Sincere Congratulations To The Spectator For Their All-Women Cover Issue

Fraser Nelson - The Spectator - Westminster Media - Journalism

A brief rant before normal service resumes…

The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson today felt the need to publish a self-congratulatory humblebrag remarking on the fact that their latest print edition’s cover page apparently features only the work of female writers, despite no conscious decision having been made to indulge in affirmative action.

Nelson gushes:

Just before The Spectator went to press yesterday, my colleague Emily Hill pointed out that I’d just taken away the only male name away from the cover: all seven of our coverlines were stories written by women. Did I really want that? I hadn’t thought about it until then, and for a while I did consider engaging in tokenism and slapping a man on for the sake of it. But why bother? Spectator readers don’t really care about gender, just good writing.

In fact it hadn’t occurred to any of us, until that point, that we were about to run what Ariane Sherine, who writes our cover story, today hails as the first all-woman cover in The Spectator’s 188-year history. But this wasn’t a patronising attempt at a ‘wimmin’s issue’ or some other awful tokenistic wheeze. Our all-women cover wasn’t deliberate, it was just the way the cards fell. Each week we want to get the best writers on the most original topics: this week, they all happened to be women.

That’s not to say there’s no difference when it comes to getting hold of good writers. As Emily will tell you, women don’t put themselves forward as much as men. To get the full range of talent from all available writers can mean people like Emily going to great lengths to find and encourage new writers – like Ariane Sherine. As so often, Fleet Street follows up. As I write, two national newspapers are vying for the right to republish her cover story.

Full disclosure: I have a bit of a beef with lead article author Ariane Sherine (a one-sided affair; she, I’m sure, has no idea who I am) following her previous effort for The Spectator, an appallingly condescending report about how she performed a comedy gig in the heart of UKIP-supporting coastal Essex and somehow, miraculously, was not ripped to shreds by the rabidly racist, evil Brexiteers who dwell there.

It is interesting, too that Sherine (and apparently other women writers published in The Spectator) had to be sought out, coaxed and persuaded to write for the venerable magazine because “women don’t put themselves forward as much as men”. Funny, that. I, a despicably privileged man, have pitched to The Spectator before – it was actually a terrible piece from a few years back when my writing was very green, not at all worth publishing – but then I never had the pleasure of being sought out and implored to honour The Spectator’s readers with the fruits of my keyboard. That must be quite a nice feeling.

I don’t normally do this, but let’s just muse on the topic of gender equality for a moment, particularly as it relates to journalism. Regular readers will know that I spent pretty much every spare moment of the past year campaigning for Brexit in the EU referendum, initially rather haphazardly but (I hope) increasingly coherently as I read Richard North’s peerless eureferendum.com blog, learned about Flexcit and fell in with The Leave Alliance. I claim zero credit for any of the specific ideas this blog has supported around Brexit and the future of international trade – my tiny bit part in this effort consisted merely of standing on the shoulders of giants, particularly Richard North and Pete North, whose technical mastery and polemical writing I admire enormously.

The point, I suppose, is this. For some time now, a group of independent, citizen bloggers have churned out consistently better analysis and commentary on the EU referendum and Brexit on any given day than the mainstream media has given the British people in an entire year. Even now, dim-witted publications like the Guardian and FT are scrambling to catch up and think through some of the ramifications and issues which the people in my circle have been writing about for months. And what mention or recognition has this work prompted from the Westminster media? How many links to our widely-read and shared articles have appeared in mainstream outlets like The Spectator?

I think you know that the answer is zero.

Now, you don’t have to rate Semi-Partisan Politics at all – though I am personally quite frustrated, this issue is much bigger than little old me. But doesn’t it seem slightly odd that the entire Westminster media managed to somehow overlook the hard work of a small army of pro-Brexit bloggers on the biggest political issue to face Britain, just when fresh analysis was sorely needed, and yet The Spectator has time to scour Britain at great length for underappreciated female talent to promote to the front page?

