If Cameron really wants Scotland to stay in the UK, he should ease on austerity

One of the few factors that could tilt the odds in Alex Salmond's favour is the prospect of permanent cuts under a Conservative-led government.

Since the Tories have been almost entirely expelled from Scotland (with just one surviving MP), there will be some who argue that the best thing David Cameron can do during the independence debate is to remain as quiet as possible. But as the prime minister of the United Kingdom and the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party (someone, in other words, with a bigger stake than most in the Union enduring), it would be odd if he did not share his thoughts on the subject from time to time. 

Today, with seven months to go until the vote, he will make his most notable intervention yet, delivering a speech on the case for the UK at the symbolic location of the Olympic Park. But rather than lecturing the Scots on the dangers of independence, Cameron has smartly chosen to address his speech "to the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland". While emphasising again that the decision is one for Scots alone (having consistently rejected calls for a UK-wide referendum), he will rightly note: "[T]hough only four million people can vote in this referendum, all 63 million of us are profoundly affected.

"There are 63 million of us who could wake up on September 19th in a different country, with a different future ahead of it...We would be deeply diminished without Scotland. This matters to all our futures. And everyone in the UK can have a voice in this debate."

He will add: "So to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – everyone, like me, who cares about the United Kingdom – I want to say this: you don't have a vote, but you do have a voice. Those voting are our friends, neighbours and family.

"You do have an influence. Let the message ring out, from Manchester to Motherwell, from Pembrokeshire to Perth, from Belfast to Bute, from us to the people of Scotland – let the message be this: We want you to stay."

Fortunately for Cameron, unlike in the past, when polls have suggested that the rest of the UK would be happy to see the back of the Scots, the most recent survey shows that the majority of the public are with him. A YouGov poll earlier this week showed that 54 per cent of English and Welsh voters oppose Scottish independence with just 24 per cent in favour. And, of course, while the polls have narrowed in the last month, the Scots themselves continue to reject secession by a comfortable margin. A YouGov survey published today puts support for independence at 34 per cent with 52 per cent opposed. Even a campaigner as formidable as Alex Salmond will struggle to overturn that lead. 

But the uncomfortable truth for Cameron is that one of the few factors that could tilt the odds in Salmond's favour is the prospect of another Conservative-led government after 2015. A Survation poll last week found that support for independence increases by three points (from 32 to 35 per cent) and that opposition falls by three (from 52 to 49 per cent) when Scots are asked how will they vote if they think the Tories will win the next election. Asked how they would vote if they thought the Tories would remain in power for up to 15 years, the gap narrows to just nine points (47-38). 

While Cameron can hardly be expected to give up on winning the next election, he should consider what he can do to make a Tory future more palatable to the Scots. More than anything, he should avoid repeating his recent promise of permanent austerity, a line that was a political gift to the nationalists. In that speech, at the Lord Mayor's banquet, he declared: "We are sticking to the task. But that doesn't just mean making difficult decisions on public spending. It also means something more profound. It means building a leaner, more efficient state. We need to do more with less. Not just now, but permanently."

After introducing the bedroom tax while simultaneously reducing the top rate of tax, it may be too late for Cameron to return to the one nation rhetoric of his first year as Prime Minister when he said: "I didn't come into politics to make cuts. Neither did Nick Clegg. But in the end politics is about national interest, not personal political agendas. We're tackling the deficit because we have to – not out of some ideological zeal. This is a government led by people with a practical desire to sort out this country's problems, not by ideology."

But if he can yet offer a vision beyond austerity, complete with detoxifying measures such as raising the minimum wage, he will help to ensure that there is no way back for Salmond. 

P.S. Alex Salmond will be delivering the New Statesman lecture on "Scotland’s Future in Scotland’s Hands" on 4 March at 6:30pm in London. Tickets can be purchased here

Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond with David Cameron at the men's Wimbledon final last year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How “cli-fi” novels humanise the science of climate change

The paradox is that the harder climate-fiction novels try, the less effective they are.

When the Paris UN Climate Change Conference begins at the end of November, the world’s leaders will review the climate framework agreed in Rio in 1992. For well over 20 years, the world has not just been thinking and talking about climate change, it has also been writing and reading about it, in blogs, newspapers, magazines – and in novels.

