Tag Archives: Separatism

An Independent London? Disillusioned Londoners Are Thinking About Going It Alone

Britain’s impending departure from the European Union is leading to increasing calls for autonomy and self-government for its pro-EU capital, London.

Almost 60% of Londoners voted to remain in the EU in 2016’s Referendum, and the turmoil which has followed the Brexit vote has provoked some to call for the capital to go it alone.

Geoff Hinkley and Rizwan Syed are part of a fledgling organisation named Londependence, which aims to represent Londoners disillusioned with Westminster.

Mr Hinkley said: “Brexit has shown that London can’t trust England to make good decisions about a shared future. And without that trust, do we have a future together at all? Sometimes a relationship just isn’t salvageable and you have to walk away.”

A YouGov poll conducted just after the 2016 Referendum indicated that 11% of people wanted London to become a separate country.

A petition for London to join the EU as a separate country gained more than 180,000 signatures.

In 2017 Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy wrote in The Independent that London should become a city-state in the event of a ‘hard Brexit’.

The alienation between the country and the capital can also be felt on the ground.

Mr Syed, a former journalist and current web developed, said: “you hear people say it in coffeeshops ‘oh London, its like its own country.’”

Londependence are planning to launch a political party, which would aim to capitalise on this disillusionment and give Londoners an alternative vote. Its founders however remain realistic about their prospects.

Mr Hinkley added: “we are trying to build an idea that people will vote for an the only way to get more than a candidate’s name on a ballot paper is to have a political party.

“We don’t have any illusions about winning much just yet but it shows we know where we want to go.”

“We are a movement in its infancy. We’re not in a position to launch a broad appeal to public. Our immediate goal is just to be doing something that people who are interested in the idea of Londependence can get involved in – even if that something is not all that effective yet.”

The group seek greater autonomy and self government for the capital, which polls suggest is a relatively popular idea amongst Londoners.

YouGov’s July 2016 survey found that 23% of Londoners want a London Parliament, with devolved powers similar to Scotland’s.

“We want to be free to use our city’s own considerable talents to fix the problems that matter to Londoners. We are sick of London subsidising the rest of the country while Londoners are shouted down as metropolitan elites or foreign interlopers.” added Mr Hinkley.

While Brexit has been the catalyst for much of this dissatisfaction, the cultural, political, and ideological differences between London and England have in any case been widening in recent years.

London’s population is just under 60% white, compared to 86% for England and Wales.

Around 9% of England’s population are aged 25-34,  with that age group forming 24% of Inner London’s inhabitants.

The 2011 Census showed that 37% of London’s population was foreign born, the world’s second highest foreign born population after New York’s. This number falls to around 14% for the UK as a whole.

These differences are visible in UK politics. A look at a map of the 2017 General Election results shows London as an island of Labour-red amongst a sea of Conservative-blue.

Londoners envious of successful independent city state, Singapore, are now taking inspiration. How apt are the comparisons between the two cities?

Singapore and London bear some interesting similarities. Both are financial superpowers, have a multi-ethnic population, and carry tremendous soft power.

Singapore was incorporated into the Federation of Malaya, along with North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak, in 1963, to form Malaysia.

This was largely done on the premise of a customs union, which Singaporeans felt would boost their economy.

Malayan nationalists were however wary of Singapore and it’s ethnic Chinese majority, which they felt could upset the country’s ethnic and political balance.

It was feared that Chinese Singaporeans would harbour Communist sympathies, giving that movement a platform in Malaysia proper, and allowing for Beijing to influence Malaysian affairs.

This led Malaysia to unanimously vote Singapore out of the federation, effectively forcing independence on the city state.

Singapore today is a thriving financial superpower, and is viewed by many as a model for successful statecraft. Many in Malaysia sorely regret its expulsion.  

Parallels can be seen here with London’s relationship with England and the EU.

Like Singapore’s when compared to Malaysia, London’s population is vastly different ethnically to England’s in general.

Londoners fear significant damage to its economy should Britain leave the European Customs Union, just as failure to establish a customs union post-independence damaged Malaysia economically and hindered Singaporean/Malaysian relations.

Malaysia could not reconcile itself with Singapore’s assumed natural predisposition to left-leaning politics, and as Londoners shift increasingly left politically, this could be reflected by those in England who view those in the capital as ‘metropolitan elites’ and ‘foreign interlopers’.

It is no wonder that secessionists in the capital look to the Lion City as an example.

London however remains very much the English capital. Unlike many western countries, in which various cities serve important roles, London is England’s cultural, political, and financial centre.

While initiatives such as Northern Powerhouse fail to get off the ground, London continues to establish itself as the world’s pre-eminent ‘global city’.

An England without London is almost as hard to imagine as an independent London, and it is not easy to predict which of the two would be more successful.

