Show Hide image

In this week’s New Statesman | Scotland: what next?

A first look at this week’s magazine.

19 SEPTEMBER 2014 ISSUE

SCOTLAND: WHAT NEXT?

*After the referendum, nothing will be the same again*

JASON COWLEY WRITES FROM EDINBURGH

ALAN TAYLOR: HOW I SAVED AND LOST THE UNION

ANDREW MARR ON MOB RULE AND BAD REVIEWS

HELEN LEWIS ASKS WHETHER DEVOLUTION IS
REALLY SO GREAT

NEW STATESMAN LEADER: AFTER THE REFERENDUM

JEREMY BOWEN REPORTS FROM DAMASCUS
ON ASSAD AND ISIS

Plus

GEORGE EATON: BRITAIN’S FOREIGN POLICY SHOWS CAMERON’S FLAWS

MEHDI HASAN: THE FIRST “WAR ON TERROR” WAS A FAILURE.
DO WE REALLY NEED A SEQUEL?

ERICA WAGNER VISITS NORWAY TO DISCOVER WHAT IBSEN CAN
TELL US ABOUT 21ST-CENTURY LIFE

STEVE RICHARDS COMPARES LABOUR’S TRIUMPHALISM IN 1996
WITH THE MOOD TODAY

FRANCIS BECKETT ON THE RISE AND FALL OF NEIL KINNOCK,
THE MAN WHO SAVED LABOUR

SOPHIE McBAIN MEETS THE SCIENTISTS AND TECH ENTREPRENEURS
PREPARING FOR THE APOCALYPSE

STEVEN POOLE FINDS NAOMI KLEIN’S BOOK ON CLIMATE CHANGE
VEERS INTO MUMBO-JUMBO

MARTIN ROWSON: THE CARTOONIST TAKES A SATIRICAL SWIPE AT THE COALITION’S PROGRESS

 

ANDREW MARR’S DIARY: WHY I’M TORN OVER SCOTLAND, THE PLEASURES OF GETTING FATTER, AND AN AUDIENCE AT No 10

The Scottish broadcaster, journalist and (now) novelist Andrew Marr writes the NS Diary this week, reflecting on the Scottish independence referendum, bloggers, the tattooed troops of the Orange Order and the Downing Street party that launched his debut novel, Head of State.

“I find myself horribly torn,” Marr writes:

What’s happening is essentially a gentle revolution against the British state, directed and circumscribed through the ballot box. Up in Scotland, virtually all my friends are Yes voters, hugely excited about real change. Virtually all my family are iron-clad Nos, deeply upset by the demise of the country they grew up in.

Of course I don’t have a vote; and that’s one area where I am in 100 per cent agreement with the Scottish government. It’s true that the franchise means many people who have settled in Scotland only months ago can vote, while people like me, with only Scots in my family tree (with one French exception) going back for centuries, can’t vote. But what’s the alternative, pray? Digging back through the DNA, talking about who’s racially Scottish? Naw, thanks.

Much has been made of the intimidating tactics used by Yes supporters over the course of the campaign – but nobody has made mention of the “absolutely terrifying” presence of the Orangemen backing the No campaign, who filled Waverley Station when Marr arrived in Edinburgh to interview Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling last week.

Later on, before our interviews, we asked the two politicians to toss a coin to decide who would go first. I used a fat, gold-coloured “five-ryal” coin, part of a set produced by the International Numismatic Agency as a potential currency for an independent Scotland. Salmond, who has his own set as a keepsake, tossed the coin. He announced he’d lost even before he could see how it had landed, and graciously asked Darling whether he wanted to go first or second. As a tiny piece of political theatre, symbolising bland self-confidence, it was very clever.

After a Guardian journalist refers to him in print as “stocky”, Marr reflects that a daily “meditative pint of IPA” and “the haggis-and-black-pudding breakfasts in Edinburgh, are beginning to tell”. All the same, he is “calmer, and certainly happier, as a result” – even as the reviews for his novel, “some of them . . . keen, others rather less so”, pour in. Finally, he describes a party held at 10 Downing Street on 16 September to celebrate the launch of the book:

A good chunk of the cabinet, plus senior Labour people, turned up at Downing Street on Tuesday night to support the stroke charity that has done a huge amount for me – Action for Rehabilitation from Neurological Injury (Arni). The acronym works because it’s based on hard training – lots of kettle bells, and so on – and members of the Arni team were very visible in the throng. They were mostly genial, tough-looking and thickset men walking with a slight limp.

The Prime Minister had no visible limp. He did look a bit hot but he’d just been for a run. Michael Gove, who as Chief Whip has the PM’s fate in his hands, was watching from the back. Even now, most people I spoke to believe the referendum result will be a No and the main political problem will be placating English Tory MPs angry about Scottish concessions. The previous night, I’d spoken to a very senior parliamentarian about plans for a new federal Britain. There are no plans. “We simply haven’t considered the possibility of the Scots voting to go,” I was told. Hmm. As of Wednesday morning, this feels, to put it gently, unwise.

JEREMY BOWEN – SYRIA NOTEBOOK: BASHAR AL-ASSAD’S MEN AND THE REBELS AGREE ON ONE THING: ISLAMIC STATE IS A DANGER TO THEM ALL

Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, travels to Syria, where he considers the recent observation by Pope Francis that, “even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third world war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction”. The notion that we are in a continual state of war feels plausible. As Bowen notes: “In recent times I have reported from Damascus, Aleppo, Baghdad and Gaza. Everywhere was at war.”

He then describes the situation in Damascus:

Damascus is always a little surreal. Most of the city functions and is not damaged. Lives have been transformed, broken and ended by the war, but the shops are open and yellow taxis cram the streets. The sounds of war are so familiar that most people no longer look up when they hear a military jet screaming its way towards another air strike on the rebels in the suburbs.

