Two weeks ago a tsunami of revolt against London unionist parties felled the two remaining in Scotland bringing them down to the same risible level of 1 solitary MP at which the Tories have been languishing since devolution was introduced 16 years ago. The phalanx of 56 SNP MPs have been making waves by not meekly following ancient Westminster conventions like where to sit in the chamber or in the Commons dining room. The Establishment is quite put out about it.
But, as if that weren’t enough, last week the Manchester Evening News revealed that a petition was going the rounds to take the North out of England and attach it to Scotland, with which it appears to have much more in common, socially and culturally than the London-dominated Home Counties. The scheme proposed is shown below.
Far more radical than a return of Berwick to Scotland—or even a restoration of Malcolm’s border on the Eden and Tyne—if this happened it would bifurcate Britain; England would no longer dominate. It would involve all the big cities of the North and the counties of Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, Durham, Cleveland, all four Yorkshires, Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside and Chester—half the ten biggest English counties, even giving Scotland a border with Wales.
Using the hashtag #TakeUsWithYouScotland, the call appears to have originated in Sheffield. The petition says:
“The deliberations in Westminster are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the north of England. The northern cities feel far greater affinity with their Scottish counterparts such as Glasgow and Edinburgh than with the ideologies of the London-centric south. The needs and challenges of the north cannot be understood by the endless parade of old Etonions lining the frontbenches of the House of Commons.”
If this ever happened, it would shift over 12m people into another country. Scotland would then cover half the island with a population of 17.5m, putting it eighth in size in the EU—behind Romania but ahead of the Netherlands. It would have around 30 MEPs and command a whopping 200 seats at Westminster, very few of whom would be Tory. The entire dynamic how British governments are currently formed would be overthrown.
Either the Tory party would have to accommodate Northern thinking or this such a bloc would soon seek independence, as spurious arguments about size deployed against Scotland during their Independence Referendum clearly no longer apply. Then a rump English economy would be left with London’s finance and residual industry in Derby, Bristol and Birmingham.
Apoplectic retired colonels in Tunbridge Wells may splutter cornflakes all over their Times at the very idea. But those same colonels’ fathers spent a career in India only to witness it slip from the fingers of the colonial office as local democracy asserted itself in the teeth of colonial efforts. Traditionalists may scoff at the concept but Manchester is already well down the road to forming a city-region alliance of surrounding councils to take not just education and social work under their wing but the gamut of transport, strategic planning and health too. It’s even physically closer to Edinburgh than to London.
The cultural bonds of industrial heritage and post-industrial recovery bind the North with Scotland more strongly than either politicians or journalists of the South’s self-referential culture appreciate. But those who scoff at such a revolutionary concept should consider the pressures within Belgium as Flemish of the North increasingly resent cultural differences with the Walloons of the South or similar centrifugal pressure in Lombardy vs the Mezzagiorno.
And the more the unionist right dominates the British political agenda with Europhobe if not xenophobe sentiments and seek to continue the illusion of Britain as a ‘global power capable of punching above its weight‘ the more progressive sentiments of Scots will find resonance and common cause with the similarly minded Northern English. Then the concept of an enlarged Scotland not be so far-fetched is it might now appear.