A pipe dream or a possibility?
Over the last week, most of the UK’s populace was agog at David Cameron clinching another term of office. That as part of a majority Conservative government, Britain’s first since April 1992. As well as apathy and the most partisan press campaign since Michael Foot was Labour leader, nationalism played a major part. The UKIP vote ate into Labour’s share as well as the Conservatives’ votes.
In Scotland, we saw the near-total devastation of the Scottish Labour Party. The Scottish National Party won all but three of Scotland’s 59 constituencies. Much of the backlash had been Scottish Labour’s line leading up to and after the independence referendum. There was also an ally in Rupert Murdoch; the Scottish edition of The Sun encouraged readers to vote SNP. In England and Wales, the onus was on turning out to stop the SNP. Which in other words meant ‘vote Conservative’ and forget about Ed Miliband because of the way he ate a bacon sandwich.
The cost of Bacon Sandwichgate – thanks in no small part to the mainly right-wing press – wouldn’t just be our libraries, bus routes and Welfare State. The union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could be gone.
Over in cyberspace, and setting the news agenda among Northern England’s newspapers is an online petition. One where Northern England could become part of a new Scotland. Instead of being at Gretna Green, the English/Scottish border could be at Sandbach Services.
The petitioner from Sheffield suggests a boundary which cuts across Cheshire, meaning Four Types of Cheshire: Cheshire East Scotland and Cheshire East England; plus Cheshire West and Chester England and Cheshire West and Chester Scotland.
Quite a mouthful, though one which could be solved by including the whole of Cheshire in the petitioner’s new Scotland. Furthermore, his boundary suggests the severance of the Peak National Park boundary between two countries. Again, what about placing the whole of Derbyshire into an extended Scotland?
The #TakeUsWithYou campaign – apart from some discrepancies with the Peak National Park boundaries and the absence of the High Peak area – has been met with favourable reaction. At this time of writing, over 7,500 people have signed the petition on Change.org. A readers’ poll on the Manchester Evening News website sees 71% in favour of Manchester being ran from Holyrood instead of Westminster.
Nationalism or a New North Britain?
Some critics see Scottish people as kindred spirits to fellows from Northern England. Both parts of the UK have been trodden on by central government over the last millennium. Throughout Northern England, one of David Cameron’s descendants (William the Conqueror) orchestrated The Harrying of the North in 1069. This was a scorched Earth policy that saw Northern England obliterated after revolts by its people.
In Scotland, the Highland Clearances saw swathes of its islands and mainland given over to sheep farming and hunting. The two activities were deemed more profitable than Scottish householders’ interests.
Fast-forwarding to 1979 onwards, Northern England and Scotland were hardest hit by the Thatcher government’s policies. For example, the latter was a guinea pig for the Community Charge which led to the Poll Tax riots on the 01 April 1990 in Trafalgar Square, London. Both areas were hardest hit by the loss of heavy industries; its metropolitan areas lost power thanks to the abolition of West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, and Merseyside County Councils in 1986.
Bringing our story to present day terms, Northern England is being used as a testbed for environmentally unfriendly hydraulic fracturing projects. A move which could see life expectancy drift further away from longevity rates in South East England. The North is last in the queue for new trains despite the Northern Hub project and trans-Pennine electrification projects. No prizes for guessing which part of England has been hit hardest by public sector spending cuts?
Is the thought of being trodden by Westminster the deciding factor? Plans to scrap the 1998 Human Rights Act outside of Scotland could be one. In spite of what is said by some columnists, it is a useful piece of legislation which guarantees the right to work, free assembly, a home, and freedom of expression. It is based on the ECHR declaration, whose key architects included Sir Winston Churchill. Without which, Britain’s 60 million citizens could be chivvied into working for free without protections against exploitation.
In this context, wanting out of Westminster could be a cry for a more civilised Britain. A Britannia which serves its people instead of big business. At present, the Tories wish to pass bills forbidding the right to blog, unless HM Government is looking over your shoulders. It wishes to undermine pluralism by starving the BBC of funds. Hence its Fox News approach to covering the 2015 General Election.
