The North South Divide – We Should Be A United Kingdom

After the political maelstrom of 2019, I’m indebted to Robert Mitchell of Poulton-le-Fylde in Lancashire. He wrote and had published a short note in a national newspaper recently which summed up rather succinctly our feelings north of Watford over the B word. “SIR – A message to all the political leaders: “Thank you for visiting us up here in the North. See you again at the next election.”Cynical perhaps, but whilst it appears the Red Wall has fallen, the North/South divide remains.

That’s a sentence I hate to write as it saddens me. We should be a United Kingdom – but history shows we have been getting it wrong for centuries. An example.

In 1314 at The Battle of Bannockburn, the armies of King Edward II and Robert the Bruce faced off in Scotland. The English were roundly beaten.

Eight centuries later the Scots still sing “Flower of Scotland” to celebrate this in pubs and at rugby matches. It contains the line “and sent them homewards to think again”. So the English did.

In 1651, Oliver Cromwell was fed up with the Scots coming south to rape and pillage. The self-styled Lord Protector of England sent an army north to teach them a lesson. At the Battle of Inverkeithing Cromwell’s order to his commander was “No Prisoners”.

Today there is a cairn of stones which marks the spot in this quiet field north of Dunfermline where I would sit alone munching my sandwiches at lunchtimes in the late eighties. I worked for Sky TV then and went there to escape the dreadfulness.

The plaque on the stones records the story of this appalling fight. The words are chilling.

“The burn which runs through this field ran red with Scottish blood for three days.”  Three days.

The Scots don’t sing about that. How their women and children dealt with this appalling slaughter I cannot imagine.

Have we learned the lesson? Today Scotland still seems at war with England, only in a different way.

I was born and raised in the North of England. I’ve lived and worked in London, Yorkshire and Scotland and I can tell you the “us and them” mentality is set in stone.    

I remember sitting in a London tube station and seeing an advert on the wall saying “Come to Scotland” as if this was some kind of foreign idea aimed at people in a faraway place – yet they were talking to people in the same country.

Patently, an English PR company had been employed to invent a campaign to get Londoners to consider a world outside the M25.

I buried my head in my hands on that station platform because if you look from space Britain has no walls. No physical divides. It is one.

Hadrian tried to build a wall but it didn’t last long and those broken stone remains speak volumes about Roman failure to understand the basics.

Britain is an island nation. It should rule itself.

Centuries after The War of the Roses, Yorkshire and Lancashire still have banter. The Red Rose of Lancaster and the White of York was a medieval battlefield where many died. The competition still echoes in the heart of these people but thankfully sport has replaced battle.

Today Manchester is a wonderful place. In 2020 I can report this city is welcoming, multi-cultural, friendly, clean, well run and has an enviable, efficient tram system. If a Yorkshire-man tells you this, believe it!

The Manchester Arena bombing ripped out its heart in May 2017 leaving 23 dead and 139 injured. I walked there recently and felt the tangible grief. Their people remain unbowed, albeit cautious. You feel a sense of wariness but also of pride and defiance.

I recommend the Royal Exchange Theatre there. It’s a remarkable performance space and its interior is like no other. It took my breath away.

Created inside a former Victorian cotton market, this is now a showcase for Northern talent. I watched two young girls rehearsing their lines there on the stage. It gave me hope for the future – and I found myself hoping those youngsters could forgive the sins of my own generation.

Britain is an island nation with a proud history and an individual creative spirit admired across the world. Why immigrants fight to come here and tourists flock.

We have a Union flag, a famous National Anthem with worldwide recognition and an international language. Our music, art, countryside, inventions, bravery, history and architecture are copied and revered.

We have Queen Elizabeth, a monarch with a long, proud dedication to her country and a Commonwealth of Nations who look up to us. If Britain arrives on a sports field, the opposition immediately ups its game.

Why? We have form for doing things differently.

Will we still get a drubbing in the 2020 Eurovision song contest? I expect so. But could I seed a thought?

Don’t build walls.

Your race, colour, religion, sexual persuasion or political leanings do not matter.

What is important and where we make our mark are manners. How we are with others.

Mum taught me to read before I went to school. I was bullied horribly there, hated the food, the masters and their contact sports left me bleeding in the mud.

But the lesson was learned. Manners maketh the man.

Today I’m in charge of my own destiny and Yorkshire remains my home because I love her with a passion. Where I was born, forged, lived and will be buried (not cremated). I can be who I want to be here.

If/when we finally leave the EU at the end of January after the most protracted divorce in the history of modern politics. I’d like to suggest we now ditch divisiveness.

We’ve been through the mud. It’s over. Let’s pick ourselves up and get out there in 2020 with respect, hard work – and a kind word for each other.

Let’s show the world what a United Kingdom can do.

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