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In this week’s New Statesman | The Scotland issue

Including, Alex Salmond on why Scotland won't be governed by the Tories in London, Judy Murray on what her maiden speech as an MSP would be, Andrew Marr on "Borgen nationalism", Helena Kennedy and Kirsty Wark.

SCOTLAND: A SPECIAL ISSUE

 

The New Statesman’s special issue on Scotland this week anticipates the landmark referendum in September and coincides with the New Statesman lecture on Scottish independence, which will be delivered by Alex Salmond in London on 4 March. In an extended essay for the NS’s special issue, the First Minister warns that Scotland will no longer be ruled by Tories in London and restates his intention of using the pound without permission.

 

The SNP leader also interviews Judy Murray for the issue. In a fascinating encounter at Bute House in Edinburgh, Murray shares her views on sporting success and strong Scottish women with Salmond, recalls the agony of watching Andy lose at Wimbledon and imagines her maiden speech as an MSP.

 

Reviewing three new books on Scotland and the Union, Andrew Marr identifies a new “Borgen” nationalism – “well behaved, impeccably monarchist, politically correct and eager, always, to please”. Tom Devine traces the long path to Scottish independence, while the Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood, gives the view from Wales and John Bew reports from Belfast, where support for Irish unity is at an all-time low.

 

Elsewhere in the issue, Kirsty Wark recalls two decades of weekly sleeper train journeys from Glasgow to London made bearable by Bruichladdich; Will Self hails David Bowie the Unionist and argues England stands to lose most from the end of the Union; Helena Kennedy speaks for the Scottish diaspora in London and urges there should be “no divorce”; the crime writer Val McDermid reflects on Scotland’s literary heritage and the rise of “tartan noir”; and Scotland’s favourite painter Jack Vettriano writes about the heartbreak that inspires his work.

 

THE NS ESSAY: ALEX SALMOND

 

In his essay for the special issue, Alex Salmond warns that Scotland will not be governed by Tories in London any longer:

 

People in Scotland – often the most vulnerable – are suffering from the impact of a government they didn’t elect and which cares little or nothing for their lives.

 

Scottish MPs have voted decisively against the bedroom tax, the welfare benefits uprating bill, means-testing for child benefit, cuts in capital spending, Royal Mail privatisation and many more coalition policies but all of them are being imposed on Scotland anyway.

 

He argues that an independent Scotland could act as a “progressive beacon for those across these islands who yearn for a fairer society”:

 

I don’t believe any government in an independent Scotland would engage in the dismantling of the welfare state we see under way in Westminster today. I would never pretend that governments of an independent Scotland – of whatever colour – will never make mistakes. I don’t believe we have higher values than anyone else. As in all democracies, there will be differences of opinion and a lively policy debate.
 

But since 1999, the Scottish Parliament has shown above all that taking decisions in Scotland works for the people who live here. When free personal care for the elderly was brought in, the policy was supported by every party in the parliament.

 

Salmond on currency:

 

The Scottish government has accepted the advice of the Fiscal Commission Working Group that a sterling-zone currency union is in the best interests of an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK. The pound is not the property of George Osborne or Ed Balls, nor even Danny Alexander. It is as much Scotland’s pound as the rest of the UK’s.

 

When Mr Osborne flew in to Scotland to pronounce that he would not accept such an arrangement and would refuse even to discuss the matter with us, the Chancellor chose to misrepresent the fiscal commission’s proposals. He chose also to misrepresent the size of the Scottish financial sector and the impact of oil-price fluctuations, and offered misleading comparisons with the eurozone.

 

The Treasury further argued that the UK is the continuing state in international law, and so Scotland is not entitled to a share of the Bank of England, among other things. As a campaign tactic, it seems as if the UK government is insisting on the sole right to determine what the assets are and which are the liabilities.

 

Salmond on EU membership:

 

Besides Mr Osborne’s announcement, the No campaign has seized on comments by the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, about Scotland’s EU membership, including a preposterous comparison between Scotland and Kosovo. We have always accepted that it is for the member states to decide the route for Scotland to continue its membership of the EU as an independent country. We have also always accepted that negotiations will have to take place.

