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Boris Johnson: Midwife of Scottish Independence?

In his piece on the London mayoral election, Owen Jones surveys the battle ‘between an imperfect Labour candidate and the perfect embodiment of Britain’s booming elite’.


As a Scot living in Glasgow, the London mayoral election is not something close to my heart. That being said, I am familiar with London and find multiple excuses to visit the city each year.

There are many civic qualities on display in London. Diversity seems to be celebrated. As a white South Sider I love the exotic street sign script of the Brick Lane area and it is a complaint of mine that Glasgow officialdom does not recognise Pollokshields in comparable fashion. I am an atheist who wants to hear calls to prayer from the Shields mosques.

Whilst expensive, London is also better co-ordinated than other UK cities. Public transport in Glasgow is undermined by the de facto monopoly of First Bus. Sure there are alternatives but the lack of a co-ordinated payment system, like Oyster, stunts competition fairness. Compounding this, the underground in Glasgow is a mere hyperlink between the city centre and the West End. I remember, on a visit to Washington DC, being stunned when reading about the subway design there. In DC the subway is, in aesthetic terms, a tour de force. You descend from street level not into the claustrophobic heat of a subterranean rat race, but instead the ceilings are vaulted over cavernous expanse – there is even a strange and impossible suggestion of daylight. However, the other stunning design aspect was the lack of link between the city and the wealthy Georgetown district. This design decision was to publicly mitigate access of black working class traffic to Georgetown. The Glasgow system is much older but, in 2012, metropolitan subway mobility is a preserve of la gauche caviar in Hillhead. That being said, with fortnightly frequency we are treated to the spectacular juxtaposition of the poetry anthology laden Hillhead postgraduate sharing a subway carriage with Rangers supporters performing the ‘bouncy bouncy’.

Back to London. After thinking more about Owen Jones’ piece I came to the conclusion that Londoners do not have so much to complain about. Their city is well serviced. It is a test bed for good ideas and the priority for public spending. Whether you consider public spending or private philanthropy, London receives disproportionate sponsorship in all areas – arts, transport, you name it.

Moreover, Jones’ complaint is not a London one. His complaint reaches into the fundamentals of left and right and the media relationships in that orbit. Mr Right is upfront about greed and can hardly be called a hypocrite for putting self-interest first. Mr Left is less self-interested, is pro-equality, and generally cares for the condition of society’s weakest members but, under the right-wing microscope, a speckle of impropriety is found and he is suitably denounced. On balance, Mr Left is still the better candidate, but hypocrisy is viewed more dimly than a passion for greed and intolerance of others.

Part of Johnson’s mayoral election campaign is that London should receive more from the UK public purse (see the Financial Times’ report for a laugh/cry). To his mind London is hard done by and fed up subsidising the rest of the UK. This is typically naïve stuff from a man who knows all the fruits of the private sector but none of the toil.

I will use the company I work for as an example to expand on Johnson’s naivety. For fear of unemployment, the company name will not be used. I work for an engineering company which carries out projects globally – I am writing from Equatorial Guinea. The technical skills that constitute this company, and the consequent profits, come largely from Scotland and Norway. You would be mad to deny that these internationally marketable skills were developed through project experiences and innovation in the North Sea since the 1970’s. Yet, the ‘corporate’ headquarters are in Hammersmith. In fact, all the commercial giants of the North Sea (operators and service companies) have a presence in London and list on the London Stock Exchange. Is this the wealth Londoners are missing out on?

There are two central flaws in the Johnson economic argument. Firstly, London acts as a funnel and to a large extent the ultimate vessel, in its economic relationship with the rest of the UK. The wealth is often not created or earned there. The City is merely a final destination. Secondly, much of what is perceived as ‘made’ in London is not made at all. The primary London industry is not industry. Nothingness, with cyclical nonsense, is produced, bought, and sold under the banner of Finance. After 2008 we are acutely aware of the tangible consequences of an industry built from trading fictions. Have we not paid enough for this already? Not according to Johnson.

The UK is unusual in this respect. In so many other countries the relationship between where wealth is created and where it is squandered is clearly understood. Stavanger is never undervalued in Oslo. In Ecuador they have a saying: the money is made in Guayaquil and spent in Quito. In the UK we are duped by Johnson and his millionaire cronies. And, as a journalist of socialist values, perhaps it was a dereliction of duty that Owen Jones did not cover this aspect instead.

I may not sound like it, but I am happy Boris wishes to bring up this economic argument.

I suppose he needs to campaign on something solid – Barclays bikes and the likeable clown-toff strategies of yesteryear will probably not withstand another election. In amongst his economic campaign he is indirectly reigniting the question of Scottish Independence and provincial economic inequality at a time when Cameron has done all he can to distance the question of Independence from economics.