Fraser Nelson claims that The Spectator’s all-women front page was entirely accidental, and I take him at his word. But isn’t it telling that this feat was achieved at the height of silly season, the summer recess, when the political news which is the Spectator’s bread and butter is almost entirely absent? When MPs come back from recess and things get serious again, let’s see how many months or years it takes for the next unintentional all-women issue to go to print. My guess is that it will be some while; that when PMQs is back and party conference season gets underway we will be seeing a lot more of James Forsyth, James Delingpole and Rod Liddle on the cover. Just a hunch.

So what was the amazing piece which made the cover of The Spectator anyway, you ask? Well, it was a thrilling exposé of a growing trend among millennials whereby single women stop looking for a suitable man and choose to marry themselves instead.

A snippet:

As far as the bride was concerned, the wedding was perfect. Her dress was beautiful, the vows were traditional and she changed her name after the ceremony. The clifftop scenery was breathtaking, the seven bridesmaids were encouraging and supportive: move over Princess Di. There was only one thing missing: the groom. Like a growing number of single women, Sara Starkström had decided to marry herself.

‘I thought about people marrying other people without loving themselves first,’ says Starkström, a writer, explaining what many would call a bizarre overreaction to finding herself single at the age of 29. ‘How could they pledge to do all this stuff for another person when they couldn’t promise themselves the same thing? I decided to marry myself to celebrate my independence and strength. I did it to promise to be my own best friend.’

[..] While many commentators make scathing judgments about sologamy (the feminist blog Jezebel ran a dismissive piece called ‘Single women, please stop marrying yourselves’, chiding, ‘You should be aware that you’re no trailblazer and you’re sure as hell not thumbing your nose at the system. You’re buying into it’), this hasn’t stopped increasing numbers of women from taking the plunge. For Starkström, self-marriage was a liberating act for which she is quite happy to take all the jokes ‘about me carry-ing myself over the threshold and making love to myself’.

And the thrilling conclusion:

Perhaps this is the crux of the sologamy issue: self-marriage is harmless, cheap compared to the £20,500 average cost of a classic wedding, and the union seems to make the bride very happy. If only the same could be said for the majority of traditional marriages which feature a groom. Princess Diana’s fairy tale fell apart when she found that there were three people in her marriage. Now, for an ever-increasing number of determined modern women, one is more than enough.

This isn’t even original. Even I know – don’t ask me how – that Sex and the City featured a similar storyline nearly fifteen years ago, in which protagonist Carrie Bradshaw decides to marry herself as a way of recouping the money spent on friends’ engagements and replacing an expensive pair of shoes which were stolen at a previous party. This kind of story is “and finally…” fodder on the TV news, not lead article material for The Spectator.

This may be silly season, but British politics is hardly dull at present – we have the ramifications of the EU referendum result to pick through, and the slow-motion car crash that is the Labour Party’s self-destruction, while America continues to wrestle with the Donald Trump phenomenon. In these circumstances, I’m sorry to say that Sherine’s story about sologamy has more than a whiff of affirmative action about it.

Before the inevitable feminist lynching begins, another disclaimer: I have long believed that The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman is the outstanding political journalist of her generation and, based on my couple of conversations with her, a genuinely nice person in the SW1 bubble. If The Spectator had ten Isabel Hardmans on staff, I wouldn’t expect a male-written cover story any more than once a year. It shouldn’t be necessary, but I want to put any idea that this rumination is some alt-right, anti-woman rant quickly to bed.

Note too that even when quoting the established feminist blog Jezebel, The Spectator fails to provide a link to the article Sherine cites by name. This is how unwilling the establishment British media are to share readers, clicks and opportunities. It is selfishness beyond measure, and is ultimately counterproductive – the American political blogosphere grew and thrives today not only because bloggers link to one another, but because there is a dialogue between what were traditionally the “legacy” print media outlets and alternative voices.

