By Jezz Brown
In a climate of growing separatist sentiment with ‘indyref2’ (a second referendum for Scottish Independence) continuing to threaten the union and discussions of Welsh independence moving from marginal to mainstream, could an independent ‘Northumbria’ become a reality? The Northern Independence Party (NIP) believes so.
Who are the Northern Independence Party?
The Northern Independence Party (NIP), represented by its Whippet logo, has caught headlines since announcing their intention to field their first ever candidate in the Hartlepool by-election taking place on the 6th of May 2021. Thelma Walker, previously the Labour MP for Colne Valley (2017-19), will be the first parliamentary candidate for the NIP, contesting the seat after the resignation of Labour Party MP Mike Hill.
Although the entrance of the Northern Independent Party into national politics has been viewed as somewhat of a joke by some, their actions in Hartlepool, a growing membership, and the publication of an official electoral manifesto, certainly suggest that the NIP may be more serious than the ‘twitter bubble’ they are often reduced to.
What do they stand for?
The primary policy direction of the Northern Independence Party is the elimination of North/South divide – a term used to describe the relative deprivation of the north and centralised wealth, opportunities and investment localised in the south – within the United Kingdom.
The NIP’s policy platform is centred around this issue and believe it best solved through two core means: radical, regional separatism in the creation of an independent ‘Northumbria’, and the adoption of unashamed democratic socialism within this newly founded independent state.
According to the NIP’s website, the independent Northumbria would consist of the North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber and High Peak.
Independence, for the NIP, is the only way to end the North/South divide. In his interview with Novara Media, Proudfoot highlights the structural nature of the divide and the consistent generational failings to substantially reverse this phenomenon.
Upon achieving independence, the north would undergo a “green industrial rebirth” and the “democratisation of the economy”. Included within their manifesto are policies such as the introduction of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), the instalment of the Preston Model, the provision of free school meals to all children, a 15% pay increase for NHS staff, amongst many other policies that mark a sharp departure of the policy direction of the United Kingdom.
Likelihood of electoral success
The first major barrier facing the NIP is not a feature of political party, nor the policies that they advocate, but the nature of the system they wish to enter. The very much entrenched bipartisan system makes it incredibly difficult for smaller political parties – particularly new ones – to gain a strong political foot hold in national parliamentary politics.
Due to the nature of the system, the NIP would have to win substantial support from established Westminster parties in concentrated areas to win a seat. Evidence of this difficulty can be shown by UKIP’s performance at the 2015 UK general election. Despite winning over 3.6 million votes (14.1%), UKIP were only successful in winning one seat (0.15% of total seats).
Although the NIP seems confident that they will be able to achieve this on the 6th of May in Hartlepool, there are several factors that may prevent this from becoming a reality.
Firstly, the divisive nature of their policy platform may result in the deterrence of two core groups that the NIP would need to win in order to achieve electoral success: those that support northern independence but are unwilling to subscribe to the democratic socialist agenda, and those that do support this agenda but are not convinced by the prospect of northern independence.
Looking further forward to the next general election, the odds of achieving this at least to some extent seem more favourable. Single issue politics has dominated the political sphere in recent years: the SNP have been successful in creating a healthy alliance of individuals in favour of Scottish Independence, and Eurosceptic parties brought together a broad coalition of voters in favour on Brexit in both the referendum on exiting the European Union and the 2019 election coined the ‘Brexit election’. However, whether the democratic socialists’ agenda will be too divisive is yet to be seen.
Ultimately, substantial success relies on widespread acceptance of the party and its goals by the people of the North. The striking success of the SNP in 2015 has created precedent for this possibility. In 2015, Scotland abruptly changed from red to yellow: Labour went from 41 seats to 1 and the SNP went from 6 seats to 56. Despite this, it seems unlikely that the same mass transformation of political allegiance could take place in the north as the regional differences between the North and Scotland, and their unique relationships with England and Westminster are too different to make a direct comparison.
The main difference is that whereas Scotland, and Wales, have a clear national identity, various regions of the North have their own independent identities, dialects and senses of community that are not universal across the north. Although the NIP recognises that there are unique regional identities – in Liverpool for instance – within the North and claim that this is something they would accommodate for with a federalist approach to Northumbrian governance, it may serve as a substantial barrier to northern independence with people in the north lacking the distinct and inclusive identify which are more apparent in the nations of Scotland and Wales.
Does electoral success matter?
Although it seems likely that the barriers to electoral success for the Northern Independence Party will be too great to surpass, this is not to suggest that they cannot be successful in achieving their primary aim.
In his interview with Owen Jones, Philip Proudfoot spoke of their intention to run in marginal seats to force their agenda and ensure that established parties begin to take the North/South divide seriously.
What is important to remember from the perspective of the Northern Independence Party is they do not believe the Labour Party to be a party of progressive politics: to them the establishment parties of Westminster are one in the same and there would no tears lost in assisting the Conservative Party into power by taking progressive left-wing votes in marginal seats.
In doing so the NIP may be able to gain significant influence over the results of elections, as well as the policy direction of the establishment parties, without picking up many seats themselves.
The first major test for the Northern Independence Party will be May 6th. With various candidates contesting council level seats, and Thelma Walker running for the NIP in the Hartlepool by-election, the outcome of the day will serve as insight into the electoral desirability of this new party.
With the most recent poll in Hartlepool finding that the Northern Independence Party were polling at 2%, it seems unlikely that they will pick up the seat. Nevertheless, polling above the established Green Party and Liberal Democrats is still quite an achievement, especially given their limited campaigning having been focusing.
Although it is clearly far too early to call, it seems unlikely that the Northern Independence Party will rise to success with the speed that whippets are notorious for.
The Northern Independence Party is not the first Northern regional party to enter into electoral politics. Recent years has seen the establishment of parties such as the Yorkshire Party (YP) and the North East Party (NEP), neither of which has achieved any true electoral success – due to facing many of the same barriers facing the NIP.
As for their ability to dominate the sphere of single-issue politics, that seems more promising. Their plan to enter candidates into marginal seats could really shake up elections and their influence will force parties to begin taking the North/South divide seriously.
If anything, it is clear that the disparities between the north and south will become more significant in elections than ever. Both the Conservatives, through their desire to maintain the union and prevent the spread of radical leftist ideas, and Labour, through their need to maintain the progressive left-wing vote and rebuild the red wall in the north, will have to adapt and respond to the emergence of this new political party.