A Hindu Cromwell courteously decapitates hundreds of maharajas

On 25 July 1947, in the searing heat, almost 100 princes bedecked in jewels gathered in a circular room in New Delhi. Some of them ruled over principalities of less than a square mile; others over an area larger than Korea. All of them had been Britain’s close allies for more than a century and, now that the British were leaving India, many looked forward to regaining their states’ independence. But on that fateful day, as Lord Mountbatten swaggered around in his ivory white uniform, anxious murmurs rippled through the throng. A cousin of George VI, and related to virtually every royal in Europe, the viceroy was no republican; yet

Interview: Rowan Williams on Wales, independence and the King Lear of Westminster

Rowan Williams is no stranger to politics. As Archbishop of Canterbury he was as comfortable criticising Tony Blair over Iraq as passing stern judgment on David Cameron’s austerity measures. Even in these pages, at the height of the global crisis in 2008, Williams was arguing that Marx could teach us a thing or two about financial markets. Still, in recent weeks it just might be that he has embarked one of his most controversial projects yet: a commission to help define Wales’ constitutional future in the UK. As the spectre of Scottish independence haunts Westminster and Welsh nationalism gains momentum, it is a timely mission. In October, Williams was unveiled as head

Why the SNP fraud allegations matter

A common refrain from opponents of the Scottish National party is that ‘the SNP is not Scotland’. But it often seems they haven’t got the message, especially when Nationalist activists take it on themselves to stand guard on the border against the plague-ridden English. This week, the people who may really wish they’d done more to police the borders between themselves and the SNP are none other than grassroots separatists in the ‘Yes movement’. If you missed this story, the long and short of it is that a few years ago the SNP went on a fundraising drive. They secured hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations on the basis

Ever weaker Union: The Tories lack a constitutional theory

No doubt Michael Gove is satisfied with how his latest comments on Scottish independence have gone down. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, de facto minister for the Union (even though that’s meant to be someone else’s job), told the Telegraph he couldn’t see any circumstances under which the PM would allow Nicola Sturgeon a second referendum on breaking up Britain. This is exactly what Scotland’s embattled unionists want to hear and seem not to tire of hearing, even though they hear it a lot. Sturgeon has obliged by accusing Gove of ‘sneering, arrogant condescension’, ‘completely refusing to accept Scottish democracy’ and helping ‘build support for independence’. And so

Can the UK government navigate the SNP’s calls for a second referendum?

The Unionist tactical voting in Scotland makes it tempting to see the country as split down the middle between pro-independence and anti-independence voters. But this is not quite right. There is a good argument that the Scottish electorate is actually split three ways between Unionists, Nationalists and those who aren’t fully decided on the constitutional question. It is this third group who will determine the result of any second referendum. So, the UK government has to have them in mind when thinking about how to handle the inevitable request for a Section 30 order and a second referendum. The first thing to say is that the UK government should ensure

A study in vulnerability: The Coming Bad Days, by Sarah Bernstein, reviewed

When the unnamed narrator of Sarah Bernstein’s The Coming Bad Days leaves the man with whom she has been living because she can’t bear the sight of the tidy line of his shirt collars hanging in the wardrobe, she triggers an existential crisis that dominates this debut novel: ‘The notion that I was free in theory but also in practice to do whatever I liked with my life was terrifying: it was nothing short of a nightmare.’ She moves to a cottage, where she lives alone, worrying variously about the plight of women and the state of a world that is on fire or under water depending on the season.

Alex Salmond is a gift to the Unionist cause

If Alex Salmond and his new Alba party did not exist, pro-Union parties would find it necessary to invent them. Perhaps, of course, that is what has happened. Be that as it may, Salmond’s emergence from the swampy waters of his own disgrace is the best thing to have happened for Unionism in a long, long time. Salmond may be an innocent man in the eyes of the law, but he is not a good one in the eyes of the public. Remarkably, he is less popular in Scotland than Boris Johnson. That reflects, doubtless, the manner in which Nicola Sturgeon’s friends and agents have turned against him and the

