Legalisation of cannabis and referendums on ditching the Queen and scrapping the pound are among the manifesto plans of the newly formed Northern Independence Party that is fighting the Hartlepool by-election.
The draft programme of the NIP, which is a “democratic socialist” party that wants to repeat the SNP’s success in replacing Labour, calls for the public to be given a say over the currency and the monarchy alongside a raft of proposals to create a country of “Northumbria”.
The new state – which would include the north-west, north-east, Yorkshire and Humber, and Cheshire – would accept Brexit for now.
But the draft manifesto adds: “If however the people of a free North want to rejoin the EU at some point in the distant future, then that is a decision for the people.”
The NIP hopes to capitalise on discontent with Keir Starmer’s leadership by backing Thelma Walker, a former Labour MP and strong Jeremy Corbyn supporter, as a candidate in the Hartlepool by-election on May 6.
A draft “mini manifesto” for the local elections, which has been sent to members of the party for consultation but is not yet public, has been passed to HuffPost UK. A final version is expected to be ratified next week.
The mini-manifesto includes a wide range of policies including giving NHS nurses a 15% pay rise and all council workers a “real living wage” of £9.50 an hour.
Among the eclectic proposals are “an increase in the penalties for sheep worrying” to protect farmers, a lowering of the state pension age and council-run e-bike rental schemes.
Referendums of “the people of the free North” would be central to the new state, with the removal of the Queen as head of state and the creation of a new currency among the options.
“Many people in the North love the royal family, and it is not for us as a party to decide this,” the manifesto states.
“If enough people in a free North want to keep the Queen as head of state, as she is in many commonwealth countries, then she will be asked to be. If the majority of people want to be a republic, then we will be.”
It takes a similar view on whether to keep sterling. “We don’t know what the relationship between the pound, the euro, and other currencies will look like when we gain independence.
“There are important factors to consider on all sides – while introducing a new currency has costs, and would be disruptive, it could also make it easier to invest in rebuilding our hollowed-out industries, and make our exports more competitive on international markets.”
On drugs, the NIP states: “We believe that cannabis should be legalised, as it has across much of the US and Canada, and will favour harm reduction approaches to other illegal drugs.”
The manifesto also calls for privatised energy and water companies to be brought under public control locally, for more pilots of a universal basic income system and for stronger trans rights, including the legalisation to protect trans teenagers’ access to puberty blockers.
It proposes public libraries should be brought back under council or community ownership, and vows to “support local independent newspapers and journalism by writing for them, taking out adverts, and providing grants to new organisations”.
The NIP recognises that while independence is its ultimate goal, its candidates will in the short term have to “fight the system from within” by backing policies at council and Westminster level that would shift the UK in a more socialist direction.
Since its launch last year, the party has tried to use humour in its online media presence to boost its profile, recently defending the use of a whippet on its logo as a satire on perceptions of the north.
The NIP’s membership has soared since Walker was announced as its candidate for Hartlepool earlier this week, going up from 300 to 1300.
NIP co-funder Philip Proudfoot told HuffPost UK: ”A new state, in order to have buy-in and legitimacy would require lots of referendums, that direct democracy element is foundational to the project.
“If it comes to questions like ‘do you keep the monarchy?’, there’s an ongoing debate within an NIP whether we just put it in as a policy, and then if people vote for us that’s what they’re getting – or whether or not it would be a referendum to be decided.”
Proudfoot said that the party was made up of “ordinary people” ranging from farmers – who want tougher penalties to protect their sheep – to mental health nurses, from teachers to the unemployed worried about Universal Credit.
Members are being asked for feedback on the draft manifesto ahead of a special meeting expected next week. “We’re trying to be hyper, hyper democratic,” Proudfoot said.
Referring to the cannabis policy, he added: “Our main target is of course, young, socially liberal, left-wing people living in our towns and cities in the north. What do they want? Legalisation of cannabis. It’s pretty standard now across the world, isn’t it?
“The people of Hartlepool do deserve to have a left-wing candidate. In terms of what will be our national policies, it’s kind of inspired by 2017 Labour, because that’s when the Labour party increased its vote share in the north.”
Here is a copy of the draft mini-manifesto – known as a “minifesto” – in full: