Even if 2014 isn’t to be the year Scotland asserts its independence, there are bound to be increased calls for either (1) a devolved English parliament or (2) devolved regional assemblies in England.
The problem with the first option for the left is that an English parliament would surely be more Tory-dominated than the current British version. This is the main reason Labour are so opposed to the idea of Scottish independence.
The second option was emphatically rejected in a 2004 referendum in the North East, suggesting that rivalries within the region itself, for example between the main urban centres of Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough, make the whole idea unviable.
A radical alternative third option would be some sort of Northern Union between the three regions who were due to be consulted on devolution in 2004: that is, the North East, Yorkshire and Humber, and the North West. These three regions have a combined population of around 15,000,000, slightly bigger than the combined population of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Or to put in terms of EU member states, bigger than Greece but smaller than the Netherlands.
Of course the North of England is not a unified whole. It has its own north-south divide and it has a natural barrier between East and West in the Pennines. This would made it difficult to agree on a location for any devolved assembly or parliament building.
York is roughly in the middle and there is a precedent in the Church of England for a northern capital there. Billy Bragg, writing as long as ago as 2000, nominated York as a potential capital for an English Parliament. But to me, it seems a bit rural, too provincial, too safe. In short, too English.
If the hypothetical Northern Union wanted a dynamic capital to match its radical ambitions a la Catalonia and Barcelona, it would have to opt for one of the bigger, more cosmopolitan cities.
I would suggest Liverpool, the least English of England’s cities, sometimes referred to both as ‘the real capital of North Wales’ and ‘the real capital of Ireland’.
What better way to lay down a marker than by having the Northern assembly in a city repeatedly so maligned by the London-based media and Tory think tanks. Even the thinking Man United fans are beginning to argue for greater solidarity between the two cities.
Such a radical plan would represent the kind of boost the city needs and could be done as part of the ambitious (perhaps otherwise overly ambitious?) Liverpool Waters redevelopment project.
There would be opposition to the idea throughout the North, there always is. But if it was framed in simple populist terms (Liverpool or London?) how many would vote to retain the status quo?
To paraphrase someone who people in the North once had a lot more time for, 2014 could be the year when the kaleidoscope is reshaken, with the pieces in flux soon to re-settle. Scottish independence would force a re-think and the possibility to re-order the world around us.