First, Scotland. At the core of the momentous debate that has seized that country is a justified resentment of how much power has been amassed by the distant UK capital. Alex Salmond recently spoke of London as the “dark star of the economy, inexorably sucking in resources, people and energy”; the influential Jimmy Reid Foundation’s Common Weal project contrasts many Scots’ ingrained belief in an essentially social-democratic society with what it calls “London orthodoxy”.
And then there is Ukip – an anti-metropolitan revolt rooted in parts of southern and eastern England that often feel peripheral relative to London. Such divides are always favourable to the populism of the right, as evidenced by Paris’s place in the demonology of the 1950s’ French Poujadistes, and the latter-day National Front. Here, although he was educated in Dulwich and cut his teeth in the City, what is Nigel Farage’s entire act if not a huge raspberry blown at the values and privileges of the more elevated parts of the capital, and most loudly heard from counties such as Sussex, Kent, Norfolk, Hampshire and Lincolnshire? Plenty of numbers suggest that people there are right to be angry. In Ukip’s heartland of the east of England, for instance, people talk endlessly about the state of the roads and railways and how difficult it is to get around. At the last count annual transport spending there was put at £30 per head; in London it was £2,600.
I’ve always wondered if Cameron refused to discuss devo-max with the SNP because it would, inevitably, have forced a re-assessment of England’s political structure and would have lead to a counter-balancing of London’s influence.