Boris Johnson’s election as prime minister would be a gift to Scottish independence supporters

Cutting a dejected and browbeaten figure in front of the ultimate symbol of political power in the UK, Theresa May delivered one of the most significant and emotional speeches of her tenure as prime minister on Friday.

It is perhaps a sign of the times in Britain that the oration in question was her letter of resignation.

In the speech, she expressed her regret that she had not delivered Brexit and further stressed the need for compromise to deliver what has (thus far) been undeliverable.

A clear way forward out of the current Brexit deadlock is unlikely to be forthcoming for her successor. But what is certain, the election of the next leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister will almost certainly put wind in the sails of the Scottish independence movement.

While some may empathise with the callous fashion in which she has been harried from office by her cabinet, her party and the rightwing media, few tears will be shed for the end of her disastrous premiership, one of the shortest in the post-war era.

Those in favour of retaining the Union shouldn’t be too hasty in celebrating Theresa May’s political demise, however, for what comes in her wake is arguably more harmful to the future prospects of the country – and a catalyst for the breakup of Britain. If the Westminster rumour mill is to be believed, the current favourite to become leader is Boris Johnson.

Largely in over her head solving Brexit, May had inadvertently managed to act as a bulwark against any rise in support of Scottish independence (with polls maintaining the similar levels of support since the vote in 2014). She resisted calls for a second independence vote and was rewarded with a clutch of Scottish MPs in the 2017 general election. However, events in the last week have put pay to all that and Johnson’s elevation to prime minister will be prove to be the final, devastating crack in the dam holding back momentum towards independence.

Popular with rank and file Tories, Johnson is a divisive figure amongst the British electorate, in no small part because of his unseemly pursuit of power at all costs. Having aborted a bid for the Conservative leadership following David Cameron’s resignation in 2016, he has bided his time, using his column in the Daily Telegraph to soften the ground for a Johnson premiership while also stalking a wounded Theresa May.

“Any lurch towards a disastrous ‘no-deal Brexit’… by arch-Brexiteer Johnson would now throw moderate No voters like myself into the bosom of independence campaigners.”

A leader of the Leave campaign, he famously switched support from the Remain camp when it became politically expedient for him to do so. Having been so cynical previously, his plans on how to deliver Brexit must be treated as such, too. After all, Johnson wasted no time, after announcing he would run for the leadership, to say publically that a ‘no deal Brexit’ is back on the table and that he would be willing to let Britain slide out of the EU on 31 October without a deal in place.

In the wake of the European election results on Monday morning, it is certain that any new Conservative leader will now take a more hardline approach to Brexit, which could, of course, mean crashing out of the EU without a deal in place.

Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which came top of the poll with 32%, campaigned for a hard Brexit on WTO rules, wooing away Conservative members and voters in the process. Emboldened by victory, it will be hard for any of May’s potential successors to ignore the wishes of Brexit Party supporters should they wish to remain long in Downing Street.

This jars with the picture elsewhere in the UK, for instance in Scotland. The SNP – a pro-Europe and pro-Scottish independence party – enjoyed their best ever European election results. They campaigned on doing everything they could to stop Brexit or, at the very least, limit the damage of a soft Brexit. The results mirror in some regard the EU referendum in 2016 in which Scots voted overwhelmingly to Remain.

There is no direct correlation between support for Europe and support for independence (a substantial wedge of SNP supporters voted to Leave three years ago, for example) but the tectonic plates are starting to shift in this direction the longer Brexit uncertainty drags on.

While Scotland voted convincingly against independence in 2014, the spectre of another poll on the thorny constitutional issue has never been fully exorcised. Having been promised that the UK’s place in Europe would be protected by a vote against independence, any lurch towards a disastrous ‘no-deal Brexit’ (now being dubbed a ‘clean Brexit’ by populists like Farage in an effort to sanitise the danger) by arch-Brexiteer Johnson would now throw moderate No voters like myself into the bosom of independence campaigners.

True, Scottish independence would not be the sunlit uplands that Brexit was promised to be, either. And while the independence movement’s talking points – ‘no one votes Tory in Scotland’ and ‘Scotland doesn’t get the governments it votes for at Westminster’ – are a little threadbare and demonstrably untrue, there is something to be said of the UK government pursuing a damaging policy in the knowledge that Scotland and Northern Ireland are wholly against it. And still are, according to the European election results.

