Yorkshire could be ‘God’s Own Country’, says Leeds professor

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God’s own country: All eyes are on the Scottish referendum but if the scots vote to abandon the UK, could Yorkshire be the next to demand more power? Interviews by Neil Hudson

BEFORE his death earlier this year, Leeds-based armchair philosopher Duncan Dallas suggested a topic for debate which at the time seemed a little absurd.

He put the question: should Yorkshire seek to become independent from the rest of the UK. Indeed, he went further and asked whether England’s largest county should do away with its association with England altogether and become part of Scotland.

He pointed out Yorkshire has a similar population to Scotland and a similar economic output.

With less than a week to go before the Scots go to the polls to decide whether they wish to stand alone as a sovereign nation, the question of whether Yorkshire should attempt something similar seems somehow less absurd.

Prof Karl Spracklen from Leeds Metropolitan University said the notion of an independent Yorkshire was far from ridiculous.

“I see no reason why Yorkshire could not become independent,” he said. “This sort of thing happens all the time, we only have to look at the break-up of the former Yugoslavia for an example. If you go back to the 19th Century, modern day Germany was made up of a patchwork of little countries - at the time, people could not imagine they would join together.

“In Yorkshire, I think you have to go back to the 10th Century, when the Vikings were ruling, to find the last time Yorkshire was independent.

“If Scotland does back independence, then the rest of the UK will enter into a debate about devolution. There have already been calls for it in Cornwall and more powers for Wales, so if those places are getting more, people will inevitably ask, what about us in the north.”

The Leeds-born professor says while he could conceive of an independent Yorkshire, a far more realistic proposition would be for Yorkshire to join with Cumbria, Durham and (Tykes everywhere take a deep breath) Lancashire.

“I know how that sounds to Yorkshire folk but these northern counties have far more in common with each other than they do with the south. They all have a nonconformist background, together with things like rugby league and other cultural similarities. They also have more in common with Scotland than they do with the southern counties.

“There’s already a very strong sense of independence in Yorkshire.”

So, which way does he think the Scots will vote?

“I think they will vote ‘yes’. I think when people are pushed to it, they go with their emotional attachment and won’t care about the effect on their economy.

“The ‘yes’ campaign has been dominated by this. It’s been about sport and culture and whiskey and stereotypes like Braveheart.

“You can see the English establishment trying to stop them now but short of sending the tanks in, there’s not much else they can do.

“Possibly, seeing all three main party leaders travelling to Scotland at the same time was counter productive, because Scottish folk, like Yorkshire folk and all people from the north, are very pragmatic when it comes to things like that.

“It’s something we pride ourselves on, it’s part of our bloody-mindedness, we’re proud of it - so if you get a politician suddenly arriving trying to tell you you should be doing something, people question it.

“If Scotland goes its own way, there’s no reason why councils from the north of England can’t join together to demand greater powers.”

Anyone who mistakenly thinks Yorkshire’s sense of self is lacking need only look to its humour, one recent example of which ended up going viral on the internet.

Adopted Loiner Jack Hurley, 34, a graphic designer, came up with a mock road sign which web users everywhere seemed to take a liking to, especially if they were from Yorkshire and Leeds in particular.

The sign, pictured, reads ‘Welcome to Leeds. We’re right, you’re wrong. Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire’. It earned over 500 likes on facebook and has since taken on a life of its own.

Jack, originally from Devon, who says his partner he says gives him ‘Yorkshire points’ said: “I see it occasionally on other websites, people seemed to really take to it.

“When I first posted the sign, it was a friend who told me just how many likes it had got.

“I work for a T-shirt company called Red Molotov and one of my most popular designs is a T-shirt with a map of England on it and over Yorkshire it says ‘Right’ and over the rest it says ‘Wrong.’

“I’ve lived all over the country, in Devon, Manchester, Hampshire and nowhere do the people have the sense of identity that Yorkshire folk do. They know themselves.

“I love watching Look North because it’s basically Yorkshire nationalism. It can be quite hard to get behind being English sometimes because there’s always that fear of it being tainted by the far right but Yorkshire seems to flow a lot better, it has a very strong identity.”

Remarkably, Yorkshire only received its first boundary sign last month, meaning it has been without any for 1,100 years, according to Andy Strangeway, vociferous campaigner of all things Yorkshire and founder of a website which campaigns to make people aware the old Yorkshire ridings are still very much in existence.

In July, he officially unveiled the county’s first boundary sign.

He said: “If you follow the legislation, then boundary signs can only be erected in an administrative area, so while we have signs for the West Riding and so on, because they used to be admnistrative areas, there were none for Yorkshire.

“That took us up to 1974, when they ceased to carry out administrative functions.

“We campaigned and fundraised for about six months in order to get the first Yorkshire boundary sign, which in the end had to be a brown tourism sign, which cost about £300.”

During the unveiling of the sign on the Worksop Road (A60) south of Doncaster Mr Strangeway’s wife sang an anthem to Yorkshire, which can be viewed on his website: www.andystrangeway.wordpress.com

Asked whether he would like to see an independent Yorkshire, he said: “I would not go for another tier of government but I do think we should have more powers. I always struggle to understand how we can base all our financial doings on one bank rate, which is centred on the southern economy.

“Whenever you do travel south, which unfortunately happens to us all at some point, it’s easy to see why there’s so much wealth - because they have so much investment.”

He added: “I’d like to see more politicians, including MPs and councillors, getting behind this - the only problem is whenever they do they come in all guns blazing and then suddenly see the legislation and realise anyway it doesn’t suit their political objectives.”

Jack Hurley’s T-shirt can be found here: www.redmolotov.com/catalogue/tshirts/all/yorkshire-right-wrong-tshirt.html, and: www.redbubble.com/people/loudribs/works/12618616-welcome-to-leeds-sign?p=t-shirt