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By Gideon Rachman
Some years ago, I made a futile attempt to persuade a Chinese diplomat that Taiwan should be allowed to declare independence – if that is what its people want. “If Scotland voted to be a separate nation,” I argued, “England would not stop it.” The diplomat smiled sceptically, like a man recognising a particularly crude falsehood. “I know that’s not true,” he said. “England would never accept Scottish independence. It would invade.”
Will Scotland go it alone?
The referendum on Scottish independence takes place in seven months and if the Scots vote to go it alone, they will break up a union which has existed for over 300 years. On Friday, Prime Minister David Cameron made an impassioned plea to Scots: “We want you to stay.” But Mr Cameron’s intervention has been treated by the Scottish Nationalists as a sign of panic from the government in London.
By Gideon Rachman
In theory, David Cameron and Radoslaw Sikorski should get on marvellously. Both the British prime minister and the Polish foreign secretary studied at Oxford and were members of the elite Bullingdon club, which specialises in dressing up, drinking, vomiting and vandalism. Both men have matured into robust conservatives. But last week we witnessed an unedifying dispute between the two politicians, sparked by Mr Cameron’s suggestion that Britain should not be paying child benefit to children living in Poland, even if their parents are working in Britain. In response, Mr Sikorski accused the British of stigmatising Polish immigrants and tweeted (in Polish) a suggestion that Poles in Britain should return home.
How We Invented Freedom and Why It Matters, by Daniel Hannan, Head of Zeus, RRP£20, 400 pages
Old Links and New Ties: Power and Persuasion in an Age of Networks, by David Howell, IB Taurus, RRP£12.99/RRP$29.99, 256 pages
Influencing Tomorrow: Future Challenges for British Foreign Policy, edited by Douglas Alexander and Ian Kearns, Guardian Books, RRP£12.99, 224 pages
Across the back of Daniel Hannan’s How We Invented Freedom and Why It Matters is a curious endorsement from Boris Johnson. The blurb starts conventionally enough, hailing the book as a “magnificent achievement”, before adding that Daniel Hannan “bestrides the Atlantic like a majestic combination of Winston Churchill and Piers Morgan”. Reading that, one might almost conclude that the mayor of London was taking the piss.
“Why do the Brits accept surveillance” asks Jonathan Freedland in the New York Times? Freedland points out that, even after the Edward Snowden revelations, only 19% of British people think that the security services have too much power. By contrast, some 64% think they have the right amount of power or too little. Freedland’s explanation for this striking state of affairs is that the Brits have a more deferential attitude to the state than Americans, reflected in the fact that it is “Her Majesty’s government”. He points out that “Britons remain subjects not citizens.”
This is a clever explanation, but not one that I find particularly convincing. It is true that the British tend to be less hostile to the idea of government than Americans. But that is an attitude that is common in Europe, including in states that are highly suspicious of intelligence agencies, such as Germany.
My alternative theory is that British people basically accept the claim that was made by Britain’s intelligence chiefs when they testified before Parliament last week. The spooks argued that they are working to protect democracy. That claim, which would be met with derision in Germany or by much of liberal America, is broadly accepted in Britain, for reasons that are deeply rooted in British history.
The basic narrative of British history, as taught in schools and broadcast on television, is of a country that has had to ward off a succession of attempted foreign invasions. The role of the intelligence services in protecting the UK is both noted and celebrated. Most obviously, in the second world war, the code-breakers of Bletchley Park – who cracked the German Enigma signals – are regarded as national heroes. But it goes back a lot further than that. Elizabeth I’s spy-master, Francis Walsingham, ran an extensive network of spies that gathered vital intelligence on the Spanish Armada. Read more
After days of severe weather warnings and anticipation, England suffered transport chaos and widespread power cuts this morning after a storm with gusts of up to 99 mph hit southern England.
Though the storm was not severe by international standards, it is the worst to hit the country in a number of years.
This video from the Met Office shows the progress of the storm across the country.
The worst of the weather is now over, with the focus turning to the cleanup.
London’s rail stations were eerily quiet as most major rail companies cancelled all early morning trains.
Network Rail, like many other companies, took to Twitter to update commuters on problems.
It said that more than 100 trees have been discovered on the rail network across the south east so far today.
As of 10am, many major commuter routes were still closed. Read more
This morning’s article in the FT by David Miliband has caused a stir in Britain. Just a week after Ed Miliband and the Labour Party came out against British military involvement in Syria, David Miliband – Ed’s older brother and defeated rival – has hinted strongly that he would have been in favour. In his piece, he argues that “while international engagement is decreasingly popular in the advanced democracies, a multipolar world makes it increasingly necessary.” David M’s intervention in the debate has been widely portrayed as the latest twist in the ongoing Miliband melodrama. “Brothers At War”, shrieked the Daily Mail headline today. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Edward Snowden seems like a bright chap. So he will probably have noticed the irony of voicing his complaints about persecution by the US legal system from the confines of Moscow airport. There are few governments in the world that abuse the law, for political purposes, with the ruthlessness and cynicism of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.