First published by The Independent, 18th May 2015
I sometimes find it fun to imagine that we could cut London out and push it away from the rest of Britain with a big stick. That we could free ourselves from its extortionate rents, non doms, and Conservative majority, and enjoy the abundant pleasures that the rest of Britain has to offer, liberated from the cult of capital obsession. And a change.org petition, now signed by more than 40,000 people, shows that thousands of others share my fantasy.
The petition urges the government to allow the north of England to secede from the UK and join Scotland, and leave the “endless parade of old Etonions lining the frontbenches of the House of Commons” behind. This ‘New Scotland’ would include Manchester (where I live), Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, York and the rest of England’s northern towns, and the southern border of Scotland would be re-drawn between the mouth of the Humber and the River Dee.
The surge of interest in the petition can partly be put down to widespread anger after the Conservative’s surprise majority, and admiration for the SNP, who took 56 out of 59 seats in the general election. It’s also indicative of how little people in the north of England feel they have to do with the London-centric south.
Manchester is my home, and it’s just as interesting and vibrant as Britain’s capital. I love it for its rich cultural history, its famous nightlife, and the wide availability of chip barms, doused in gravy. It’s big enough to feel exciting and anonymous, without the sense of harsh urgency that accompanies a visit to London. Manchester’s people are friendly, down to earth, and always up for a quick pint after work. They’re part of a thriving, diverse city, but they’re not afraid of making eye contact on public transport, and they won’t elbow you in the face trying to get on the tram first.
The north is too readily forgotten, particularly by the media who often focus on events in the capital to the exclusion of everywhere else in Britain. On leaving university, relocating to London was considered the ‘done thing’, as nowhere else was perceived to offer any opportunities. If you’re looking to break into journalism, it’s understood that if you haven’t moved to London, you’ve already ruined your chances of success, and I’m sure this is true for other professions too. I’m still considered a bit mad for not living in an overpriced shoebox in London and attempting to write for a living, but the attitude that London is the only place in Britain worth a damn is no more than regional snobbery.
For too long, London has garnered the lion’s share of exposure, interest and investment. It’s only ‘grim up north’ in some areas because they are still suffering from the effects of the Thatcher years when those towns were all but left to rot. The Chancellor’s pet Northern Powerhouse project will undoubtedly offer the north some impressive devolved powers, and may help to redress with economic imbalance between the north and south of England, but does it go far enough? The petition might be a pipe dream, but it’s important to recognise that us northern folk are saying something that’s very real.
We feel more affinity with Scotland than with the suits in Westminster, and another five years of rule under wealthy white men who are only prepared to help out their rich friends in the City of London, is definitely not what we signed up for.