Christmas and pre-Christmas reading

The approach of the end-of-year break has brought with it a flurry of interesting essays and interviews. I’d particularly draw attention to the following:

  • David Marquand argued in a column in Monday’s Guardian that England’s hostility toward the EU and support for it in Scotland and Wales create a risk of break-up of the UK.  I’ve taken this view for many years, though I think Marquand over-states the short-term likelihood of this.  That piece is here.  Timothy Garton Ash follows in similar vein in today’s issue, here.
  • Jim Sillars was interviewed in the Scotsman on Tuesday.  Sillars, still very influential among SNP members and other Scottish nationalists, expresses a good deal of scepticism about the impact of the European Union on an independent Scotland, particularly over currency and the Euro.  He supports the idea of a separate Scottish currency, underpinned by the country’s putative oil reserves.  (That, of course, would strengthen the ‘Scots dollar’ he advocates – good for tourists going abroad, less so for tourists coming to Scotland or Scottish exporters.)  That interview is available here.
  • Adam Price, the former Plaid Cymru MP now at Harvard but seemingly back for the break, wrote in WalesHome last week that Plaid’s was a long-term project, and that Plaid could not expect to return to government before 2021.  He clearly thinks Plaid’s rivalry with Labour has become more important than the common ground that exists between the parties, and doesn’t think that any restoration of the ‘One Wales’ coalition between them is likely in this Assembly or the next.  That can be found here.  (Another piece of Adam’s about Wales’s poor economic performance over the last 20 years can be found here.)
  • And Gus O’Donnell, the outgoing Cabinet Secretary, has written a valedictory piece for the Daily Telegraph about the challenges government faces.  That’s here. He highlights a range of internal challenges, as well as the world economy and other global problems.  One is the habit of using regulation and legislation to shape policy, because that is the low-risk option, but also uncreative.  Others include ‘whether to keep our kingdom united and how to make the EU operate in the best interests of its citizens’.  O’Donnell has been increasingly seized of the problems of maintaining the Union, though that has probably led more to restraining UK Government from doing stupid things than ensuring it does sensible ones.  Note that O’Donnell talks not of ‘how’ to maintain the Union (as he does with the EU), but of ‘whether’ to.  He would seem to be clear that there is a real choice to be made here.  The line about ‘maintaining the Union’ has been widely picked up by the press: see the Guardian here, the Telegraph’s own news story here, the BBC here, or the Mail here.

My own Christmas reading will feature Norman Davies’s Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe, about how a number of once-powerful European states vanished, first as political entities, then from our historical memory.  There are details from Penguin’s website here, and reviews by Timothy Snyder in the Guardian here and Dominic Lieven in the FT here.


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Filed under Civil service, EU issues, Plaid Cymru, Scotland, SNP, Wales

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