Hilton Dawson: Scotland's vote shows it is time for the North East to rise

Former Labour MP and North East devolution campaigner Hilton Dawson on what the region can learn from the Scottish referendum

YES Scotland supporters hold a rally in Buchanan Street Glasgow
YES Scotland supporters hold a rally in Buchanan Street Glasgow

Longshanks was here. In 1292,King Edward I, 6ft 2ins “Malleus Scottorium – the hammer of the Scots – spent a night in Woodhorn and another in Warkworth castle where, in what were turbulent borderlands, he’d enjoy the best 13th Century security and some comfort.

If only those old stones could speak, what a tale they might tell.

Records and genealogy were then a province of the rich; we know for instance that the Percy family, originating in Normandy, had only thus far made it to Yorkshire.

However, genetics might prove that some of us were here; 30 generations on it’s fascinating to think that there will be those among us who still carry traces, resemblances of those who watched a king going to war.

We would have been peasants, scratching a poor, hard living; cowering, subject to the depredations of the Scots and our ‘own’ barons and kings. It would have been sensible to keep out of Edward’s way. Three years later his massive army of 26,000 razed the then Scots town of Berwick upon Tweed to the ground, slaughtered its entire population of 11,000 men, women and children and effectively moved the border north to where it is today.

A few years ago, speaking at a meeting with a minister from the Scottish Government in Edinburgh Castle, I was able to joke about the vast array of swords displayed on the wall and reasonably trust that he wasn’t going to stick one in me.

Three hundred years on from the Act of Union, whatever happens in the Scottish Referendum on Thursday there will be no going back to the dreadful days of massacre and murder; even though most of the world’s wars still concern borders and the resources within them.

Votes are our best weapons. Whatever happens on Thursday is a matter for the Scottish people. However, we can all revel in the great historic spectacle of the Westminster politicians, the banks, the media quaking before people power.

Sensational headlines, ranting, promises and threats are powerless in the face of ordinary Scots people, actually of some ordinary Scots children, who are plainly determined to use their votes. They ‘have become the masters now’ and the only other person gaining any credit is Her Majesty the Queen, who wisely, properly, constitutionally, has utterly declined to become involved.

Even the Queen’s long reign has seen nothing like this; the levels of participation, enthusiasm, the quality of debate have been inspirational.

It is wonderful to see the serious, thoughtful attention of young people, 16 and 17 years old, voting for the first time. The news of those elders registering to vote who have never previously bothered makes me think that the polls are wrong and that we will be surprised at the majority for ‘yes’.

Who knows?

Whatever the result, Scotland will do well. Even those who urge ‘no’ want to see enhanced devolution, more control for the Scots people over taxes, over income, over services, over the big decisions of their lives. All the big parties claim that Scotland will be ‘better together’.

Yet no­ one urges a new deal for devolution on those who live one step from Scotland, whose employment, school, family ties take them across the border every day. No­ one offers anything more to our region of the North East.

While London has discovered Scotland, its decisions seem based on a belief that the North of England effectively ends at Leeds.

Perhaps our ancestors should have turned on Edward I when they had the chance

If we’d thrown in our lot with William Wallace and Robert the Bruce we might be enjoying £1bn extra public spending every year, the A1 would have been fixed long ago, we’d have free prescriptions and social care.

We’d all have a vote this Thursday and the young people taking part would have the prospect of free university education. We’d have real power up the road in Edinburgh instead of never being listened to in Westminster.

It’s no good blaming ancestors; we had our opportunity in 2004.

Of course it didn’t look like a great deal then but what might we have done with devolution over the past 10 years?

Do we envy the Scots for all their advantages, regret our lost referendum and reconcile ourselves to being the new powerless peasantry in a region where one million people didn’t vote in May’s elections? We can continue to lose many bright young people to the South East – or to Scotland.

Or we can learn:

From the Welsh who had one just as badly failed referendum on devolution and turned it around 18 years later.

From the Scots who refused to trust the Westminster parties with their half­baked quangos full of the same old faces and insisted on their democratic devolution.

Above all from the ordinary, decent people from places which value their culture, language, enterprise, independent spirit and identity.

We can even learn from wicked ‘Longshanks’ ­ if we get up off our knees and stand tall.

Scotland’s vote shows it’s time for the North East to rise.




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