A vision for the future

This week, a group of bishops from the Church of England released an open letter to politicians, in which they called for the parties to set out a “moral vision” for Britain, creating the same sense of change that was felt in 1945 and 1979. The bishops’ ideas of what this moral vision should entail may be different from what many would like, and is certainly more partisan than they made it out to be, but they are not wrong in arguing for one. With apathy high and discontent higher, this general election is in desperate need of a purpose bigger than deciding seats on May 7th. The country should use the next 80 days to have an encapsulating debate about who we are, who we’d like to be, and how best to get there. We witnessed it in Scotland over the summer – a nation taken over by the buzz of deciding its future – and it was a sight to see.

This year, I have struggled through the works of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill, among others. It has, I admit, been tough, and not the most enjoyable part of my politics degree. But if their ideas seem outdated, their writing stuffy and their relevance somewhat limited, there is one thing we can learn from these brilliant minds – a willingness, and in some cases a compulsion, to share their vision for a better society, no matter what that may entail. The public intellectuals of today (for that is what these men were) are, by comparison, parochial, although a talk on atheism, humanism and secularism by AC Grayling, which I attended recently, offered some hope. He argued, with passion and compassion, for a morality based on personal choice and respect for the choices of others.

I guess that what I’d really like to see is a politics in which a party’s leader can appeal to people like Grayling in their discussions with the public, and not be labelled an intellectual snob by the press. Instead, we must put up with soundbite populism, where Ed Miliband is judged on his ability to eat a bacon sandwich, not his interpretation of social democracy and its place in the 21st century. This is the climate in which Ukip gets away with gaffe after gaffe after gaffe, simply because no one expects any better. They can poll at 15% on the merits of Farage’s drinking habit, and although the broadsheets lament it, they don’t offer anything as an alternative.

So for what it’s worth: here’s my vision – the one that I wish someone would articulate to the public.

It starts off with a return to some of the great liberal thinkers mentioned above, and a concerted effort to modernise their once-groundbreaking ideas. JS Mill’s works should be the starting point of politics in any serious liberal democracy. Freedom of speech should be an absolute, just as he wrote; it is the only way to ensure that we’re going in the right direction. Individuality should be celebrated – and money poured into education, so that equality of opportunity becomes about raising the troughs, not levelling the crests. Every child should be viewed as a bundle of potential – especially, as Mill showed us, girls, who continue to miss out at so many stages of life.

And if we’re going to extend the liberal vision throughout the century, we need to renew the determination with which we fight society’s greatest injustices. The 20th century was the time of political rights – the spread of democracy to 120 countries (according to Freedom House), women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement. This should be the century of social rights – of women being free to control their own bodies, of LGBT+ couples’ being free to show affection in public without fear, of toleration of those with whom the majority disagrees. Instead of just vaguely hoping for some progress, wider society should harness the power and passion of hundreds of NGOs and campaign groups and really put some effort into creating positive change.

The trickier questions arise when we look outside our own culture and ask ourselves if we should expect others to honour these rights (and if we should enforce them – and how), or whether we should value our differences. On this I am still undecided – I want little girls to go to school no matter where they are born, but I am also all too aware that neo-imperialism is a nasty phenomenon and that you can’t force the adoption of values. This debate is perhaps the most central of our time, so why can’t we have it? After Paris and Copenhagen, it is more urgent than ever, as we work out just how to be a truly multicultural society.

Most questions in politics no longer have black and white answers; everything is a question of degrees. This means that we cannot simply entrench ourselves in opposing opinions and shout across the chamber – whether in the House of Commons or in the forum of public debate. Dialogue and consensus are necessary for progress. The bishops were right, politicians need to set out a new moral vision. We, as citizens, need to steer them in the right direction.

The ideas stopped coming

It was all going so well. A few weeks ago I had just been told that I would be getting paid to write, which in many ways is the holy grail of young journalists. My Twitter profile was actually getting some attention, thanks to two articles I’d had published on Comment is free, who emailed to say that I am free to pitch them ideas whenever I like. I submitted a piece for Prospect and sorted out the practical arrangements for my summer placement at the Guardian.

And then the ideas stopped coming.

It’s been two weeks since I wrote anything, and even in writing this, I don’t know what it is I am saying. I have a sneaking suspicion that the pressure of thinking up really, gobsmackingly good ideas for the Guardian (who I am just in awe of) taking a subconscious toll – so much so that I can’t even come up with mediocre things to blog about here. And the more I can’t think of anything, the higher the pressure mounts, and the cycle continues. If hell had a circle just for journalists, this would be it (with unresponsive email contacts thrown in for good measure).