 

Salmond on the SNP’s vision:

 

Our vision of an independent Scotland is one of a country engaging fully with the EU and the broader international community, co-operating closely with our friends and neighbours in the UK.
 

The close cultural and social ties across these islands will continue and, I believe, will be strengthened. We can learn from each other in a partnership of equals based on mutual respect. I passionately believe that an independent Scotland will be a more democratic, fairer and more prosperous country and that is why I believe the momentum is so strongly with the Yes campaign and why on 18 September the people of Scotland will vote Yes.

 

*Read Alex Salmond’s essay in full at www.newstatesman.com  

 

THE NS INTERVIEW: ALEX SALMOND MEETS JUDY MURRAY

 

Alex Salmond meets Judy Murray at Bute House, the official residence of the First Minister in Edinburgh, to talk about sporting success, how she became a prolific tweeter and what she would say in her maiden speech as an MSP.

 

On the agony of watching Andy losing:

 

AS I never do an interview after I make a major speech because your adrenalin levels are all over the place. Tennis players have got no choice, and it’s gone beyond just getting the trophy and doing an interview later – now it’s an immediate interview. I think it’s incredible that people can do this. When you’ve just lost the biggest game of your life and the interviewer says, “Would you like to tell us all about it?”, what can you say? What was tougher for you – watching Andy being interviewed after losing to Roger Federer [in the Wimbledon men’s final in 2012], or when Andy was about to win?

JM Losing the Wimbledon final. When he started to speak I thought, “Oh no, poor thing,” because I knew how much it meant to him. It was very hard to watch. I knew how much he was hurting and I just thought, “Oh, you’re baring your soul in front of all those people . . .”

 

On Twitter:

 

AS I was going to ask you about your tweeting. You have become a mass tweeter. When did you start?

JM Probably a couple of years ago now. I just think it’s a fun way of engaging with people who are tennis fans. And it’s totally up to you how you use your Twitter.

AS It’s direct.

JM It’s direct, yeah, and you can reply to people that you don’t know. It’s up to you how you use it, and I tend to follow either people who give me information about tennis, or people who I think are funny. Plus, people from totally different walks of life who I either admire or am interested in, to see what they’re up to. So I follow, for example, Nicola Sturgeon.

AS I have the most amazing job trying to keep my number of followers above Nicola’s. I have to kind of mass-email everybody I can think of . . .

 

On Judy’s “MSP manifesto”:

 

AS Let’s say you were an MSP. Let’s say you were making your maiden speech as a newly elected member of the Scottish Parliament. What would you say?

JM I think women in sport and getting kids more physically active at a young age, through primary schools and through targeting parents, would be key. I was at a launch at the US Tennis Association during the US Open; it was part of National Childhood Obesity Month. They had a number of people talking about how physical inactivity had killed 5.2 million people – that’s more than smoking. Eighty per cent of children worldwide don’t get what is supposed to be the quota of physical activity required to make them healthy.

 

ANDREW MARR: THE RISE OF BORGEN NATIONALISM

 

The broadcaster Andrew Marr reviews a trio of books on Scottish independence and the Union and wonders why it took the unionist establishment in London so long to take the prospect of Scottish independence seriously:

 

Some of us have been arguing for several years that Salmond is one of the most formidable politicians in the UK and that London has been remarkably slow to wake up to the mood in Scotland in the 21st century.

 

Marr argues that nationalism is enjoying a global resurgence and a new respectability:

 

The nationalist phenomenon is beginning to look almost as normal in the contemporary world as modern English secularism. Scotland is not unusual. From Russia and Ukraine to Egypt, China, Japan and Argentina, nationalism remains a powerful force. Even inside the EU, a project designed to send nationalism quietly to sleep, it is stirring: in the Nordic countries, and in Hungary and Bulgaria.

 

What are the most important aspects of nationalism that the English could do with being re-educated about? First, it is a mighty force. Its emotional power to mobilise and upend should never be underestimated. Second, it is a force that is hard to control, a political impulse notoriously unaware of its proper limitations – which is why it became unrespectable in the first place . . .

