It’s now a couple of weeks since Yorkshire stunned the world by issuing a unilateral declaration of independence from the UK. Since then thousands have taken to the streets in Leeds and Sheffield while white rose flags now fly from every lamppost between Wigtwizzle and Wetwang.
The situation remains tense, with the Royal Armoured Corps at Catterick Camp dispatching southwards a division of Challenger 2 tanks. Thankfully, the Highways Agency has provided some breathing space by refusing to remove its roadworks on the A1, leaving the tanks snarled up with other diverted traffic on the B6271.
The validity of the referendum that sparked the crisis has rightly been called into question, not least because it was held on a Sunday when Leeds United played Hull City, a Blades and Owls needle match was underway at Bramall Lane, and the autumn sales began at Meadowhall. These are said to be among reasons for the scant turnout of 3 per cent, just over half of which voted for independence.
Okay, the above clearly didn’t happen, although some dyed-in-the-wool Tykes would love there to be a Yorkxit referendum. God help God’s Own Country if that ever comes to pass. If you’re like me and can’t take the idea seriously, for a droll vision of what it might mean there’s a spoof website – at least I think it’s a spoof – set up by something called the Yorkshire Independence Party in which it pledges free Yorkshire puddings for old age pensioners, no VAT on flat caps, and a campaign for whippet racing and coal carrying to become Olympic sports.
Hopefully, real life Yorkxit supporters will keep their fantasies to themselves. Don’t get me wrong, though. I love Yorkshire, having spent over 30 years of my life around Leeds and Bradford. I cannot imagine living anywhere else. And I reject these stereotypes of Yorkshire folk. But when I see what’s happening in Catalonia, it scares me how separatist fervour is so easily whipped up by devolutionists once they get their hands on the levers of regional power. Eventually, devolution metamorphoses into nationalism, which becomes a romantic ideal rather than being seen for what it is in today’s world: economic suicide.
That’s why I hope the real-life Yorkshire Party, which fielded 21 candidates at the general election in June and lost every one of its deposits, continues to be a well-meaning, quaint but marginal electoral voice. I haven’t found any mention of imposing trade tariffs on Lancashire hotpot or other wackiness in the party’s manifesto, but its flagship policy of a Yorkshire Parliament could – years hence – be a step along the road to Catalonia.
In Scotland, nationalism has given vent to an anti-English mentality. In the wider UK, which narrowly voted to leave the EU, the message was one of aversion towards migrant workers from Europe. This has so far cost every UK household £600 a year according to figures released last week.
Whether in Catalonia, Scotland, the UK or even Yorkshire, nationalism simply breeds a load of other isms, such as isolationism, protectionism, nativism, even racism. There’s some truth in these words by US Republican senator John McCain: “We have to remind our sons and daughters that we became the most powerful nation on earth by tearing down walls, not building them.”