To the fourth Anthony Sampson Lecture at Queen Mary, University of London. The topic? “Britain’s Constitutional Reforms: Trivial or Transforming?” The main speaker was Robert Hazell (pictured in blue shirt) Professor of Government and the Constitution at University College London and Director of its Constitution Unit.
Although his lecture was an interesting and comprehensive meander through the UK’s complicated constitutional territory, some of the more interesting remarks emerged during questions afterwards. Professor Peter Hennessy (pictured in khaki suit), for example, focussed on devolution. He said he’d reached the conclusion that “Scotland will be to the UK what Quebec is to Canada and the UK is to the European Union – the awkward one spewing out a constant drizzle of complaint but never pushing it to the point of rupture”. He then quoted P G Wodehouse: “It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.”
Hennessy is an impressive guy with an interesting turn of phrase uncommon in academics. He said that, at the end of the day, the UK constitution “was like the Ealing Comedy that was never made”, in that it “cheers us up and baffles us in equal measure”.
A gloomier prognosis came from Trevor Dadson, Vice Principal for Humanities and Social Sciences at QMU. He pointed to Spain and its experience with assymetrical devolution, predicting that the UK’s similar experiment would become “a nightmare for the UK” as each region or nation jostled for position within the constitutional pecking order and initiated endless arguments about finance.
A good plug for the 30th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister in yesterday’s housing debate at Holyrood. The Official Report, naturally, has it covered.
The online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has some interesting Thatcher-related features, including a biographical breakdown of her first Cabinet and also a podcast by her former PR guru Sir Gordon Reece.
A fascinating programme on BBC Radio 4′s Archive Hour called Working for Margaret. Presented by the journalist and former MP Matthew Parris, it includes interviews with those who worked closely with her at Downing Street.
On a more esoteric note, Thinking Allowed, also on Radio 4, features Antje Bednarek, a German sociologist pursuing an ethnography of Young Scottish Conservatives. “She had not realised that tracking them down would be such a tricky business.” Nuff said.
Today’s Sunday newspapers have two articles about my forthcoming book, ‘We in Scotland’ – Thatcherism in a Cold Climate. The Sunday Times has a spread based on my conclusions from the book, while the Sunday Herald concentrates on new quotes about Scotland that I obtained from Baroness Thatcher. Today’s Sunday Mail also asked six Scots what Thatcher meant to them, and includes a rare on-the-record comment from Lord Forsyth.
A lot of stuff this week as we approach the 30th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher’s election as Prime Minister in May 1979. A rather hostile piece by Germaine Greer in the Guardian‘s Saturday Review section, which was more or less completely devoted to the subject, and a long (and rather predictable) essay in today’s Sunday Herald by Iain Macwhirter with a reply, of sorts, by me which you can read by clicking here.
Sad news today that the former SNP MEP Sir Neil MacCormick has died at the age of 67. The Daily Telegraph has a reasonably good obituary, while mine should appear in tomorrow’s Scotsman. Some more comprehensive, and very affectionate, obituaries in The Times and Guardian. BBC’s Newsnight Scotland last Monday also carried what must have been Sir Neil’s last television interview and some interesting old archive.