After Scotland: Is it time for London independence?


by Jim Jepps

“If the Scots want to show some solidarity with the people in England who feel trapped in a centralised state where cheap credit, privatisation and deregulation are the only solutions offered, they should vote yes to independence and set us all free.” Billy Bragg


Adam Ramsay pointed out that “In Scotland, and to a lesser extent in Wales and Northern Ireland, we have devolved legislatures to protect us from the worst of the excesses of the British state. Who is having their NHS privatised first? England. Who is hit hardest by the housing crisis? The English. Perhaps most dangerously of all, it’s England whose political debate is most smothered by Westminster’s stifling political consensus. And so who is it that is in most need of this consensus being disrupted? The English.”

When I hear people complain that if Scotland goes independent then they may suddenly find themselves living next door to ‘foreigners’ I can’t help thinking “What’s wrong with that? Do you have a problem with foreigners or something?”

Anyone who’s spent any amount of time in Scotland will know that, for better and worse, it’s not the same country as England. Well, what’s true for Scotland is certainly true for London. It’s another country. Culturally, economically, possibly even spiritually, it is apart from the rest of the United Kingdom. It’s only a historical accident that the lines on the map were drawn to include us with the English.

The incredible grassroots movement for independence has energised politics in Scotland. When people are discussing something that actually matters to them the political ‘apathy’ that’s meant to define our age suddenly melts away. I’m jealous and want a slice of that action down here.



Ken Livingstone, London’s King Arthur, has previously come out in favour of independence for London. He told the Evening Standard that “he will use “amazing charm and subtlety” to get New York-style independence for the capital. Mr Livingstone, 66, added: “I would actually declare independence and run the whole city. They can’t even run hospitals in London. Everything government does in London it gets wrong. If you look at the city of New York, the mayor runs the benefits system, some of the prisons even, and the healthcare and schools.”

This wasn’t a one off. He told Total Politics magazine in 2010 that he was in favor of “[T]otal independence for London. A Republic of London. If London was independent we would have more people than half the members of the UN do, we’d be able to use more of our wealth to provide better infrastructure and a better quality of life instead of pumping £20 bn more into the national economy than we get back.”


Is there a case for independence?

London is a glorious, migrant city. Its mixed communities and transitory population works so well because of open borders with the rest of the UK and Europe. London’s geographic communities are distinct parts of a vibrant metropolis, all given a unique character by the combination of their long histories and the flowing nature of their populations.

Whether those migrants are from other parts of London, from around Britain or from overseas we have a rich mix of peoples that is quite distinct in character from most of the rest of the UK.

London does not just have its own culture, but also has specific needs. There have been suggestions that our schools should teach a London curriculum, most of our transport is organised separately, and issues like housing and the financial sector need a specific London agenda.

Certainly most of the rest of the country is very aware that it is “not London”, so why not formalise that arrangement and the English capital can move back up to Coventry? If anything it might come as a blessed relief for the rest of the country if we went our own way. It’s not likely that we’d see organised photo calls of politicians begging London to “stay with us”.

Nothing should threaten the ability of those outside London to get work in or to move to this great city, but that does not mean we shouldn’t have some kind of “devo max” where health, education and taxation is brought closer to home so we can address critical problems like people being priced out of areas where they were born and bred. Where oligarchs buy housing as an investment and Londoners find themselves financially crippled under unsustainable rents.

No one else is going to address these serious issues for us.


Could we do it?

Of course greater independence would mean we’d have to be a little bit more self sufficient. Growing more of our own food, no more over-reliance on Scottish oil and a true government for London rather than the under-powered London Assembly.

So perhaps we should consider taking a leaf out of the historic movement in Scotland and make the case for London devolution. Over the last thirty or forty years local councils have been stripped of powers becoming little more than an administrative arm of national government. We should be putting the case to reverse that trend, returning powers to local councils so the people who live in an area get more of a say over how that area is run.

That case, for a modern, democratic city should also involve a real discussion of what kind of city we want – just as there’s been a debate about what kind of Scotland people want to see. How fair is our economy? How responsible is our financial industry? How happy are Londoners? What does a democracy look like in the twenty first century? What does a low carbon city look like?

Such an international hub needs to be able to set a distinct political and economic agenda and could do so much to promote a fairer and better world, and if that undermines our ability to bomb other nations… well, that’s something I can live with.