Cameron’s engagement with the Scotland question thus far has been to fabricate a sentimental vision of ‘The Union’. Cameron did not want to be drawn on the matter of Scotland’s wealth generation in Union or independence contexts. The measure of Cameron’s irrelevance to the Scottish people is that he believes he has something to sell – he believes there is a Union product that the Scottish people will buy.

In a stateless nation where Tory inflicted wounds are being reopened with every new cut, Cameron’s ‘we are stronger together’ product is a gambit of desperation. The Scots who have witnessed those streets leading off Hyde Park know all too well where the money is going. With nasty court jesters like Boris Johnson campaigning for even more of our money in an election only Londoners can vote in, has there ever been a better time to hold an Independence referendum?

Comments (8)

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  1. Dave Coull says:

    Yes the diversity of London is something to celebrate. The city draws in people from all over the UK, and from much, much further afield. When I was a Londoner, I belonged to the MAJORITY of Londoners, the ones who weren’t born there. I certainly don’t blame anybody for migrating to London. After all, I did it myself. HOWEVER, the REASONS for London’s diversity are far less worthy of celebration. Yet Boris the clown thinks London is hard done by and he is fed up subsidizing the rest of the UK?

    Some towns got big because they produced something. For instance, Bradford’s textile mills, Stoke-on-Trent’s potteries, Birmingham’s engineering workshops, Sheffield’s fine quality steel products, Glasgow’s shipbuilding, and so on. London got big because the king was there. So all the king’s hangers-on and all the folk who provided services for the king’s hangers-on were there. By the beginning of modern times London was already big. The formation of the United Kingdom made it even bigger. Precisely BECAUSE it was the centre of government, and the capital of the most highly centralised state in all of Europe, it became also the “centre” of the biggest free trade area in all of Europe. The growth of the British Empire made it also the centre of government of the biggest empire on Earth. Even after the Empire became the Commonwealth, London remained the centre of the Sterling area. The centre of the world empire remained a centre of world business out of sheer force of habit, because businessmen for the most part lack the imagination to do things differently. London remained a centre of world banking, a centre for the offices of multi-national companies, and all of this happened because, to begin with, the king was there. So the government was there. So all the companies who wanted to get contracts from the government were there. This process is continuing to this very day. Many, many billions of pounds of OUR money is being spent on glorifying London still further for the Olympics. Of course they will try to tell you it is for the benefit of all of us, but the truth is, the Olympics are for the benefit of London. I lived in London for over twelve years, working as a bricklayer. That’s a useful job, you might think. But what was I building? Sometimes it was office blocks for the millions of pen-pushing bureaucrats. Sometimes it was houses for the millions of pen-pushing bureaucrats. Sometimes it was houses for the people who provided services for the millions of pen-pushing bureaucrats. Hardly anybody at all in London actually PRODUCES anything at all. They are all there because the government is there. The entire mega city is just one great big pile of bureaucracy.

    1. Ray Bell says:

      “London got big because the king was there. So all the king’s hangers-on and all the folk who provided services for the king’s hangers-on were there.” – I agree that that’s partly the case, but London is also big because it was the major port of south east England. It was close enough to the continent to trade with it, but unlike Dover, it wasn’t within striking distance of France or Holland. So London’s main industry was import-export. In general I agree with you, but it’s worth pointing this out.

      ” the truth is, the Olympics are for the benefit of London.”

      Again, mostly agree with you, but I doubt many Londoners will benefit from it. Anymore than many Glaswegians are going to benefit from the Commonwealth games.

  2. John Souter says:

    The UK has a tape worm economy.

    London is the worm and Westminster the gut that syphon’s the food to it.

    1. Ray Bell says:

      I always thought East Anglia looked like a bum, and the West Country the leg.

  3. Much of what you say centres around the fact that the British Establishment are “as one” in their opposition to Scottish self determination”. But who are this British Establishment?  

    Only when one understands this correctly dose (a) the situation make sense – and by this I mean all the various UK wide unreconciled threads knit together and (b) the map of how to move forward because clear.

    The distorted history of Great Britain can be perfectly understood when one sees things as they really are.

    1. The “City State of Westminster”, it’s institutions and elite Rule Britannia. 

    2. All the evidence points to the fact that the First Colony of Great Britain was in fact England and not Scotland. Scotland was the second addition. As such, first in last out, England will be the last to gain its independence – and therefore find and reclaim its national identity. 