With the waters still muddied from May’s imminent departure, it is unclear just how the Brexit saga will end and what the fallout will be when it does. Any new leader of the Conservative Party must be conscious of the task in front of them. They will need to walk a tightrope between delivering Brexit and keeping the country together. Is the break-up of the 300-year-old Union – as unionists, something they are pledged to uphold and protect – a price worth paying to leave the EU? Sadly, I suspect Boris Johnson would make a Faustian bargain to reach Number 10.

Taking a leap: The couple leading China’s craft brewing revolution

In a smog-shrouded hutong, a love affair is brewing. It’s unbridled. Some might say insatiable, even. It is stronger still than the bond between spouses – the love of husband and wife team Carl Setzer and Lui Fang for beer.

Founded in 2010, Great Leap Brewing has gone from from strength to strength in a matter of years. Before they arrived, Beijing had been barren of craft breweries . In the years that followed the opening of their brewery, seven more have followed suit thanks in no small part to their efforts to make world-class beer. “Here in China, the assumption is if you can do it in Beijing, you can do it anywhere and everywhere.”

Apathy not populism will be the West’s downfall: Thoughts on the US election

The aftermath of every election or plebiscite in recent times has been met with an all too familiar wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth on the part of the defeated party.

Plus ça change.

The subsequent knee-jerk reaction tends to always focus on a forensic analysis of the black box data. What went wrong? What were the causes? How can we convince the electorate that our way of thinking is to their greater advantage the next time they are polled?

Already, not one week since the US elections, the standard bearer of the progressives in the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders has called for a hostile takeover of the party machinery. We’ve seen in this country following Labour’s defeat in the 2015 General Election how problematic such a sudden shift in direction can prove (depending on which side of the pro/anti-Corbyn fence you stand).

Unfortunately for the United States, this particular presidential election campaign has caused such a crash that the flight data recorder could take months or even years to find let alone fully interpret. Already a slew of pundits and media commentators – the same folk discredited as being out of touch liberal elitists who ignored or misinterpreted just how large the groundswell of Trumpist support was going to be – have tried to pick through the wreckage of a particularly rancorous presidential campaign in an eagerness to atone.

And yet, the elephant in the room is something I have seen relatively few commentators fully acknowledge as of yet – the deafening roar of an apathetic American electorate.

Nearly half of eligible voters chose not to vote. 43.1 per cent of Americans of voting age – over 100 million people – didn’t cast a ballot, marking a 20-year low. To put it plainly, just over a quarter of the electorate handed Donald Trump the keys to the most powerful office in the world. A president-elect who lost the popular vote, no less.

Such a low turnout is not unheard of. On the contrary, it is characteristic of US elections, which are noted for their below-average voter turnout compared to other countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The UK fares slightly better, with 72.2 per cent turning out for the EU referendum in June while 84.6 per cent of Scots voted in the independence referendum in 2014.

That said, Hillary Clinton is still on course to win more votes than any other presidential candidate in history bar Barack Obama which makes this loss one of the most staggering and consequential.

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© Gage Skidmore/Flickr

The reasons for wider voter disaffection in the post-industrial era are manifest and hardly unique to any one country. Electorates around the world are chronically disaffected with the political establishment. In the US, as was the case in austerity-ridden Britain prior to the Brexit vote, the pinch of higher living costs versus the stagnation of wages have reached the point where life for those trying to make ends meet could hardly get any worse by taking a risk on change of any kind.

It should be noted, however, that Trump performed no better or worse than Mitt Romney, Obama’s challenger in 2012. Furthermore, if you drill down to the bedrock of his support, the vast majority of earners above $50,000 a year plumbed for Trump (as they did with Romney) while the majority of those on the lowest incomes cast their lot in with Hillary Clinton. So, surely it’s false to perpetuate the claim that this vote was solely a populist working class revolt against elites?

It is this narrative that has helped preserve the sometimes uneasy primacy of the post-war liberal consensus.

