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Blogs Coffee House

Should London leave the union?

15 May 2014

4:07 PM

15 May 2014

4:07 PM

We’re four months away from Scotland’s day of destiny, with the London-Scottish media fraternity becoming increasingly alarmed, and ironically (considering their total unionism) far more noticeably Scottish. At the Telegraph Graeme Archer made a characteristically elegant appeal to Sir Malcolm Rikfind to step forward, and there would indeed be something touching and rather beautiful about the grandson of Jewish immigrants being the man who saves Britain. The film script would write itself, if someone were to make a film about the Scottish referendum (which I admit is pretty unlikely). Sir Malcolm’s son Hugo meanwhile seems to think that the end of a 300-year union that helped export liberal democracy and the rule of law around the world is somehow more important than who gets to run the Tories.

And what unites a fair proportion, if not all, of Scotland’s prominent English-based unionists is that they live in what is effect the Union’s fifth country – London, which is now more different from the rest of England than Scotland is.

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Neil O’Brien, formerly of Policy Exchange and now of the Treasury, wrote about London’s separateness for the Spectator a couple of years ago. On a range of cultural issues the capital has become an outlier in attitudes compared to the other eight regions, so that on social rather than economic matters it’s easier to talk of a London/England divide than a North/South one. Chief among these topics is immigration, which Londoners are very keen on and the rest of England is very much against. David Aaronovitch has written before on these two different countries, saying how he’d rather share one with lots of Mo Farahs rather than Nigel Farages. Good for him, and the many others who feel the same, but his vision sits so squarely at odds with how most English people feel it’s hard to see how it can be reconciled without bitterness.

So why not make London independent? It’s not as crazy an idea as we might think. Nation-states emerged partly as a form of mutual protection, but with greater collective security in the west and higher levels of free trade the downsides of regions going their own way are much reduced (in fact most of the world’s successful countries are small). And while logic would say that in the age of globalisation nationalism would be reduced because people are crossing borders and intermarrying, it could also mean that people are moving to parts of the world that suit them better, and therefore the differences between regions are becoming exaggerated. This has certainly happened in the US, where conservatives have been migrating to conservative areas and liberals to liberal ones for some time now. Scotland’s independence movement has less to do with an ancient ethnic nation than its more social democratic political identity, which they like to think is closer to Scandinavia than to the folk down south. That’s why the rising poll figures for the Tories are bad news for the No campaign.

And in England itself people on either side of the M25 have a vastly different vision of the country they want to belong to. I’m something of an anomaly, being a Londoner but one who would rather not see his city turned into a Bladerunner-like dystopia with South American-levels of inequality, which is what metropolitan liberals and liberal Conservatives seem to desire.

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