    3. The fact unknown to the vast majority of English people is that Westminster’s colonisation of a British Empire started with the colonisation of England. This was followed by the ongoing eradication of the English identity and the transposition and promotion of “Britishness”. Britishness “the great illusion” created by a ruling City Elite and Treasury solely for the benefit of that unelected City Elite.
    In England the Magna Carta was primarily founded to curtail of the monarchs’ powers in favour of the barons and was an attempt by the barons to protect and enshrine their property rights against seizure by the crown.  To the feudal barons across England, people – the peasantry – were also property and the ruling elite needed a centre of power for their dictatorship 

    England’s’ law is fundamentally property based.  England’s people were historically ‘subjects’. The “City of Westminster” (not London or the South East) became the central  institution of control and administration of a diminishing aristocracy and expanding landed gentry. This  club held sway until  the end of WW2 when the colonial elite were partially displaced by the US in the form of dominant Wall Street bankers who in less than 50 years have contaminated beyond repair the City of Westminster’s Treasury. 

    Think a deliberate policy of institutionalised American debt and toxic derivative culture with UK National debt now reaching £1,007 billion – and we owe this Money to who? Throw in some UK corporate HQ’s and you have all the ingredients of disaster capitalism in the one club/ place 

    So in this now completely naked and transparent scenario England and Englanders are simply a compliant and colonised race of British pawns in England’s green and disenfranchised (US foreign and economic policy lead) land. 

    Parliament is subservient to the City of Westminster Tresuary and it’s Manderins – Parliment, is sovereign over the English people and the monarchy is subservient to parliament.  In effect the English electorate gets a couple of meaningless votes every decade to choose “Westminster’s next Patsy Party”.  Meaningless elections to choose the latest scapegoat and next face of electoral officialdom. What happens in between these schmuck elections is that voters have no voice. Illegal wars in Iraq, a vote on the Lisbon treaty, Massive expansion of national debt, Banking crisis, MP’s expenses scandal, phone hacking/ police bribery and now media/political/police inter benevolence, corruption and cronyism. A constructive national response? No! Just refurbish most of London’s infrastructure under the name of the 2012 Olympic’s and the compliant and colonised essence of Britishness in England’s disenfranchised land pay up and wander on.

    In the last 70 years, as the remnants of the empire have dissipated and the resources of the Tresuary been squandered –  it has been increasingly evident that the  Mother of Parliaments has quietly transposed itself into the Mother of UK Dictatorships. It is easily argued that on the old colonial level she was always a dictatorship. But in 2012 striped and devoid of any international respectability (post G Brown) the UK is observed by the wider international community in mocking disbelief simply because we are broke. Even east European’s mock the feeble pitiful  British /English for their post colonial  unsubstantiated arrogance

    In  essence , is Boris Johnston not just the current mouth piece of the GB neocon institutions? And if so, is he not just totally on message!

  4. Richard Elins says:

    Eight hundred years of context no less – thanks for the comment.

    In terms of the article, in the crosshairs I had Johnson’s economic approach to re-election with a backdrop of Cameron’s emotional interpretation of Unionist ‘values’ and the overarching turmoil of financial fictions (speculating loss etc.). This, I imagine, indentifies Boris as being, both at once, out of touch with his own party and the wider electorate.

    I agree, to an extent, with a dehumanised machine-like portrayal of Westminster as being, say, Achebe’s Heart of Darkness, but I struggle with the linear historicism. I am a card carrying Greenblatt wanker though.

  5. The only point about the 800 years is simply to explain the extraordinary basis and institutional relationships of our ruling elite. These power structures remain virtually unchanged. The problem we in Scotland face is these British state’s entrenched power structures. As said elsewhere,  once the people of England start asking the questions we have been asking for decades, the crumbling begins”. 

    This I’d argue is where independence minded activists should galvanise and focus their intention – exposing the deceitfulness and dictatorship of British state entrenched institutions and power structures. That’s the work,  while avoiding the various “main steam” divide and conquer traps along the way. We don’t yet have that intention or focus in the independence debate . But it strikes me that exposing the economic corruption embedded in these state entrenched institutions and power structures will provided all the content needed to turn the crumbling into a collapse.    

    The wider unintended consequences (and opportunities for proper institutional investigative exposure) created by the recent events at a pro British Scottish football club illustrate what I mean and what happens when focus (a blogger about a tax case) creates the crumbling and the crumbling turns into a collapse. The real/only story in this sorry tail is the role of the compliant  institutions and power structures – MSM included. And finding out what a card carrying Greenblatt wanker actually is would be a waste of both our times. 

    1. Richard Elins says:

      there is many a benefit to be found in the work of Stephen Greenblatt – check him out

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