 

Part of Salmond’s achievement – the key, I’d say, to all he has achieved – is to have distanced the SNP from the dark nationalism of the 20th century. He has wrenched it away from its bigoted history as part of Scotland’s old anti-Catholic mindset. He has muted its rhetorical Anglophobia and loses no opportunity to laud the English as good friends and neighbours . . .

 

And so we have this new nationalism: well behaved, impeccably monarchist, politically correct and eager, always, to please. It’s a social-democratic, Borgen nationalism of a kind that would have had [SNP founder Hugh] MacDiarmid spitting tacks.

 

HELENA KENNEDY: THE VIEW FROM ENGLAND

 

The Glasgow-born Labour peer and barrister Helena Kennedy defends the Union in a column for the Scotland special issue and argues most other “wandering Scots” agree with her:

 

All Scots south of the border are being asked what they feel about the referendum on Scottish independence. Most that I know say they want Scotland and England to remain wedded. “No divorce” is the heartfelt position of wandering Scots of left persuasion because, as progressives, they do not want to be marooned in an England that will be entrenched in conservatism. And that is how they read the likely ramifications of separation. We are better together, they say, without even realising they are uttering the newly minted slogan that binds Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour in opposition to a pro-independence vote . . .

 

For me, the referendum should be providing Labour with an opportunity to engage in Common Weal-type debates across the UK. Instead of just aligning with the Tories in a simple No campaign, Ed Miliband should be coming out loud and clear against the orthodoxies that have so alienated many voters in Scotland and, indeed, many others in the rest of the UK . . .

 

Are we better together? Yes. Because together we can find better solutions.
But am I grateful to Alex Salmond? Yes, because his challenge provides Labour with an opportunity for a rethink – if we are prepared to seize it.

 

WILL SELF: DAVID BOWIE THE UNIONIST 

 

The NS columnist Will Self applauds David Bowie’s intervention on behalf of the Union and thinks the Thin White Duke has spotted the truth – that it’s the stodgy English who need the Scots:

 

It would seem that David Jones, late of Brixton, south London – who is better known by his nom de guerre Bowie – has added another persona to his already capacious psychic portfolio. It wasn’t Colonel Tom, or Ziggy Stardust, or the Jean Genie, or the Thin White Duke who turned up to accept this year’s Brit Award for Best Male Artist, but a patriot who ventriloquised through a bizarre little glove puppet known as “Kate Moss”. Speaking in his Moss guise, Bowie essayed a few coolisms before signing off, “Scotland, stay with us,” so becoming the first high-profile English entertainer to wade into the independence debate . . .

 

Could it be that Bowie, ever laughingly gnomic, was subtly evoking a potentially savage downside to Scottish detachment? Note the form of his words: “Scotland, stay with us.” Is this not an appeal to the Scots on behalf of the English? There may be only five million of them, while there are more than 50 million of us, but surely Bowie is right in believing that without this saltire seasoning the conservative English stodge may well become altogether inedible? The more I think about it, far from the Scots needing our crappy sterling and our grudging subsidy, it is we the English who, should they decide to exit the Union pursued by money-market bears, would have the most to lose.

 

REFLECTIONS: KIRSTY WARK ON THE CALEDONIAN SLEEPER

 

The Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark recalls two decades of shuttling between Glasgow and London on the Caledonian sleeper – a train that, she reassures herself, will steam on whatever the outcome of September’s referendum:

 

For 20 years now I have followed the routine of the night sleeper train from Euston . . . The train has a social life all of its own, but one that’s a lot less colourful than in years past. When there were division bells at Westminster on a Thursday night, an army of MPs descended on the train, seeking out cross-party tables or their own kind. There was a tacit agreement that what was spoken about on the train stayed on the train, aided by the discreet train staff, who have been known to help the odd passenger to bed in the early hours, only because a driver might be a little cavalier with a sweeping bend on the line, of course.