There was of course a racist element geared towards recalibrating the US after eight years of Obama – the so-called “whitelash” of the educated and non-educated white majority who backed Trump. It is not hard to perceive the dog whistle racism in Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, no more so than Nigel Farage broadly grimacing in front of a deliberately misleading image of fleeing refugees during the Brexit referendum campaign.

But a deep-seated apathy is arguably far more dangerous and destructive than populism. Indeed, when mixed together they make a lethal cocktail, one that brought mankind to its knees only within the lifetime of my grandparents.

When little was done to challenge the sexist, misogynistic and racist campaign rhetoric of Donald Trump, the US electorate at large simply assented with their blithe dismissal of it. In doing so, they ignored history at their peril.

With each passing Armistice Day, the number of servicemen dwindles ever more. With them, the potency of their histories, long disseminated from their own mouths to the wider public, diminishes. Instead, it resorts back to fading black and white photographs without a compelling narrative to keep the warnings alive.

It is this narrative that has helped preserve the sometimes uneasy primacy of the post-war liberal consensus. It has shaped the lives we lead today. In some cases, these stories tell of how liberties and freedoms long since repressed or removed were restored.

A similar complacency and unwillingness to challenge the ideas of the day helped, albeit inadvertently, pave the way for the horrors of Auschwitz in the last century. It shouldn’t take seeing the trails of nail marks etched onto gas chamber walls to make you truly appreciate the cataclysm now facing a liberal world order that – while imperfect – has broadly delivered peace and prosperity for the last 70 years. Admitted I’m reverting to sensationalist hyperbole here but I won’t belabour the point further.

In the post-truth political landscape, we’re losing sight of what we know to be true and moreover, what we are inclined to believe when we give credence to incendiary content on social media or editorials in the partisan press.

For many who thought a Trump presidency was unthinkable, I ask you now where do we go from here? Where does the rot stop?

The cradles of 1930s fascism are next to face down their demons to avoid a repeat of history. Brexit and the advent of a posturing ultra-nationalist in the White House have emboldened far right nationalists across Europe with Italy, Austria, France and Germany all facing electoral tests in the coming months.

So what is the remedy? Well, I’m afraid that all depends on what we – and the Americans – decide to do now. Protesting against the President-elect in the streets of American cities is one thing, but we are only really beginning to glean what a Trump presidency will actually look like, although the selection of an alternative right winger to the post of chief strategist and advisor at the White House rings several alarm bells already.

We now face a stark choice – the limp acceptance of the fate history signals will surely befall us through disinterest or collective action to prod the indifferent off their fences to avoid future calamities. Which is it?

Top five liked pictures on Instagram

I have a bit of an Instagram addiction. I guess it originally stems from an interest in cameras and photography (I used to work in a Boots photo lab in my formative teenage years). While travelling, though, it is an invaluable tool in the travel writers kit. More to the point, it’s my favourite way of sharing the things I’ve been fortunate to see and experience on my travels.

Here’s a quick run-down of the pics that you’ve enjoyed most on my Instagram feed and the story behind the images.

1. Rotterdam, Netherlands

Much of Rotterdam was decimated during the Second World War. Flattened by German and Allied bombs alike, the Dutch were forced to rebuild. As a blank canvas, the important port city has risen from the ashes with some interesting – if at times, odd – architecture. One of its most eye-catching construction projects has to be the Cube Houses, 38 conceptual dwellings built in the late 1970s.


2. Istanbul, Turkey

Be it Istanbul or Constantinople, the city straddling two continents is nothing short of beguiling. The skyline of Istanbul is dominated by minarets, notably by the likes of the famous Blue Mosque in the Sultanahmet. Getting off the tourist trail, I decided to stop in at the lesser visited Rüstem Pasha Mosque, discreetly tucked away in Eminönü. My reward? The marvel of these beautiful blue izmik tiles and the place to myself.


3. Amsterdam, Netherlands

Liberal Amsterdam is certainly known for many things. Bikes, dope and prostitutes are possibly high on the list but so too are the city’s many mesmerising canals and 17th century houses. This photo is one of the many I stopped to take during the hours we spent cycling up and down Amsterdam’s Canal Belt.


