Independence for Londonby Alexander on September 26th, 2014
I am British. Not English British. When I have lived in the UK, I have always lived in England. However I have never considered myself to be English. The very idea that I would describe myself as English feels very parochial, in fact the notion that I should see myself as English is very unsettling to me.
I remember the when my views on this formed. I was sat on my mum’s bed at the age of 8 or 9 in South Africa. My mother’s family were from Northern Ireland. They moved to Cape Town when mum was 3 years old and my mum had moved to the Mainland UK when she was in her twenties for work. In the 1980’s my family fell on hard times and we moved to South Africa because it was more affordable. I was an English boy who had, had to settle into a South African school. This was one of my first discussions of identity.
After patiently answering my questions my mother summed it up for me so that I wouldn’t need to worry. “Nobody has the right to tell you who you are or where you should live. You are human-being and you have as much right as anyone else to live where ever you want on the planet”. At my very core since that conversation, I have always believed that that has to be true. What right does anyone have to tell me where I should rest my head at night? And more to the point what right do I have to say to anyone else where they should live?
I can understand the point that if you have paid into the NHS for the whole of your life is it fair that some Johny come lately can “swan in” after paying nothing and get free medical care. Well, that is a problem, but it is a problem with the way the NHS is organized, for me that isn’t a reason why someone should be denied the right to come here and make a better life for themselves.
Britain is an archipelago, so here we have a concrete sense of what a country is. Our country basically ends at the point where your feet get wet. For most people that idea of the nation state is obviously more arbitrary. If you live in Stuttgart Germany you may not be overwhelmed by the appearance of Mega-Brothels. These are the result of Stuttgart’s population and the fact that it is just over an hour’s drive from the French boarder where the government takes a different view on the legality of prostitution. As a biologist I think it is an interesting example of an “edge effect”. If you are in the business of building a new brothel, you are going to want to put it near France: Reduced competition and more punters.
I am not saying that these boarders aren’t real. They can be very real. One of the funniest moments in the 2001 Johnny Depp Film Blow about a cocaine dealer, is when he is in court making a defense of smuggling Cannabis into the USA. (here) I don’t particularly think people are good or bad. I think the majority of us are capable of being highly compassionate and truly awful. No doubt we are all better off because every contract in the UK is backed up by her majesties armed forces. The primary advantage of presenting a passport at the border and paying taxes is that the police and the army have a monopoly on violence. As a result the rest of us can rub along ok.
As I have traveled around the world, one kind of place seems more real to me than anywhere else. These places are cities. Often when I discuss politics I find myself feeling weary and exasperated. Weather I am speaking to people on left or on the right I always seem to put my foot in it. All I want is for things to run well and for us not to degrade the planets resources, and for my descendants to know what a tiger and an elephant look like.
In a city there is no socialist or conservative way to clear the drains. It is also pretty easy to understand where a city starts and ends. If it is mostly trees and grass, you are either in a park, or you made it to the outside of the city. If you can see a statue of mostly naked blokes doing something odd and macho, like wrestling a snake, you are probably somewhere near the middle of the city.
What I love about London is its bubble effect, somehow in London there is no “other”. You meet people from everywhere with such regularity it is hard to feel that there is anyone who doesn’t have the right to be here. I think that is why UKIP doesn’t get much traction here. So for me greater autonomy for cities has to be the way forward. Philosophy thrives in the ambiguity of the nation state. In a city you can measure how fast the traffic is moving. The “politics” goes out, and the policies are center stage. If “London” the region where I live with 7million other people had the chance to go independent, I would jump at it.