I’ve done what they tell you to do. I’ve read, a lot. I’ve trawled Twitter. I’ve even listened to a few podcasts and chosen completely random playlists on Spotify, trying to break myself out of the familiar. And it’s cost me, too. Last night I finally succumbed to buying a New York Times subscription so that I could continue reading back entries of the Modern Love column once I’d hit the paywall (proof that people – even students – will pay for good writing if they have to). Of all the luxuries in life, my subscriptions to top publications are the ones I feel least guilty about buying. We shouldn’t expect quality for free (maybe there’s an idea here?).

And finally, I am just putting words onto paper; black against white. Forcing my brain through its normal processes of choosing sentence structures, selecting vocabulary and playing with punctuation. Maybe in concentrating on the nuts and bolts of writing, I’ll cease to overthink the content and just do it.

Yes, there it is. There’s the idea: the nuts and bolts of writing. I’ll assemble it tomorrow.

Remember Voltaire

Je suis Charlie. It really is as simple as that. Aussi, je suis Ahmed, the policeman who was killed. I am the people at the Kosher supermarket, and I am the million-plus people who marched in Paris this weekend. For the past six days, this is all I have been able to say, but that is not enough.

It is with sadness that I admit that I am alarmingly used to terror; it is everywhere, all the time. So when my BBC News app informed me, between lectures, that 11 (then 12) people had been killed in Paris, I winced, told a friend, and then carried on with my day.

It was not until I returned home and switched on the news that the name Charlie Hebdo registered, nor that those killed were mostly journalists and cartoonists. As I waded through the media storm in what became an increasingly concerned effort to find out as much as I could, I felt shivers go down my spine. I called home to talk of other things, but was caught off guard by my French mother’s audibly shaken voice. After I hung up the phone and went back to trawling the media, I began to cry.

I haven’t cried at a news story for a long time, and I was shocked at my own response. I chastised myself; did I only care because these were people, doing a job I adore in a city I love, whom I could relate to? Why hadn’t I cried at the Peshawar attack, or the horrible deaths IS have inflicted on Iraqi civilians? Even looking back to the 7/7 bombings, which happened in my own city, I couldn’t remember feeling like this. Sitting in bed, tears flowing down my face, I wondered how, at a time like this, I could see the world in such a self-centred way? And why, under all the sadness, was I angry as if I had been personally victimised?

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I no longer think I was upset because the news hit a little too close to home. It has become apparent over the last few days that much of the world feels how I do – the shows of support for Paris have come from all corners, and people haven’t stopped talking about it. The name Charlie Hebdo is etched into the collective consciousness, and anyone who’s read a newspaper is now familiar with the names Charb, Cabu, Wolinski et al. We are all shocked, and hurt, and, I think, a little scared.

I now think that what hit home was that this attack was not so much perpetrated against our people but our values. Freedom of expression was gunned down, and two days later multiculturalism came under fire too. And so in our fear we are defiant; the words “je suis Charlie” can be seen at every turn, people all over the world have marched in solidarity, and world leaders gathered in a remarkable show of strength. In a week of gloom, we have much to be proud of.

The debate which the terror has sparked has been wide-ranging and fierce. Some of it has made me think, some has made my blood simmer, and some has had me nearly thumping the table in agreement. I do not know how we are going to counter Islamic extremism. I do not know how we are going to convince rightfully angry people that they need to direct that anger wisely, that French Muslims are as peaceful as their Christian, atheist or Jewish neighbours. I am as worried by the prospect of reprisals as I am copy-cat attacks, and I can only hope that France keeps it together, but I don’t know what will happen next.

There has also been much debate about where we ought to draw the line between the right to freedom of expression and an expectation of religious tolerance. I, like many, find the Charlie Mahammad cartoons to be in bad taste. The point though is this: I don’t like the cartoons – they are offensive – but that doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with their publication. Incorporated in a journalist’s right to say whatever the hell they like is your right to be offended by it, to display your disgust with angry letters or protests or boycotts. No where is there a right to kill people because you didn’t like what they said. All those people who are handwringing over whether the cartoons were acceptable or not are missing the point: people died for drawing a picture. A certain Voltaire quote comes to mind.

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

And so I find myself cheering the republication of images which make me wince, and prepared to go out and buy the next issue of Charlie, a magazine I had never heard of this time last week. I find myself angry with those turning the debate into one about self-censorship. I find myself with no answers, but strong convictions. Most of all, I find myself sad. Yes, je suis Charlie. Nous sommes Charlie. And if you’re not, well, you’re just wrong.