 

I can remember when the late Donald Dewar would dodge some of his own back bench, and front bench for that matter. Particularly paining for him was one winter night when they were all cooped up together for 22 hours in bad weather. The Polar Express it was not. I remember one night of particularly good banter between a Conservative peer and a left-wing Labour MP campaigning for land reform. I miss all that craic, even though it sometimes meant retiring to my cabin at two in the morning.

 

Now my ritual usually consists of a quick catch-up with the staff in the lounge car as they put ice in my glass and I choose my malt of the night. I used to be loyal to Bruichladdich but for some reason the Islay distillery no longer supplies miniatures. Now, I might choose Highland Park, my late father’s favourite, or a Glenfiddich. On the nights when I fail to eat take-out at my desk at Newsnight (in the office, not on air) I will sit and have – believe me – delicious Macsween’s haggis and a glass of red wine.

 

VAL McDERMID ON THE WARP AND WEFT OF TARTAN NOIR

 

The crime writer Val McDermid has just moved back to her native Scotland but, as she explains in a column for the NS, as a writer she feels she has never been away:

 

I have lived in England for twice as many years as I have in Scotland but I have never felt anything other than a Scot. That’s not just some jingoistic tartan-and-shortbread sentimentality speaking. It’s a bred-in-the-bone understanding that we have a different sensibility from our English neighbours. Our history is different. Our culture is different. Our class system is different. Our bread and our beer, those dietary staples, are different. As are the words we use to speak of them. A pint of eighty shilling. A pan loaf.
 

And I believe that’s why our crime fiction is different. The phenomenon of tartan noir that has sprung from the single seed of William McIlvanney’s 1977 novel, Laidlaw, encompasses a wide range of work, from apparent rural douceness to raw urban savagery. But it seems to me that all of us who write from that Scottish sensibility have common underpinnings that draw us together and distinguish us from our English, Welsh and Irish colleagues.

 

ALAN TAYLOR’S EDINBURGH NOTEBOOK

 

In a notebook from the Scottish capital, the Herald writer Alan Taylor deplores the city’s tram debacle, marks the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn and suspects the “Better Together” campaign of scare-mongering:

 

There is a daily drip of stories telling Scots how terrible life could be, should they be daft enough to vote for independence. Not for nothing has the pro-Union Better Together campaign been nicknamed “Project Fear”. If its opponents can be accused of foreseeing a land flowing with milk and honey, it is similarly culpable of insisting that an independent Scotland will be like Albania or Azerbaijan.

 

Taylor also anticipates a series of post-divorce custody battles between Scotland and England over everything from football to paintings:

 

Nicholas Penny says there “must be conversations” about two Titians – Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto – which are jointly owned by the National Gallery in London, of which he is director, and the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. The threat of repossession is implicit and, it must be said, typical of the silly sabre-rattling to which we have grown accustomed of late. It’s doubtful, though, whether the possible loss of two masterpieces will shake the resolve of those filing for divorce. Nor, I fear, is it likely to sway many of those who are still swithering.

 

Plus

 

Kathleen Jamie: “The Hinds” – a new work by the Scottish poet

Cal Flyn on the Gaelic revival

Craig Ferguson on being a Scotsman in Los Angeles

Nina Caplan on Lagavulin and Talisker – her nectars of choice

Laurie Penny: the only choice for London’s poor is between water cannon and rubber bullets

Michael Brooks is troubled by the use of brain scans as lie detectors

Commons Confidential: Kevin Maguire shares the latest Westminster gossip

Tom Humberstone imagines the Kafka novel he forgot to write

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Want your team to succeed? Try taking a step back

From the boardroom to the sports ground, managers need to step back for creativity to thrive.

Everyone is in favour of creativity, usually at the expense of creative people. The concept is in perpetual boom. Give us creative midfielders, creative leadership, creative solutions, creative energy. It’s with the “how” that the problems start – with extra meetings and meddling, over-analysis and prescriptiveness, whiteboards and flow charts. Professional systems rarely support the creativity that they allegedly seek. The creativity industry system is at odds with its stated goals.

