York in all it's glory.
Chapter 2: The Absence of Devolution
The 1980s, and Thatcherism with it, saw a rapid realignment of the economy in favour of the free market and entrepreneurship, moving away from the welfare state and power of the trade unions. Public figures in opposition to her had been largely swept away with the removal of the London and Yorkshire Councils, and whilst Scotland retained it's devolved Assembly, it was largely toothless. Yorkshire was hit, alongside much of the north, as the United Kingdom transitioned towards a more service-orientated economy - although the writing was on the wall well before Thatcher came to power. In Scotland, by example, in 1954 Scottish shipyards built 1/8th of the worlds shipping tonnage; by 1968 it had shrunk to 1/100. Yorkshire was hit just like many other areas of the north as the economy shifted and deindustrialised, with few areas escaping. Southern Yorkshire (*1) was particularly hit, but several Yorkshire cities also weathered the storm by modernising and diversifying local economies. Hull became a energy and maritime centre, with a marina and important port which competed against Middlesbrough and Grimsby, whilst Leeds embraced the service economy. York developed in to the political centre of Yorkshire with several institutions headquartered in the city despite the lack of a unified Yorkshire authority - predominately "AYA", or the Association of Yorkshire Authorities - a semi-official group of Yorkshire Borough local leaders in order to co-operate with each other and align policies where possible, allowing the Yorkshire economy to continue to modernise.
One of these was the continued backing for the new Leeds East Airport (despite many attempts to name it "Yorkshire International Airport"), owned by a consortium of the Yorkshire Boroughs. It had received a people mover to transport people between the airport terminal itself and the mainline railway station at Church Fenton in 1993 to balance competition against Manchester Airport (it's key rival), and saw rapid growth during the 1990s. This period saw the introduction of lower cost airlines, whilst European aviation rules began to allow easier access for European airlines to each other's airports, allowing European airlines such as KLM, Aer Lingus and Lufthansa to serve the airport. Motorways in Yorkshire continued to slowly expand, finalising links between cities, as well as to the airport and allowing vehicles to more easily transit through Yorkshire from one side to the other. (*1)
Conservative rule was concrete through the latter 1980s, and despite winning the 1992 election, Conservative power seemed to be on the wane as the 1990s crept on. The campaign period for the 1997 election saw a new type of Labour party emerge, pushed forward by a new coalition of southern and northern Labourites. Potential voters from Yorkshire saw a chance for a resumption of devolution; "In the last 15 years, Westminster and the Conservatives have eliminated our government, emptied our cities, ransacked our economy and destroyed our jobs. We need a better devolved government to protect us from this happening again". Whether or not a "Yorkshire Government" could have protected Yorkshire from the effects of Thatcherism, it inspired commitments to devolution in the Labour 1997 manifesto, with initial plans focussed on restoring or introducing devolution to the Celtic Home Nations as well as to Yorkshire and London within England.
1997 saw a sweeping away of the Conservative Government, replaced by a Labour Government committed to devolution. Significant anger over the effects of Thatcherism remained, and proved a force in the devolution arguments to ensure top-down economic reforms couldn't take place without at least some local consent - especially not those perceived to be for the benefit of the south of England at the expense of the north and other constituent nations. Although the Scottish Assembly still existed north of the border, it remained a glorified county council, and following Labour's return to power under the Blair Premiership a referendum on wholesale change was held with a significantly enhanced Scottish Assembly - both in terms of a wider range of powers, and also a larger assembly reflecting the more prominent role in Scottish affairs the Assembly was expected to play. The referendum was a comfortable victory for the "Yes" side, with majorities of 70%-75% in favour of it. A similar referendum was held in Wales, and in turn brought forward a Welsh Assembly on a similar but different model to the Scots (reflecting the combined English/Welsh criminal law system), although the referendum only saw 56% of voters back the Welsh Assembly.
1998 saw the signing of the Good Friday Agreement between the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, and Northern Irish political parties - duly backed by a referendum there. Although the referendum was technically held on the acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement itself in Northern Ireland, the agreement contained provisions for restoring devolution to Northern Ireland who had previously had their own Parliament following the withdrawal of what became the Republic of Ireland from the United Kingdom. The new Northern Ireland Assembly held a suite of powers broadly similar to the Welsh Assembly - with control over policing and justice "temporarily withheld" and retained by Westminster until such a time cross-party agreement could be reached over such powers.
By late 1998, England was the only UK nation without some level of devolution, and attention duly turned towards England. Planning for a new London devolved assembly had been an explicit part of the Labour manifesto in 1997 too, and implicitly for other areas in England, under the name of "English Provincialism" once again. The Greater London Assembly Act of 1999 duly authorised a London Assembly if backed by referendum to govern the "Province of Greater London", and after some pressure by Yorkshire Labour MPs, a Yorkshire Assembly Act also passed in 1999 to create the "Province of Yorkshire" once again. Referendums near the end of 1999 saw a far lower turnout then the other areas of the United Kingdom, but both referendums duly backed the creation of each assembly. The enactment of English devolution after referendums was an attempt to put the devolved bodies on a more permanent & constitutional footing, avoiding the potential future whims of Westminster given that the Scottish Assembly avoided elimination during the Thatcher years.
The new iteration of Yorkshire provincialism saw immediate wrangling over the siting of the new administration. By 2000, Leeds was undoubtedly the economic leader in Yorkshire, followed by Sheffield and Hull - and to a lesser extent Middlesbrough, but few wanted to see the administration in Leeds, fearing it would entrench a Leeds-focussed (and to a lesser extent West Riding focussed) administration which failed to serve the whole of Yorkshire. As such, there was only one candidate city which all could compromise and accept; York (*2). The old council buildings had been sold off in the 1980s for private use, and so a new set of buildings were built just inside York city walls and almost adjacent to the railway station on the grounds of the old station - and refurbishing the old station itself to accommodate offices. This would allow easy access to the Assembly by those elected to represent the people within the historic "capital" of Yorkshire, whilst preventing a long and convoluted process of trying to find an alternative city to host.
The Assembly itself would, similar to the other British devolved assemblies (bar the Northern Irish one due to the need for very proportional representation even on a constituency-by-constituency basis), be modelled on the Additional Member system and the existing Westminster constituencies. 55 seats would be elected on a first-past-the-post constituency basis, with an additional 35 members elected on a list system - 5 members elected from each of 7 regions across Yorkshire, resulting in a 90 member Assembly chamber. Learning from history, northern Lincolnshire was discounted from the start and not attempted to merge in, whilst the Yorkshire portions of Cleveland were now reformed in to Yorkshire Boroughs within the province. The only change from the Westminster constituencies was for Stockton South given that it crossed the border between Yorkshire and County Durham, with the (Yorkshire) constituency of Middlesbrough balanced with Stockton South - a situation planned to be rectified in the next periodic review of constituencies.
The first elections would be held on the 4th May, 2000 for the inaugural "new" Yorkshire Assembly. Unlike in London, this election would be just for the assembly with the new leader of Yorkshire chosen by the it.
(*1) Just mentioned about the airport growing as it's in a better location now then stuck between Leeds and Bradford and a pain for anyone outside that area to get to to avoid it's own chapter at some point. Probably eliminates any stab at an airport in the Sheffield or Middlesbrough airports, and gives Manchester more competition.
(*2) Personally I just can't see any city other than York becoming "capital" of Yorkshire. It's the only neutral city, as well as historic and cultural centre of Yorkshire.
Chapter 2....where nothing much happens...!