4. Piran, Slovenia

Slovenia is, to all intents and purposes, still under-appreciated by visitors to the Continent. And pictures like this one only make me scratch my head even more. In a way, I’m glad. It means that places like Piran – one of the real jewels of the Adriatic – remain unspoilt by tourism.

5. Alice Springs, Australia

I couldn’t resist a shot of this ubiquitous Aussie road sign. It’s not like we have them back in the UK, is it? One of the highlights of my trip to the Red Centre was definitely being able to see ‘roos in their natural habit in the Outback, and many more species besides.

Review: Antler Juno large suitcase

It might shock some of you to know that, in the past, I haven’t been very clued up in regards to luggage. As long as my suitcase had some dexterity left in its swivel wheels and it hadn’t been too cumbersome to carry, I mostly concentrated on other aspects of my travel plans.

Admittedly, I do have an old trusty cabin bag – a suitcase of a nondescript make – that has served me faithfully for many years now and is always on hand for short haul flights on low cost airlines.

My recent honeymoon to south east Asia, however, called for the purchase of brand new luggage for my wife and I. We had three boxes to tick on our wish list:

  • The new case(s) had to be light enough to allow us to carry a larger volume of clothing for the hot, humid climate without incurring excess baggage charges;
  • Be manoeuvrable without too much exertion;
  • Durable enough to last a reasonable number of years in service.

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With these points in mind, the Antler Juno suitcase quickly became the frontrunner.

Aside from the array of striking colours which initially caught our eye (we chose turquoise as pictured although there are 8 in total to choose from), its cubic capacity of 110 litres and weight of 4.2kg meant that we were able to pack each of our cases to bursting point and still only clock up 19kg (the baggage limit on BA long haul flight was 23kg).

Lightweight even at full capacity, they glided along with minimal effort on their set of four 360-degree swivel wheels, cutting down the time navigating through the hordes in the arrivals hall and avoiding aching limbs and back from dragging them.

The 10-year warranty – while comforting to have in your back pocket – will probably never be called upon (hopefully). The versatile polypropylene cover survived the initial onslaught of seven flights on our honeymoon without so much as a scuff, nor were the wheels or handle damaged by brusk baggage handling.

Bonus features that ultimately helped clinch the deal were the in-built combination locks which certainly gave us added peace of mind security-wise. Overall, a very sound purchase.

Current RRP: £111.20 (Antler and John Lewis)
*Article produced impartially

Specifications:

Size (H x W x D) 79 x 53 x 31 (cm)
Material Polypropylene
Packing Capacity 110 (L)
Gross Capacity 130 (L)
Wheels 4 Wheels, Double Wheel System, 360 Degree Rotating Wheels
Locks TSA Fixed Combination
Weight 4.2 (kg)
Product Code 3490130022
Features Lightweight

The time I went mad and flew to New York for 24 hours…

5.50am. Dublin Airport. A little over four hours sleep under my belt as I wander through the automatic doors into a hubbub of noise in the check-in area.

So starts my day trip with a difference. With my boarding pass and passport in hand, I make it through US customs pre-clearance to the departure lounge where my bleary eyes – still glued together with sleep – scan the TV monitors for my flight details. EI 103. New York. Departure time: 7.50am.

I can’t deny the prospect of this particular trip has my adrenaline pumping more than most trips I’ve undertaken as a travel writer,  perhaps because the many variables that could go wrong are racing through my mind.

Would the fog enveloping the airport force a cancellation? Maybe the flight wouldn’t leave on time?

I’d like to think, though, that it is mostly down to the fact I would experience the feverish madness that is New York again. And, of course, the sheer feat of travelling across the Atlantic twice in the same day.

But it does beg the question – is it really possible to visit New York in a day from Ireland? Aer Lingus seemed to think so and I was more than determined to find out for myself.

Find out how I got on in my piece for the Irish Independent.

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Welcome!

This is the very first post on my new website.

For me, seeing white space on a computer screen means an opportunity to fulfil my greatest passion – writing. I’ll be filling that space as best as I can by sharing my latest work as well as the things that I’ve seen on my travels and the world around me.

Thanks for stopping by and see you again soon!