A prediction: after 2021, Nicola Sturgeon won’t fight another devolved election as SNP leader. The first minister’s future hinges on the outcome of next May’s crucial Holyrood vote and the UK government’s response to nationalist demands for a second independence referendum. 

If the SNP manages to secure and then win that referendum, Scots will go on to elect a sovereign, independent parliament, most likely with Sturgeon at its helm. If the nationalists lose, however, Sturgeon will have little choice but to resign, much as Alex Salmond and David Cameron did following their respective referendum defeats in 2014 and 2016.

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Boris Johnson became prime minister of the United Kingdom in July 2019. Since then, he has launched four separate initiatives aimed at ‘saving’ the Union from the threat of Scottish nationalism. The most recent of these, announced on Nov. 18., is intended to “boost the social and cultural case” for Britain following a “series of missteps” by the Conservative leader, according to the Financial Times

On Nov 17., Johnson reportedly told a group of Tory MPs that the transfer of partial legislative powers to Scotland from London in 1999 had been a “disaster north of the border.” His remark was clearly not meant for a Scottish audience: two decades after its creation, the Scottish Parliament remains hugely popular with Scottish voters, whereas opposition to devolution is a fringe pursuit.

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The Scottish National Party (SNP) burst onto the British political scene in the early 1970s campaigning under the punchy separatist slogan of “It’s Scotland’s Oil” — a reference to the vast reservoirs of oil and gas recently discovered beneath the North Sea waters around Aberdeenshire.

But five decades on, faced with an accelerating climate crisis, a prolonged slump in global oil prices, and widespread redundancies in the carbon sector, Scotland’s nationalist movement is beginning to reassess its historic relationship with fossil fuels. 

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Evan Osnos’s neatly timed biography of Joe Biden, a collection of pieces previously published in the New Yorker, is brimming with insights into America’s new president-elect. The insights are not always flattering. “When Barack Obama, newly arrived in the Senate in 2005, heard Biden hold forth in a meeting of the Foreign Relations Committee,” Osnos writes, “he passed an aid a three-word note: ‘Shoot. Me. Now’.” Over more than three decades on Capitol Hill – “the windbag Mecca” – Biden had earned a reputation as a self-important blowhard with a “harrowing tendency” to put his foot in his mouth.

Still, a few years later, Biden found himself serving alongside Obama in the White House, where the two men formed an unusually tight personal and professional bond. “Obama took to telling aides and audiences that naming Biden vice president was the best political decision he had made,” Osnos reports. The trials they faced together – healthcare reform, Republican obstructionism, familial loss – “had brought them closer than many expected.”

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From the “rotten boroughs” of the early nineteenth century to the “Cash for Honours” scandal of the 2000s, patronage, nepotism, and grift have always been part of British political culture. But in recent years, the problem of corruption in UK public life seems to have intensified — or, at least, become more visible.

According to journalist Peter Geoghegan, in his best-selling new book, Democracy for Sale, this shift reflects the growing “Americanization” of British politics. Anonymous donors hold sway over the major parties, the Conservatives in particular; dark money has pushed radical fringe agendas into mainstream debate; lies and disinformation are now common currency among Westminster legislators.

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On Tuesday, American voters will get the chance to end Donald Trump’s planetary death drive. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Trump administration will go down as one of the most environmentally destructive in modern American history. To illustrate the existential stakes of this election, here’s just a partial summary of Trump’s assault on the climate over the past four years. 

Since 2016, the US president has ditched, sidelined or diluted at least 100 Obama-era climate reforms. He has opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to fresh drilling initiatives. He has licensed new oil pipeline developments and liquified natural gas terminals. He has gutted the National Environmental Protection Act, which forced the federal government to assess the ecological impact of its policies. He has expanded tax breaks for coal plants, championed fracking, and hobbled the American renewables market. He has muzzled climate scientists and blamed California’s historic wildfires on bad forest management. He has packed the US court system with conservative judges who are instinctively sympathetic to extractive industries. And, of course, he has withdrawn America from the Paris Climate Accords, which aim to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by the middle of this century – just enough, in other words, to stave-off something approaching total climactic disaster.

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In 1965, the nationalist government of President Sukarno in Indonesia was toppled in a military coup d’état. Sukarno was a visionary and idiosyncratic leader who, over the preceding 15 years, had struck a precarious balancing act between the country’s ultra-conservative armed forces on one side and its popular and assertive communist party, the PKI, on the other. He was also instrumental in establishing the so-called ‘Third World’ movement of left-leaning, non-aligned states that emerged after the Second World War.

By the start of the 1960s, however, that act had begun to falter. In the middle of the decade, the generals made their move. With the explicit backing of the United States, the Indonesian army ousted Sukarno and then rapidly set about eliminating their ideological rivals. Over the next 12 months, up to one million Indonesian civilians and suspected PKI members were slaughtered in what was, by any measure, one of the worst instances of organised political violence to have occurred during the 20th-century.

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Ten months after Boris Johnson led his Conservative Party to an epic election victory in the United Kingdom, surveys are showing an increase in support for Scottish independence — literally, the break-up of the British state.

Enthusiasm for ending Scotland’s 313-year-old union with England has spiked in the past, notably in the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum, when it looked, briefly, like the Scots were going to vote in favor of leaving the UK. (The final result was 55 percent to 45 percent against.)

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Nationalists have long believed in the inevitability of Scottish independence; now unionists are beginning to believe in it, too. “It’s over,” one former Better Together figurehead told The Spectator, anonymously, in July. “The horse has bolted.”

The recent string of opinion polls showing, for the first time, sustained majority support for separation has spooked the British political class. Boris Johnson’s panicked sojourns north of the border, and the hastily-arranged decapitation of Jackson Carlaw as Scots Tory leader, suggest unionism is a cause in search of a strategy – a point underlined by the absurd idea, floated last week by the FT’s Sebastian Payne, that Britain’s future rests exclusively on the shoulders of Richard Leonard.

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In Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum charts the fracturing of the Transatlantic right. The book is part-memoir, part-polemic. Over the past 20 years, the conservative movement has split into two factions, Applebaum contends: traditional neoliberals, who believe in free-markets, democratic institutions, and the rule of law, and populists, who thrive on division, confusion, and nationalist paranoia.

Applebaum – a journalist and academic based, variously, in Poland, Britain, and the US – belongs firmly to the first faction. A veteran contributor to the Spectator, Sunday Times, and Washington Post, she has enjoyed ringside access to rightwing elites for decades. Until recently, she was on good terms with Boris Johnson, a man she now describes as an “all-consuming” narcissist with a “penchant for fabrication.” (“Nobody serious wants to leave the EU,” she quotes the future prime minister as saying in 2014. “Business doesn’t want it. The City doesn’t want it. It won’t happen.”) In 2008, she broke with the Republican Party after John McCain added Sarah Palin – “a proto-Trump” – to his presidential ticket. McCain “never spoke to me again,” she writes. In Poland, Applebaum and her husband, the politician Radek Sikorski, have become targets of anti-Semitic propaganda linked to the country’s ruling Law and Justice Party. “Whether I like it or not, I am part of this story,” she laments.

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Modern Scottish nationalism was born in the pages of the New Left Review, sometime in the mid-1960s.

That’s the bold claim at the heart of Ben Jackson’s excellent new book, which traces the intellectual origins of contemporary nationalist politics through the work of writers like Tom Nairn, Neal Ascherson, George Kerevan, Isobel Lindsay, and my own late dad, Stephen Maxwell. 

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