While fledgling organisations like Londependence are embryonic at this stage, London’s power relative to the nation as a whole could see small movements like this one make a huge impact.   

Quit India: Sikh Separatism in Punjab

In February 2018 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India made headlines following an apparent snub from the Indian Government. The cold-shoulder shown by Modi and his ministers is understood to have stemmed from a long-standing belief that the Canadian Government sympathises with the Punjabi separatist movement. The ‘Khalistan’ movement, which sees significant support within the international and Canadian Sikh diaspora, is a simmering issue in India. While the widespread unrest of the 1980s has waned in recent years, its discussion within the international media may precipitate a reawakening. But what exactly is the Khalistan movement, how significant a part has it played in post-independence India, and what future do the separatists have?

Quick Facts Khalistan

India is a continent country made up of several diverse states, and is no stranger to separatism. Aside from the Pakistan/Indian split following the collapse of the British Raj, India has struggled to quell nationalist unrest in Kashmir, as well as independence movements in the remote regions of Assam and Tripura.  All of these have played a significant role in post-independence Indian politics, as has the Khalistan movement of Punjab, which seeks to form an independent Sikh nation within the north-western Indian state.

The Khalistan movement traces its origins to the Sikh dynasty of Ranjit Singh, which ruled over most of modern Punjab prior to British annexation in 1848. As British influence waned throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s calls for an independent Muslim state were closely mirrored within the Sikh community of Punjab, who feared isolation within two theocratic states. Sikhism is embedded in what are the now India-Pakistan borderlands, with Guru Nanak himself having been born in Nankana Sahin, within modern-day Pakistani Punjab. As such, Sikh nationalists envisioned a state encompassing much of what would become Indian Punjab, Pakistani Punjab, Lahore (once home to a thriving Sikh community), and Simla. Following negotiations with the Congress, the Khalistan movement dwindled in light of promises of extensive autonomy within an independent India. The fundamentalism of Islam to post-independence Pakistan prompted mass emigration and violence within Sikh communities, who fled centuries-old ancestral lands for hope of religious freedom in India.

The reality of existence as a religious minority within a state in which Hinduism was so central soon faced India’s Sikh population. Politically isolated due to formalities which rendered them a minority even within the state of Punjab, civil unrest boiled over in the 1950s following the declaration of Hindi as the main language of India. Thousands of demonstrators were arrested following peaceful protests. A lack of investment due to Punjab’s proximity to an aggressive Pakistan exacerbated Sikh opposition to Delhi’s rule. By 1983 militancy had spread throughout Sikh Punjab, and religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale occupied the Harmandir Sahib holy shrine in Amritsar, turning it into the headquarters of Sikh resistance. Thus followed Operation Blue Star, ordered by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, during which the holy shrine was besieged by an Indian force, the Sikh leaders killed along with hundreds more as part of a wider operation against Sikh nationalism in general. In retaliation, two Sikh bodyguards of Indira Gandhi assassinated the Prime minister in October 1984. This prompted anti-Sikh riots across much of India, with 3,000 killed in Delhi alone. The violence culminated in June 1985, when Sikh militant group Babbar Khalsa detonated a bomb aboard an Air India plane flying over the coast of Ireland. A bomb also detonated in Narita Airport, Japan, on the same night, believed to also have been planted by Babbar Khalsa. The incidents brought Sikh nationalism into the western media spotlight, where it became associated with terrorism. This hindered the movement, precipitating the reduction in activity that has existed for the following three decades.

Following the election of Modi, there was hope for greater Sikh reconciliation with the government in Delhi. A number of high-profile Sikh friends meant that the Prime Minister was initially seen in a positive light by many of those in Punjab. During a 2015 visit to the state Modi visited paid respects to those Sikhs murdered by the British at Amritsar and Husainiwala. He also visited Harmandir Sahib, holy Sikh shrine and scene of the much-maligned Operation Blue Star. Initially seen as reconciliatory initiatives, many are now growing restless with regards to Delhi’s refusal to acknowledge or apologise for what occurred in Punjab during the 1980s. Indira Gandhi’s policies are regarded as anti-Sikh aggression, while the riots following her assassination are viewed by some as a genocide facilitated and unpunished by the Indian government. Mr Trudeau’s visit was overshadowed by Indian grievances surrounding Canada’s perceived role in the Sikh insurgency, but the need for him to express his commitment to a united India to endear an accommodation from Modi may set alarm bells ringing in Punjab. For while many Indian Sikhs are committed to Indian unity, the widespread violence towards their communities within post-independence India remain a sore note. Modi’s failure to acknowledge this, even when the issue is brought once again to prominence in international media, can only serve to give weight to the Khalistan movement.