The Scotland debate is part of a story long in the making. It is a story that stitches together a string of moments from the Iraq War protests to the expenses scandal, from rising voter apathy to the growth of Ukip and from the TUC general secretary's speech being cut off by the royal baby announcement last week to the repeated cynical attacks on my own community. It is the story of Westminster becoming ever-more detached from Scotland, yes, but also from ordinary people everywhere. Whatever our view on the independence issue, it is hard not to shake our heads at the tawdry spectacle of armies of MPs decamping to Glasgow with desperate promises they seem to have made up on the train out of Euston. I would prefer not to comment on the issue of independence itself. Whilst there is much to value about the relationship between England and Scotland, the matter is a Scottish decision for Scottish people. But if the Scots choose to go their own way, it will have been a deal sealed by Westminster, not Holyrood.
A poll this week revealed that the mood of separation is not confined to areas north of the River Tweed- one in five Londoners would apparently favour independence. Is this sentiment because people are parochial and have no emotional attachments beyond their immediate backyard? Of course not. It is because politicians have consistently talked in the language of local control for local people, whilst centralising ever more power in the hands of elites. When the Thatcher administration talked about rolling back the frontiers of the state, it did so by stamping on what local democracy we had. The Greater London Authority was mercilessly shut down, councils forced to abide by neoliberal economics whether they liked it or not, and massed ranks of police ordered to Yorkshire on buses to stamp out dissent. That strategy of 'free' economy and strong central state set the tone for governments that followed (and incidentally was only possible through using Scottish oil revenues to shore up the failures of Thatcherite economics.) Whilst localism has been the watchword of the current administration, reality on the ground has been anything but. The rhetoric of freedom and local control used to defend academies has instead led to stealth privatisation and the erosion of community accountability. Whilst local government is told to be free, it is stripped of the funding to do anything meaningful, in a culture that encourages services to be hived off to large and distant contractors.
Scottish devolution has saved it from some of the worst regressive assaults of the last few years; NHS marketisation, tuition fees, and a section of austerity measures. We have not had that luxury. Back here in the heart of East London, we have had to fight tooth and nail to maintain vital services for our residents and absorb costs for the hardest hit. We have witnessed the Government target cuts at Labour local authorities whilst buying off their own heartlands. Westminster then has the gall to (baselessly) accuse our council of financial irregularities, and charge our residents into the hundreds of thousands for an audit it ordered just one day after passing legislation to transfer costs to local authorities. However there seems to be no investigation for the litany of controversial Tory authorities, including the one that seems to think it appropriate to tell residents trying to hold them to account on dodgy contracts for disabled services to 'shut up.' The level of cronyism written into the system seems sometimes intractable, and whether it's earnest Yes voters in Dundee or those being led astray by Ukip, we are seeing a considerable reaction against a central machine that often appears to hold us in contempt. In Scotland, the devo-max promise should not have been something pulled out of the back pocket at the last second after a shift in opinion polls, but on the table as part of a rational discussion from the beginning. We have been talking about localism for years. 'The time has come to disperse power in Britain more widely', said Cameron and Clegg in the 2010 coalition agreement. From Whitechapel to West Lothian, it's time they acted upon that sentiment.