2014 – gloom and hope

These posts are always hard to write. How on earth do you sum up a year while keeping the piece a length which doesn’t send people to sleep? I write this post every year, it’s a kind of a tradition, but it’s even harder this time around; the year has simply gone by at such speed that I’ve barely had time to process. I fear I can’t do 2014 justice.

It’s been a year of personal highs and global lows. Islamic State has established itself as a major, terrifying player in the Middle East, helping to pull Iraq and Syria apart and slaughtering hundreds in the process. Israel and the Palestinians went another round in their endless war, with 66 Israelis and over 2000 Palestinians losing their lives in the madness. In both cases, the West has failed to stop the bloodshed, but perhaps there are no answers in the world’s most troubled region. However the situation develops, it is not hard to predict that the chaos in the Middle East will dominate the year to come.

Chaos came a little closer to home, too. As we remembered the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago, Russia’s President Putin meddled in Ukraine in ways not seen since the days of the Soviet Union. Having unilaterally annexed Crimea, he went on to send Russian troops into Eastern Ukraine, destabilising the region by bolstering the pro-Russian insurgency against the new, Western-backed government in Kiev. As EU and American sanctions were ratcheted up, doing serious damage to the Russian economy, many commentators wondered whether we were seeing the start of a new Cold War. As the year ends, this question remains unanswered.

Depressingly and predictably, the Republicans won the Congressional elections in November, rendering the Obama presidency potentially useless for the next two years. But Obama came back fighting, finally using his executive powers to move on immigration reform. He also promised some bipartisanship and a new attempt to close Guantanamo bay, an issue which became more pressing (as if that was possible) when the CIA torture report came out. In the dying days of his presidency,  Obama should concentrate on stopping the slide of American moral leadership, or at least leave enough of it in tact for the next guy to have something to work with. This year, too, we may see a glimpse of how the next presidential election will go. Personally, I am gunning for Hilary. Disagree with some of her policies all you like, she is the only Democrat with a chance of beating the Republicans – and I think a woman at the helm is exactly what America needs.

Here in the UK, the extreme right has surged, in the form of Ukip and its loathsome leader, Nigel Farage. The anti-immigration party (which I firmly believe is actually just racist) has seen its success mirrored by similar and even worse outfits across Europe – fuelled by the economic gloom which smothers the continent and the same sense of lost identity which has bolstered the Tea Party over the pond. I can only hope that as we head into a general election, our more liberal instincts come back in to play. All bets, however, are off. With the evident death of the old two party system, predicting election results is not an easy task. I expect a coalition will form (neither the Tories or Labour look strong enough to win a majority), but whether Lib-Con or Lib-Lab I cannot say. Unimpressed as I am with both of the main parties, I do not much care as long as we avoid the nightmare scenario of a Con-Ukip deal which sees us leave the EU, scrap the Human Rights Act and push minorities (women, LGBT+ people, disabled people and, really, anyone who isn’t white) back to the 1960s.

It could have been an even more raucous year for UK politics, but alas for Alex Salmond it was not so. Sense did in fact prevail, just this once, and Scotland voted by some margin to stay within the Union. Although I admit to viewing the whole independence idea as a bit daft, there was some good in the referendum. Firstly, the peaceful granting of the right to self-determination – something so many have fought and died for, handed over in the name of democracy and fairness. Secondly, we saw the kind of political engagement which people like me dream about – real mobilisation, real debate, real excitement. With democracy hardly living up to its promise, we need more of this if we are to reclaim politics for the people.

The gloomy news, though, still came. Police brutality in the US showed how racism still pervades the land of the free. The Peshawar school massacre in Pakistan showed that, even after 13 years of war in neighbouring Afghanistan, the Taliban still clings to its medieval ideology and its power. The ebola outbreak in West Africa showed how little the world has done to help developing countries create real healthcare systems or escape the scourges of poverty. Civil wars rage in South Sudan, in Syria, the CAR, Nigeria, Libya – and yet we do not talk of them, and nothing is done. 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram caught the world’s attention in April, now they are all but forgotten. You do not need to be an idealist to believe that we must and can do better.

And yet, good things happened this year. Tunisia held elections which weren’t won by Islamists. Same-sex marriages became legal in the UK. Iran and the US are talking to each other. Peaceful protests were allowed for a while in Hong Kong. Many of these things seemed impossible at the beginning of 2013, let alone the start of the decade. This alone is reason enough for hope.

