Parts of the future look medieval to Roger Ratcliffe

Parts of the future
look medieval to Roger Ratcliffe

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I’m as gobsmacked as probably you are in Liverpool and Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Hull and all places on either side to discover that – actually – we are not northerners at all. We are Northumbrians.

I know, I know – Northumbria as we know it is a good 20 miles up the A1 from Scotch Corner but the new Northern Independence Party (NIP) wants to resurrect the early medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, which between the 7th and 10th centuries stretched from the Humber and Dee to the Forth and Solway Firth. To the south lay three other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms – Mercia, Wessex and East Anglia – but along with Northumbria they had been abolished as autonomous regions by the time William the Conqueror landed at Hastings.

In present-day politics, though, it seems the best new ideas are really the old ones. Thus we are now adrift from the rest Europe in the misty-eyed belief that the good old days when Britain was Great will surely return. And in Scotland – where just 1.1 per cent of the population speaks Gaelic – voters are being asked to support Alex Salmond’s new Alba Party, so named because Alba is the ancient Gaelic word for Scotland.

Interest declaration: I am not a big fan of independence movements. I believe we do better when we work harmoniously together, whether as part of Europe or the UK, rather than pursue what can often be narrow and conflicting objectives. We are now so integrated as peoples that to me separatism just seems pointless.

Putting that aside, though, I’m amused by this tendency of secessionist parties to ransack history books to come up with a sentimental word or concept that will boost their brand identity. So it wouldn’t surprise me if the SNP, having achieved independence, decided to jettison “Scotland” – a word they see as irreparably tarnished by three centuries of English rule – and replace it with the early medieval “Scotia”.

The cynic in me says we might as well hark back to days of yore, because the current rate of industrial decline suggests that our future lies as a gigantic theme park exploiting our past. Therefore, why not rename York as Eboracum, as the Romans knew their biggest city in the north, or call it Jorvik like the Vikings did? Or how about reviving the Romans’ Mancunium instead of Manchester?

But back to the NIP. While I think people of a Scottish nationalist bent will just about buy into the Alba concept, the name Northumbria will be anathema to most people who don’t have a Geordie accent. If you google it, Northumbria’s top rankings are the eponymous police force and university, both of which are centred on Newcastle. If the NIP puts up candidates for election in Barnsley, for instance, it might very well find that few if any Yorkshire folks identify themselves as Northumbrians.

At first I thought the NIP was a spoof. Its logo features a silhouette of a whippet, supposedly symbolic of northern life, while the party’s slogan is “It’s About Bloody Time”. But the NIP is serious. And beyond its anachronistic name for the north, and my reservations about northern independence, it does espouse causes that would appeal to many voters up here. So even if it just makes the mainstream parties think more about policies that will benefit the north the NIP won’t be wasting its time.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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