A friend of mine in Scotland who supports the UK has just sent me an e-mail about his impressions of the campaign ahead of the vote on Scottish independence on Thursday. I think it is an evocative and alarming piece of writing, so here is the email in full: Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Until recently, I thought I did not much care if Scotland voted for independence. But, now, as the prospect becomes very real, I am surprised by how upset I feel. I follow the polls obsessively. I fume at the incompetence of the No campaign and the insularity of the Yes. And my sense of foreboding grows as the day grows closer.
Scottish referendum outcome too close to call
A late surge in support for Scotland’s pro-independence camp a week ahead of the referendum has set alarm bells ringing among politicians in London. James Blitz is joined by Michael Stott and Mure Dickie to discuss the arguments being used to sway Scottish voters
By an accident of timing, William Hague’s departure from the Foreign Office has come on the same day as the confirmation, by the European Parliament, that Jean-Claude Juncker will be the next president of the European Commission. One of Mr Hague’s last, losing, battles was to prevent Mr Juncker from getting the Commission job. His successor at the Foreign Office, Philip Hammond, will inherit the crucial task of trying to manage Britain’s relationship with the EU. Read more
Who are the winners and losers in a Juncker presidency?
With Jean-Claude Juncker increasingly likely to be appointed as the next president of the European Commission, Gideon Rachman is joined by Tony Barber, Europe editor, and Peter Spiegel, Brussels bureau chief, for an in-depth look at what this would mean for the UK and for Europe as a whole. Also on the agenda are the growing dominance of Germany in the EU decision-making process and this week’s European Council meeting in Ypres
Every World Cup needs a villain, and Uruguay’s Luis Suárez must have been the pre-tournament bookmakers’ favourite to fill the role. Now he has obliged, for the second World Cup running. In 2010 he did it by saving a last-minute Ghanaian shot with his hands. He was sent off, but Ghana missed the subsequent penalty, and Uruguay went on to the semifinal.
On Tuesday the apparent bite he took out of Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini provided possibly the first iconic moment of this World Cup. Fifa’s disciplinary committee has yet to give its verdict, but the vast majority of global non-Uruguayan opinion seems to believe it was a bite. Jim Boyle, head of Fifa’s refereeing committee, told British TV: “Once again, his actions have left him open to severe criticism.” Once again Suárez’s personal dysfunction is being displayed before the world, and once again he has only his compatriots to defend him. Read more
After all the UK press has written about him over the past few weeks, it is good to see Jean-Claude Juncker still has a sense of humour.
The former Luxembourg prime minister has largely kept his head down since he emerged as the front-runner for the European Commission presidency – and came under fire from UK prime minister David Cameron and the pro-Conservative battalions of the British media.
On Tuesday Mr Juncker broke cover to deliver a speech at a Berlin security conference – he had, he said, accepted the invitation before becoming embroiled in the latest battle of Brussels.
Explaining that he was between jobs – having handed over the reins in Luxembourg in December and yet to be installed in a new post – he added with a smile: “I am a transgender person, in the political sense.” Read more
Leaked tapes of expletive-filled conversations involving senior Polish ministers are extremely embarrassing to the government in Warsaw and to some of its leading figures, such as Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister (above). And that, presumably, is exactly the intention.
Amidst all the uproar, relatively few people seem to be asking who would have the resources and expertise to expertly bug several Warsaw restaurants – over the course of a year – and then the motivation to release the tapes. The obvious answer, based entirely on circumstantial evidence, would be Russia’s intelligence service. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Discussing Britain’s Europe policy earlier this year, a senior adviser to the prime minister shrugged: “I know we’re accused of putting all our eggs in the Merkel basket. But, frankly, we don’t have another basket.”
By Simon Kuper in São Paulo
England deserve to go home early. A poor witless team was undone by Luis Suarez, who only a month ago was in hospital having a cartilage operation. After England’s defeat to Italy in Manaus on Saturday, they now have no points from two games. Even a thumping win against little Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday – of which this team do not look capable – would probably not be enough to save them. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
The idea that Jean-Claude Juncker should become the next head of the European Commission evokes a strange, irrational rage in the British. I know because I share that rage. There is something about Mr Juncker, a former prime minister of Luxembourg – his smugness, his federalism, his unfunny jokes – that provokes the British.
Wednesday night’s debate in Britain between the standard-bearers of the pro- and anti-EU camps came out as a victory for the eurosceptic, Nigel Farage, over the pro-European deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg. That is not my judgement, it is the verdict of the polls. A snap poll showed that 57% of viewers had Farage winning, whereas 36% had Clegg ahead. That verdict is extra-depressing for pro-Europeans since the polling company weighted the audience to make sure that it was as neutral as possible. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
When political leaders start rewriting the past, you should fear for the future. In Russia, Hungary, Japan and China, recent politically sponsored efforts to change history textbooks were warning signs of rising nationalism.
Businesses that fear Britain might be on the way out of the EU can breathe a little more easily this morning.
Ed Miliband’s announcement that a Labour government would be unlikely to hold an in-out referendum on Britain’s membership means the issue may well be off the agenda for some years. Read more
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.
“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