But if you go to the edge of the area held by the regime, you can see the damage, and in places it is colossal. Block after block has been flattened. Sometimes we are able to cross over into rebel-held territory. Most of the civilians have gone. Streets are piled high with rubble. Buildings are so tattered by shelling that they could be made of paper. In recent weeks Syrian government troops have been on the offensive, trying to take back suburbs that have been held by armed rebels since they began appearing openly on the streets some time around the New Year of 2012. The rebels are hitting back. As I’ve been writing this, four rockets came in near our hotel, which is also the main UN headquarters.

And the anti-Assad Syrian rebels have fears about Islamic State:

Many of the armed men I have met who are fighting the regime around Damascus have some of the trappings of Islamist fighters – headbands with extracts from the Quran, beards, and so on – but they have all been Syrians, not foreigners, and they have said that they want an Islamic state on the lines of Turkey, not Arabia 1,400 years ago. A commander I met on my last trip across the lines said that if Islamic State came to Damascus the IS fighters would want to kill them all.

The Syrian end of the war that began as an uprising by demonstrators is a tangled, deadly mess of rivalries and alliances. The danger is that the international response to IS led by the United States will graft another layer of war on to the conflicts that already exist:

The Paris conference on 15 September was designed to add legitimacy to an American-led campaign by enlisting Sunni Muslim countries. British officials who have been giving anonymous quotes to newspapers expressed a hope that the Saudis, or the Emiratis, might even use some of the warplanes they have bought at huge expense from Britain and America to help with the bombing.

Even if they did that, and I think they will be very reluctant, raids would be no less of a recruiting sergeant for the jihadists. Military force is part of the answer against men as murderous as the foot soldiers of Islamic State. But so is making them look less attractive to disaffected and alienated youths. One way to do this might be by working much harder to end those parts of the war in Syria that do not include IS. Enemies here agree that the group is a danger to them all. So get them all talking about ways to stop IS. Some co-operation on the battlefield might even lead to other kinds of deals.

JASON COWLEY – EDITOR’S NOTE: EDINBURGH REACHES FEVER PITCH, SALMOND’S “CONTINUITY CHANGE”, AND NICK ROBINSON SMELLS ANXIETY

Jason Cowley, the editor of the New Statesman, writes from Edinburgh, where the atmosphere is “febrile; there is an imminent sense of an ending – of the end of the long campaign, of the end even of the United Kingdom”. He is reminded of Alex Salmond’s reassurance strategy for Scottish voters, which can be summed up as “continuity in change”, and of how Giuseppe di Lampedusa wrote in The Leopard, his acclaimed, melancholic novel about the decline of an aristocratic Sicilian family and the unification of Italy: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”

When I visited Alistair Darling at the Better Together offices in Glasgow in June, I asked him what a good result would be. “A good result in September is one that puts the matter [of independence] to bed for a generation,” he said. I pushed him to elaborate: would less than 40 per cent voting Yes be convincing enough? “I’ll tell you when I see it. What you want people to say is we’ve had our referendum and we’ve made our decision. We need a good turnout . . .”

Darling will get his good turnout – it was wonderful that nearly 4.3 million people in Scotland registered to vote, 97 per cent of all those eligible – but surely not the resounding victory he and his allies expected only a few weeks ago. Yet however close the final result, Scotland has experienced something remarkable and precious during these summer months: a democratic awakening that has shaken the very foundations of the British state. If we want things in Britain to stay as they are, things will have to change.

GEORGE EATON: THE POLITICS COLUMN

“It is just 13 months since David Cameron become the first prime minister to lose a vote on a matter of peace and war since 1782,” begins George Eaton, the political editor of the New Statesman, in his column this week. Many have seen that vote, in August last year, as an epochal shift comparable to Suez; the former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown lamented the move as a lurch “towards isolationism”.

And now it seems hard to believe that, once again, the UK is facing the possibility of military action against the jihadists of Islamic State.

Some of the 30 Tory MPs who voted against intervention in Syria are prepared publicly to support military action against Islamic State. One of the rebels, Sarah Wollaston, tells me: “Last time round, we didn’t have Arab League backing and we do this time. The intervention has to be led by local and regional powers; otherwise, it’s just seen as a vendetta against Muslims.” But most Tory rebels remain unmoved. John Redwood, who abstained on the government motion last year, bluntly says: “I am not persuaded that we should be bombing Iraq or Syria.”

It is Labour that will determine whether Cameron becomes the fourth successive prime minister to preside over military action in Mesopotamia. After thwarting the PM last summer, in what the Tories denounced as an act of betrayal (Labour sources maintain that no “blank cheque” was ever signed), the opposition is regarded with suspicion and enmity. But there is as yet no evidence that the two parties’ positions will diverge.

Plus

The NS critic at large Mark Lawson explores major new exhibitions of work by Turner and Constable

Letter from Kinshasa: Michael Barrett wonders how countries should memorialise their colonial past

Philip Maughan discovers “the plumbers of the internet”

Ryan Gilbey: If only the lads of The Riot Club were a little less revolting

Melissa Benn reviews Jacqueline Rose’s Women in Dark Times and
Jad Adams’s Women and the Vote

Will Self: There’s a duck leg to settle the queasiest stomach,
40 floors above the heaving city

Antonia Quirke: How our nation got addicted to painkillers – me included

Adam Tomkins: The No campaign made all the wrong arguments

Ed Smith on the abuse of the cricketer Moeen Ali

Commons Confidential: Kevin Maguire shares the latest gossip from Westminster

Getty
Show Hide image

Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.