LONDON. There’s much to love and loathe about the lumbering old beast.

It was chaotic journeys to Wembley that first took me there as a teenager, pursuing a career took me back again, and without either a ­masterplan or the money to fund a ­reasonable start, I somehow survived. Despite trips back up the road, I stayed in London for the best part of my adult life. It was never a love affair more a necessity and at times an ­occupational hazard, but I eventually found a point of rapprochement, and after years of moaning I could live with scummy film of water that stains the inside of your tea-cup and the limescale that makes even receding hair recoil in fear.

I used to bristle at Dr Johnson’s infamous quote “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” I had embraced ­London’s vain media, enjoyed its ­boundless ­galleries and gorged on its extraordinary multiculturalism, but the feelings of ­missing home was a constant companion too.

After a long absence, I recently ­returned for three weeks holiday, vowing to give the city a fair chance after years of ­being a grumbling sceptic. The good news is that London has survived the floods, although communities along the banks of the River Thames remain vulnerable. The parks and green spaces are hanging on, hemmed in by road networks, urban renewal and creeping commercialisation.

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At the choking height of the ­industrial revolution, Charles Dickens called ­London’s parks, the lungs of the city and in that narrow sense they are still ­breathing. But the metaphor is ­complicated after decades in which ­London has used the rest of the UK as a Ventolin inhaler, ­sucking relief from northern cities and from Scotland.

Perhaps more than any other single ­factor, it is the possessive growth of ­London that has destabilised the concept of Britain and brought its break up to a point of near inevitability.

Endless reams of economic data attest to London’s wealth and to the disparities in the cost of living between the metropolis and other urban centres across the UK. Such was the gulf in years gone by that a methodology emerged called the London weighting, a method which artificially increased wages and salaries within ­London to the long-term ­detriment of northern towns and cities. It was ­commonplace within higher ­education, the BBC, the ­­civil service and the financial service ­sector to pay a London allowance to offset this higher cost of living. The inflated salaries were one among many factors that fed the boom in housing in London, now among the most expensive real estate in the world.

The London allowance was a way of attracting and sustaining the capital’s labour force. The idea of­redistributing work and wealth across the UK was half-hearted and has come far too late in the day to bring even a semblance of balance to the economy. The magnetic pull of London has turned hundreds of thousands of Scots into economic migrants, moving south for work, some for a summer, some for a few years, and some forever.

For Scottish migrants there was no reassuring ghetto like the West Indians found in Brixton or the Irish in Kilburn, Scots scattered everywhere some better at effacing their background than others.

A network of pubs offered a haven, the Rob Roy in Paddington, the Greyhound in Fulham and the Alexandra in London E9. That sense of a haven with bevvy is disappearing. Pubs have closed down at a rate of 81 a year over the last three decades and more than 1220 pubs have closed in the last 15 years. In 2001, there were 4835 licensed public house in London, today here are fewer than 3600.

Those pubs that survived have had to adapt or die. The impact of Covid has ­almost certainly hurried more change. Pubs have had to reposition themselves as places that appeal to younger and ­wealthier clients, with the now familiar menu of craft beers, gastro-food, table booking systems and often with comedy nights, open-mic nights and highly ­cultivated pub quizzes. A menu, searchable by QR code, has displaced the chirpy barmaid of the Ealing comedies.

One pub that has adapted rather than die pulls these many strands together. The Lauriston, on Hackney’s Victoria Park Road, now describes itself as “a beautiful friendly pub just moments from Victoria Park” near one of the city’s northern lungs. It serves stone-baked pizzas, martinis and craft beers to young urban professionals living in the gentrified streets of Hackney, but in the past it was a typical London boozer, known as The Alexandra, a pub that drew its regular clientele from the decayed working class housing estates that ringed north London – and the Scottish and Irish migrants that crammed into flats in Hackney and Stoke Newington.

It was there on the night of the ­September 22, 1999 that one of ­Scotland’s most dramatic tragedies unfolded. The unlawful killing of Harry Stanley, a 46-year-old painter and decorator from Bellshill in Lanarkshire, was shot dead by the Metropolitan Police. It remains one of the most horrendous deaths of a Scot in peace-time Britain, and yet it is only barely remembered back home.

The National:

HARRY Stanley (above) moved south to London around the same time as I did. Although we lived in different postcodes and worked in radically different industries, there was always the irreducible bond of being Scots in the smoke.

Harry had been drinking in the Alexandra Bar on the night he was shot. When he headed home at closing time, he was carrying a blue plastic bag with a coffee table leg inside, which had just been ­repaired by his brother Peter. An anonymous onlooker had heard his Scottish accent mistook it for an Irish voice and reported him as a terrorist suspect. Harry died walking home and ballistics experts at the inquest determined that despite police evidence the fatal bullet had entered Harry’s head from the rear, not the front.

At a second inquest the police officers responsible told the hearings that they thought he was raising a gun and was about to shoot when confronted. One ­officer, PC Kevin Fagan, described how he saw Mr Stanley walking with a ­cylindrical object in his hand. He said: “It was tightly wrapped in a bag, about 18 inches long and the majority of it was pointing downwards ... the realisation struck me that I was about to be shot at 15ft with a sawn-off shotgun.”

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According to a Press Association ­report, another police officer told the ­inquest he fired one round when he thought PC Fagan was about to be shot. “Fearing for Kevin Fagan’s life, and believing that the contents of that bag was a sawn-off shotgun, and with the actions of the person holding it, I felt he was about to be shot. In response I fired one round”.

The armed officer told the court he aimed at Mr Stanley’s “central body mass” but missed and shot him in the head.

The death of Harry Stanley is a deeply moving story which beneath the sheer horror says much about ­ordinary Scots and the complicated reasons that they once travelled to London. The major ­reason was work but beyond that there were a million other motivations: ambition, the desire to escape and the belief that you could begin a new life, away from your past. For me the past proved too rich to forget and too powerful to resist.

Dr Johnson will turn in his grave but the man who does not yearn for Scotland is bereft of emotions. Harry Stanley never lived long enough to retire back home to Scotland and that is sadness I cannot ­contemplate.