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From Brexit to the break-up of Britain?
From Brexit to the break-up of Britain?

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4 Summary

Over the last week the focus has been on exploring some of the ways in which uneven development found an expression in the referendum vote by looking out through the lens of London to the rest of the UK. You have been introduced to the role that London and its wider city region play in shaping the UK’s economic geography, as well as in framing political debate. The idea that London’s position should be taken for granted as a necessary outcome of wider (global) forces has been questioned. As well as highlighting London’s role in the uneven development of the UK, the importance of recognising the significance of division and inequality within London was also stressed. The Remain vote in London was not simply a vote of those benefiting from its role as world city.

You should now be able to:

  • work confidently with the notion of uneven development, drawing on the experience of London within the UK to do so
  • understand that uneven development is not a one way process, recognising the significance of inequality within London, as well as between London, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the regions of England beyond the South East
  • identify how the complex patterns and processes of uneven development found expression in the referendum vote.

The weight of London and South East England at the heart of the UK’s political settlement is not a new phenomenon. But its particular contemporary form certainly is, because of the ways in which today’s London is linked into wider global circuits of finance and service industries. It is no longer at the centre of a global empire, even a declining and fading one, but is one node among others. It no longer has the central position of capital city of the UK as imperial state. Its repositioning is a response to living in a post-imperial, yet increasingly globalised, world. The networks that matter are international and even transnational, linked through financial transactions and complex patterns of trade.

In this new world London is sometimes understood to be in but no longer really of the UK (as the article by David Lammy implied). And that means that its centrality in UK-wide debates can no longer be assumed. As Ash Amin, Doreen Massey and Nigel Thrift (2003) suggest, the UK becomes decentred. And this process is reinforced by processes elsewhere in the UK because the end of empire has also had fundamental implications for its other cities. Many of them, including Glasgow and Belfast, were also once deeply embedded in the imperial project, supplying ships and heavy engineering (as well as people), but that is no longer an option. As a result, some of the political and economic glue that held together the UK in the context of empire is no longer able to do so.

Next week, the course turns to consider some of the effects of these shifts on the UK and its future as a multinational state.