Crossing The North-North Divide: From God’s Own County To Our Own Country


My Scottish fella has a fun way of winding me up; from time to time he calls me a ‘southerner’. Technically that’s true, Yorkshire is indeed south of Scotland relative to a Fifer, I am Southern (please don’t tell him I said that).

Despite this geographical fact, Yorkshire is regarded as the epitome of ‘The North’ and a Northern sensibility.

It’s rather telling that when ‘The North’ is mentioned by the national UK media it is almost always a reference to the north of England, not Aberdeen, Shetland or Thurso which would be more accurate. Is this because Scotland might as well not exist for the rest of the UK? I don’t think so; I think it’s more an acceptance that Scotland is something else, different and separate. In the national UK imagination Scotland is in some ways already independent. The referendum will do very little other than give us some extra political power; we are already an independent country. Most people in rUK care very little about the outcome of the referendum because in reality Scottish independence will change little for them, particularly in the South East. If you are already the centre of the universe, what does it matter what goes on in the fringes?

What of ‘The North’ then? Recently The New Statesman put together a Northern Issue, which caught my northern eye, and I bought it. It contained a dismissive article about Scottish independence, a couple of walks around poor places, a defence of northern culture and a couple of cringe worthy nostalgia pieces about identity from northern journos in London. There were no new ideas, just nostalgic tokenism by the London-based left wing media elites; who need to pay lip service to the North for political reasons, or because they are from there. The political system is such that what goes on in the north doesn’t really matter, even for the left.

But when it comes to Scottish independence, what will happen to the North is something of concern to many, and was the reason I was undecided on the issue for such a long time. Like Scotland, the North is ruled by Tories for whom people never vote, suffering disproportionately from cuts with no mandate. “How can we ‘abandon’ our brothers and sisters in the North” is a typical refrain from the leftist No voter.

It’s my view that this position is more rooted in nostalgia than reality. All the anti-cuts action I have seen has happened either locally, or nationally in London. The UK is no longer dependent on the manufacturing capabilities of the North, so the industrial leverage it once had is gone. As Westminster press ahead with HS2 we will see the Birmingham, Leeds and Manchesters become more like satellites of London. It is a nice idea that those train lines will somehow send jobs and prosperity northward, but in reality those train lines are more like tentacles, pulling the north into mother ship London.

Yorkshire folk are nostalgic, and in our own way nationalistic. Overheard Yorkshire accents often lead to enquiries of ‘where are you from’, as if somehow being from God’s own country is some kind of mystical bond. When I lived in Oxford I found that this northern-ness became a part of my identity, a means of separating myself from the dreaded southerner (in Scotland, I feel no need to make that distinction). I can understand entirely why Yorkshire people in the South East end up with such massive chips on their shoulders. When I lived down south I came to understand that this was the centre of the universe. People actually do vote Tory there, prosperity for the few is disgustingly present and the North was completely ‘other’, romanticised or ridiculed and without any real power. The North of England is rarely taken into consideration, and Scotland – well that’s another country.

It was there that I became a Yes voter. Witnessing the power of wealth in the south of England convinced me that we should take this historic opportunity to break away. The idea that we are abandoning the north of England disregards the working class across the UK, and is rooted in lefty nostalgia. It also places too much faith in the Labour Party, although Scottish voters are not needed for Labour to win in the UK.

We have a choice between nostalgia and moving forward. I think that the Better Together position is nostalgic, and with a rosy view of the United Kingdom as a happy union which works. It doesn’t, not for Northerners and not for Scots. Power is so centralised within the UK that the only way that North Britain can win any of this back is by breaking away.

Yorkshire will always be my home, and it will always only be three hours away on a train. I know an independent Scotland will not be a socialist utopia, but it has to be better than the neo liberal fundamentalism currently metered down by Westminster governments. We have the chance to take a different path, we need to take it, and by doing so perhaps our closest neighbours will take notice and demand more from the Labour Party. Either way, you’re always welcome round for a cuppa, even if you’re from Lancashire.

Liz Ely
National Collective

Photo by Ingy The Wingy