As a rule, political journalists should avoid writing about countries they haven’t visited. It’s impossible to cover a story properly unless you’ve actually witnessed its effects, in some fashion, at first hand. Otherwise, you miss the essential, granular details that mark one place out from another.

In this instance, however, I’m willing to make an exception, because the story in question is so absurd – and so criminally underplayed by the international media – that I’m finding it increasingly difficult to ignore.

Read More

The list of senior Tories slated to replace Theresa May when she is finally ousted from No.10 Downing Street is getting shorter by the week. Phillip Hammond’s reputation is cratering faster than the British economy, Boris Johnson is an obvious dud, and the appeal of staunch Brexiteers like David Davis and Jacob Rees-Mogg is limited to the narrow confines of the Tory grassroots. But another name routinely cited in the UK media as a plausible alternative to May is that of Ruth Davidson, the Tory leader in Scotland.

You can see why some people think Davidson would be a smart choice. In addition to being young and media-savvy, she can lay claim to something increasingly rare in modern Tory politics: actual, sustained electoral success. In 2016, the Tories dislodged Labour as Scotland’s second-largest party at Holyrood and, at the general election in June, they won 13 Scottish seats, their best showing north of the border since 1983.

Read More

If there’s one thing that Jeremy Corbyn has been absolutely consistent about in recent years, it’s that the Tories’ spending cuts are not, as the right monotonously insists, economically necessary, but instead form part of a broader ideological project to shrink the public sector and destroy the welfare state.

“Parliament can feel like living in a time warp at the best of times,” the Labour leader wrote in 2015, “but this government is not just replaying 2010, but taking us back to 1979: ideologically committed to rolling back the state, attacking workers’ rights and trade union protection, selling off public assets, and extending the sell-off to social housing.”

Read More

2017, it seemed, should have killed the campaign for Scottish independence stone dead.

At the UK general election in June, the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) lost a third of its Westminster seats, forcing SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon to “reset” her plans for a second independence referendum. Then, in August, new analysis showed that an independent Scotland would face a projected budget deficit of 8.3 per cent – the largest of any EU state. And on top of that, major splits have begun to emerge within the ‘Yes’ base, as younger, more radical activists sympathetic to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have clashed with older, more conservative nationalists loyal to the SNP. 

Read More

Ever since I was 11 or 12 years old, Tony Blair has been a constant, leering presence in my life. Even now – a full decade after he resigned as prime minister of the UK and leader of the Labour Party – he’s virtually inescapable; a relentless voice in the global media demanding my attention through the sheer, overwhelming force of its celebrity. He’s quoted at length in GQ and The New Yorker on Brexit and Trump. He clogs-up the British press with his views on Jeremy Corbyn and Emmanuel Macron. He’s soft-balled on CNN and gushed over on Morning Joe. He wants and expects me to take him seriously, on terror, and Palestine, and free trade. But I keep hearing rumours that he destroyed Rupert Murdoch’s marriage.

I would be more inclined to listen to Blair if I wasn’t British, or if he didn’t freely admit that he has absolutely no idea what’s going on. “I’m not sure I fully understand politics right now,” he confessed in 2016, “which is an odd thing to say, having spent my life in it.” What confuses him, apparently, is the current popularity of politicians, like Jeremy Corbyn, who don’t adhere to the rules he established for the centre-left in the 1990s. These rules can be easily summarised: capitulate to the economic status quo – and then turn passionately on the constituencies that elected you.

Read More

In the strange and obscure world of Scottish constitutional politics, something can be utterly inevitable – until it suddenly isn’t. For most of the past ten years, and certainly for the past two, a widespread consensus has existed in Scotland regarding the inevitability of independence. That consensus has been based on the almost total dominance of Scotland’s electoral landscape by the Scottish National Party (SNP). Last month, the landscape changed.

At the UK’s snap general election on 8 June, the SNP shed 21 of its 56 Westminster seats and saw its share of the vote slump by 13 points. Angus Robertson, the party’s chief strategist, and Alex Salmond, its former leader, both lost their once rock-solid constituencies in the rural north-east. Towering nationalist majorities across Glasgow and the central belt crumbled. Even the Liberal Democrats enjoyed a modest Caledonian revival, adding three new Scottish MPs, in Edinburgh, Dunbartonshire, and Caithness, to their previous, solitary total of one.

Read More

This is what it took for me to secure temporary residence and the right to work in Canada: I applied for a visa; a few weeks later my visa was approved; a few months after that, I arrived in Vancouver, the city I am now, tentatively, beginning to call home.

And that’s about it – the sum total of a process otherwise known for its impersonal bureaucratic drudgery. There was no intrusive background check, no last minute border interrogation, no attempt, at any stage, by the Canadian authorities to discourage me from moving to a country that I had never previously set foot in.

Read More

Not that long ago, Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon was the most exciting social democrat in European politics.

She took charge of the SNP – and with it an absolute majority at Holyrood, Scotland’s devolved national legislature – in the aftermath of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. The SNP lost that referendum, but left-leaning Scots, many of them former Labour voters, flocked to her side.

Read More

I was born in 1986, the year of Margaret Thatcher’s Big Bang deregulation of the British banking system, and I was 22 when the global financial crash hit in 2008. For most of my adult life, the UK economy has been in crisis. First recession, then austerity, and now stagnation, with the prospect of another serious, Brexit-induced downturn on the horizon. Economists anticipate a decade or more of lost growth; a semi-permanent, Japanese-style slump. Prepare yourself, they say, for disappointment. That job you wanted? Gone. That house you’ve been saving for? No chance. That mountain of debt you’re carrying? You can keep it. Forever. It’s yours – along with flatlining wages, part-time employment, and income-eviscerating rents.

I belong, in other words, to the so-called ‘millennial’ generation, a category that includes people between the ages of 18 and 34 – or, more broadly, people who reached adulthood after the turn of the millennium. Millennials are significant for two reasons: they are the first age group in recent history to experience a standard of living lower than that of their parents, and they are really, really leftwing.

Read More

Bushwick in Brooklyn is a remarkable distillation of inequality in modern America. Walk five minutes west from Jefferson Street towards Manhattan and you’ll find white students in coffee shops tapping away on expensive MacBooks. Walk five minutes east and you’ll encounter all the familiar markers of metropolitan – in this case, black and Hispanic – poverty: inadequate housing, understocked grocery stores, and big plots of empty, overgrown land.

Bernie Sanders grew-up on the other side of Brooklyn, in Flatbush. Once a predominantly Irish, Italian, and Jewish neighbourhood, Flatbush is today a broader mix of American immigrant communities. One of the largest ethnic minority groups in the area is Haitian. Sanders left Brooklyn in 1960, transferring from Brooklyn College to the University of Chicago, where he studied politics, before decamping permanently to Vermont, the small north-eastern state for which he is now a two-term United States senator. But he is still every inch the Brooklynite. You can tell by the way he talks. “He speaks Brooklyn,” one of his former high school classmates told The New York Times recently. “He’s not a phoney, and that shows.”

Read More

No sooner had Catalan president Artur Mas guided his nationalist coalition to victory at Catalonia’s plebiscitary elections on Sunday night than a court in Madrid announced that Mas would face formal charges relating to civil disobedience and the ‘usurpation’ of Spanish constitutional powers.

The complaints were filed against Mas before Sunday’s vote and refer to his involvement in an unofficial – and, in all likelihood, illegal – independence referendum staged by the Catalan government on 9 November last year.

Read More