Climate change fiction is now a recognisable literary phenomenon replete with its own nickname: “cli-fi”. The term was coined in 2007 by Taiwan-based blogger Dan Bloom. Since then, its use has spread: it was even tweeted by Margaret Atwood in 2013:

It is not a genre in the accepted scholarly sense, since it lacks the plot formulas or stylistic conventions that tend to define genres (such as science fiction or the western). However, it does name a remarkable recent literary and publishing trend.

A 21st-century phenomenon?

Putting a number to this phenomenon depends, partly, on how one defines cli-fi. How much of a novel has to be devoted to climate change before it is considered cli-fi? Should we restrict the term to novels about man-made global warming? (If we don’t, we should remember that narratives about global climatic change are as old as The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Biblical story of the flood.) If we define cli-fi as fictional treatments of climate change caused by human activity in terms of setting, theme or plot – and accept there will be grey areas in the extent of this treatment – a conservative estimate would put the all-time number of cli-fi novels at 150 and growing. This is the figure put forward by Adam Trexler, who has worked with me to survey the development of cli-fi.

This definition also gives us a start date for cli-fi’s history. While planetary climatic change occurs in much 20th-century science fiction, it is only after growing scientific awareness of specifically man-made, carbon-induced climate change in the 1960s and 1970s that novels on this subject emerged. The first is Arthur Herzog’s Heat in 1976, followed by George Turner’s The Sun and the Summer (published in the US as Drowning Towers) in 1987.

At the turn of this century, Maggie Gee and TC Boyle were among the first mainstream authors to publish climate change novels. In this century, we can count Atwood, Michael Crichton, Barbara Kingsolver, Ian McEwan, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ilija Trojanow and Jeanette Winterson as major authors who have written about climate change. The past five years have given us notable examples of cli-fi by emerging authors, such as Steven Amsterdam, Edan Lepucki, Jane Rawson, Nathaniel Rich and Antti Tuomainen.

Creative challenges

Cli-fi is all the more noteworthy considering the creative challenge posed by climate change. First, there is the problem of scale – spatial and temporal. Climate change affects the entire planet and all its species – and concerns the end of this planet as we know it. Novels, by contrast, conventionally concern the actions of individual protagonists and/or, sometimes, small communities.

Added to this is the networked nature of climate change: in physical terms, the climate is a large, complex system whose effects are difficult to model. In socio-cultural terms, solutions require intergovernmental agreement – just what COP21 intends – and various top-down and bottom-up transformations. Finally, there exists the difficulty of translating scientific information, with all its predictive uncertainty, into something both accurate and interesting to the average reader.

Still, cli-fi writers have adopted a range of strategies to engage their readers. Many cli-fi novels could be classified as dystopian, post-apocalyptic or, indeed, both – depicting nightmarish societies triggered by sometimes catastrophic climate events. A future world is one effective way of narrating the planetary condition of climate change.

Some novelists are also careful to underpin their scenarios with rigorous climatic predictions and, in this way, translate science fact into a fictional setting. Kingsolver, who trained as an ecologist, is the best example of this – and Atwood and Robinson are also known for their attempts at making their speculations scientifically plausible. Also, cli-fi novels, particularly those set in the present day or very near future rather than in a dystopian future, tend to show the political or psychological dimensions of living with climate change. Readers can identify with protagonists. To some extent, the global community is represented in fictional everymen or everywomen. Or, often, it is through such characters that science is humanised and its role in combating climate change better understood.

Can cli-fi lead to change?

Could cli-fi affect how we think and act on climate change? The paradox is that the harder cli-fi tries, the less effective it is. Many writers want to inspire change, not insist on it: the line between literature and propaganda is one that most novelists respect. Literature invites us to inhabit other worlds and live other lives. Cli-fi at its best lets us travel to climate-changed worlds, to strive there alongside others and then to return armed with that experience.

In Paris, the UN will seek a global agreement on climate action for the first time in more than 20 years. There is plenty of climate change fiction out there to help provide the mental and psychological space to consider that action.

The Conversation

Adeline Johns-Putra, Reader in English Literature, University of Surrey

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.