Readers aren’t forever lost to a publication which dares to link. In fact, readers often respect the original source all the more as a curator of other worthwhile information across the internet, thus increasing their loyalty. Maybe this doesn’t easily show up in the monthly SEO and web traffic reports which now seem to drive all media behaviour – and which have turned the Telegraph from a respectable broadsheet to a sensationalist purveyor of clickbait – but it is a real factor nonetheless. My own personal blogging hero, Andrew Sullivan, built the most influential political blog in history based entirely on this philosophy of curating the web for his readers and also providing fresh commentary which was picked up by the legacy media.

To this day, if there is a worthwhile piece of commentary or analysis on an American political blog, it is not unusual to see it linked to in a piece by an “establishment” journalist on the staff of, say, the New Republic or the National Review. Semi-Partisan Politics has been cited in the National Review a couple of times, a courtesy not once extended by any major British publication, and this despite the fact that 80 per cent of this blog’s output concerns UK rather than American politics.

So how should the British media interact with the blogosphere and promote new talent? Well, call me old fashioned but I believe that a simple commitment to meritocracy can’t go far wrong. Sure, The Spectator will always hire the likes of Pippa Middleton to write vacuous society guff about hunting for truffles in their Christmas issue, and that’s fine. But when it comes to political coverage, one wishes that established British publications would at least pretend to aspire to genuine meritocracy, seeking out the best analysis and commentary regardless of race or gender rather than indulging as they do in flagrant nepotism on the one hand and leftist affirmative action on the other.

I’ll speak plainly, because it’s better than dancing around the issue, from my perspective as someone no longer in the first flush of youth trying to build an audience and reputation as a writer. It is frustrating to pour every spare minute into this blog, providing (I dare to hope) sometimes original and refreshing commentary – particularly I think on the 2015 general election, the ongoing Labour leadership saga, free speech or academic freedom issues and the EU referendum – and see what is  objectively weaker commentary from nepotism beneficiaries or the obvious fruits of affirmative action benefit from a prestigious platform, greater recognition, and – oh yes, from monetary reward too. It’s just a little bit hard to take day after day.

I could play the minority card too, if I wanted to talk up my BAME working class background, but I would never compromise my principles by demanding that I be given a platform based on who I am rather than what I have to say. I won’t go there – it would be a violation of everything that this blog stands for. Others sadly seem happy to do so.

I write because I love to write, and because I think I have slowly created something quite small but precious here at Semi-Partisan Politics; because I have a small readership whom I love to serve, write for and debate with; because it is better than ranting into Facebook 24/7 as I used to before I opened a WordPress account. But sometimes it is a bit galling to see an inferior product exalted and given prominence when I and several of my good writer friends toil in obscurity.

Building a reputation and audience as a writer should be hard – it rightly takes time, effort, humility and perseverance. It has taken me over four years to even begin to get a sense of who my audience is / should be, and how best to serve them – and I claim no special skill at what I do, only a great deal of enthusiasm for it. But whether it is Twitter interactions, links to my site or other interactions, the amount of support I have received from American journalists and publications on the other side of the Atlantic vastly exceeds what little help or hand up I have ever received from the British media class – despite the fact that at least 80 per cent of my written output, networking and outreach efforts are focused on British politics and the Westminster media.

And I think British journalists and editors should be made to feel a little bit ashamed of that fact. Not for my sake – I’ll be just fine, and 95 per cent of the time I am happy to keep plugging away without a murmur of complaint. They should feel shame because my situation is far from unique, and because there are writers in my acquaintance whose insight, bravery and raw talent would enrich our country’s entire political discourse if only it had the bully pulpit it deserves.

The Westminster media establishment should be ashamed because the way they seek out and promote writing talent fails the British people, serving them an often substandard and derivative stream of written output and unoriginal thinking from the pens of the well-connected (either by parentage or ability to fill the checkboxes of a Diversity Officer’s form) while effectively pretending that the struggling political blogosphere – the primary outlet for so many talented, aspiring writers – doesn’t even exist, and certainly not as a source worthy of links or interaction.

