I was particularly interested by two pieces of information published over the last week.
The first was the publication of GVA figures for the nations and regions of the UK. Although the headlines talked about Wales' economy growing faster than most of the rest of the UK, this needs to be set against the more disturbing undercurrent of an ever-widening gap between London and everywhere else. The figures themselves are here and I would like to show some graphs from the report to illustrate how bad things are. Click to enlarge them if required.
Figure 1 shows variations in GVA per head indexed against a UK average of 100. In 1997 the north east of England was poorest at 73.1 and London richest at 164.6 ... a spread of 91.5. In 2012 Wales was poorest at 72.3 and the London was again richest, but at 174.8 ... a spread of 102.5. Regional inequality in the UK has therefore risen by a huge 12% in only fifteen years.
There has been convergence in only three areas. In the north east and north west of England the index of GVA per head has improved; and in the south east of England (which was already above average) it has reduced ... which is actually a good thing in terms of reducing inequality.
Figure 6 shows the variation between the richest and poorest regions in each member state of the EU which is large enough to have regions. As we can see, the inequality in the UK is very much greater than anywhere else. By that standard, the UK is a failed state. It has allowed itself to become more economically imbalanced than any other member of the EU and, as Figure 1 shows, the inequality is increasing rather than decreasing.
As I see it, this is not a failure of government that could be put right by political parties adopting different policies. It is a structural failure that it is impossible to put right unless the UK is dismantled.
Figure 5 shows something slightly different. It is the gap between the richest and poorest areas of the regions and nations of the UK. With the exception of London the spread is probably not too dissimilar to most of the countries of Europe. But London itself has to be shown on a different scale.
One important thing to note is that, at £13,928 per head, the poorest part of London is roughly on a par with the poorest parts of other regions of the UK. This shows that the variation in wealth between different communities in the same city is just about as great as it is in the UK as a whole.
The second thing that I'd like to draw people's attention to is the publication of an Ipsos-MORI poll on Scottish independence for STV News. The full details are on this page, and this is the slide presentation from it.
Although the headline figure was a 3% increase in those intending to vote Yes, there was one point about the detail which I thought was particularly significant. The Yes/No percentages are broken down not only by the usual factors such as age, gender, location, socio-economic group and party voting intention, but also by a number of other factors, the most interesting of which is the deprivation of the area in which people live.
Areas of deprivation are broken down into quintiles, and these are the results for each from those who say they are certain to vote:
20% most deprived areas ... Yes 47% ... No 45%
Lower middle quintile ... Yes 41% ... No 48%
Middle quintile ... Yes 39% ... No 50%
Upper middle quintile ... Yes 23% ... No 65%
20% least deprived areas ... Yes 26% ... No 68%
Overall ... Yes 34% ... No 57%
I find the scale of this difference in voting intention quite astonishing. This is not a measure of the wealth of the region in which people live, but of the deprivation of the local communities in which they live. It distinguishes between those who live in, say, the posh suburbs on one side of a city and those who live on the run-down estates on the other side of the same city, using (I would guess) postcode data referenced against the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.
This isn't new news, for the graph in slide 11 shows that the difference has existed for some time. It has in fact been bigger than it is now, then reduced, but now seems to be increasing again.
Drawing these two pieces of information together, my point is this. The UK is the most unequal member state of the EU, and the inequality between rich and poor regions getting larger, rather than reducing. It is also a state which encourages wholesale population movement as the main way accessing relative wealth for the upwardly mobile—and, in the opposite direction, using poorer areas as a dumping ground for the less well-off—rather than taking positive steps to encourage the economic growth of poorer regions. And as well as regional inequalities, there is also vast inequality between rich and poor communities, even in the same cities.
It probably isn't a surprise to find that those who live in comfortably well-off areas will feel quite content with the way the UK works, and therefore won't be particularly inclined to want to change things by dismantling it.
But what of those who live in the more deprived areas? Historically, this has been addressed in voting patterns for political parties. The well-off always did, and still do, tend to vote Tory; the worse-off have always tended to vote for parties of the left. Yet now, there is hardly any difference between the policies of Labour, the LibDems and the Tories. Their packages are wrapped in paper of different colours, but the content of those packages is virtually identical. Remember that Labour were the party in power in Westminster for most of the 15 years between 1997 and 2012, when regional inequality rose by 12%. Yes, Labour are the party of rich areas like London getting richer while poor areas like Wales get relatively poorer.
In Scotland, a new way is opening up. Instead of voting for a political party in the hope that they will change the way the UK works, there is now the opportunity to let the increasingly dysfunctional UK go its own sweet way, and vote instead for Scotland to become an independent country that will not need to dance to the tune of London.
It seems clear from the polling evidence that people in the more deprived areas of Scotland are aware of this, and this would explain why a far greater percentage intend to vote Yes to independence in more deprived areas than in more well-off areas.
In my opinion, the lesson is twofold. First, that deprivation and inequality would seem to be one of the most fruitful grounds for the Yes campaign in Scotland to focus on between now and September next year. And second, that it would probably be the most fruitful ground for us to focus on if we want to increase support for independence for Wales.