Both England and Scotland recorded 1-0 wins this week, so we still have that much in alexsalmondcommon. In other respects however, Scotland and England seem to be drifting apart, the relationship having been likened to two pieces of the same pizza, just about hanging together, but only with the flimsiest strings of melted cheese keeping them together. So what is happening to the relationship between England and Scotland and why should it bother us in North east England?

Well, in little more than six months, Scottish people will have the opportunity to vote in a referendum on independence, in which a yes vote will end 307 years of formal union between England and Scotland. At the moment the polls still suggest that there will be a no vote.  A Yougov poll a little over a week ago had topline figures for voting intentions at YES 35% and NO 53%, whilst a recent MORI poll had an even bigger lead for the NO campaign with figures of 32% YES and 57% NO. So, with only six months to go it does appear that Alex Salmond’s dream of an independent Scotland, is just that; a dream, which will not be translated into reality.

However, as in so many aspects of life, appearances can be deceptive. There are still a large number of ‘don’t knows’ and the nearer the date of the referendum comes, so it may be that Scottish patriotism, enhanced by the Commonwealth Games being in Glasgow and the celebrations for the 700th anniversary of Robert the Bruce’s victory at Bannockburn, no doubt accompanied by reruns of Braveheart, may start to tip the balance. And then there are the interventions by Cameron and Osborne; each one must ne worth thousands of votes to the Yes Campaign. The only thing which won’t happen to help the YES Campaign is a successful Scottish campaign at the World Cup in Brazil. When I mentioned this possibility to a Scottish friend a couple of years ago, he just looked at me as if I was mad and made it clear that that was one thing which would not happen….

It is therefore unlikely that an independent Scotland will emerge from the referendum, but it could happen. If it did, what would the effect be on Northeast England? Well, there are no doubt many who would say that as it is only about Scotland, it would have no effect on us at all. I think that would be a misguided view. The most obvious effect would be removing Scottish M.P.s from the House of Commons, so making it far more likely for the Tories to win a majority. The policies of any such Tory government would be geared almost exclusively to win them votes in their Midlands and Southern heartlands. We have already seen under Thatcher, the damage that a right-wing Tory government can do and under the present Coalition it has been noted that the North is suffering disproportionately from the austerity policies. Would that be our fate for decades to come if Scotland votes for independence?

Essentially the Scots are, at least to some extent, our political, cultural and economic allies.  If anyone doubts this, I would just remind them that there is only one Tory Scotland at present and for a number of years after 1997 there were none. Similarly, there hasn’t been a Tory councillor in Newcastle for about 20 years. In many respects we think and vote in similar ways. We have had our difference over funding of course. The notorious Barnett Formula, which was set up in the 1970s to help give Scotland the most funding as it was then the poorest part of Britain, continued far too long, after Thatcherism made our own North East the bottom of the regional/national wealth laegue table.

But then the Scots, for all their own internal differences, between Highlands and Lowlands, Glasgow and Edinburgh, SNP and Labour, have been able to talk to Westminster with a united voice. Sadly, we have not always been able to do the same. A recent attempt to get all councils in the region working together was being stymied last time I heard by the refusal of Sunderland Council to get involved. Hopefully these differences can be resolved. Without a strong united voice we will be in deep trouble, especially if there is a YES vote north of the border.

It sometimes seems to me that we have an almighty problem in this region. All elections seem to be decided by a relatively small number of seats in the Midlands and the South. Consequently, the Tories ignore us, because they win so few votes here, whilst some argue that Labour, at least at Westminster if not locally, takes us for granted as we so often vote in Labour M.P.s  We need a strong united voice whatever happens – and escpecially if a YES vote makes a Southern English dominated House of Commons a reality.

On the other hand, part of me thinks that in the long-term a YES vote or for that matter a NO vote, but with further moves to greater devolution, could be beneficial. It might just make the English examine themselves and rediscover the radical, democratic side to our nature and our history. This is the history of the Peasant’s Revolt and the Levellers, Peterloo and the Chartists, the Suffragettes and the once great labour movement. It might also bring about an honest debate on English identity and political future, leading to a progressive, inclusive England, where all people are valued, no matter their gender, sexuality, colour, creed…. or accent.

After all, do we want to see an England where the politics, economics and culture are dominated by the values of the public schoolboys of the Tory party, the bigots of UKIP or the thugs of the English Defence League? We can and should be so much better than that. If there is a YES vote in September, or if there is a NO vote, but greater devolution of powers to Scotland, then surely the people of this region want to see a fair, democratic and inclusive England emerging. At the end of the day, history suggests that that is what the people of Northeast England have always stood for. If we stand united, then perhaps we can have a real voice both for our own region and for a progessive, positive England, which can go forward into the future with confidence.

© Peter Sagar March 2014    TF_INITIALS_LOGO