Yorkshire eyes on Scotland vote

Yorkshire flag
Image caption Some calls have been made for Yorkshire's flag to be seen flying over an independent county in future

There were around 100 at the event in Wakefield listening to my passionate speech.

Hands shot up in agreement with what, in my humble opinion, was a pretty good case for Yorkshire declaring its immediate independence.

But that was in the 1960s and the average age of those listening at the local schools' debating competition was probably under 15.

We have all grown up a bit since then and so have the arguments and aspirations.

The debate over the past decade has been about whether Yorkshire would be better off if it could take more control from Westminster and Whitehall.

In the shadow of a referendum on independence for Scotland the opportunities for Yorkshire have clearly never been greater.

Devolution not revolution

"Whatever happens in the coming Scottish independence vote, there will be more devolution," says Peter Box, the veteran leader of Wakefield City Council and a serious player in the debate.

He is also the chairman of the combined authority which was recently set up with the government's blessing to allow neighbouring councils to take full responsibility for all public investment in road and rail links across West Yorkshire.

But Mr Box is firmly of the opinion that within 10 years Yorkshire will want more.

"The genie is out the bottle, we want more power and I actually believe Yorkshire should be independent," he said.

Yorkshire First

The fledging new political party Yorkshire First is also eyeing events in Scotland.

"Five million Scots should, of course, be represented, but so should other regions, says its leader Richard Carter.

"Yorkshire has a population of five million, an economy twice that of Wales, but with the powers of neither."

The government appears to be leaving the door ajar as far as giving limited devolved powers to at least some sort of "Northern" political body is concerned.

Over the past few months David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg have all lugged their soapboxes to Yorkshire promising billions of extra taxpayers' money will be heading "up north" accompanied by local autonomy on how it should be spent.

The Labour leader Ed Miliband gave similar assurances as I trailed him around a factory floor near Leeds.

Deja vu?

It is over a decade since the last Labour government's proposals for directly-elected regional assemblies for the three northern regions of Yorkshire, the North West and the North East drowned in a sea of public apathy.

"Times have changed," I was assured by James Alexander, one of the new generation of senior Labour leaders that have emerged in Yorkshire since then.

"The idea got swamped by arguments over a new tier of government and how much more professional politicians would be paid," he told me in an interview for the BBC Look North.

"Now we need a better way of making sure our needs are determined here in Yorkshire and not in Westminster."

Despite the obvious high-level political support for more devolved powers practical details are scarce. It is more likely to be channelled through groups of existing bodies such as Local Enterprise Partnerships, city regions or local councils than any new directly elected assembly.

As for my long-forgotten speech calling for independence? Well, it turned out the audience much preferred the ideas put forward by another debater.

He argued Yorkshire folk ought be doing more to join the sexual revolution - well, it was the 1960s.