Scottish referendum

Edinburgh Notebook

The brilliant Irish comedian Andrew Maxwell describes doing stand-up at the Edinburgh Fringe as ‘exams for clowns’, and even though I first appeared there in 1981 (when the Cambridge Footlights Revue featured Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson and Tony Slattery), I felt an overwhelming surge of nervousness as I began my short run this year with the peerless mimic Jan Ravens (who herself had directed that illustrious 1981 cast). By the middle of the week, I’d finally managed to reach the zone that stand-up requires, being both relaxed and focused. Watching my favourite stand-ups (Hal Cruttenden, Simon Evans, Justin Moorhouse and Maxwell himself) and some exciting new discoveries —

Animal or vegetable?

Against by Christopher Shinn sets out to unlock the secrets of America’s spiritual malaise. Two main settings represent the wealthy and the dispossessed. At a university campus, an inquisitive Jesus-freak named Luke interrogates people about their experiences of violence. At an online retailer, oppressed wage slaves toil for hours and mate fleetingly during their tea breaks. Shinn’s characters also fall into two categories. The rich are eloquent, idealistic and disingenuous. The poor are earthy, impulsive and honest. The play is built around a series of formalised conversations, recorded interviews, writing tutorials, a Q&A session at a town hall, a stilted reunion between two old school-friends, and so on. In ritualised

Letters | 27 April 2017

Aid is not the answer Bill Gates says he is a huge fan of capitalism and trade (Save Aid!, 22 April) but then spoils it by repeating the received wisdom about aid: ‘If you care at all about conditions in Africa – the population explosion, measles, polio — then don’t suggest there is a private-sector solution to these problems. It’s outrageous.’ No. It is not outrageous. A vigorous private sector is the only answer to African development. I have spent my life in Africa, working in 18 of its countries, usually deep in the bush. I have watched numerous aid programmes fail once the external funding is removed, and have spent

Letters | 23 March 2017

Speaking for Scotland Sir: I wonder if it is wise of Charles Moore (Notes, 18 March) to assume — as so many do — that because they lost the independence referendum back in 2014, the Nationalists do not speak for Scotland? In the following general election Scottish voting virtually wiped out every political party north of the border, other than the SNP. Might it not be wiser to assume that the Scots had thought again? Ian Olson Aberdeen Birds, gangs and economics Sir: Simon Barnes is correct in his implication that the trapping and harvesting of small birds by criminal gangs in Cyprus is enough to make the average Briton

Barometer | 16 March 2017

Mary Queen of Golf? The vote by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers to admit women as members has reawakened speculation as to who was the first woman to play golf. —According to legend, Mary Queen of Scots played the game at St Andrews and coined the phrase ‘caddy’ when referring to the cadet who was carrying her clubs. Yet the evidence seems to relate to a charge made by her opponents that she played golf within days of the death of her husband, Lord Darnley. — A more realistic candidate appeared in the Caledonian Mercury, an Edinburgh newspaper, in 1738, which reported two women playing a game at Bruntsfield

Letters | 9 March 2017

On Scottish independence Sir: Alex Massie writes of the order permitting a second Scottish independence referendum: ‘Having granted such an order in 2014, it will be difficult to refuse Mrs Sturgeon’s demand for another’ (‘Back into battle’, 4 March). Surely that is precisely why Mrs May should refuse another? It was the SNP who described the 2014 vote as a chance in a lifetime. The only thing way in which Brexit could have changed matters is if it had been a fundamental and unforeseeable upset. Alex Massie, from this and his previous writings, clearly believes it was. But the Conservatives, at the time of the Scottish vote, had promised to

Nicola Sturgeon is making it up as she goes along

Because the SNP have won so often and so conclusively in recent years there is an understandable temptation to suppose they must always know what they are doing. Accordingly, Nicola Sturgeon sits in Bute House like some political Moriarty: motionless, perhaps, but like a spider at the centre of its web. And ‘that web has a thousand radiations, and [s]he knows well every quiver of each of them’. Other political parties may plan, but the SNP plots. Everything is done for a reason and nothing is left to chance. The nationalists are relentless and implacable. No wonder they put the fear of God into their foes (especially a Labour party they

Letters | 8 September 2016

What Swedes don’t say Sir: Tove Lifvendahl is, unfortunately, exactly right in her analysis of Swedish immigration and asylum policy (‘Sweden’s refugee crisis’, 3 September). Those in Sweden who support free movement and free trade feel it has long been obvious that the consensus in the riksdag would lead to disaster. Last autumn saw a celebrity-studded ‘Sweden Together’ celebration of the open-border immigration policy. Then, just six weeks later, we experienced the closure of borders and passport controls enforced on the Öresund bridge connecting Sweden to Denmark. The flow of immigrants is now at five per cent of its peak, but the Öresund region, or the Greater Copenhagen area — a

Better together

This time two years ago, the United Kingdom stood on the brink of dissolution. The referendum on Scottish independence hung in the balance and momentum was with the nationalists. The optimism and energy of Alex Salmond’s campaign stood in admirable contrast to the shrill hysteria of Project Fear, the name given to a unionist campaign that churned out ever-less-credible warnings about what would happen after separation. The union was saved, but 45 per cent of Scots had voted to leave it. So the referendum had not closed the question, but left it wide open. At the time, the North Sea oil sector was still in fairly good health. In the

Tartan-ing up the arts

Many years ago an arts spokesperson for the SNP launched an extraordinary attack on Scottish Opera, saying, ‘If push comes to shove, if I were arts minister and had to choose between the survival of Gaelic music and Scottish Opera, I would say rich people could always go to Salzburg for lieder and Sydney for opera.’ With various parties now competing for the class-war-and-grievance vote, I sense a return of this kind of rhetoric in debates on Scottish culture, arts and politics. Scottish Opera routinely invite Scotland’s politicians to their productions and their invitations are routinely ignored. The feeling is that there are votes to be lost in being seen

Sturgeon’s bluff

It ought not to be a surprise that Alex Salmond, Scotland’s former First Minister, has declared that the vote to leave the European Union is the trigger for a second referendum on Scottish independence. Salmond thinks everything is an excuse for another go. If a new Bay City Rollers album suffered poor reviews south of the border, or an English football pundit failed to declare Archie Gemmill’s wonder goal for Scotland against Holland in the 1978 world cup the best ever, Salmond would be right there on the UK’s television screens, chortling at the brilliance of his own wit, before intoning gravely that this insult is surely the final straw

Brexit won’t hand victory to the SNP. A unionists’ breakdown just might.

