Why A Referendum On London Independence Might Actually Happen
The job opportunities are unrivaled anywhere else in Britain. The cultural and social amenities are of a world-class standard and the mass levels of diaspora in recent years has turned the capital into an effervescent hub brimming with diverse ethnicities, creeds, and cultures unlike anywhere else in Britain. But is that enough of an excuse for Londoners to shock the world ala Brexit-style and demand independence as a separate city-state?
Well, it's unlikely, but it's not inconceivable either. Just take the recent poll for Catalonian independence. Millions of pro-independence Catalonians are thought to have voted yes, despite the Spanish courts declaring it unconstitutional. Spain's prime minister Mariano Rajoy then set about upholding the letter of constitutional law.
But what ruffled feathers with locals and indeed the world was the brute force at which Spanish police quelled the unrest expressed by pro-independence voters. Not only did they stop many from voting, but they also lost their professional cool and reverted to hair-pulling, clubbing seniors with batons and pushing people with such force that nearly 800 people ended up in hospital.
Though even after those atrocities, convincing Rajoy and the Spanish royals to entertain the idea of Catalonian independence appears as fruitless as swaying pro-gun lobbying groups in Washington that anti-firearm attitudes are based on sound reason. Thus, Catalonia is likely to have the same stumbling blocks for years to come, but in London's case, the task might not be as thankless.
London is, after all, a thriving capital that only New York City could match concerning its commerce, and for that reason alone, London has a substantial amount of bargaining power. Indeed, should it wish to part ways with the rest of England and the other home nations, it wouldn't have to answer to other cities. The House of Commons is in the heart of London, and with no second city able to reign London in the way a Los Angeles could do with New York, the Big Smoke is- however offensive this may sound- in a league of its own.
Moreover, the recent Brexit referendum shed further light on the views of Londoners' compared to those in other parts of the country. 60% of Londoners voted to stay, compared with an overall remain percentage of 48%- 4% off the 52% of voters who opted to leave. In one London borough, 72% voted to remain, spurring 180,000 Londoners to petition London mayor Sadiq Khan to declare London an independent city-state in order to stay in the E.U.
There are also the economic figures. While Catalonia contributes to 19% of Spain's GDP, London's contribution to the British economy is a staggering 22% despite being home to only 12.5% of the population.
This makes London's economy the same size as Sweden's, so it's little surprise that voices within Westminster have raised the possibility of independence in the not-too-distant-future.
Peter John, the Labour Party leader of the London borough of Southwark admitted that independence would be a "legitimate question" following the capital's clear disappointment with the E.U. referendum outcome, while Kevin Doran, an analyst at KBL European Private Bankers, went one step further, believing that independence wasn't just a possibility, but an inevitability.
"Within 20 to 30 years' time... they [London] will hold a referendum on taking themselves out of the UK, and away they go," he said.
So is this a cause for concern for non-Londoners? Are British people fragmented in the way the Brexit vote might suggest? Do the continued calls for a second Scottish independence referendum suggest that London is now out of kilter with the more nationalist ideals displayed elsewhere?
Globalization is synonymous with a cosmopolitan city like London, whereas places in more rural areas and indeed, smaller towns or cities with higher unemployment rates appear keen to turn their backs on London's free-market policies to protect local industries and communities ravished by supply-side economics.
On the flipside, some will point to Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool being not too dissimilar to London regarding diversity, but by and large, London is an outlier in a country where the political and socioeconomic viewpoints of its 60m people continue to be less and less aligned.
But is independence feasible, let alone rational? And why would Londoners need independence in the first place? Spain is in the midst of one of the worst economic crises in decades, with jobs, particularly for young people, non-existent whereas Britain's youth unemployment levels are falling.
Most significantly of all, the issue in Catalonia is one of preserving a culture they feel is under threat from the powers that be in Madrid. And that's reflected in the region's wish to preserve the Catalonian language and never forget the indifference shown towards them during the reign of the notorious military dictator General Franco, who was a known hater of independence-minded Catalonia.
But Londoners don't have their own language. What the city does have is an unhealthy concentration of the UK's wealth
So no, London probably doesn't need to be a thriving city-state like Singapore. If anything, it should be looking into helping other areas of the country that are still suffering the effects from Margaret Thatcher's arriviste dismantlement of age-old industries in the North.
But as the national government has struggled to achieve this, maybe the answer lies across the pond. In New York City, a high level of autonomy is accomplished merely by allowing the mayor to operate independently from the nationally-elected government. Maybe then, Britain would have a greater incentive to improve the commerce of other cities if London was left more to its own devices.
Yet if the divide continues to grow, Londoners and non-Londoners alike might warm to the idea of the capital's independence, even if the thought is, in the words of FT journalist Brian Groom, "a fantasy."