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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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.