Sturgeon’s rush for a referendum could backfire

The Holyrood election campaign kicks off with Nicola Sturgeon buoyed by James Hamilton’s report concluding that she did not break the ministerial code. Unionists in both London and Edinburgh have been taken aback by how decisively Hamilton stated that Sturgeon had not broken the code. But, as I say in the magazine this week, it would be wrong to think Sturgeon hasn’t been damaged by this whole business.  Voters feel that Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic should come first The independence bill her government published this week was also a misjudgement. It states that the referendum will be held in the first half of the next Scottish parliament. In other words,

Ruth Davidson’s exit reveals Scottish Tories’ independence secret

Ruth Davidson has used her final speech to the Scottish Conservative conference to appeal to pro-Union voters. In a video streamed on the first day of the event, the former party leader said Scotland had passed ‘peak Nat’ and that, while the SNP was bound to emerge as the largest party after the May 6 devolved elections, the Tories could still deprive Nicola Sturgeon of an overall majority. This was imperative, she said, so that the Scottish Government could be ‘held in check’. She contended: If there’s no check on an SNP government after May, they will put their obsession with securing a second independence referendum above Scotland’s national interest.

MEPs have missed their chance to protect human rights

The European Parliament is always eager to lecture the world about human rights. To a degree, this annoys the world’s despots and we should, of course, never underestimate how ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’. But the Parliament’s overall influence on foreign affairs is still limited. On Tuesday, however, MEPs received an opportunity to actually make a difference when it came to protecting human rights. The European Parliament had to decide whether to lift the immunity of three Catalan nationalist MEPs – former Catalan government leader Carles Puigdemont and former ministers Antoni Comín and Clara Ponsatí – that are facing criminal charges in Spain for their roles in organising an independence

Why Reform UK’s Scotland launch was a flop

Scots may be getting vaccinated against Covid, but they already have the highest rate of immunity to the appeal of Nigel Farage to be found anywhere in the UK. So it was not a particular surprise that Farage today stayed away from the launch of the Scottish offshoot of his new entity, Reform UK. Instead it was left to party chairman Richard Tice to unveil the identity of the leader of Reform UK, Scotland. The sitting MSP Michelle Ballantyne, who stood unsuccessfully for the leadership of the Scottish Conservatives less than a year ago before going independent, has become the Scottish leader of Reform UK, without needing to win a single

Leaving the Union would harm Scotland more than Brexit

The Spectator recently ran a piece by Andrew Wilson, author of the SNP’s Sustainable Growth Commission, under the headline ‘Scotland can’t afford to remain part of the Union’. For those seeking any fresh insight into either the moral or economic case for breaking up the United Kingdom, it was thin gruel.  Instead of coherent arguments, we were offered bold and unsubstantiated assertions. We are asked to believe that the separatists’ position is ‘highly sophisticated’ and that because of Brexit, ‘staying in the Union is riskier than independence’. Any worries about the economic implications of leaving the UK single market, abandoning the Sterling currency union, losing the economic support offered by

Nicola Sturgeon’s pandemic politics

Nicola Sturgeon had some choice words to say about Brexit last month. Speaking at one of Scotland’s daily coronavirus briefings, the First Minister said she was ‘deeply frustrated and depressed’ about the prospect of no deal in the new year, and suggested that to talk about Brexit in the middle of a pandemic was not only dangerous, but deeply irresponsible. The country doesn’t need ‘another big thing to be dealing with’ when the focus should be on coronavirus, the First Minister lamented. So you can imagine Mr Steerpike’s surprise when Sturgeon appeared to embark on her own political pet project yesterday. In an interview with the BBC, the First Minister

Does Catalonia really want independence?

In 1714, after a long siege, Spain managed to regain control of Barcelona after the War of Spanish Succession. Catalan nationalists point to the day Barcelona fell, 11 September 1714, as the point when Madrid began to strip their homeland of its ancient privileges, and three centuries of subjugation and repression began. To remind everyone of the importance of the year 1714, Barcelona fans chant in favour of independence for Catalonia when the Camp Nou football stadium clock shows that 17 minutes and 14 seconds of a match have passed. Meanwhile the day itself, 11 September, is commemorated every year as La Diada (‘The Day’), Catalonia’s national day. In most