is insane is that we have 10.7% of the transport infrastructure spending of London, that’s what’s insane to me. Most people probably don’t know that stat. Subsidy spending is a third of what London and the South East gets. People laughed at the SNP in previous decades. If people get to know the stats, they’ll know what’s mad. First they hate you, then they laugh at you, then you win.