Solidarity in self-determination – Northern Independence Party

May the 6th could prove to be a monumental day in Scottish politics – in particular the independence movement – with pro-union parties looking increasingly likely to be in the minority in the Scottish Parliament.

But while all eyes may be on Holyrood and how the next five years in Edinburgh might play out, another election about 100 miles south of the English border could see a pro-independence ally join Scottish MPs in Westminster.

On first reflection, a former Labour MP standing in a by-election in Hartlepool may not seem the most natural supporter of Scots wanting to leave the UK. But as a proud democratic socialist, Thelma Walker, now an independent candidate for the increasingly popular Northern Independence Party (NIP), accepts after more than a decade of Tory rule at Westminster, why wouldn’t Scotland want independence? Simply, “You either believe in self-determination or you don’t”.

“Scotland or Wales, with the way we’ve been run by Westminster, I really could understand them going for independence,” she said. “I would support that, because I think why would they not? They didn’t vote for a lot of what has been going on from Westminster and I do see why many people in Scotland would want to break with Westminster.

“I could see Wales following suit, there could be reunification of Ireland, and what is left will be little Englanders, and the north still being run by the Westminster establishment. You can see the role of NIP here if you look over the next few decades of how it could pan out and I just see that as part of the change that is needed.”

A former teacher and northerner “through and through”, Walker was elected in 2017 to represent Colne Valley in West Yorkshire on the transformative Labour manifesto which saw the party come within touching distance of overtaking the Tories and snatching power.

After less than three years the seat had again turned blue and Walker was left to watch Keir Starmer take over as party leader. In November last year she resigned her party membership amid Starmer’s refusal to return the party whip to his predecessor – just one of many reasons for her leaving the once dominant political vehicle of the north.

The NIP had been founded just a month earlier, seeking to create an independent state stretching from Merseyside to Tyneside, replacing the north of England with a newly-formed Northumbria.

With their logo proudly displaying a whippet, and their social media posts striking a fine balance between radical policies and Sean Bean memes, from the outside it may seem the NIP are nothing more than an online fad. Twitter takedowns of the Labour Party and its supporters have become a regular occurrence from the party and those proudly wearing red and yellow in their display name.

“Patronising”, “privileged” and “a glorified joke” are just some of the critiques which have been thrown at the party since its inception – but rather than simply “boiling the piss” of those south of the Humber, the group have increasingly gathered a following and have developed a full manifesto calling for a “green industrial rethink” of the UK along with messages of solidarity for other movements advocating self-determination.

More than 1,000 people from across Britain have now joined the party, many of whom are former Labour activists, long-time socialists and young people finding a political home for the first time.

But for all of the online hype, Walker believes the party’s ability to not take itself too seriously is a strength rather than a weakness, and one which also resonates with voters in Scotland. Labour’s strategy, on the other hand, she is less complementary to – claiming there are some independence sympathisers within the party who may not be able to speak up.

Walker also slated the party’s tendency to be London-centric, and “parachute” activists and candidates into areas like the north and Scotland – something she says has cost the party seats in recent years.

“You just have to look at recent history of how many seats Labour lost. It happened in Scotland, and it happened with the red wall seats. Parachuting people into seats where they don’t really get the community, and they don’t feel like they’re being represented properly, but it’s not just one factor.”

“But what happened in Scotland with Labour, and is happening, it’s the same thing, and that’s why I understand how the people of Scotland are feeling, and I think Labour is getting this wrong.”

What of the movement’s Scottish relationship? Will we see an army of flat cap-wearing activists marching their whippets north of Hadrian’s wall to campaign in a future referendum on Scottish independence? Talks, I am told by NIP activists, are already being held with the SNP on how they managed to become the political force they are in Scotland, with hopes this could be replicated just down the road.

Walker, meanwhile, says she hopes to work with those from all parties. And with the prospect of Scottish independence looking more likely than ever, the prospective MP seems more certain than most of the outcome.

“You could say I would be isolated, so how am I going to change things? But I’ve seen very effective cross-party working and collaboration when I’ve been in Westminster previously.

“I was on the Education Select Committee where you definitely have to work cross-party, and actually was quite friendly with Marion (Fellows) from the SNP. There will be things I won’t agree with members of the SNP, or Plaid Cymru, or indeed those within my former party. But I do know there are people with whom I agree on many, many things.

“Let’s face it – people mocked the SNP some years ago about going for independence and I am absolutely sure within the two years Scotland will be independent. I could be wrong, but I have a very strong feeling, and a few years ago that was dismissed as if it could never happen.”



Comments (11)

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  1. Robbie says:

    Music to my ears ,it’s about time English people in the north were being treated fairly,and that won’t happen if left to Westminster alone, the bulldog spirit Belongs in the “ North “too.

  2. Ken Coutts says:

    Folk from Hartlepool, in the past , have always been ribbed about hanging a monkey, thinking it was a French spy.
    Looks like they’re all turning to the Tories, I hope not.
    Mind you how’s their french these days?

