Sunday, 15 January 2012

When the Scots leave the UK, we in the North should join them

There's been an awful lot of hoo-ha about Scottish independence in the last couple of weeks. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond's plan to hold a referendum on independence sometime in 2014 - allegedly at the 700 year anniversary of Bannockburn - has caused a row between UK and Scottish ministers. Prime Minister David Cameron has claimed that it's the UK government's prerogative to decide when the referendum should be held and is insisting it should be in eighteen months time. Many people think that Cameron's intervention will make a vote for Scottish independence more likely, because it is well known that the Scots don't like the Tories and Tory governments. So unpopular are the Tories in Scotland that they now have only one MP out of a possible 59.

The monument at the site of the battle of Bannockburn, Scotland's greatest victory over the English

But here lies a problem for us the rest of the UK, if Scotland were to leave the UK, the biggest political beneficiaries by far would be the Tories. Labour currently have 41 MPs in Scotland. They would lose 41 MPs to the Tories' one. That is 41 MPs out of their current number of 256. Add to this the fact that the highly populated south of England is a Tory stronghold and its not difficult to see that if Scotland left the Union it would be very hard to dislodge the Tories from power in what was left of the UK. For many of the English this is an extremely unpalatable scenario, leaving us with a potential prospect of unending Tory government. So what are the options? If the English had adopted regional government, which was part of the Labour government's devolution plan, things might not be so bad, but they didn't. The no vote in North East in 2004 killed off that idea.

In my view the rejection of regionalism in 2004 was a big mistake, as was the rejection of AV by UK voters in 2011. People were swayed by arguments about the cost and failed to see the bigger picture and take an historic opportunity. Regional government would have been good for the North. For many years those in the North of England have felt that they are losing out to a concentration of power and wealth in the South. The very fact that government is based in London is bound to mean that companies will gravitate to that part of the UK.

If regionalism isn't an option, though some still think it is, maybe those of us who live in the North of England should consider joining the Scots, after all, we have more in common with them and the Welsh than we do with the southern English. Like the Welsh and Scots we have always favoured social democracy over conservatism. Should we remain in an England blighted by privatisation, the destruction of public services, growing inequality, and the dominance of the City? 

My view is that we would be better off without all that and we should leave what's left of the UK. I think it's unlikely the Scots will vote for independence and that 'devo max' is the most likely outcome. Whatever happens the debate about how the UK is structured has now re-opened. For me, the best possible option would be independence from the South, particularly the City of London, and leaving the rest of the UK, to get on with building a better society for Northeners.

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