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Inside this week’s New Statesman | Britain in meltdown

A first look at this week’s magazine.

ISSUE OF 12 SEPTEMBER 2014

 

BRITAIN IN MELTDOWN

THE ESTABLISHMENT IS IN A BLIND PANIC OVER SCOTLAND. HOW ON EARTH DID IT COME TO THIS? ASKS JASON COWLEY. WITH CONTRIBUTIONS FROM JIM MURPHY MP AND GERRY HASSAN ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

 

RETHINKING NIXON

FORTY YEARS AFTER WATERGATE, CAN THE 37TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES BE REHABILITATED?

 

Plus

 

HOW LIBERALISM LOST ITS WAY: DAVID MARQUAND ON THE RELIGIOUS ROOTS OF AN IDEOLOGY

HELEN LEWIS: THE CHALLENGE FOR THE NEXT CENTURY – HOW TO STAY VIRTUOUS WHEN NO ONE WILL KNOW IF YOU’RE BEING NAUGHTY

LINDSEY HILSUM: RETURNING FROM MY FOURTH VISIT TO UKRAINE THIS YEAR, I REALISE – HISTORY MOVES FAST THESE DAYS

PETER WILBY ASKS WHAT WOULD CHANGE IF SCOTLAND LEFT THE UK

THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK: ANDREW HARRISON LOOKS BACK AT FRIENDS, 20 YEARS ON

“POUNDLAND”: A NEW POEM BY SIMON ARMITAGE

ANDREW MARR ADMIRES DAVID KYNASTON’S ACCOUNT OF THE EARLY 1960s

SOPHIE McBAIN FIGHTS LONELINESS AT A “CUDDLE WORKSHOP”

 

 

JASON COWLEY: ARE THESE THE LAST DAYS OF GREAT BRITAIN?

 

The editor of the NS, Jason Cowley, begins this week’s cover story by praising the Gladstonian fervour with which Gordon Brown addressed the looming prospect of an independent Scotland and shattered United Kingdom. “No nationalist should be allowed to split it asunder,” the former prime minister said, speaking for nearly an hour, without notes. Cowley writes:

 

It was a bravura, even romantic performance, imbued with deeper historical resonances and a sense of moral purpose of a kind entirely absent from the vocabulary of Alistair Darling, the leader of the struggling cross-party Better Together campaign . . . Darling, for all his good intentions, is a technocrat; he shrinks when he ought to expand. He uses arid management speak when poetry and passion are called for – compare his low-toned closing statement to Alex Salmond’s inflated rhetoric in the second televised referendum debate on 25 August, a debate that marked a turning point in the campaign and a narrowing in the polls. Darling warns continuously about the macroeconomic risks of independence but never rouses himself to speak about what the United Kingdom has represented through its long history – its purpose, its achievements – and why it must change if it is to survive.

 

Cowley suggests that the idea of “Britishness” lacks a central unifying belief comparable with that of the American ideals of freedom and opportunity for all, or France’s liberty, equality and fraternity. But, for the profoundly Scottish Brown, what really unites the people of these islands is a “shared British commitment to values of liberty, fairness and social responsibility”. Cowley urges voters in Scotland not to underestimate the sincere importance of the “British” tag, freely available to anyone, from anywhere:

 

Scotland has experienced nothing comparable to the levels of immigration of England – one sees few black or mixed-race faces there, though you hear many eastern European accents – and so many Scots do not quite understand why Britishness means so much to so many people from minority backgrounds and why they fear it being ripped away from them. Britishness is a wide umbrella under which so many of us can shelter happily in spite of our differences. We would be bereft without it, drenched in uncertainty and confusion.

 

Before the Scottish general election in 2011, the NS published a leader warning of the consequences of a victory for the Scottish National Party. A few days later, Ed Miliband asked an NS staffer: “Why is Jason writing about Scotland?” He got his answer when Labour, the last truly national British party, was routed, setting the Scots on the road to the referendum. And the current debate has reinvigorated the non-Labour left:

 

What we have been witnessing over the past year or so is a nation’s democracy renewing itself, and all of us who live in these islands should be grateful, because the complacent and smug London elites – political, financial, media, bureaucratic – are finally being forced to take notice.

 

Yet Salmond’s brand of “Borgen nationalism” has often seemed ludicrous. He admits no doubt, promising a Norway-style state even though Scotland produces only half as much oil, has twice the child poverty, and is committed to wrestling sovereignty from Westminster only in order to hand it away unthinkingly to the EU. “My view is that the Union can be saved once,” Adam Tomkins, John Millar Professor of Public Law at the University of Glasgow, tells Cowley.

 

“If No win narrowly, as they did in Quebec [by 51 per cent to 49 per cent in the second of two independence referendums] in 1995, the British state must reinvigorate itself – and that means more devolution. If circumstances require us to have a second referendum in a parliament or two’s time, Yes will win by a country mile.”

 

**Read Jason Cowley on “The last days of Great Britain” in full below**

 

 

JIM MURPHY’S DIARY: BARKED AT BY A DOG, WATCHED BY A PET SHOP BOY AND HECKLED BY A YES-SUPPORTING HORSE

 

In this week’s diary, the Labour MP for East Renfrewshire and shadow secretary of state for international development, Jim Murphy, describes his week, pursuing his tour of 100 streets in Scotland to speak in favour of a No vote on independence, with nothing more than two Irn-Bru crates for an open-air stage.