Over the last few years, Scots have had to get used to Nicola Sturgeon telling them what they think. When the SNP had its majority (one the voters stripped away in the recent Holyrood election) she was keen to present herself as the voice of the country: l’Ecosse, c’est moi. If the SNP wants X, then Scotland wants X. She’s at it again, saying that the UK has voted out of the European Union and Scotland has voted in – so the UK was voting ‘against the interests of the Scottish people’ and finally provided the provocation needed to launch a new referendum. In fact, two-in-five Scots – and even a

The UK that Scotland voted to remain within ‘doesn’t exist anymore’

The First Minister gave an interview on Scotland’s position in the UK after Brexit on the Andrew Marr Show this morning. Here’s what she said: Andrew Marr: Can I ask first of all, is it your priority to have a negotiation as Scotland with Brussels to allow Scotland to more or less seamlessly stay inside the EU? Nicola Sturgeon: My short answer to that is yes, but let me perhaps expand on the position that I find myself in. Marr: Please do. Sturgeon: You know, the first thing I should say is that I didn’t want to be in this position this weekend. I hoped very much and campaigned to

Help! I’ve started to care about politics

Once upon a time, I didn’t really care about politics. Not viscerally. Growing up in a political family, I suppose, you go one of two ways. You know those kids you’ll sometimes see being paraded around by political parents in facepaint and rosettes, waving from shoulders as though born into a cult? I wasn’t like that. More the opposite. Politics was always nearby, and sometimes even interesting, but it was nothing to do with me. Devotees often made me think of those people who support a football team and refer to it as ‘we’. Get over yourself, I always thought. You’re just a spectator. If you wanted to detect a

Which polls are you going to believe?

Today’s ICM phone and online polls are a reminder that the polls aren’t going to offer much certainty about the result of the EU referendum. ICM’s traditional phone poll has IN ahead 47 to 39, and with the don’t knows excluded up 55% to 45%. This would suggest that IN is on course for a fairly comfortable victory. But its online poll has Out up 47 to 43, and with the don’t knows excluded ahead 52% to 48%. Phone polls are generally regarded as slightly superior to online ones, they are certainly more expensive. So, I suspect that most people in Westminster will take these polls as a sign that

Fear and loathing

Strange as it may seem, there are still people around David Cameron who regard the Scottish referendum campaign as a great success. Yes, they say, the nationalists didn’t like the original ‘Project Fear’ — the attempt to frighten Scotland into voting no — but it worked. Alex Salmond was defeated by a 10 per cent margin — proof, it’s argued, that relentless negativity works. Those who complain about it are either losers, or too squeamish to win. Andrew Cooper, chief of the Scottish ‘in’ campaign, said afterwards that the only criticism he would accept is that it was not negative enough. This attitude is a poison in the bloodstream of

Referendum rage

In Scotland’s grittier pubs, a simple rule has long applied: no football colours and no talking about politics. With enough drink, talking about either can lead to violence — and pint glasses are expensive to replace. With an ordinary general election, the prohibition is easy to obey. The wrong buggers might well win, but they can easily be removed at the next election. A referendum, however, is different. It’s not just temporary — it’s for life. And like life, it’s unavoidable. Socially, as well as politically, there is no hiding place. The Prime Minister is, it seems, experiencing the referendum effect for himself. He can quite happily chat to his

Of course the old Tory hatreds are back. That’s referendums for you

Of course it’s vicious. It was always going to be. Sure, they’ve spent decades living peacefully side by side, but so did the Hutu and Tutsi. So did the Alawites and Sunnis, and so did every manner of former Yugoslavian. In politics, old hatreds do not die. They merely keep mum, so as to get selected and maybe become a junior minister. You will not find me dwelling upon the row in cabinet, this week, about whether pro-Brexit ministers are allowed to see government papers related to the EU referendum. Personally, I’d pay good money not to see government papers related to the EU referendum. I consider it a very

The Spectator’s Notes | 18 June 2015

It is natural to assume that, if a majority votes No in the referendum on Britain’s EU membership, we shall then leave. It is not automatically so. After the vote, we would still be members. The government would then — morally at least — be mandated to negotiate Britain’s withdrawal. In theory, unlikely though it may currently seem, the EU could try to block this. Even assuming that it did not do so, the eventual terms of the withdrawal would not automatically be agreed by Parliament and would not necessarily correspond with the wishes of those who voted No. The context for our vote will be David Cameron’s presentation of a package

Does anyone really expect the EU referendum to resolve anything?

I suppose, if you could look deep into the mind of somebody who was passionately keen that Britain should leave the European Union then, in among things like old episodes of Dad’s Army and unassailable convictions that Cornwall produces some perfectly good vintages, and so on, you might also spot a vision of the future. In this vision, our referendum will have been and gone and Britain will have seen the light and left the EU. Everybody will have been convinced. Even Nick Clegg. The question will have been settled for a generation at least, and there will be no need to talk about it anymore and we’ll be able