In Depth

Instant Opinion: Scotland ‘is out of Boris Johnson’s control’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Monday 3 August

The Week’s daily round-up highlights the five best opinion pieces from across the British and international media, with excerpts from each.

1. Alex Massie in The Times

on the dark cloud over the Union

Scotland problem is out of Johnson’s control

“Sooner or later, every Conservative prime minister discovers they have a problem in north Britain. Boris Johnson is a quicker learner than some of his Tory predecessors, if only in the sense that he has become aware of his Scottish problem in his first year in office. It is a difficulty that can neither be wished away nor expected to disappear of its own accord. When he became prime minister, Mr Johnson paid tribute to the household gods of ‘One Nation’ conservatism, but frankly it was never quite clear which nation he meant by that. Two recent opinion polls have suggested that support for Scottish independence stands at about 55 per cent. The combination of Brexit, coronavirus and the prime minister himself has galvanised an independence movement that, until these three horsemen appeared, could huff and puff all it liked without getting appreciably closer to its intended final destination.”

2. Nesrine Malik in The Guardian

on the PM hailing a ‘massive success’

A nation mourns its Covid-19 dead. But for Boris Johnson it’s a time for triumphalism

“The UK’s failure to respond adequately to the pandemic is now well documented. Every month of the past five brought its own theme – the travesty of the delayed lockdown in March, the inability to provide PPE in April, falling short of testing targets in May. With every one of these fiascos, as lives were lost, the government ramped up the victory rhetoric. As the death rate peaked we were told we were ‘moving in the right direction’; the shambolic test and trace programme would be ‘world beating’. As levels of trust plummeted after the Dominic Cummings saga, Johnson said he was ‘very proud’ of the government’s response. The bluster was laced with the implication that criticism was unpatriotic. The hectic VE day celebrations were pressed into the service of the government’s account of a nation under lockdown re-enacting the bravery of previous generations. ‘We’ll meet again’, sung into the deserted streets of England, and mixed with the government’s synthetic cheerfulness to create the soundtrack of the past few months – enforced upbeatness, suffocated grief. The jolly music blares over the empty fairground of our country.”

3. Charles M. Blow in The New York Times

on a president never to blame for failure

Trump Forecasts His Own Fraud

“This election is in danger of being stolen. By Donald Trump. Trump is a win-at-all-costs kind of operator. For him, the rules are like rubber, not fixed but bendable. All structures - laws, conventions, norms - exist for others, those not slick and sly enough to evade them, those not craven enough to break them. Trump is showing anyone who is willing to see it, in every way possible, that he is willing to do anything to win re-election, and will cry foul if he doesn’t, a scenario that could cause an unprecedented national crisis... Setting aside the fact that Trump has no power to delay the election, he is clearly seeking to undermine the legitimacy of the outcome should he lose. If he wins, he’ll say he did so in spite of fraud, and if he loses, he’ll claim he did so because of it. In Trump’s world, he is never to blame for failure. He is the best, the greatest ever, like no one has ever seen before. He doesn’t fail. In reality, his life is chock-full of failure.”

4. Sean O’Grady in The Independent

on keeping the strain off the NHS

I’m over 50 and all for lockdown if it’s needed – now’s not the time for selfishness

“‘Over 50s’ isn’t a very attractive sounding name for people. I prefer ‘baby boomer’, which has a certain vibe to it, and reminds everyone that it was us lot that made Britain what it is today (cuts both ways, admittedly). Some of us were punks, you know, and hippies, and Thatcherites, generally independent-minded people. In other words, we do not all share the same view - and we are not all anti-lockdown. Some of us actively welcome age-related coronavirus precautions - being shielded and protected. Some of us like the idea of extended house arrest. We are not raring to get to the nearest rave and we’re too old to pogo. We should also all accept that our natural individualism and libertarian sympathies have their limits in a pandemic. A public health emergency imposes certain obligations on all of us, because what we do as individuals affects others, in obvious ways. We’re mature enough to see that.”

5. Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at King’s College London, in The Daily Telegraph

on why government legislation is not enough

Universities are failing to protect academic freedom from the anti-free speech radicals

“In his defence of free speech, John Stuart Mill pointed out that the greatest threat to it in a democracy came not from government but from ‘prevailing opinion and feeling’, which could give rise to ‘a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression’. It was, Mill suggested, legitimate to avoid contact with someone whose views one finds offensive. What was not legitimate was to use social pressure or boycott to deter the expression of unpopular views... For the universities have been the great exception to that central trend of postwar politics, the decline of the state. They are almost as much of a public monopoly today as they were in the days of the Attlee government. Indeed, when, in the late Eighties, Thatcher’s education secretary, Kenneth Baker, visited the Soviet Union, he was congratulated on the degree of central control that he had achieved. A public monopoly is always in danger of encouraging conformity. Freedom is best defended not by the state, but by a healthy diversity of institutions. We have, at present, just two private universities – Buckingham and the New College of the Humanities. We need many more.”

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