Okay, rant over. I don’t have the energy to bring this piece to a neat end.

Normal business will now resume. Read it here first, or three months later from someone who gets paid to do this kind of thing.

 

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Top Image: The Spectator / Sky News

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A Chuka Umunna Leadership Bid Now Would Destroy The Labour Party

Chuka Umunna Labour Party Champagne Socialist 2

The current Labour Party will not transition seamlessly from Jeremy Corbyn to Chuka Umunna, and any leadership coup proposing an Umunna-like replacement for Corbyn will make the Republican Party presidential primary look like a model of restraint and civility

Clearly the EU referendum and upcoming Budget are not providing enough excitement for Fraser Nelson, because he is also busy agitating for an immediate (and almost certainly ill-fated) coup to depose Jeremy Corbyn from the leadership of the Labour Party and replace him with exactly the kind of person who the Labour grassroots detest with every fibre of their souls.

Yes, that would be Chuka Umunna:

It’s the Ides of March today, and there are pitifully few signs of a Labour plot. I was on ITV’s The Agenda last night with Chuka Umunna, one of the putative successors to Jeremy Corbyn, who was teased by Tom Bradby about his ambitions. He came out with the usual hedged denials (“there’s not a vacancy.,, I’ve said I would never say never”) but then came out with the rationale for ousting Corbyn.

The problem: most Labour members were not members this time last year. The party has been taken over by Corbynistas and while Labour MPs could technically change the leadership it’s harder to change the membership. Chuka agreed- but then gave the democratic case for deposing Corbyn, in defiance of the wishes of party members.

“Clearly, Jeremy has a very strong support amongst our membership. But then if you look at the parliamentary Labour party they have a direct mandate from 9.3m Labour voters. If you look at the research on things like Trident the parliamentary party would be closer to the views of the voters than the members and there’s that tension.”

So how to resolve the tension? I do hope the Labour moderates come up with a way soon, and bring this sorry pantomime to a close. PS At the end of The Agenda, guests are invited to present a fantasy front page. Mine was intended to give some encouragement to the Labour moderates.

Fraser Nelson’s pitch for a Chuka Umunna leadership bid consisted of this rather unlikely picture:

My views on Chuka remain unchanged until new evidence (of the non-hagiographic kind) prompt me to revise them:

Just what the Labour Party needs. Another dazed and confused London career politician stumbling shell-shocked and bewildered beyond the M25 in a belated effort to understand why so many working and middle class people – Britain’s strivers – spurned his party at the general election, totally unconvinced by a Labour manifesto and message conceived in Islington but barely embraced even in Hampstead.

At a time when David Cameron is building an inclusive Tory cabinet which conspicuously harnesses the talents of women and MPs from working class backgrounds, for Labour to respond by crowning a well-moneyed, metropolitan, UKIP-hating elitist such as Umunna would only serve to confirm everyone’s worst suspicions about the party.

And those suspicions are that the modern, virtue-signalling, style-over-substance Labour Party would rather dwindle to an angry, self-righteous, ideologically pure talking shop for the London dinner party set than do the hard work of rebuilding in order to actually help the people it claims to represent; that it lacks the wisdom to recall its ideological roots or the humility to reach out to its scorned party base.

The notion that the Labour Party as it is presently constituted could go from being led by Jeremy Corbyn to the stewardship of someone like Chuka Umunna without about three transitional leaders to ease the way is absolute fantasy. While New Labour centrists and wistful media types may wish it were otherwise, the Blairite Labour Party is in a state where it cannot simply be rejuvenated with a click of the fingers and a telegenic new leader.

At this point, even managing to replace Corbyn with somebody like Ed Miliband (himself considered unpalatably left wing by much of the country) would be a major achievement, and even that is highly unlikely. The fact that Dan Hodges – the columnist whose finger is closest to the pulse of Labour Party plots – thinks that the party’s current greatest hope is Angela Eagle, of all people, shows just how far the ground has shifted to the Left under Labour.

