In memory: Kirsty Milne

Former NS staffer Dr Kirsty Milne has died.

We are sad to report the loss of a former New Statesman editor, Dr Kirsty Milne.

After joining the New Statesman staff in 1993 following its merger with her former paper New Society, Kirsty wrote reviews and features for the NS and other publications, including the Times, Telegraph and a politics column for the Scotsman. She later became a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and a Research Fellow specialising in early modern English and the classics at Wolfson College, Oxford.

She died this week and will be much missed. Sarah Baxter, a colleague at the magazine in the early 90s and now Deputy Editor at the Sunday Times, said: "Kirsty was a wonderful colleague, full of energy, mischief and fun. She loved political ideas and political intrigue, and wrote about them brilliantly. She was always insistent that her name was pronounced Keersty, not Kursty ... After being told off a few times, I've never been able to pronounce Kirsty any other way. She was my great friend and confidante at the Statesman, and I'll miss her dearly."

Below is a reprint of the first article she wrote for the NS entitled, "Inside the Glasgow glass envelope", and dated 21 November 1986.

Inside the Glasgow glass envelope

What can you do for a city undergoing an economic identity crisis? With dying industrial heartlands, unemployment running above 20 per cent and a reputation for social deprivation which continues to stick? 'Adapt or die' is the response most commonly to be heard in Glasgow, and the result is a remarkable phenomenon — a city in search of a future.

There's no question that Glasgow is in danger of being left behind, a casualty city which just happened to be, in the words of one council official, 'in the wrong place, facing the wrong way, and making the wrong things'. Like the rest of Britain, Glasgow has had to watch the slow decline of its traditional manufacturing base — in shipbuilding, steel and engineering. There are only two shipyards left; the Clyde used to be crucial to Glasgow and now people are saying bitterly that you can fish in it. Manufacturing in Glasgow contracted by 30 per cent between 1978 and 1983, and plants which were once familiar features of the city continue to close.

The rate of redundancies, which peaked in 1980, is slowing down, but the cumulative result is a bad case of long-term unemployment: latest figures show that of the 77,204 jobless in Glasgow, 9,280 have been out of work for more than six years. Where are the new jobs to come from? The electronics industry clearly isn't the knight on the high-tech charger that's required; it only provides 42,000 jobs in the whole of Scotland, and besides, computer companies have tended to locate in other parts of 'Silicon Glen', especially New Towns.

To the rescue come Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Development Agency (SDA), both of which have put their faith in the service sector as the only realistic area for growth in employment. To this end there's been a lot of emphasis on improving the quality of the city centre, which is visibly in the process of turning itself inside out. The whole area known as Merchant City, with its extravagant Victorian facades, is being redeveloped to provide shops, offices and up to 2,000 homes as bait for Glasgow yuppies. South of Argyle St a huge site awaits a glass envelope which will protect a shopping centre, an ice rink and a multi-storey car park from the incessant Scottish rain in the £62m St Enoch's development. Even the old fish market, the Briggait, has been turned into glossy umbrella forstalls and specialist shops, though with a view across the Clyde to the Gorbals it looks as much like Covent Garden as a fish out of water.

Nevertheless, Donald Dewar, Shadow Scottish Secretary and MP for Glasgow Garscadden, describes the general atmosphere with the greater precision: 'the place is hopping'. And much of the hopping takes place under the careful eyes of the council and the SDA, working to combine public spending with private investment in as many projects as possible. The SDA is a unique phenomenon (and the Treasury would like it to stay that way): a semi-independent, government- funded organisation set up by Harold Wilson in 1975 to do something about the Scottish economy. As a leading industrial landlord with a gross annual budget of more than £130m, the SDA is much respected by the 200 or so people who make up the Scottish establishment for being hard­headed and commercially-minded. Not surprising, then, that a Treasury review last month criticised the SDA for being too interventionist. Certainly it has a finger in innumerable pies — in Glasgow alone it put money into the Scottish Conference and Exhibition Centre, initiated the GEAR project to put money into the East End of Glasgow, and is managing the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival through a wholly-owned subsidiary.

Last year it set up a new group, Glasgow Action, to promote the city as a business location and the dynamic young director, David Macdonald, is as much interested in the music business as in merchant banks (Glasgow, remember, produced not only Ultravox and Simple Minds but the Associates and Strawberry Switchblade as well). His organisation has specific targets: relieving Glasgow of its status as a 'branch economy' (i.e. attracting more company HQs to Glasgow — Britoil was a recent success); improving air links with Europe and the USA; developing Glasgow's tourist industry (the Burrell Collection, opened in 1983, has now overtaken Edinburgh castle as Scotland's top tourist attraction).

However, there's nothing he can teach Glasgow City Council about selling the city; after all, for three years now Mr Happy has been seen on London buses proclaiming 'Glasgow's Miles Better' and the campaign has been given a boost since Glasgow won the British nomination for European City of Culture in 1990. Macdonald describes the council as 'solidly socialist and very pragmatic with it . . . the city's interests always come first'. Perhaps it's the pragmatism born of numerical supremacy (the Labour group has 50 councillors to the Conservatives' 5, and a visiting Hackney councillor was reputedly shocked when she saw how cosily collusive they all were).

The council needs its pragmatism when it comes to housing; as the biggest landlord in Europe it has the dubious distinction of presiding over some of the worst council housing in Britain: an estimate 10,000 homes in Glasgow don't have a bath. Government spending restrictions have limited the council's capital spending to modernisation and planned repairs, so it's small wonder that they should be encouraging private developers and housing associations to build and convert more homes — even selling council houses to tenants the deprived suburb of Easterhouse. But the core of the housing problem remains the post-war estates built on the periphery of the city: Pollok, Castlemilk, Easterhouse and Drumchapel. Almost one in four of the unemployed in Glasgow lives there.

What will the expansion of the service sector do for those one in four? Will it pick up the long-term unemployed? Retailing and office work may be subject to mechanisation and contraction of numbers in the future as manufacturing has been in the past. There are some economists that would argue that, anyway, the growth of the service sector goes hand in hand with the growth of the manufacturing industry. In Glasgow, Donald Dewar speaks of the need for a ‘balanced economy’ with ‘a core of manufacturing which is competitive’. Campbell Christie, General Secretary of the STUC is also unhappy about the over-reliance on the service sector. He would like to see Glasgow’s traditional areas of manufacturing, including the shipyards, sustained; new industries developed; and a major programme of expenditure on housing and construction projects to provide jobs and tackle Glasgow’s decaying infrastructure.

Earlier this month, the Invisible Export Council confirmed that employment in the UK service sector isn’t likely to increase substantially and won’t compensate for the jobs lost in manufacturing industry. But even if the service sector does represent the only real possibility for growth in Glasgow (and it’s worth pointing out that it’s remained more or less static since 1971), a depressing scenario suggests itself – that of a pepped-up city centre, a flourishing service sector, and, on the periphery, the long-term marginalised unemployed. In microcosm, it could be what’s in store for the British economy as a whole: 87 per cent of us in work and getting richer – and the rest out in the cold.

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.