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.
🟨 DEMAND: Independence for the North
🟥 REJECT: The Westminster elite
🟨 SUPPORT: Democratic Socialism
🟥 OPPOSE: All Racism & Anti-Refugee Rhetoric
🟨 BUILD: On our traditions of solidarity
🟥 AND LOVE: The North!
— Northern Independence Party 🟨🟥 (@FreeNorthNow) March 19, 2021
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.”