For me, the grim news on our television screens has contrasted wildly with the goings-on in my own life. This year, I have really settled in to university. I passed my first year, became involved in Warwick Politics Society, and learnt just how much I can do for myself. I have also met friends who I am sure will be around next year and the one after – and in 10 years too. I have been watching a lot of Friends recently (what else is there to do at Christmas?) and it struck me how similar my life now is to those of the famous gang – minus the drama, of course. We do go for coffee an awful lot. And it’s great, really, to feel like I truly belong somewhere. That place, it turns out, is Warwick, having a debate about Ed Miliband’s chances of ever being elected, or worrying about impending deadlines while doing relatively little about them. Such is the life of a university student.

A personal milestone for me has been learning to trust my friends to help me, thus freeing me to do more without my carers having to follow me around (although being wonderful people, they are more than welcome to come along). I am so grateful to everyone who has wrestled with my coat, got me a drink, or picked up my phone when I’ve dropped it for the 5th time in a row. They’ve made me laugh until I cried more often than you’d imagine, made me happy and confident, and made me feel like one of the gang. And they’ve allowed me to say with confidence that this has been the best year yet.

It’s also been a good year for my journalism career. I’ve continued to blog for Prospect, where I also did some more work experience. I spent some time at the Week, where I learnt a lot about editorial decision making. Most amazingly, the Guardian named me as their Student Columnist of the Year, and I can confirm that my first piece for them will be published on Comment is free on the 1st January. And last but not least, you’ll notice that this blog has been re-homed from Topical Creativity to lucy-webster.com. A professional blog for a (semi-)professional journalist.

So that was 2014, the year that was. The year ahead is a blank slate; a story to be written. Although there is much to concern us in looking forwards, I am excited to see what opportunities come my way in 2015. Thank you to everyone who has read my stuff over the past 12 months, I wish you all a very happy new year.

A night at the Guardian

Coming home for Christmas has been like taking a deep breath. It’s been a busy term; four essays of vastly varying quality were somehow written, perhaps a hundred pages of notes made, countless chapters of scary books read, and a magazine single-handedly produced. And of course we went clubbing, and grabbed coffee; celebrated birthdays and the passing of deadlines and nothing at all apart from the fact that we were all together, having the time of our lives.

The highlight amongst the highlights, as it were, has to be the 27th November; the day I chucked some stuff in a bag and hurried home to London for the Guardian Student Media Awards. I’ve wanted to blog about my experience there ever since, but I didn’t know what to say. Now I have some time, I am going to attempt to describe a night I doubt I will ever forget.

I had submitted some work to the competition sometime in the summer and, being me, promptly forgot all about it until I got an email in October saying I’d been shortlisted for the Student Columnist category and inviting me to the awards ceremony. The poor souls who were with me at the time will be able to vouch for this: I was unbelievably happy, giggling and rambling like an over-excited school kid on Christmas eve. I know that’s a cliché, but that day I practically embodied cliché, as I blinked back happy tears.

The rest of the term inevitably became a build up to the ceremony. I was nervous about the prospect of talking to people I didn’t know – a long term fear which I have conquered if on campus, but not at life-defining, adult-world events. I was excited by the prospect of who I may meet, and of course the simple fact of being at the Guardian, every young liberal’s favourite broadsheet.

When the day finally came, everyone kept telling me I would win. I can tell you honestly that, although I was flattered by my friends’ genuine faith in me, I was not expecting to. I was more worried, perhaps for the first time in my life, about what to wear (I confess that from the moment in October when I had read ‘awards ceremony’ it had been hard to dislodge images of the Oscars from my mind’s eye). I just wanted to impress, and fit in, and all the other things one wants to do in the offices of a revered, loved institution (where also you kind of want a job).

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Just in case you forget where you are,
the wall in reception lets you know

I was also more concerned by the meeting my editor at Prospect had somehow, miraculously, arranged for me with a Guardian senior editor, but it turned out to be a relaxed and mercifully short affair in which I did not embarrass myself. By the time I went to the actual awards, I was pretty chilled out (apart from a minor bout of hysteria when Alan Rusbridger appeared) – especially as, let me reiterate, I did not expect to win.

But I did. I won. I am the Guardian Student Columnist of the Year 2014. Isn’t that something?

The actual moment of winning was quite surreal. Before my name was announced, they played a short video about the category and the winner – kept deliberately vague, of course. I recognised several allusions to the pieces I’d submitted, but adamantly refused to believe my own brain. It’s not me, I thought, it can’t be me. And then he said my name and everything became very strange.

I don’t really remember the rest of the night, apart from a brief and bewildering conversation with Hugh Muir about writing some pieces for Comment is free (what?) and sending/receiving more messages than my hands could cope with. I gave up a while and handed my phone to my friend who had come with me, so she could assume my identity while I remembered how to breathe.

