A new party is seeking to shake up the political landscape in the UK by campaigning for Northern England to become an independent nation.
The Northern Independence Party currently has no elected representatives, but is looking to change that in the upcoming local elections.
One of these candidates is Nathan Howard, a 23-year-old PhD student at the University of Sheffield who is contesting his home ward of Crookes and Crosspool.
Although not from the North himself, being born in Cambridgeshire, Mr Howard said he identified strongly with the North and the economic issues it faced. He described how his parents – from Sheffield and Cheshire – moved to the South because of the better opportunities available.
Sheffield Wire caught up with him to talk about his party’s bold and controversial vision for the future.
First of all, how serious is the party about independence for the North?
“We’re deadly serious about it. Just look at Scotland – the SNP is a serious party, they want Scotland to leave the UK. Scotland has a smaller economy than the North of England, why couldn’t we do it? Through devolution they’ve renationalised the railways, introduced free prescriptions and free university education. It shows that the best way to get concessions from Westminster is to threaten to leave”.
Do you think there is an appetite for northern independence enough for people to vote for the NIP?
“Well when I’ve been canvasing I’ve spoken to people who said that they weren’t going to vote in this election, because they didn’t feel that they had anyone to vote for – lots of people feel isolated from the main parties.
The Green Party has good environmental policies – but again they benefit from the centralisation of government, whereas Labour wants to appeal to the biggest audience possible, there isn’t really an option for people who want to vote for a truly progressive party”.
What are the other main policies the NIP is putting forward?
“We’ve got several massive crises at the moment, one is the threat of climate change. We’re proposing Green Industrial Rebirth – creating jobs in the renewable energy sector, insulating people’s housing and building new quality housing stock. By doing this, people’s energy costs will go down – renewables are far cheaper to run than current fossil fuel extraction.
“We want to create an alternative to the current system where power is concentrated in the hands of a very small number of people. Having a democracy that is more participatory – such as citizens assemblies that will better reflect the society we live in.
“Nationalising energy companies is a key goal as well – some are turning over billions of pounds in profit while the average person’s bills have doubled or even tripled overnight”.
What are your priorities for Crookes and Crosspool if you were to be elected?
“In terms of locally focused policies, public transport is number one. Bus services in Sheffield are abysmal, either public control or even public ownership of the buses. I would back programmes to improve other aspects of our transport infrastructure, such as improving cycle lanes and bike storage.
“I would strongly push for community wealth building approaches, making sure that everything the council is buying in is coming from local companies. Most councils currently buy purely based on cost, which only benefits large multinationals in London. It means there’s no local creation of for jobs.
“What should be baked into the council is accounting mechanisms, so that councils are taking on ideas and responses from local people.
“I would support the use of compulsory purchase orders like in Rotherham, where the council is purchasing retail spaces to rent them back cheaply to local businesses. Crookes is fantastic for independent retailers – who are actively invested in the local community, this is what we should be striving for.”
Do you think there is a risk that a push for an independent North could create further divisions in our society?
“We’re not trying to create more divisions, we’re just identifying the division that already exists. We want these problems to be taken seriously, the North and other regions are not just regions of the centre, they are communities in their own right that are being held back because of regional inequality and the Westminster system.”
What about disadvantaged people in the South though? Some of the worst poverty in the UK can be found in the capital
“I would say that Northern Independence would not only benefit people who live in the North, but also people who don’t. If people can see a better quality of life – such as a higher minimum wage, better housing, better public transport – I think this could lead to more movements everywhere.”
These are big pledges to make – but where is all the money going to come from?
“Our policies will be funded through a wealth tax on the wealthiest people in society, a tax on polluting industries, and actually cracking down on tax fraud – we lose billions and billions every year to this. A lot of the services that are procured by government, make all their profit from the money the government gives them, but all the profits they make go into the company rather than public services.”
Finally – what’s your message to voters?
“People deserve better and they should know that they deserve better. We’ve been told for the past however many years that we all need to make sacrifices – and for what? So the government can have more parties in lockdown, so they can give more contracts to their mates? Is that really what people want, what they think they deserve?”