A Man of Principle and the End of an Era of Liberal Radicalism
Sunday Mail, June 7th 2015
Politics and public life in Britain caught its breath this week with the tragic death of Charles Kennedy.
MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber for the past 32 years; leader of the Lib Dems from 1999-2006; the youngest MP elected to the Commons in 1983 at the age of 23 – none of these do justice to the talents, principles and wit of Kennedy.
He got, as many people have said, many big things right. He was the most successful Lib Dem leader electorally since 1923; the most prominent political leader against the Iraq war disaster; the only Lib Dem MP who voiced his opposition to the Tory-Lib Dem coalition in 2010.
Kennedy represented a long and historic tradition in Scottish and Liberal life: that of Highland radicalism: a lineage which gave us Jo Grimond and contributed to maintaining the Liberal presence in British life in the 1950s. Read the rest of this entry »
A Letter to the Editor of ‘The Economist’ on Scotland and Scottish Independence
June 4th 2015
I am a long-term reader and admirer of ‘The Economist’.
Even when I disagree with the magazine’s position I know that I can trust it to aid myself learning and becoming more knowledgeable on an issue.
This is true across the globe, and subject matters, with one consistent exception: the subject of Scottish independence.
I am not talking about ‘The Economist’s’ anti-independence stance, which you are perfectly entitled to take. Nor would I wish to dwell on the appropriateness or not of the infamous ‘Skintland’ cover. Instead, I am talking about something much more embedded: the language and terminology ‘The Economist’ consistently uses to frame this issue. Read the rest of this entry »
The Battle of Europe beckons. It will change Britain and Scotland whatever the result
Sunday Mail, May 31st 2015
Forty years ago next week, Britain entered a new era.
On June 5th 1975 Britain held its first nationwide referendum on whether to stay or leave, what was then called, the European Economic Community (EEC). The UK voted emphatically 67.2% to 32.8% to stay; Scotland voted 58.4% to 41.6% in favour.
This debate changed Britain in ways that continue to have ramifications. It began the constitutional practice of using referendums for big issues. The first had actually been two years previous on Northern Ireland, but it was the European vote which made waves.
Britain’s relationship with Europe and the world was never the same. The Commonwealth began to decline in trade and importance. Britain – seen as ‘the sick man of Europe’ – saw the continent, and the French and Germans in particular, as the future. Read the rest of this entry »
Are we really a nation of equality and fairness?
Sunday Mail, May 24th 2015
Scotland is one of the hot subjects of the moment.
This is true even in places that usually ignore us – such as Westminster. One take from the centre-left Compass pressure group is that Scotland is the progressive future they would like to see across the UK. Another from disgruntled Labourites wants to get even with the SNP for taking so many parliamentary colleagues from them.
It feels good to be talked about. But actually these voices aren’t really interested in Scotland. Instead, they are talking about themselves, and their sense of bewilderment and loss, confusion over England, and anxiety about Labour and the left’s future prospects.
The British Election Survey this week highlighted data from late last year which showed that in that crucial swing group of voters, Labour to SNP, 75% believed the SNP had policies to redistribute from rich to poor, while only 48% thought the same of Labour. Read the rest of this entry »
What do we do about the British constitution?
The Conversation, May 22nd 2015
There can be little doubt that Britain is on the move. This can be seen in the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum and forthcoming European Union vote.
This is a time of flux and uncertainty. While for some such as the SNP and critics of the British status quo this is a positive, for many elites and experts this produces anxieties and worries. No more is this is so than with benign liberal opinion – which believes that for every problem there should be a solution, and often an over-arching British constitutional solution at that.
This is the spirit of the just released Lord Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law report ‘A Constitutional Crossroads: Ways Forward for the United Kingdom’ which brings together an impressive array of the great and good from John Kay to Linda Colley, Tony Travers and Adam Tomkins.
Britain is at a ‘crossroads’ if not a crisis and at the outset the report invokes the late Lord Bingham who observed that ‘constitutionally speaking, we now find ourselves in a trackless desert without any map or compass.’ Read the rest of this entry »