  3. Niemand says:

    Thelma was a good MP and activist and I had the greatest respect for her and was sorely disappointed last election when the local Tory got back in (I have actually known Thelma’s partner for many years). But this move strikes me as very weird. The most obvious question is what exactly is ‘The North’? Where are the borders? What does ‘Merseyside to Tyneside’ actually mean? You can guarantee no-one will want to say even if they have considered it properly (which I doubt given the stupid ‘northern’ stereotypes the whole party is founded on). The fundamental point is that no-one has ever agreed where the north of England starts so any border will be arbitrary and new and it will fail miserably.

    It is so obvious that there will never be an independent ‘Northumbria’ whatever that is today, that this is all pissing in the wind that will quite likely let the Tories back in, in Hartlepool. The left / centre-left in England has largely been mostly out of power due to its own mindless divisions and so it continues. I am deeply disappointed in Thelma as the last thing England needs is more nationalism and more north-south divisive bullshit. Somehow allying this to the cause of Scottish Nationalism is grossly misleading.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      ‘The North’ in common usage is roughly coincident with the ancient British kingdom of Brigantia, which the Romans referred to as ‘Britannia Inferior’ (as distinct, I suppose, from the superior South). For present day administrative purposes, it’s fairly well defined as comprising the three regions of North East England, North West England, and Yorkshire and the Humber.

      It will never happen, of course, but there’s no reason in principle why this administrative unit couldn’t function independently of Westminster just as Northern Ireland, Scotland, or Wales could.

      1. Niemand says:

        Where is the southerly border of ‘north west England’? What administrative purposes are you talking about? I notice the NIP official pages define ‘the North’ as: ‘all of the North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, and High Peak. Constituencies immediately south of the border will be offered the chance to join through referendum.’ But nowhere do they really define this southerly border i.e where actually is it and what are these constituencies immediately to the south. This is crucial information they do not give.

        The whole thing is a divisive fantasy world that has been conjured up because some ex-Labour people are angry with Starmer and the way Corby has been treated and want a more socialist future, something I very much agree with, but not this way and not a way that is doomed to failure from the start. I agree there could be some kind of new country of northern England, in theory (there could be anywhere – you could split Scotland into Lowlands, and Highlands and Islands too) but splitting England into two countries is a horrible, regressive idea.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          I disagree, Niemand; the ‘cantonisation’ of England into several sovereign territories, coupled with an EU-type arrangement of subsidiarity through which they could act collectively in pursuit of common interests, would be radically progressive in terms of devolving power and responsibility more closely to the demos. In this respect, it would certainly be more progressive than having a more distant sovereign government. We could maybe even do the same in Scotland, with the Scottish government serving a subsidiary function to more local sovereign assemblies.

          I’m sure the Scottish government wouldn’t wear that sort of constitution, however, any more than the UK government would, when it’s power it’s after in its drive for Independence.

          1. Niemand says:

            I’m just not into such divisions and there is a world of difference between more regional autonomy (something I favour, though the populace does not it seems) and political and geographical independence that brings a massive load of issues, borders, old rivalries, potential hostility, lack of unity when needed, hence my disdain for the NIP whose evocation of the 7th century idea of Northumbria is just silly – how could they seriously say that? Going back 1300 years when there was no conception of England at all and wars between regions were commonplace, as a means of going forward?? As for the EU being some kind of unifying factor, well the NIP have already conceded the north of England voted leave and have no intention of re-joining.

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            Yes, I agree; an appeal to the early medieval kingdoms of the Old North is nothing but a divisive ethnonationalist trope.

            But I still think there’s some mileage in the deconstruction of England (and Scotland, for that matter), which makes a similar appeal to the past for its identity and integrity as ‘a nation’, into a number of less abstract independent communities like ‘the North’, unionised (like the EU) on the principle of subsidiarity rather than (in the case of the UK at present) on the principle of incorporation.

            Imagine the UK rather as a community of independent ‘nations’. Imagine too each of those nations as a community of smaller independent republics. Don’t you find that vision of unionised independence rather than separatism attractive?

          3. Niemand says:

            Unionised independence? Yes I do find it attractive but would prefer not actual independence with EU-style ‘glue’ but a British or English glue like an actually properly functioning Union (stop laughing in the wings) but with proper regional devolution. I voted Remain but remain unconvinced by the EU as it is just too big and unwieldy and too keen on uniformity, and once you get somewhat faceless bodies that can overrule very long standing country-based regions, it always builds resentment.

            So I worry what the fragmentation might bring as well i.e. disunity and everyone fighting for their corner with little interest in ‘the union’ and neighbours working together. Germany and the US has something a bit like this but it doesn’t always work very well. One thing that I find sad as Scotland seems to be getting nearer its goal of autonomy, is the infighting has begun in earnest and seems set to continue after (and if) independence actually happens.

          4. Colin Robinson says:

            That’s just our genius for sectarianism coming to the fore.

  4. Niemand says:

    Thelma got 250 votes. Monster Raving Loony got 108.

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