It's so much better when everyone is in, are you in?
In spite of the fact that the Scottish ‘yes-vote’ officially lost the referendum and a quite convincing majority chose to stick with the United Kingdom after all, it was far from business-as-usual in Westminster the day after.
The leaders of the three largest parties in the United Kingdom David Cameron (Tories), Nick Clegg (LibDem) and Ed Miliband (Labour), aka “The Three Amigo’s” as they were scornfully called in Scotland, probably realized they had a very close escape Thursday.
They also discovered that there was a whole world within the United Kingdom that didn’t saw London as the centre of the universe. And that world had been screaming for attention…
Today, Mathijs Schiffers, the correspondent for the United Kingdom of Dutch financial / economic newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad wrote an excellent article about the aftermath of the Scottish referendum for independence. One of the most striking quotes in the article was this one:
The high attendance to the referendum is the achievement of Salmond. The former economist showed that the people in Westminster, the political centre of the United Kingdom, are totally clueless about what is going on outside the British capital. Only at the time when an opinion poll put the ‘yes’-camp in front, two weeks ago, London came into motion.
After reading this quote, I suddenly saw the striking resemblance between London, the British capital, and Moscow, the capital of Russia.
Both London and Moscow are the capitals of large countries with a vast, merely rural hinterland (albeit each on its own scale, of course) and very different levels of progress, economic and social development. On top of that, both cities earn an extraordinary large amount of the Gross Domestic Product for their respective countries and form the epitomy of wealth, luxury and blatant exuberance there.
London does so through its role of financial reserve-capital of the world, while Moscow is the narrow centre of the Russian commodities ‘hourglass’, where almost all the Russian money flows through.
And most important: both cities are genuine tinseltowns, which seem to have a bedazzling influence on the politicians who work there, seemingly making them forget their descent and the grassroots for whom they are working.
The skyscrapers, penthouses, theatres, luxurious restaurants and expensive shops of their capitals become their universe and not the hard-working, but often not very wealthy people, who these politicians are supposed to represent in their parliaments.
There is one big difference, however… Russians outside Moscow (or St-Petersburg) have very little confidence in themselves ever being able to attract the attention of the powers-that-be in their national capital.
They mostly live their lives with the meekness and fatalism of people, who know in reality that nothing is going to change … ever: there have been different singers over the years, but the song always ended the same.
These people also know that protests against the rulers will eventually end in violence and further suppression. When the pain and despair become too heavy, then they turn to their old friend ‘King Vodka’ and drink themselves out of the misery. Others try to escape from the rural country or the large, gloomy cities through a foreign boyfriend/girlfriend or through finding labour abroad. However, these are only exceptions, applicable to people with good looks or a good, sought-after education.
The people in the United Kingdom, however, never gave up their fight for attention. Especially in the era of Margaret Thatcher, they did so through massive strikes, riots and protests, which brought England almost on the brink of catastrophy.
And even in the 21st century a little spark is enough to start massive, violent riots or massive protests against the government in Westminster. Also pop music and popular culture (f.i. punk and new wave music) have always been powerful tools in the United Kingdom for people to utter themselves in protests against their situation and lift themselves out of obscurity.
Nevertheless, there are still big differences in income and wealth within the United Kingdom and during the crisis years these differences have rather increased than decreased. And – like the Russians - the Brittons have their own versions of problematic drinking and alcohol- or football-related violence. However, this was something that could always be easily detested or ignored by the leading British politicians in their London-based cocoon of luxury and wealth: annoying, but not at all dangerous for their position.
To this respect, you can say that the Scottish referendum has been a massive wake-up call for the central government in London. This referendum, which started so innocently for the British central government, suddenly threatened to turn into a nightmare.
The yes-voters seemed in the lead one weak ago and had a fair chance of winning the referendum, in spite of the ubiquitous fearmongering by the central British government and the large Scotland-based corporations.
Would these yes-voters have indeed won the referendum, then David Cameron would have been confronted with an exodus, leading to an untwining operation of epic proportions: not the British exodus out of the European Union, but the Scottish exodus out of the UK.
And the worst would have been, that this could have become a signal for other British nations within the UK (Wales, Northern Ireland and perhaps even England itself) to turn their back on London too. In that case the United Kingdom would have become a landless kingdom and London a capital without hinterland.
That was the reason that there sounded a lot of hope in Cameron’s speech, when he stated that the Scottish plan to leave the Union ‘was now settled for at least one generation’. Probably it is hope against better knowing.
The Scots got rewarded for their ‘close call’ referendum through a series of new commitments and privileges from Westminster, which will give them more freedom and independence from the central government in London.
However, the other nations within the UK will undoubtedly also demand their ‘slice of the pie’, when it comes to more independence, privileges and attention (!) from the government in London.
Consequently, it could very well be that “The Three Amigo’s” might have to ride again in an upcoming sequel, in their struggle to keep their whole country together.
Westminster will definitely realize that there is life outside London, as with the ‘referendum for independence’ the Scottish population have given the other Brittons a powerful weapon to draw the unconditional attention of the central British government: a weapon that will probably not become blunt in the next few years.
Of course, it would be grotesque to compare the situation in the United Kingdom with the situation in Russia and that is not the purpose of this article. It is, however, useful to look at the similarities between Moscow and London as centres of their own universe.