Now is the time to see how the Slack Parenting approach has paid off. Photo: Getty
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I never wept with pride when I held my newborns. But I’m thrilled they still want to see me

That my children actually want to see me, after years of my not even remotely bursting into tears of pride whenever I contemplated them, is one of the nicest surprises that this existence has granted to me.

An email from M--- at the Independent on Sunday. M--- used to be my editor on that paper until I got a phone call from the Actual Editor, John Mullin, telling me he had “gone over the figures” and decided that, after ten years of living high on the hog as its radio critic, I had driven the paper to the very edge of bankruptcy and only replacing me with the guy who brought round the sandwiches was going to restore its AAA credit rating. (Now that the paper is owned by a billionaire, I suppose these days the sandwiches are brought round on silver salvers by liveried flunkies, and that even the flunkies have flunkies to actually hand the sandwiches over. That’s what it’s like, right, when you’re owned by a billionaire?)

But I digress. I always liked M--- and never tainted him by association with the Mullin regime. What he wants is for me to do something for them for Father’s Day about my children. For many years I wrote a column for another paper called Slack Dad, in which I offered anti-parenting advice for its family pages, the idea being that there were quite enough writers offering idealised advice to be getting on with, and that there was surely room for the kind of person who did not, upon holding his newborn infant, burst into tears and declare this the proudest day of his life.

Note: I am being gender-specific here. Men who are proud of having done little more than ejaculated into someone nine months beforehand, and have had zero influence so far on the resulting baby, have a funny idea of what pride means. And for what it’s worth, my time in the delivery room during Mrs Lezard’s first labour was spent just out of reach of her nails – which had been beginning to dig into my thigh painfully – reading the cricket reports from Australia and wondering if I could get away with calling the child Darren if it was a boy. (Footnote for non-sporty people: there was a bowler in the England team called Darren Gough, who was one of the few players that supporters weren’t in some way ashamed of.)

Since then I have had time to see how the Slack Parenting approach has paid off. The experiment is nearing its close – or rather, the close of its first stage, when the children reach majority. They are evenly spaced in age – 13, 17 and 19 – which may give the impression that some kind of master plan was at work, but as far as I’m concerned, they are all acts of God.

As it is, the children have been featuring more, rather than less, in my life recently. One of the things about depression, or the low-level version of it that I have, which might as well be called “melancholy”, is that you don’t go out and see anyone any more. But you can’t, thank goodness, get out of seeing your children. So it turns out that they’re the people I’ve been seeing the most of ever since the B went off to Sweden.

The youngest didn’t want to go on a holiday with the others so elected to stay with me in the Hovel. It was great, and I learned that Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan is an even better film than I remember it being. The middle one pops in every week after classes round the corner and gives me sage advice on the unwisdom of using this column to settle scores or nurse grudges. And the eldest just turns up when she feels like it, because at least she knows when she comes here she’ll have someone to sit up chatting with until 2am with a glass of wine or two to help the conversation. My, how tall the middle child is!

So, that my children actually want to see me, after years of my not even remotely bursting into tears of pride whenever I contemplated them, is one of the nicest surprises that this existence has granted to me. It also represents a salve to the bitterness of the past few years. There are many cruelties involved in divorce, or separation, or whatever you want to call it or define it as: and the cruellest is seeing your children only every two weeks.

It is a matter of deep grief and pain, to the point where I forcibly shrug the thought away the second it occurs to me, that the youngest is coming to an age when he will have been alive longer with me as a distant parent than as someone living in the same home as him.

Then again, it is maybe this lack of continual presence that has contrived to present me, to their minds, as a desirable occasional alternative to the official family home. Perhaps; but at what a price.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 14 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Why empires fall

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.