The novel was an early casualty. Nothing makes me close a book more quickly and finally than the creeping realisation that the author is following a narrative map purchased on an American creative writing course. Life is too short for competent novels. The creativity industry pulls up the worst while dragging down the best.

Something similar happens inside professional sport, even though creativity is so obviously linked to performance and profit. Yet sport, especially English sport, has suffered from excessive managerialism. Perhaps guilt about English sport’s amateur legacy gave “professionalism” free rein, however pedestrian its form.

Here is sport’s problem with creativity: professional systems crave control, but creativity relies on escaping control. If an attacking player doesn’t know what he is going to do next, what chance does the defender have?

So when truly unexpected moments do happen, they take on a special lustre. This month, Olivier Giroud scored an unforgettable goal for Arsenal. Bearing down on the goal, he was already launched in mid-air when he realised that the cross was well behind him. With his body far ahead of his feet, Giroud clipped the ball to the top corner of the net with the outside of his left ankle – a so-called scorpion kick.

It was, in retrospect, the only option available to him. Football, for a moment, touched the arts – not only beautiful, but also complete. Nothing could have been added or taken away.

I once tried to compare the perfect cricket shot to Robert Frost’s celebrated description of writing a poem: “It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification . . . Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.”

A great goal, however, fits that poetic model better than a cricket shot. Cricket shots come in many aesthetic grades, but they are all intended as shots. A goal, on the other hand, is more than just a very good pass, only better. There is an act of transformation within the event.

Frost’s acknowledgment of luck (distinct here from fluke) neatly defuses the accusation. Saying that a great goal involved luck does not to diminish it. Many unearned factors must interact with the skill.

“But did he mean it?” some people have wondered about Giroud’s goal. That isn’t the point, either. There wasn’t time. Giroud had solved the problem – to make contact with the ball, however possible, directing it towards the goal – before he was fully conscious of it. That doesn’t make it an accident. The expertise of a striker, like that of a writer, is opportunistic. He puts himself in positions where his skills can become productive. It is a honed ability to be instinctive. “If I’d thought about it, I never would have done it,” as Bob Dylan sings on “Up to Me”, an out-take from Blood on the Tracks.

Pseudo-intellectual? Quite the reverse. There is nothing pretentious about recognising and protecting creativity in sport. Over-literal decoding is the greater threat: instinctive performance needs to be saved from team meetings, not from intellectuals.

Having described a creative goal as unplanned – indeed, impossible to plan – what can coaches do to help? They can get out of the way, that’s a good start. It is no coincidence that the teams of Arsène Wenger, who is sometimes criticised for being insufficiently prescriptive, score more than their fair share of wonder goals.

The opposite arrangement is bleak. A friend of mine, a fly-half in professional rugby union, retired from the game when his coaches told him exactly which decisions to make in the first six phases of every attacking move. In effect, they banned him from playing creatively; they wanted rugby by numbers.

Not everything can be rehearsed. One useful book for coaches scarcely mentions sport – Inside Conducting, by the conductor Christopher Seaman. “I’ve never had much sympathy for conductors who ‘program’ an orchestra at rehearsal,” Seaman writes, “and then just run the program during the performance. There is much more
to it than that.”

Dan Vettori, the rising star among cricket’s Twenty20 coaches, is rare for having the bravery to echo Seaman’s theory. He believes that cricketers are more likely to play well when they feel slightly underprepared. It’s a risk and a fine balance – but worth it.

As I explored here last month in the context of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, there is a danger of slotting players into false stereotypes and classifications. Giroud, for example, is slow. Slow yet athletic. That’s an unusual combination and partly explains why he is underrated.

We often think of pace as the central and definitive aspect of athleticism. But speed is just one component of total athletic ability (leave to one side footballing skill). Giroud has an outstanding vertical jump, power and great balance. Because he is big and slow, those athletic gifts are harder to spot.

Management systems overestimate both labels and top-down tactics. A braver policy, pragmatic as well as aesthetic, is to be less controlling: allow opportunity to collide with skill, directed by an open, expert and uncluttered mind. l

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge