In his cover story for the August issue of Prospect, published today, Andrew Marr revisits the question of Scottish independence, a subject he first wrote about in his book The Battle for Scotland, published in 1992. Marr argues that the Scottish independence referendum will be closer than conventional wisdom currently allows.
“The opinion polls have been quite strongly in favour of the Union, and the general assumption that a vote for the Scottish National Party in Holyrood is simply the latest wheeze to put pressure on London for financial favours is blandly repeated in bars and television studios. ‘They willnae.’ During the very late spring of 2013, as I have started to pay more attention, I have become less certain: next September, they micht.”
“We may be about to see a new country—indeed, two new countries—emerging on these islands. Half a lifetime ago, I sat down to write a book [about Scottish independence] as a work of history. It has become current affairs.”
Elsewhere in the issue, Peter Kellner, president of YouGov, reveals new polling on attitudes towards private schools. Most of us agree that private education confers advantages on pupils in terms of A-level results. There is less agreement, however, on what the source of the advantage is. Seventy-seven per cent think smaller class sizes and better facilities make all the difference, while 61% think the fact that classes in private schools are less frequently disrupted by bad behaviour is decisive. Fifty per cent think private school pupils are not “generally brighter than pupils in state schools”.
In an accompanying piece, David Willetts, the minister of state for universities and science, considers the implications of Kellner’s findings for university admissions. Should, he asks, government intervene in the university admissions process to ensure that more pupils from state schools gain places at the country’s best institutions of higher education? “Universities are autonomous institutions,” Willetts observes, “and it would be wrong for ministers to try to dictate how they choose their students. But we support any university’s decision to use additional contextual data [to A-level results].”
Yesterday, President Obama’s nominee for the post of US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, appeared at a senate confirmation hearing. Paula Broadwell, biographer of David Petraeus, profiles the Irish-born journalist and academic turned diplomat. Broadwell asks if Power’s new role will put her commitment to the ideals of humanitarian intervention under strain. “When she arrives in her new offices in New York,” Broadwell writes, “Power may find herself chafing against the increasingly entrenched mood in Washington among both parties to avoid intervention abroad that could be costly in money or lives.”
Former ambassador John Negroponte tells Broadwell that Power will have to adapt quickly to the realities of high-level diplomacy, of which she has little experience. “He [said] that Power will have to spend time mastering hallway diplomacy, ‘jaw-boning and holding hands’ with other permanent members on the Security Council if she really wants to gain traction.”
Also in August’s Prospect, Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen and Partha Dasgupta, professor of economics at the University of Cambridge, go head to head, offering radically contrasting views of India’s experience of economic liberalisation and development. Reviewing Sen’s new book, An Uncertain Glory (co-written with Jean Drèze), Dasgupta suggests that he downplays the consequences for future generations of environmental degradation and population pressure. “It’s all well and good,” Dasgupta asserts, “to write eloquently about the role of deliberative democracy, as Drèze and Sen do, but the deliberations will be of little instrumental use if they ignore the role that high population growth and environmental destruction play in the persistence of poverty.”
In an interview with Prospect’s Jonathan Derbyshire, Sen responds to this charge: “We do say quite a bit about the environment … [but] our primary battle was on a different front. Is growth inescapably damaging to the environment? I don’t think so.”
Asked about the state of Indian democracy, Sen draws a pointed comparison with the UK. “India … is a democracy but … it’s not doing very well. There are all kinds of ways in which democratic debate doesn’t proceed well. It can’t be a tribute to democracy in Britain, for example, that the Labour leadership should be tempted to endorse austerity just as most of the best economists in the world have rejected it.”
Christian Caryl argues that five seismic events in a single year, 1979, continue to shape the modern world. Brendan Simms suggests that the future of the eurozone depends on member states adopting an Anglo-American model of political union. Martin Fletcher argues that the prospects for Kurdish independence are better than at any time in the last hundred years. Adam Kirsch reviews George Packer’s The Unwinding. Andrew Solomon defends psychiatry against its detractors. “The beholder”, a new short story from Ali Smith. Rachel Shteir praises Jane Campion’s portrayal of women in the director’s new television series Top of the Lake. Wendell Steavenson goes fishing for octopus.