Fraser Nelson was hopefully just making a lighthearted joke when he suggested that Chuka Umunna succeed Jeremy Corbyn after a leadership coup which would be sure to enrage over half of the party’s membership. Because to even attempt to go from Jeremy Corbyn to Chuka Umunna in one step would precipitate such a period of rancour and infighting that it would make the Republican Party’s rage at its ongoing takeover by Donald Trump look like the model of civility and restraint.

 

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The Media’s Unhealthy Boris Fixation

Boris Johnson - Vote Leave

We all know that Boris Johnson’s decision to “Vote Leave” is gratuitously unprincipled and self-serving. So let’s just stop talking about him – otherwise, we merely give his publicity machine the fuel it craves

Fraser Nelson gets to the heart of what really matters in the Brexit debate – how long it will take David Cameron to forgive Boris Johnson for his treachery:

Until now, David Cameron had been very lucky in his enemies: David Davis, Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and then Jeremy Corbyn. But last night, the quality of his opposition in the EU referendum campaign rose rather substantially. He now finds himself arguing against not only against Michael Gove, the person he turns to when he’s short of killer lines, but against Boris Johnson, perhaps the single most popular figure in the Conservative Party.

[..] This is a gamble that could either leave Boris in the wilderness, or writing the next set of No 10 Christmas cards. Should David Cameron lose the referendum, he will probably have to resign as Prime Minister given how much of his personal authority is on the line. And who would succeed him? Not George Osborne, who urged the Prime Minister to hold an early vote. The leadership race will be decided by Conservative Party members, who are expected to back “out” by a margin of three-to-one.

[..] Already, there are signs of the Cameron operation closing ranks against Boris. No 10 has a semi-official vengeance policy: ministers with a long-standing opposition to the EU will be forgiven for backing “out”. The implication is that there will be no forgiveness for Boris, who has waited until now to declare his support for Brexit. “The last thing I wanted was to go against David Cameron,” said Boris yesterday. Quite true: what he wants is to come after him – and he is, as of last night, the bookmakers’ favourite to do just that.

This kind of breathless court gossip sometimes makes me despair of the Westminster media. There is a real, existential question before us right now – whether Britain should remain in the EU and follow its winding road toward political integration, or take a bold step toward independence and sovereignty. And a media class that did its job properly – speaking to the people rather than excitedly talking amongst themselves – would focus on the policy, not the personalities.

Does the Conservative Party leadership succession matter? Absolutely. Along with Tim Montgomerie, I have a significant ideological interest in who takes over from David Cameron and (hopefully) restores some radical conservative vision to the party of Margaret Thatcher. But there’s a time and a place.

Fraser Nelson at his best is a thoughtful and questioning conservative commentator – particularly when he focuses on social issues like welfare dependency. Were Nelson to fully engage his engine, we would likely all benefit from his considered addition to the EU referendum coverage. But as of Monday evening, everything Fraser Nelson has written thus far has focused on the tedious subject of Boris Johnson’s career.

I don’t need a poll to tell me that right now, people care more about the arguments for and against Brexit than they do the many fierce little psychodramas playing out between the Conservative Party leadership and Brexit-supporting Tory backbenchers, or between David Cameron and Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. But survey the mainstream media and you will find a lot more breathless leadership speculation than deep, forensic analysis of David Cameron’s fraudulent renegotiation, or the arguments for and against Brexit.

I’m sure that better stuff will follow. I hope it follows soon.

 

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The Daily Toast: The Right Reasons For Britain To Bomb ISIS In Syria

Britain - Airstrikes - ISIS - Islamic State - Syria - David Cameron - Francois Hollande

Building the case for military action against ISIS in Syria solely on the proposition that it will make us safer at home is over-optimistic, unprovable and damaging to the other, less alarmist (but stronger) arguments in favour of intervention

In his Telegraph piece today, Fraser Nelson understands that airstrikes and other military action against ISIS in Syria are nothing like a magic bullet method of keeping us safe from terrorist attacks, but that they are nonetheless the right thing to do.