The argument for a Northern Wexit (an exit from Westminster) has been based on the idea that Northerners have similar political viewpoints to their fellows in Scotland. They are perceived as having a communitarian approach, driven by public duty and looking after one another instead of number one. Though some commentators see the SNP as a nationalist party (like some of Britain’s far-right parties), some see them as a 21st century social democratic party.
The idea of Scotland extending into what is Northern England is a far from new one. Evidence of this attempt could be seen a short walk away from the 343 and 348 bus routes. Buckton Castle in Carrbrook, a short distance from Stalybridge town centre, was built to stop King David of Scotland. His advances towards the present Tameside boundary was thwarted by the castle built by the Fourth Earl of Chester, Ranulf II. The North West of England covers most part of his former land.
In mainland Europe, regionalist parties – distinct from local parties – are pretty much the norm. Over the last five years in Northern England we have seen the formation of the following political parties:
Yorkshire First: a centrist party promoting the virtues of a Yorkshire parliament based along the pre-1974 boundaries. A future Yorkshire parliament could take in Barnoldswick and Uppermill from Lancashire and Greater Manchester respectively.
The North East Party: founded by former Labour MP Hilton Dawson, they favour greater powers for North East England, covering most of the historic Northumbria boundary.
* * *
If Northern England joined Scotland, what should we expect to see?
At present, the people of Scotland have little control over some functions of central government policy, particularly defence policy and the worst excesses of the 2012 Welfare Reform Act. The following could apply if in the likely or unlikely event when The North joins Scotland.
Sport and leisure:
- Wayne Rooney being capped for Scotland;
- The National League North’s most northerly clubs playing in another country, or as part of a reorganised Football Pyramid feeding in to the Scottish Football League;
- The Roses Cricket match in a new country;
- The whole of The Pennine Way being in Scotland.
- Greater federalisation of Scotland with the present version of Scotland split into Borders, Highlands, Central Scotland, plus Orkney and Shetland Islands as separate regions;
- Metropolitan County Councils/Combined Authorities for Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen – in line with similar functions in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, and Tyne and Wear;
- The retention of existing English police forces and the devolution of the present Scotland Police Force into the federal regions discussed in the first point;
- The retention of the 1998 Human Rights Act;
- The incorporation of Scotland’s present legal system.
- Transport Scotland having full control of rail franchises within the new boundaries – ideally as publicly ran concerns. The Northern franchise could be referred to as Scotrail Trans-Pennine with the present Transpennine Express franchise absorbed. Scotrail would remain as plain Scotrail north of Hadrian’s Wall;
- Improved road and rail links between Manchester and Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Glasgow and Edinburgh;
- The use of Manchester Airport as the New Scotland’s answer to London Heathrow (being the new country’s main airport). This could include better connections with Inverness, the Western Isles and the Orkney and Shetland Islands;
- Improved ferry links with Douglas [Isle of Man] from Ardrossan and/or Cairnryan, complementing existing sailings from Heysham and Liverpool.
- Free Higher Education;
- The adoption of Scottish National Qualifications instead of GCSEs.
- More Scottish banknotes, though extension of existing powers could see the arrival of banknotes printed by the Yorkshire Bank;
- A ban of hydraulic fracturing in line with the Scottish Government’s present moratorium;
- New distilleries in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire;
- Separate Living Wage figures for each major urban centre, though a generous National Minimum Wage throughout the New Scotland from Lerwick to Leigh.
- The movement of Trident or successors to Wales or Cornwall.
Europe and immigration:
- Retention of European Union membership as a new country – amid the backdrop of a smaller England who may have voted to leave the EU;
- A new Scotland becoming a less hostile alternative to an insular Brexitted England starting south of Cheshire.
- English Votes for English Laws could see present Northern English MPs become MSPs, without the right to vote on laws affecting the people of Whitstable instead of Wigan;
- Greater use of Proportional Representation and votes from 16 years of age.
* * *
A pipe dream or a possibility? You decide
Is the strains of B.A. Robertson’s 1982 World Cup song ringing in your ears to a point you could imagine Hull being ran from Holyrood? Does the petitioner’s plans represent a genuine way out from the neoliberal/hard-right agenda advocated by our present government? Or, do you think Manchester’s better place as part of England under Westminster’s control.
A wee joke or a dead cert? Feel free to comment.
S.V., 13 May 2015.