Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category
Time for a Bolder Scotland: The Seven Stories of Scottish Independence
The National, November 30th 2016
We are living through unprecedented times of change and uncertainty.
The words and phrases we use can barely keep up – ‘post-truth politics’, ‘fake news’, ‘alt-right’, the vacuity of ‘Brexit means Brexit’, and the debate on whether Trump is a ‘fascist’ or not. Language itself is struggling to convey and understand these times.
This is true in Britain and Scotland. ‘The Economist’ magazine, in its review of the year and assessments of next year, when talking of Brexit observed that ‘When a building is demolished, a brief calm usually prevails at first.’ We are at the moment in the calm before the almighty storm – one which when it hits will bring walls tumbling down and from which no defences will be fully effective.
There is a widespread assumption in the Westminster village that, with all this impending chaos, Scotland and the cause of independence is increasingly boxed in by Brexit, the constraints of EU disengagement, and powerful economic forces. They seem to misinterpret the stillness north and south of the border as a permanent calm, alongside the slender basis on which Scots voted to remain in the union in 2014: not understanding that its pragmatism could quickly evaporate given the potential future direction of Britain. Read the rest of this entry »
Tom Nairn’s Break-up of Britain turns 40 and is as relevant as ever
The National, November 24th 2016
Few books about politics stand the test of time like Tom Nairn’s The Break-up of Britain.
Next year will see its 40th anniversary. Originally published during the Queen’s Jubilee of 1977, the book offered a blistering counterblast to the then official commemorations – and self-congratulation of political and media elites who used the occasion to reflect on the wonders of the British way of doing things.
The UK has undergone dramatic change since then. Superficially in form and appearance it still looks similar. But that belies realities. Economic and social change has produced a bitterly divided country of self-obsessed, triumphalist winners, and millions of losers.
There has been devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as restoration of London governance, but the political centre hasn’t reformed. Instead, it has got worse: with power more centralised in the Prime Minister and no process of democratisation.
Nairn’s original thesis is so far reaching and prescient that it has often been misunderstood and misrepresented. The opening words of Break-up state: ‘Only a few years ago, the break-up of Britain was almost inconceivable’, but this was changing then, and is now mainstream today. Read the rest of this entry »
Scotland the Bold or Scotland the Timid?
Scottish Review, November 22nd 2016
Is Scotland really special? Are we a land that has bucked the retreat of the centre-left and social democracy, and proven itself immune to the right-wing populism sweeping the West from Brexit to Trump?
Significant parts of Scottish opinion are always looking for any reason to jump on a wha’s like us exceptionalism: one which invokes our morality, values and commitment to social justice, alongside our collective opposition to all things evil from Thatcherism and Blairism to neo-liberalism.
Truth of course is rather different. Scotland is both different and not that different, in comparison to the rest of the UK. Our social democracy isn’t immune from the dynamics that have weakened it elsewhere, and should not be confused with the electoral strength of the SNP – just as before it shouldn’t be equated with the once-dominance of the Scottish Labour Party. Read the rest of this entry »
The UK as we know it can’t survive Brexit and Trump
The Guardian, November 17th 2016
The United Kingdom’s sense of itself and place in the world is more in question now than it was before Donald Trump’s election. It was already facing the precarious process of Brexit that has destabilised the nature of fifty years plus of UK foreign policy and international alliances.
All of this should be a moment for opposition but Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour are missing in action, focusing on internal battles, and letting the struggle with the Tories slip through their fingers. Whatever the views of Corbyn as a leader, this has and is costing the UK dear, and has long-term damaging consequences.
One of these is that the UK – as currently composed – has very little future. To compound the international and national challenges the UK faces, has to be added one based on the territorial dimensions of the state, the failure of the political centre to understand this, and the decline of any popular account of unionism which tells a story about the future of the UK. Read the rest of this entry »
How Trump Shook America and the World: My Letter from America
Scottish Review, November 10th 2016
America has shaken itself and the world. Something seismic has happened which has compounded experts, the political classes, and observers all round the world. But in this year of revolt and surprises – from Leicester City and the Cubs to more seriously Brexit and Trump – the question is why should we be surprised anymore?
I spent the last three weeks in the States, attending rallies, speaking and listening to people, and trying to understand what was going on. It was clear this was a change election, one where people were losing patience with business as usual politics and Washington, and one where at least two Americas talked and shouted past each other – one conservative and angry, one liberal and conceited, both believing in their own moral superiority. All of this has produced one of the most electrifying electoral shocks in American history: a victory with no real comparison in recent times and remaking the political mood.
Trump ran an unprecedented campaign by any modern standards. It was terrible and offensive, giving voice to a ragged, confused anger and fury at the state of contemporary America and the world. That much was said all the time, but it represented much more in ways which should have been more obvious and discussed. Read the rest of this entry »