Nelson goes on to echo this blog’s concern that building a case for military intervention in Syria based solely (or even primarily) on the overly-optimistic proposition that it will make the streets of London safer will only undermine the other, better reasons for attacking ISIS:

This is a political mission more than a military one. For years, Britain has been haemorrhaging influence in Washington – diplomats there have been shocked to hear France being mentioned as America’s most reliable European partner. Our absence from the Syria campaign stands out – and sends worrying signals about our reliability as a partner. With our troop numbers being cut back, we need partnerships. And this means stepping up to join alliances when the time comes.

This is harder for the Prime Minister to explain. It’s fairly easy to talk in terms of Britain bombing Isil into submission before sending in a 70,000-strong army. It’s harder to admit that bombing hasn’t really worked, and that that army doesn’t really exist and that a better strategy is needed. But if we want a chance of influencing that strategy, we need to join the US-led coalition.

The best case for intervention in Syria yesterday was made not by any minister but by Bob Stewart, a former colonel and now a Tory MP. He had been talking to senior officers in France, he said, and they told him that the country feels attacked and would very much appreciate the support of its closest ally. So it’s time, he said, for a “highly potent gesture” to let our allies see that we’re fully behind them. It’s a less dramatic case for war, but it’s more credible. And far more likely to give the Prime Minister the parliamentary vote that he so badly needs.

Obviously Britain cannot base the decision of whether or not to intervene militarily in another country solely on the affect our participation (or non-participation) will have on the esteem of our friends and allies. There must also be both a legitimate and compelling reason for intervention and a reasonable chance of a satisfactory outcome in order to justify such a grave decision. And though it is very hazy, on balance Britain probably can make a positive contribution if we work with our allies toward a clearly agreed strategy.

But Fraser Nelson is right – equally important in this debate is the way that Britain views its own role on the world stage, and (I would add) the degree to which we continue to live in the fearful shadow of the second Iraq war.

Britain has indeed become an “unreliable ally” over the past few years, not just because of the previous vote against military action in Syria but because of the degradation of our armed forces by a nominally conservative government with messed up priorities. We pared back the army by a magnitude of thousands of experienced, veteran soldiers. We greatly weakened the RAF with cutbacks. And we decommissioned our existing aircraft carriers years before the new ships come on stream, seriously weakening our ability to project force in distant places.

Those brutal cutbacks sent a message. They reeked of a country which had lost faith in its values, its power, its effectiveness and its ability to robustly defend both our allies and our own vital national interest. They spoke to a country which has lost its way, led by politicians more interested in being seen as competent technocrats administering decent public services than fighting evil or changing the world for the better.

Hopefully that shameful time is now finally coming to an end.

The time has come for the British government to show as much commitment to fighting evil and supporting our allies as it does to ramping up the autocratic surveillance state in the dubious name of national security. The time has come to wield the stick abroad where necessary once again, and ease up on the draconian policies which have come to typify our national security response at home.

But first and foremost – as this blog argued yesterday – the time has come for Britain to get up off the mat post-Iraq, and reassert our place in the world. The conflicts of the first decade of this century – with their weak justification and unclear objectives – must not colour our present day judgement to the extend that we freeze in indecision when decisive action and engagement with our allies is needed.

And while nobody can truthfully promise that striking ISIS in Syria will significantly reduce the terrorist threat in Britain, we can say with reasonable certainty that dithering and failing to act against the murderous death cult responsible for attacking our good ally France – slaughtering scores of innocent people in Paris – will help consign Britain to the ranks of middling, introspective and insignificant nations at the mercy of world events rather than shaping them.

