Last year, following an exhaustive 22-month investigation, Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded that Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election had been “sweeping and systematic.” In her new book, Blowout, the American journalist and MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow argues that oil was the key motivating factor behind Moscow’s 2016 strategy.

According to Maddow, Vladimir Putin wanted someone in the White House who would lift the economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the West following the Kremlin’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Those sanctions scuppered a deal agreed two years earlier between Putin and the US energy giant ExxonMobil that would’ve opened up Russia’s Arctic territories to new oil and gas exploration projects. Hillary Clinton, a long-time foreign policy hawk and critic of the Putin regime, was never going to reverse Washington’s adversarial stance towards Russia; Donald Trump, a combustive reality TV star with a notorious weak spot for flattery, just might.

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Boris Johnson hailed “the dawn of a new era” and Nigel Farage congratulated himself for having “transformed the landscape of our country.” 

But at 11pm on Friday, 31 January, as Britain finally and officially exited the EU, the mood among the 1500 or so people who had gathered outside Holyrood to mark the passing of their European citizenship was funereal rather than festive, the rhetoric sombre rather than celebratory. 

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On Wednesday, Paul Wheelhouse, the Scottish government minister for Energy, Connectivity, and the Islands, suggested that firms operating in the North Sea should start using wind turbines to power their oil and gas platforms.

This initiative is already being trialled in Norway by the country’s state-owned petroleum company, Equinor, Wheelhouse said, and could help the UK oil industry realize its “low carbon ambitions” ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year.

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Glasgow, Scotland—In the British general election on Dec. 12, 2019, the Scottish National Party (SNP) won a resounding mandate from its constituents, taking 48 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the U.K. House of Commons and 45 percent of all ballots cast by Scottish voters. A week later, on Dec. 19, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon sent a letter to Britain’s newly reelected Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson requesting the power to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence. (The first referendum, which took place in September 2014, resulted in a 10-point victory for the Anglo-Scottish union.)

On Jan. 14, the prime minister delivered his answer. “I cannot agree to any request … that would lead to further independence referendums,” he wrote in a formal memorandum to Sturgeon. “The people of Scotland voted decisively on that promise to keep our United Kingdom together … The U.K. government will continue to uphold the democratic decision [made in 2014].”

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The late Alasdair Gray is widely believed to be the author of the unofficial slogan of Scottish nationalism: ‘Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.’ In fact, the line was paraphrased from the Canadian poet Dennis Lee, who wrote in his 1972 poem Civil Elegies: ‘And best of all is finding a place to be / in the early days of a better civilization.’ To be fair, Gray never tried to disguise where the expression had come from. ‘I have always attributed it to [Lee],’ he once said. ‘But people started quoting it as if I had invented it’.

In The Literary Politics Of Scottish Devolution: Voice, Class, Nation, Scott Hames — a lecturer in English Studies at Stirling University — examines how Scottish cultural luminaries like Gray have shaped our national political discourse, both consciously and unconsciously, over the past half century.

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STIRLING, Scotland—The constituency of Stirling sprawls across central Scotland, stretching from the Trossachs National Park in the west to the village of Fallin, at the tip of the Firth of Forth, in the east. An old adage dating back to the 14th century and the Anglo-Scottish Wars, states: “He who holds Stirling, holds Scotland.”

In 2019, that may still be the case.

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Subtle it wasn’t. At the Scottish National Party’s conference in Aberdeen in October, the yellow stars of the European Union were projected onto a giant backdrop of the party’s initials, flanked by two Scottish flags.

The party’s in-your-face Europhilia is not just a signal to Scottish voters — who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU — that membership of the bloc is part of its vision of an independent Scotland. SNP leaders have been aggressively courting their counterparts across Europe, laying the groundwork for the next time the nation holds an independence referendum.

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In September 2014, the people of East Dunbartonshire voted by a 22 point margin in favour of Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom. In June 2016, they voted by a 43 point margin against Britain leaving the European Union. At the 2015 general election, as the Labour vote collapsed, the SNP took the seat from the incumbent Liberal Democrat MP, Jo Swinson. In 2017, Swinson won it back with a majority of 5339 votes.

In some ways, the constituency, on the northern outskirts of Glasgow, is a bellwether for Scottish middle-class opinion. Its voters may not be keen on radical constitutional change, but they aren’t immune to the appeals of Scottish nationalism.

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