LONDON is a foreign country.

The idea is becoming central to the SNP's case for independence and there is no shortage of supporting evidence. Colleagues Ian Bell, Iain Macwhirter and David Torrance have already commented on last week's study by Professor David Bell, of Stirling University, which showed that London is the source of growing income inequality across the UK. And we'll hear lots more about London today when John Swinney and Alex Salmond unveil their latest paper on the economics of independence. It will criticise the "further concentration of investment and policy design in London and the South East" and highlight figures showing how well London is doing. At our expense, is Mr Swinney's message.

The SNP have long sought to emphasise differences between Scotland the rest of the UK and play down the similarities. "London" - the very word is spat out as curse by some Nationalist MSPs - has become a shorthand not just for economic but political and social differences North and South of the Border.

But what of Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle? They are at the heart of regions also trailing in London's wake (and doing rather less well than Scotland to boot). The Red Paper Collective of trade unionists, academics and a smattering of leftie Labour MSPs is about to publish a fascinating paper by Stephen Low, of Unison. In "We're different up here," he challenges the idea that Scots are so very different from their North of England neighbours in terms of their attitudes and beliefs. Tracing the findings of the British Social Attitudes Survey back to the mid-1980s in some cases, Mr Low finds remarkable similarities on a range of issues between Scotland, the North East of England, the North West and Yorkshire/Humberside. Do we believe, for example, that governments should redistribute wealth from the better off to the less well off? Should governments spend more on benefits for carers? Does business have too much power? On some issues the trends are uncomfortable for those on the Left. Over time, support for redistributive policies and sympathy for those on benefits has declined. Other changes in attitude are perhaps more encouraging, such as the growing sense that business is too powerful. However it's striking that views north and immediately south of the Border have shifted in concert over time. The evidence, as presented here, certainly doesn't support the view of some in the SNP that Scotland is a progressive land and England is not.

"So if 'we are different up here' does have any measure of truth," writes Mr Low, "then it is fairly clearly not the fifteen million who are our actual neighbours that we differ from. Which begs the question as to why effort must be made to separate ourselves from them, rather than making common cause with them against similar problems?"

He argues that independence would no more solve the economic problems of Scotland - caused, in his analysis, by the "political and economic power wielded by business and capital" - than it would tackle the self-same problems experienced on Merseyside and elsewhere. Solidarity with the Scousers might sum it up.