This nuanced argument is much harder to make than simplistic pledges about keeping us safe from terror, especially when trying to build support for military action in a cynical and war-weary country. But it is the right argument.

As Fraser Nelson argues – and this blog concurs – it is far better to be upfront about the real motivations for intervention, and trust the British people to understand that it is in all of our interests to ensure that Britain continues to be taken seriously as a major player on the world stage.

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250 Words To Save The Union

Lincoln First Inaugural Scottish Independence 2

 

If your country faced annihilation by a foreign army, would you take up arms in its defence? Many would, and many have throughout our history – this year we honour the memory of the six million British men who fought in the First World War, many making the ultimate sacrifice for King and country.

But if your country was days away from a seemingly more banal kind of destruction – at the ballot box, following a largely dull and petty referendum campaign – what would you say to save it?

The Spectator has issued this challenge to its readers, asking them to submit letters to a wavering Scottish voter, imploring them to choose to remain in the Union. Entrants have complete freedom to say what they like within this broad remit:

You can make only one point, or make a bunch of them. The letter can be funny or deadly serious, clinically rational or a cri de coeur. The aim is to show that people in certain parts of Britain do care, very much, about the other parts – and that the Britishness which binds us together is worth fighting for.

The timing could not be better: a shocking new poll has given the “Yes” to independence campaign the lead for the first time, with 51% of respondents in favour of ripping up the Act of Union, and 49% preferring to maintain the bonds that tie us together. The Better Together camp long predicted that the polls would tighten as the referendum neared, but this latest poll is an absolute calamity, almost guaranteed to sew the seeds for further infighting and recrimination among unionists.

Immediately I got to work. I would gladly participate, I would find that elusive combination of words that would make Scottish independence supporters come to their senses and see reason. Where countless celebrities, politicians and statesmen had failed, I would succeed.

Four drafts later and I have nothing.

As a political writer and blogger I should be full of excitement and opinions about the latest opinion poll, and spend my time analysing the implications and wondering how each side will respond now that their fortune have apparently flipped. The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman does a typically fine job of this:

The question is who will this poll galvanise the most? Will it horrify wavering voters and send the Better Together campaign into a final frenzy to win over those lingering undecideds? One thing we can be certain of is more detail on what further powers Scotland would get if it stayed within the UK. Or will it give the SNP a final furlong spurt of energy? As we’re dealing with an expected turnout of around 80 per cent with voters who have never pushed a slip of paper into a ballot box before coming out to vote, no-one knows the answer. And that’s what makes tonight’s poll particularly terrifying for unionists.

I suppose I should also take the lead from many senior unionist politicians and pundits, and be ready and willing to say anything, do anything and offer anything by way of bribery or cajolement to convince wavering Scots of the readily apparent benefits of our United Kingdom. But I cannot engage in this flattery, just as I cannot engage in tactical speculation and analysis on this subject any more. The threat is too great and the imminent pain too real to treat the prospect of the end of the United Kingdom as just another political football.

I have written at length about my belief that our great country should remain united, and that we should not seek to create ever-smaller subdivisions on our small, crowded islands (though I strongly favour a federal United Kingdom). I have talked about the constitutional issues that would arise, and the fact that bespoke pandering to Scottish nationalists at the expense of the English, Welsh and Northern Irish is further unbalancing our constitution. I’ve argued in support of continuity for what has been proven to work in preference to an unresearched leap into the dark.

But at this point I have nothing left to say, not even 250 words. Not even in the face of the depressing news that Gordon Brown is to become the figurehead for the “No” campaign, further cementing the desperate idea that left wing bribes are all that wavering Scots want to hear.

If the Scottish people search their collective hearts and decide to destroy the United Kingdom in a bid for complete self-governance with no remaining ties to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, they should go. The UK will not be worth saving, because we will have forgotten who we are. We can await our diminished future as the fifty-first (and second poorest) state of America, or our balkanisation into soulless geographical regions by the European Union.