 

After an impromptu No meeting outside the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, attended by Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, Murphy takes a day off to vote on the bedroom tax in Westminster – a vote that “only a third of the SNPs MPs bothered” to attend. After heckles, gibes, threats and attacks, Murphy writes:

 

I’d always thought that the main risk of having so many public meetings would be Scotland’s unpredictable summer and now autumn weather. But only one meeting has been rained off. A few others have been disrupted in different ways. And while some focus settled on an egg thrower now carrying out community service, I couldn’t care less about how many eggs are aimed at me.

 

 

THE POLITICS COLUMN: EVEN IF THE UNION ENDURES, THE LAST VESTIGES OF WESTMINSTER’S AUTHORITY HAVE BEEN WASHED AWAY

 

“David Cameron must long for the simple days when his greatest fear was losing the general election,” George Eaton, political editor of the New Statesman, begins his column this week. Never has the usually banal observation that “a week is a long time in politics” been more appropriate.

 

Westminster has been caught “defenceless” following the YouGov poll, published on 6 September, which put the Yes side ahead for the first time. Gordon Brown has returned, “a redoubtable Churchill to [David] Cameron’s hapless Chamberlain”, now that Cameron’s position as prime minister could be in “maximum danger”, as a senior Tory says.

 

The referendum agreement [Cameron] signed with Alex Salmond in October 2012, praised at the time, has not aged well. Conservative MPs point to the timing of the vote, the wording of the question, and the decision to enfranchise 16-to-17-year-olds as careless errors. If Cameron’s resignation is demanded, this will be the case for the prosecution.

 

If the dread of a Yes vote runs high among the Tories, it is even higher in Labour, which stands to lose 40 members (16 per cent) from its parliamentary party. “This will be Alistair [Darling] and Douglas [Alexander]’s defeat,” says a Labour MP. Then there are the constitutional bombs to consider: should the next general election be delayed? Would the UK lose its seat on the UN Security Council?

 

“When I meet voters on the doorstep they look left and they look right to see if their neighbours are listening, and then they whisper that they’re voting No,” a Labour MSP says. Nevertheless, as Eaton concludes, “Cameron, Miliband and Clegg may be in office, but they have never seemed less in power”.

 

**Read the Politics Column in full below**

 

 

GERRY HASSAN: THIS PLACE ALREADY FEELS DIFFERENT

 

Gerry Hassan, author of Caledonian Dreaming: the Quest for a Different Scotland, writes that regardless of the outcome of the referendum vote on 18 September, a different Scotland has emerged and found expression.

 

He suggests that the Scottish debate is about more than just the constitution, but rather is a “genuine discussion of how much choice it is possible to have in the face of market fundamentalism and globalisation”.

 

Scotland has a new independence of mind. It is on the verge of formal independence. This raises fascinating questions. Can the hopes released by the pro-independence campaign continue post-Yes? What of the SNP’s timid version of autonomy, with its connection to the Bank of England and the Treasury? And how will Westminster react if a Yes happens?

 

Plus

 

Mark Lawson gets inside the business of Agatha Christie Ltd

Tracey Thorn: I’ve been on the other side of a fair few celebrity interviews – and believe me, they can be terrifying

Will Self: If you want to see the city with completely new eyes, take a night-hike out of town

Leo Robson investigates the cold case crime narrative

Ryan Gilbey is swept along by Matthew Warchus’s Pride

Michael Brooks on the physicists developing new solutions in Switzerland to internet and email snooping

Tim Wigmore learns how to make money on UK elections

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Forget gaining £350m a week, Brexit would cost the UK £300m a week

Figures from the government's own Office for Budget Responsibility reveal the negative economic impact Brexit would have. 

Even now, there are some who persist in claiming that Boris Johnson's use of the £350m a week figure was accurate. The UK's gross, as opposed to net EU contribution, is precisely this large, they say. Yet this ignores that Britain's annual rebate (which reduced its overall 2016 contribution to £252m a week) is not "returned" by Brussels but, rather, never leaves Britain to begin with. 

Then there is the £4.1bn that the government received from the EU in public funding, and the £1.5bn allocated directly to British organisations. Fine, the Leavers say, the latter could be better managed by the UK after Brexit (with more for the NHS and less for agriculture).

But this entire discussion ignores that EU withdrawal is set to leave the UK with less, rather than more, to spend. As Carl Emmerson, the deputy director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, notes in a letter in today's Times: "The bigger picture is that the forecast health of the public finances was downgraded by £15bn per year - or almost £300m per week - as a direct result of the Brexit vote. Not only will we not regain control of £350m weekly as a result of Brexit, we are likely to make a net fiscal loss from it. Those are the numbers and forecasts which the government has adopted. It is perhaps surprising that members of the government are suggesting rather different figures."

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, to which Emmerson refers, are shown below (the £15bn figure appearing in the 2020/21 column).

Some on the right contend that a blitz of tax cuts and deregulation following Brexit would unleash  higher growth. But aside from the deleterious economic and social consequences that could result, there is, as I noted yesterday, no majority in parliament or in the country for this course. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.