ONE of the most potent nationalist themes during the 2014 referendum on independence was the extent to which a progressive and enlightened Scotland had become detached from a regressive England. Indeed it was this perception that persuaded around 35% of Labour supporters in Scotland to support the cause they had previously abjured.

They were now prepared reluctantly to back self-determination and to relinquish what had been an almost sacred adherence to the idea of the universal struggle of the workers against global inequality and unfettered capitalism. In this fight there could have been no room for the self-indulgent caprice of separatism, no matter how civic and inclusive it claimed to be.

The quickening grip of a powerful hard Right on the Conservative Government at Westminster and the lack of any apparent means of loosening it began to persuade Labour-supporting Unionists to consider anew the question of independence. As the referendum campaign unfolded curiosity soon turned into sympathy before hardening into tangible support. It was one of the main reasons why in the space of less than two years support for independence grew from around 28% to 45%; this and the sheer fecklessness of an unhinged Better Together campaign.

This theme of socially progressive Scotland versus hawkish, reactionary England didn’t really stand up to very close inspection, though. When I travelled down through the spine of England prior to the referendum I found working class communities who reviled Westminster’s detached elites as much as Scottish nationalists did. Many of them expressed affection for Scotland and sympathised with the desire to control its own destiny. These were the bonds of the universal Socialist struggle that united the working classes of each country.

Curiously, though, it was the vote from these English working class communities that proved to be the deciding factor in the decision to leave the European Union two years later. This has since been interpreted as a rage against those same Westminster elites rather than anything to do with resentment about Brussels. In the same way that the blue collar constituency in America’s rust belt was deemed to have delivered for Donald Trump as a protest against the supercilious Washington political classes so England’s disenfranchised had used the EU referendum to remind Westminster that they had a voice.

Yet this is also an unsatisfactory analysis. Many of these communities had been left marooned in the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s implacable policy of de-industrialisation and her dismantling of our manufacturing industries in favour of the financial sector. This strategy rested almost completely on her Right-to-Buy legislation which almost overnight provided a Klondyke for financial service providers. Her anti-trade union laws and generous pay increases for the police provided the muscle. Mrs Thatcher’s most diligent pupils, people like Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage used the EU referendum to play another confidence trick on the communities of England’s north-west and Midlands. “It wasn’t Margaret Thatcher who was to blame for your economic ills,” they said: “it was the EU all along and all those immigrants taking your jobs.” Many in these communities were softened into swallowing the lie.

It was an effective sleight of hand which concealed the opportunism of the hard Right that continues to lie at the heart of the Brexiteers’ philosophy. Not only did Brexit provide the means by which they could advance their political careers it also offered a golden and long-awaited opportunity to reverse workers’ rights and the power of the trade unions. Hadn’t the Tories’ biggest party donors been lobbying for this for decades?

Events this week on either side of the border have shown that the social and cultural aspirations that divide Holyrood and Westminster have widened. Prior to the 2014 referendum these were somewhat exaggerated now they are plainly visible. In the 17 months that have elapsed since Theresa May took office she has singularly refused to go against the grain of traditional Conservative philosophy which underpins all that this party does. Like each of her predecessors she has consistently granted tax benefits to the rich while making the poor pay, through a cuts-driven austerity programme, for the profligacy of the elites.

The attitudes and instincts underpinning this were present in the factors that led to the Grenfell Tower tragedy and its aftermath. The social engineering and profiteering required to make London pristine for the international money-laundering community inevitably led to tower-blocks like Grenfell and the sub-standard cladding that led to the agonising death of 71 poor people drawn from England’s marginalised communities. Six months on and even as Thursday’s memorial service at Westminster Cathedral was being conducted the tragedy was still unfolding.

Theresa May had promised to rehouse victims within a month. Yet after six months of prevarication, hesitancy and official incompetence more than 200 children will wake up to Christmas Day in a single hotel room. This just yards away from some of the most expensive – and empty – real estate in Europe. Little wonder that Mrs May was ushered away through a side entrance from the memorial service while Jeremy Corbyn tarried awhile to hug and comfort victims’ families. And before the start of the service another symbol of England’s distorted priorities: assorted members of the House of Windsor, owners of dozens of Britain’s grandest piles, being greeted by a priest before a line-up of church employees bowed and scraped before them.

At Holyrood there was a rebuke to all of that; a paradigm shift; a departure. It would be tempting to get dazzled by Thursday’s Scottish Government budget but what it signified was profoundly more important than the mere numbers involved. The sum of £164m is not by itself going to address our revenues deficit. Similarly, a person earning £150k a year is hardly going to miss £33 a week over the course of 12 months. But granting those in the lowest income bracket a little financial relief at the expense of the country’s highest earners is right and just. In this country of plenty it is the least that a socially progressive government can do. If this becomes the template for all of Scotland’s future budgets then we may just have a chance of beginning to govern for the many and not the few.

And those Labour voices saying it does not go far enough might carry more weight if they didn’t belong to a party which campaigned to remain part of a Union which has chosen to embed inequality and social injustice it its heart.