I watched the two awful televised debates between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling. I watched as the Better Together camp made the ludicrous, doomed decision to compete with the SNP in devotion to left-wing, big government principles. I watched as the Yes camp peddled their denialist fantasy in which an independent Scotland walks away from its share of the national debt, uses the pound while influencing UK monetary policy in it favour, accedes immediately to European Union membership and funds its socialist utopia with limitless oil revenues from the North Sea.

How does one engage in a debate when one side argues for what should not be and the other side clamours for something that cannot possibly be?

The Better Together side’s latest grand idea is talking up the prospect of David Cameron being defeated in the 2015 general election, and holding out the prospect of a more appealing, left-wing alternative in Ed Miliband. But must we really now start to base our national identity according to the same brittle rationale by which we choose our newspaper habits and prune our social media feeds, seeking to insulate ourselves from contrary opinions and perspectives, and identifying only with those people who agree with us politically?

This is the toxic, petty world inhabited by the likes of George Monbiot, who believes that a Scottish “No” vote would be an “astonishing act of self-harm”:

What would you say about a country that exchanged an economy based on enterprise and distribution for one based on speculation and rent? That chose obeisance to a government that spies on its own citizens, uses the planet as its dustbin, governs on behalf of a transnational elite that owes loyalty to no nation, cedes public services to corporations,forces terminally ill people to work and can’t be trusted with a box of fireworks, let alone a fleet of nuclear submarines? You would conclude that it had lost its senses.

There is no point attempting to reason with the likes of Monbiot, a man so determined to see evil in everything the United Kingdom stands for and so willing to buy the Scottish nationalist snake oil. But there may yet be time to prevail upon those Scots who are not so embittered by the mere thought of capitalism, private enterprise and a strong nation state as our best model for human governance.

At a time when people from the four home nations of the United Kingdom sometimes look at each other and see no common bond left, we would do well to remember the example of our former colonies in the New World. Each of the fifty United States of America boasts its own distinct culture, accomplishments and economic strengths. Each fancies itself the greatest state in the union. But when push comes to shove, almost everyone in that great land proudly considers themselves to be an American – even if, in the case of the Lone Star State, they may call themselves Texan first and foremost.

An American born and raised in Kansas may never set foot in the state of California, but they would be rendered incomplete if the land of pacific beaches, the Golden Gate Bridge and the great Redwood forests were to wrench itself away and start governing itself for the benefit of Californians alone. Those in the American heartland may be different from their coastal cousins in as many ways as you can imagine – taste in food, fashion, approach to religion, views on social issues and love of firearms – but they share the same historical bond, forged in war and peace, that Scots share with the English (and Welsh, and Northern Irish) whether they like it or not.

I have no words of my own left to flatter or bribe my wavering Scottish cousins into preserving something so precious and yet apparently so undervalued north of the border. I can’t participate in the ideological race to the left, nor do I think framing the debate as a competition to promise Scots the most left-wing gimmicks is in any way helpful or illuminating. I can only offer the words of another, a great man who rose to the occasion when his country seemed destined to tear apart at the seams.

At his inauguration in 1861 and on the eve of the American civil war, President Abraham Lincoln reasoned and pleaded with the restive Southern states, seven of which had already declared their secession from the Union, in this way:

That there are persons in one section or another who seek to destroy the Union at all events and are glad of any pretext to do it I will neither affirm nor deny; but if there be such, I need address no word to them. To those, however, who really love the Union may I not speak?

Before entering upon so grave a matter as the destruction of our national fabric, with all its benefits, its memories, and its hopes, would it not be wise to ascertain precisely why we do it? Will you hazard so desperate a step while there is any possibility that any portion of the ills you fly from have no real existence? Will you, while the certain ills you fly to are greater than all the real ones you fly from, will you risk the commission of so fearful a mistake?

And as Lincoln said in closing to the rebellious American South, I can only repeat to the United Kingdom’s restless north:

I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

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