During the English revolution, before they chopped off the King’s head, a group of utopian populists emerged calling themselves The Levellers. Actually, they didn’t want a great deal of economic levelling, as we would understand it . They mainly advocated democracy (for property owning males) religious freedom and regular elections.

So it is perhaps not surprising that Boris Johnson, an Etonian Tory, has dedicated his government to “levelling up”. It sounds radical, but really isn’t.

Mr Johnson’s plans, such as they are, have been criticised as “vacuous sloganising” by his former chief adviser, Dom Cummings. Think tanks like IPPR North and The Resolution Foundation are unimpressed. The latter’s director, Torsten Bell, said that the PM’s plans to axe the £20 uplift to Universal Credit will mean levelling down not up.

Yet, the question posed by Boris Johnson is an important one : “Why does a Glaswegian live ten years less than a person living in somewhere like Rutland in the East Midlands?” The answer isn’t as simple as it might sound.

Labour insists that the problem of geographical inequality, if it is about anything, is simply about government spending. Just send more money in benefits, local government jobs and regional grants and all will be well. But the government already spends more in Scotland, a lot more, despite what Nicola Sturgeon may suggest. Scots get 30% more per head in spending on services than in England, according to the latest figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. This hasn’t stopped Glaswegians pegging it before their time.

The Barnett Formula is much-maligned, and for good reasons: it tells us little about the viability of Scotland’s economy post- independence. But it is facile to deny that Scotland gets a good deal in terms of raw public spending per head. Barnett is a very potent instrument of regional redistribution.

The Scottish Government’s Sustainable Growth Commission Report was gracious enough to concede this point. It argued, rather, that Scotland was being held back in terms of economic dynamism and would not need these hand outs if it had the levers of growth.

Perhaps the most bizarre section of Boris Johnson’s speech was his call for devolution of power to the English Regions. Opposition jaws dropped at this because the Tory PM is not known as an enthusiast. Indeed, his erstwhile chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, says that the PM thinks Scottish devolution was “a disaster”.

The government is trying to roll back devolution by imposing measures like freeports on Scotland over the heads of the Scottish Government - which appears not to want them under Westminster terms. The Scottish parts of the PMs speech were about things like extending HS2 over the border (believe it when you see it), that tunnel to Northern Ireland (ditto) and upgrading the AI. Not projects that set SNP pulses racing because they have a Union flag on them.

So it might seem strange indeed that devolution is to be the core of Johnson’s Levelling Up White Paper due later this year. And the truth is the record is not great. We’ve had 22 years of devolved government yet the Scottish economy continues to underperform the UK, let alone those small counties in Europe like Norway and Denmark.

More than a million Scots are still living in poverty, according to the Scottish Government’s own figures, including a quarter of all children. These numbers are unchanged in over a decade. The educational attainment gap too “remains wide”, according to Audit Scotland.

Rates of business formation in Scotland have been dire for decades. Scottish administrations, Labour and SNP, have tended to regard business as a necessary evil, and expect the state to promote economic well-being. But countries like Denmark do not seem to think it is beneath them to have a business-oriented economy even though they have generous welfare. For the past ten years, Denmark has been the best country in the world to start a business according to the World Bank.

The Scottish Government of course says it is all about independence. If only Scotland could just be rid of the UK, we would be topping the economic and wealth charts. My own view is that Scotland’s dependence on hand outs from Westminster is a large part of our problem. However, the route to independence, post Brexit, would not be an easy one, given the border and currency issues that would arise as Scotland left the UK single market for the EU. The Scottish Government’s Sustainable Growth Commission, said it would take ten years of spending restraint to sort out Scotland’s finances.

So even independence is unlikely to solve geographical inequalities within Scotland and between us and England - indeed it might exacerbate them. I suspect a populist Green-SNP government of an independent Scotland would, in its early months and years, struggle to generate sustainable growth. Higher taxes and border issues would almost certainly lead to a flight of wealthy people and their companies.

Good riddance you might say. Who needs plutocrats? But the inconvenient truth is that small countries often depend on the taxes of the rich. Nicola Sturgeon explained this when she rejected the 50p tax band five years ago. Ireland’s economic success came from slashing business taxes to the bone.

The UK is actually rather good at redistribution as the Barnett Formula shows. But this doesn’t level up. At best it keeps things as they are. Geographical inequality is much more complex and is todo with things which have little to do with devolution or independence: deindustrialisation and the new educational class divide.

Great industries like steel and heavy engineering gravitated to the North of England and West Central Scotland because of raw materials, deep water ports, available labour. Financial jobs go to big cities, principally London, where the skills are. The transition to a services economy has left large parts of the country lacking wealth in the crudest sense. Just look at house-prices. In some inner London post codes prices are nearly 100 times the UK median wage wage according to Zoopla.

This has been exacerbated by the explosion in higher education. Nearly 50% of school-leavers now go on to higher education, against only 10% in the 1970s

Students leave their towns and villages for the big cities and don’t come back. This has denuded their communities of talent and earning power. Ironically, overeducated millennials have often ended up living in genteel poverty in cities they can’t afford. But they still don’t go back because they feel socially alienated from “parochial” small towns. And because there aren’t many graduate jobs there.

This is what has made the “left behind” communities in Scotland and England so culturally depressed. Just travel through provincial high streets in Scotland or England and you see the same problems. As Boris Johnson was honest enough to admit last week, prosperity in many northern regions of England is little better than in East Germany before the wall came down.

Until the structural problems of post-industrial capitalism are addressed, not a lot will change. And whether it is a Tory or SNP government in charge makes less difference than we might think.