By Kit Roberts
THE NORTH of England must split from the south to regain control from Westminster, a newly formed party’s leader has told Redaction Politics.
Secession has been a hot topic of discussion in recent months how Boris Johnson’s reckless handling of Brexit negotiations has endangered the union.
Scottish independence now appears increasingly imminent, and there are even talks of a growing movement for an independent Wales.
Now, serious calls are being made to split England in half.
The loudest voice for secession is the newly formed Northern Independence Party.
Headed by anthropologist Philip Proudfoot, the party is calling for the North of England to secede from the South and become the Republic of Northumbria.
Although the party has been met with mockery by some, a conversation with Proudfoot reveals that whilst its flagship policy may be far-fetched, its proposals come from a place of genuine concern for the welfare of people in the North of England.
For Proudfoot, the moment came during the negotiations between Mayor of Greater Manchester Combined Authority Andy Burnham, and central government over a support package to help GM through increased Tier 3 Covid-19 restrictions.
The government eventually walked away over a paltry £5 million, instead using the £22 million promised for test and trace as a bargaining chip. Proudfoot described the moment he decided to found the new party:
“The main drive was that moment watching on BBC News when Andy Burnham received notification of the limited funding going to Manchester,” the party leader told Redaction Politics.
“I’m sure many northerners looked at that and felt that was the contract between the North and the South breaking live on air.
“It’s something that a lot of people from the North feel and experience. For us the North/South divide is a lived reality, something that forms our actual experiences and our encounters with other people in England. It’s always something we know is there but never see it.
“Covid-19 has just laid bare the contradictions between the North and the South.”
“If you look at comparisons between any European country and us we have some of the lowest numbers of local government involvement.
“I do not believe for a second that Westminster is actually willing to devolve any serious powers.”
The government has since produced a budget worth billions of pounds to support its second lockdown, and promised an 80% furlough for workers. Andy Burnham response was a harrowing warning.
The extraordinary moment of Burnham’s live reaction highlighted the widening gulf in England, and raised questions over the treatment of the north by those in Westminster.
Proudfoot added: “If you look at the other secession movements in the UK there is quite a lot of shared material on an economic and political basis between the North, Wales, and Scotland. Similar heritage, similar interactions under Thatcherism, similar negative outcomes on various measures, yet the North never had a secessionist movement.
“Why not? Why have we never had that? There is a historic claim for an independent Northumbria, and it is now time that we started to push for independence, because the Westminster system is not working.”
It is an old conversation among Northerners that they may be better off unattached to the economic black hole of London that greedily devours talent and opportunity.
Proudfoot himself is an example of this, having had to migrate to London from his native Durham for work.
He said: “We now have so many Northerners who live in the South East because there’s no opportunities for them at home. They want to be at home. I’m one of them.
“I’m an academic. I’ve worked at northern universities, I’ve seen how underfunded they are. If there was substantial investment and they could open those universities up and create opportunities I wouldn’t be in London, I’d be at home.
“I don’t even like it here, but we know there political and economic reasons that channel everything down into the South.”
There has already been opposition to the new party. Accusations have included the significant point that the North is heavily subsidised by the South in taxes – bearing similar vibes to arguments for the union.
Proudfoot’s response made it clear that this is a part of the problem, saying: “The North is of course subsidised by the South, but that isn’t a natural state of affairs. The North has been allowed to economically degrade over time from Thatcher onwards.
“That is the result of policy decisions taken by Westminster.
“Those subsidies are not a natural state of affairs. If you say that they’re natural, all you’re essentially saying is that the North is poor by its own doing, but it’s not by its own doing because the North doesn’t make its own economic affairs.
“That poverty in the North is the result of the North / South divide, which was built into this entire economic model of the United Kingdom, and that’s why we need independence.”
The party is founded on the principle that devolution does not go far enough, and that Westminster government is fundamentally skewed against the North of England.
“I believe if we have a government in the North, looking after the people in the north, they will seriously and substantially address those imbalances,” Proudfoot said.
“What we know for sure is that nothing has changed so far, and in fact the North-South divide is growing.
“I just don’t have faith in the Westminster system, and I think lots of people’s faith in the Westminster system is starting to break.”
At this stage, this is still a project in its infancy, and any serious notion of a Republic of Northumbria remains very distant, if indeed it is possible at all. Nonetheless, there is no denying that this tiny new party has tapped into a deep sense of disenfranchisement and anger.
There are of course a thousand practical considerations that need to be examined in such a huge project. For example, Scotland and Wales already have predefined borders, national identities, and parliaments which could take on the bureaucracy of a Scottish or Welsh republic.
Despite increasingly devolved powers, this structure does not exist in the North of England.
There are also economic problems, such as where money would come from to fund the necessary structural reforms, such as the creation of a parliamentary system. How would a new northern republic ensure it created a dynamic and pluralist political culture? And there is always the lengthening shadow of Brexit, which found a great deal of support in northern towns and cities.
Proudfoot naturally did not have all the answers, but at such an early stage this would be an impossible ask.
Instead, he explained that the party has begun investigating possible ways to address these concerns. Proposals will be put forward in what he described as a “mini manifesto”, to be released in the coming weeks.
A feasible programme for northern secession may take years, even decades to mature into a movement that is capable of seeing through its ultimate political goals.
As devolved voices such as Andy Burnham pull focus on the national stage, a reckoning with centralised Westminster in some form may well be inevitable.
Redaction cannot survive without your help. Support us for as little as $1 a month on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/RedactionPolitics.