There is no party in Britain quite as fake as the Scottish National Party. The SNP, now entrenched in its dominance of Scottish politics, imagines itself a revolutionary force for change. Its mission to break up Britain bolsters that impression. But if the SNP campaigns with zeal, it governs with caution. These are the most conservative revolutionaries on the planet.
On health, education and taxes, the SNP stresses continuity.
Never forget Atlanta. Every time a British athlete wins a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Rio, remember the Atlanta Games of 1996. I was there, and I saw some great sport — and absolutely none of it was British. Great Britain finished 36th in the medal table, behind Kazakhstan, Algeria, Belgium and Ireland.
There was a single British gold medal, and I missed it. It was won by Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent, now both sirs: two enormous boys on the burning deck.
At a car park a short walk from Dante’s tomb, one of the gang of illegal immigrants who tell motorists where to park and hound them for cash agreed to talk to me for €20.
His name was Billy, he said, and he was 22. He was from Senegal and a Muslim. He had come to Italy by fishing boat 14 months ago from Libya, where he had arrived via Mali and Algeria. He paid €200 for the trip (the going rate is said to be at least €1,000) and his boat landed at Lampedusa, 160 nautical miles from Tripoli.
‘We have fallen upon evil times, politics is corrupt and the social fabric is fraying.’ Who said that? Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders? Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen? It’s difficult to keep track. They sound so alike, the populists of the left and the right. Everything is awful, so bring on the scapegoats and the knights on white horses.
Pessimism resonates. A YouGov poll found that just 5 per cent of Britons think that the world, all things considered, is getting better.
‘Farm cottage available, Dorset. Long or short let. £5 per week.’ I was looking for a writing bolthole, so I rang. ‘Bit off the beaten track but it’s quiet all right,’ said the owner. It was also unfurnished. ‘We can get some basics together for you.’
So, in the summer of 1968, I drove down to Dorset and my first holiday cottage. It was backed by a large wood, surrounded by fields of dairy cows and meadows of wild flowers, bordered by elms.
The long civil war in Syria is still far from conclusion. Any real possibility of rebel victory ended with the entry of Russian forces last autumn — but while the initiative is now with the Assad regime, the government’s forces are also far from a decisive breakthrough. So who, if anyone, should the UK be backing in the Syrian slaughterhouse, and what might constitute progress in this broken and burning land?
It ought to be fairly obvious why a victory for the Assad regime would be a disaster for the West.
She had come a very long way from the shtetl, but Marguerite ‘Peggy’ Guggenheim was still the poor relation of her fabulously wealthy family. Although these things are, of course, relative. It was her uncle Solomon, enriched by mining, who first made the family’s name. Peggy’s father sank with the Titanic in 1912. Eventually Solomon’s museum, a Frank Lloyd Wright design as magnificent as it was absurd, became a New York landmark.