We Asked an Expert How London Could Gain Independence from the UK
Declaring independence is all the rage in international politics. Recently, Venice voted overwhelmingly in favor of becoming an independent city-state, while over in the UK, the Scots are debating whether to consign the Union Jack to the dust bin of history. And ever since the whole Crimea incident, rumors have been flying around that Taiwan will formally attempt to declare independence from China, and that Misrata will attempt to do the same in Libya.
What if the next big independence movement happened closer to, say, Britain’s capital? With a booming population and established trading links with the rest of the world, could London’s people go to it alone?
It’s an idea that’s been mooted a few times, not least by former Mayor Ken Livingstone. When asked what he wanted for London during the 2012 elections, he claimed he wanted a “Republic of London,” and that the city could be improved if other areas of the UK weren’t so busy sucking all the blood out of it. According to Ken, London generates £10–£20 billion (about $15–$30 billion) more in tax for the UK than it receives in public expenditure, making it the cashcow of the UK’s feckless regions.
How feasible would London’s independence claim be? After convincing him this wasn’t a joke, I spoke to Dr. James Ker-Lindsay, a senior research fellow at the London School of Economics who specializes in secession movements.
VICE: Hi, James. What would London have to do to prepare a claim to independence?
James Ker-Lindsay: First of all, if it were to have any hope of success—by which I mean it would receive widespread international support—a formal process would have to be agreed. With Scotland, for example, there’s an agreed process by which it must prepare its independence claim, which will have been negotiated through democratic and legal processes. With London, the same would have to happen.
What are those processes?
It would have to start with a referendum. The wish for independence would have to be expressed. To do this, the central government is usually expected to agree to such a vote; it could take place without permission, but it would have no real effect and would probably just be ignored. In the case of London, this seems a very unlikely prospect. Unlike Scotland or Wales, which have their own historical character, London’s always been an integral part of England. Moreover, considering how interwoven London is with the rest of England, and its wealth, it just seems difficult to see how any government would ever agree to such a vote.
London Is Turning Into a Depressing and Dumb City of Living Stock Images
Every city has its visual cliches. The stereotypes, falsehoods and cheery slices of xenophobia sold to us on cheap postcards and in crap films that reduce the world’s great cities to a handful of worn out cultural cues. If you’ve never been to Paris, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all girls who look like Charlotte Gainsbourg skipping along the Seine in Breton tops, doling out filter-less cigs to homeless accordion players. When in actual fact, it’s more like a bunch of exchange students laughing at dachshunds and dudes who are still bang into Justice plying rich schoolgirls with shit MDMA.
For New York, the cliches are motor-mouthed cabbies and kids fucking around with water hydrants. For Barcelona, it’s psytrance beachbums and animal cruelty on La Rambla. Tokyo? Weird fish, games machines and businessmen throwing themselves in front of bullet trains.
But what about London? Pearly Kings and Queens? Pie and mash? Foxtons Minis tearing down Brixton High Street, on fire? Rita Ora?
So I decided to pull back for a moment, and consult Getty Images’ wide range of London stock photos. What do they see when they look at the UK’s capital?
"London City Hall"
The vast majority of the London stock photos on Getty are scenic wide shots of the city’s skyline, usually taken at sunset and very rarely from anywhere east of Tower Bridge. Of course, this makes perfect sense. If you’re a journalist writing something about London’s chronic housing crisis, or a body in the Thames river, or Millwall’s terrible run under Ian Holloway, you probably want to illustrate your copy with a picture of the Shard and a few anonymous riverside yuppie-farms when the sun’s going down.
From the outset, it’s clear that this is the London that Getty are most interested in selling to their customers, the London with all the big glass buildings and shimmering water, the one that girl from your school has as her Facebook cover photo, the one on the opening titles to The Apprentice. Not the one where there’s three Paddy Powers on a single high street, or the one of food banks, pigeons cannibalizing fried chicken bones and crack squirrels.
But this one, the nice one by the river with the big buildings.
"Couple Having Coffee At Sidewalk Cafe"
The people in Getty’s pictures are predominantly happy young heterosexual couples who drink coffee, take selfies, and love life and London. And that’s fine. It’s not like they’re going to embark upon an investigative social project about co-dependent heroin addicts crying and vomiting in each other’s arms, or abandoned widows lying catatonic in single bedrooms in Catford.
The Fake Town Where London Cops Train for Riots
The place is much like a film set—many of the peripheral buildings are just facades, while those at the “city center” are a lot more developed in order to give the trainees more varied terrain.
The ‘Women Eating On the Tube Protest’ Was Weird
There’s recently been some media coverage and a lot of hoo-ha surrounding a Facebook page set up to gather pictures of women eating on the London Underground. Before it was removed from Facebook, the group—titled “Women Eating On the Tube”—provided an outlet for camera-wielding voyeurs to take a break from sneaking up-skirts and instead indulge in a far more manageable, less arrest-able form of creepiness.
The page’s founder is “filmmaker and artist” Tony Burke. He claims that taking candid iPhone shots of women mid-chew is “an observational study” and “reportage photography,” as opposed to a bunch of assholes embarrassing busy people for indulging their basic human need to feed themselves.
The page was taken down last Friday. On the day of its demise, Burke visited the Radio 4 studios to sit down with pissed-off student Lucy Brisbane McKay, who had announced a protest on the Circle line against the page, “Women Eating Wherever the Fuck They Want.” McKay was correct in what she said: The policing of women’s behavior in this way is unacceptable, weird, degrading, and pretty embarrassing for Burke. But McKay said she wanted it to be a “celebration of women eating.”
“I was told to help the gang beat them up and [steal] their stuff,” he says. The gang shouted “fucking homo cunts” as they laid into the couple. Ty tears up as he tells me how ashamed he was, so much so that he couldn’t look at himself in the mirror for more than a week. “If I saw them again, I’d want to apologize—I did it because I was scared, probably because that could have happened to me. It could still happen to me.”
—We spoke to a closeted London gang member who has hidden his sexuality by sleeping with women and beating up gay men
If you feel like London’s full of lonely men doing cocaine off of Drake CDs, you’re not wrong.