Don’t Brexit; Dethrone London

“Leavers” are correct, something is broken in the United Kingdom. Their anger was misdirected at the European Union.  London is the problem… 

The reality of a Brexit in 2016, has prompted speculation that Scotland may exit the UK to remain in the EU. Others countries may follow. Leaving the European Union (EU) could spell the end of the United Kingdom as we know it.

Despite understandable alarm, from a long term perspective Brexit is futile. The Brexit represents the United Kingdom’s last gasp for singularity because the it is unlikely to maintain a position of strength on its own for long.  An act to resist the EU therefore acts to progress a fully integrated, single currency European union. 

Here’s why.
To appreciate how Brexit morphs into Bre-entry, consider 2 fundamental principals of economic development.  First, consolidation of territories is the trend, one resembling an equity graph; there are ups, downs and an overall upward trend toward bigger size. Over centuries the size of powerful countries has steadily increased suggesting the global economy will mature into the fabled one world government if given the chance.  The UK may go it alone in the short term but long term trends suggest the UK’s global competitive advantage is inextricably linked with its neighbors and integrated economies. 

The above ties into the second principle, the urban organism always wins. Given time and survival, urbanization will overcome today’s inefficient policy squabbles and defy imagination because that is what it always does. Policies that hold urbanization down will be overcome in time and urbanization will spread evenly around the world. Satellite images make it evident the Earth is being colonized by a glowing “plant.”   

Given the above 2 long-term principles, the Brexit seems temporary.  Still, the level of discontent in the UK is noteworthy; an effort has been made to address something a majority of Britons believe is broken.  Mass anger, however misdirected, warrants inspection. 

Brexit Voting Geography. Leavers tended to be in England's north, those outside of London. Source:
Brexit Voting Geography. Leavers tended to be in England’s north, those outside of London. Source:

A survey of voter geography suggests so called “leavers”
concentrate in ares of England renown for poverty. At times their haggard appearance in news reports is jaw dropping. Perhaps leavers are right to push for change.  Unfortunately, leaver logic is flawed.  Their rage is misdirected at typical scapegoats like foreigners and immigrants. The root cause of English poverty isn’t the EU, which is too young to underlie deep seated  British inequalities. Instead, the root cause is English. It is London.

London’s dual status as political and economic capital is the fundamental, problematic ingredient.  Personified, duality enables London to become a dominant, negligent, narcissistic capital city with no oversight. The city’s ability as an effective manager of federal affairs is corrupted by some of the largest commercial markets in the world.  London needs oversight.

United Kingdom map.
United Kingdom map.

London is the mother of the United Kingdom (and English speaking world), an original seat of government and quite likely an unquestioned capital city.  Despite the city’s long reign, recent policy events (Scotland voting in/out, Brexit) suggest textbook symptoms of capital dominance* are reaching a boiling point in the UK, challenging its very existence. (*Search: urban primacy at  Short-Penet-Peralta, 2009).

If you don’t have time to study urban primacy, one important characteristic discovered by urban geographers about cities is that relatively large (dominant) cities should not be seats of government (capitals). Ample scientific research supports the notion that relatively small capital cities are better administrators of federal affairs.

The best capital is a small one.  Removing big city allure from the policy environment better enables policy makers to equitably distribute infrastructure across the territory.  Repeatedly the result of a small capital city is the rise of multiple large cities and superior economies of scale. Servant capitals invest in locations a dominant capital will overlook because dominant capitals like London believe they are the only locations capable of greatness. 

United Kingdom at night. The UK has several large cities, however London is by far the dominant and has been for centuries. This the status of federal and economic capital holds the UK back , it's the root cause of leavers' dissatisfaction
United Kingdom at night. The UK has several large cities, however London is by far the dominant and has been for centuries. This dual status as federal and economic capital holds the UK back and is the root cause of leavers’ dissatisfaction

Mind the status of cities. Observed from above it is clear the UK has other big cities.  London is a big city but the UK is a poor visual example of capital dominance compared to places like Russia, Thailand, Ireland, Argentina.  The UK’s multiple large cities mask quality of life and government service inequalities people on the ground are well versed in; London has unquestioned advantages and is by far the largest urban sprawl. 

The above said, the English need not take offense or rush to defend their country. Capital dominance is not an English phenomenon, it’s global. Cities in general are surprisingly human, they can be corrupted by power. Dominant capital cities are politically entitled, suppressive of competition and sadly the norm. Many of the world’s problems’ origins lie in the fact that most economies are ruled by enormous capital cities.

Misled, the worn people of the United Kingdom are right to take issue with something being wrong. Unfortunately their gripe is misdirected. If anything, the UK’s membership in the EU weakened London’s grasp.  The EU could have provided leavers a platform on which to remediate British inequalities.  

The good news is that capital city status is a malleable, simple law.  Still, it is hard to foresee this change.  If only leavers we made aware of the power of capital city status, they might coherently articulate their frustrations – London’s capital status is problematic.

In the future, perhaps London itself will acknowledge how its progeny have been strengthened by modest capitals (e.g. Canberra, Ottawa, Washington, Wellington) and abdicate in favor of a middle ground UK location.  Like the British monarchy, London may need to step aside to accommodate a modern age of government for stability’s sake.

The Brexit is scary but it’s a short term challenge to the EU. Long term, the consolidation of European nations will proceed with unprecedented scale. It’s not a question of if the UK will rejoin the EU.  It’s a question of when and under what circumstances?  

The urban organism always wins.