A BIG, populous region, that’s bigger than many nations

DAVID SIMPSON reflects once again on the status of the North of England and its need for a big voice

A couple of months ago (August 24) I posted some graphics in a blog to demonstrate what a massive region the North of England is when compared to many European nations. As we noted, the North is bigger than most of those nations in terms of its population. I know that many of you enjoyed these facts and found them interesting. I think it’s a bit of an eye-opener.

Well, I love maps and while I admit my cartographic design skills are a little limited and my spelling of Liechtenstein a little unconventional, I thought I would post a couple more images just to give you some further food for thought.

You might wonder why I think the issue of size matters when it comes to the North. Am I advocating some kind of Northern independence? Well, no not really, I just want the North to have a bigger voice, a bigger say in its own affairs. I want us to be aware how big we are, so that we can begin to think big about our place in the world.

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If the UK were 100 people 23 of them live in the North. Right click  to open in a new tab.

I’m quite sure that in post-Brexit Britain (I was pro-remain by the way) Scotland is almost certainly going to push for independence again. I personally hope that this doesn’t happen as I quite like our unified kingdom, but if it does, well, that’s a matter for Scotland to decide – once more.

When it happens it will inevitably raise the question of Northern England’s status and I am quite sure the possibility of a Northern federal region is going to be raised at some point because to put it simply, Northern England is a much, much bigger region than Scotland.

The North is also a region that’s distinct from other parts of England in a number of different ways, including its politics. Even Conservative politics in the North has a distinctly Northern flavour. I have a background as a historian so I have much interest in this but if you want to find out more about our distinct region then I recommend Melvyn Bragg’s Radio 4 series The Matter of the North which gives a good account of how the North has been shaped through history.

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Map showing countries with fewer people than the North of England (in pink). RIGHT CLICK TOP OPEN MAP IN NEW TAB

[In the map above European countries with a population greater than that of Northern England are shown in dark red. Those countries with a smaller population than Northern England are shown in pink and are listed on the left. Right click on map above to open in new tab and view larger format]

If I was a UK government, of any particular political persuasion and had the desire to keep the UK and England unified then I’d be very worried. It would be an especially big challenge for a government that has poor representation within the North to prevent the North from feeling disenfranchised if Scotland goes its own way. In fact that challenge is already present because in party political terms at least, Scotland has already found its own path. It won’t help if the government doesn’t really understand what makes the North tick.

One strategy to deal with this is to invest generously in those partially thriving Northern ‘star’ cities like Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Leeds to encourage economic growth in the hope that it spreads to neighbouring areas or at least creates enough growth to thwart discontent.

This may just work and the EU referendum results strongly suggest that this sort of investment can influence the way people think about their place in the world, how they feel about themselves and possibly even influence the way that they vote.

Indeed those four cosmopolitan northern cities that I have mentioned each fared very well out of European funding in comparison to many other parts of the North, especially in terms of cultural investment. This may explain why all four of those cities voted in favour of remaining in Europe (though only just) when much of the remaining North of England was overwhelmingly pro-Brexit. For the record the pro-Europe vote in the four cities was as follows: Manchester 60.4%, Liverpool 58.2%, Newcastle 50.7% and Leeds 50.2%.

The problem for London-based governments identifying and investing in key northern cities for economic growth is that many towns and localities within the region, and particularly the legion of sizeable and proud post-industrial northern towns may feel they are being left out. They may even feel they are being left to quietly rot. There may even be a feeling that parts of the North are being played off against each other.

Of course, this may not be the intention, but in the Northern region where the elected party of government barely keeps a foothold, and hardly connects to people beyond its ‘Powerhouse’ schemes, it’s going to be an understandable concern at the very least and a terrible fear at the very worst. Even the good people of the four favoured and partially thriving northern cities know this.

So why do I post these maps? Well, its because I want the North to have power to negotiate on strong terms and to have a greater say in its own destiny within the United Kingdom. I want it to get a fair deal.

Before it can do this, it needs to appreciate the powerful negotiating position that it’s already in. It needs the knowledge to know that it has an important place in the world and that it is a big region that has changed the world in so many ways. It needs to know that not only should it have a voice but it should be a very big, powerful and confident voice that is in keeping with its status in the world.

Read the original blog here.

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