So that was that, my night at the Guardian. I could go into infinite detail about what happened in the following days; the celebrations, the seemingly endless messages of congratulations, and just how happy I was. But none of that is particularly interesting for you, so I’ll summarise in a few sentences.

In July, I will be doing at least two weeks work experience at the Guardian, possibly four, depending on various factors. And I may indeed appear on Comment is free sometime soon, you and I will both just have to see.

I’ll end with a message I sent that night, sitting in bed at home, reflecting on how life has changed in the past few years. I was speaking to one of my best friends at university about how ridiculous it all was. “I know it’s weird,” I typed, “but right now, everything feels like it’s been worth it.” That feeling won’t last, but being able to experience it just once was pretty special.

What next?

I miss first year. Specifically, I miss the feeling that everything was just starting. Second year is in many was as fantastic as the last; less partying, yes, but real friends, more work, yes, but all more interesting. But it’s no longer the beginning, and everything is pretty real.

I don’t mind that this year my marks count towards my degree – in fact, being thus motivated has made the work a little more enjoyable. I like working towards something. The problem at the moment is that I am not entirely sure what that something is. Obviously, it involves journalism, but it may also involve a masters and other frivolous things with which to avoid the fact that journalism is a notoriously hard industry to crack, or, once eventually cracked, make a decent living by.

Not that a masters degree would be frivolous, just that I would most definitely be doing one in order to improve my job prospects. I do love learning, but academia is not for me – I am currently putting off doing the references for an essay because the process inexplicably makes me want to bang my head repeatedly against a wall. I don’t even know what I would do this hypothetical masters in.

But the bigger question is, where would I do it? As I wrote here, I have long daydreamed of spending a year or two in New York, and it occurs to me that it may be easier to go away to study than to work (green cards are precious things). But even providing I got in to a university over there (a point far from guaranteed), moving continents while relying on an electric wheelchair and a team of carers would be no small task, and maybe it would be better to return to my beloved London and make life easier for myself. But then that’s never been my style.

A related concern is whether a masters degree would actually help me get this illusive job which I keep banging on about. If I were to go to the US, it would eat up two years of my life and a lot of money – and even staying here, post-grad education is eye-wateringly expensive. I know there are no guarantees in life, but some indication of whether it’s worth it would be greatly appreciated. Just so I have something to focus on.

I don’t even know where all this internal deliberating has come from. Perhaps it is born from journalism’s obsession with its own demise, and its portrayal of itself as an ivory tower, which does not inspire confidence. I know that this is what I want to do – but am I just being naïve? I am almost as determined to live in London as I am to be a writer; but to do that I really will need to be paid occasionally.

Perhaps it is also born of a culture in which we are always asked “what next?” and where success is judged by occupation. I do not have ideological objections to this (although I firmly believe in other measures of achievement) but I am starting to feel the pressure. I know that I don’t write often enough, and I would like to be published more, yet I also have essays to do and notes to take and any free time I do have I would prefer to devote to my friends and not the keyboard. I am beginning to sympathise with those who bemoan the limited number of hours in a day.

In an ideal world, it would be nice to come to university just for the pleasure of learning. With a degree now costing a whopping £27,000, however, that is simply unrealistic. So I will work hard, write more, put inordinate amounts of effort into finding work experience and internships, and – because I will be graduating in 17 short months – enjoy being with my wonderful friends as much as possible. I don’t know what is coming next, but whatever it is, I’ll be ready when I get there. Bring it on.

Thirteen years later

Last Sunday the last British combat troops left Afghanistan, and so a chapter of our history ended. Looking back, it is weird to realise that I do not remember, as I do with Iraq, the beginning of the war. In 2001, I was 6 years old – just conscious enough to be able now to recall 9/11, much too young to have any concept of what was happening in its aftermath.

And yet, the war in Afghanistan featured heavily in my growing awareness of the world around me. Almost every news bulletin I watched during my childhood or teens seems to have featured another death or injury, another debate about whether the international forces were doing more harm than good, another question about whether we would ever be able to leave behind a country stable enough to keep going.

The jury is still out. On the plus side, little girls can now go to school, and no one gets their hand chopped off for stealing (or not stealing) a loaf of bread. The Taliban has been seriously weakened, although not, as the Americans would have us believe, to the point of defeat. I don’t think many would be willing to put money on the Afghan army being able to keep the insurgency where it is now, but at least Kabul seems safe. There is little chance of another take over.

Yet in blood-soaked Helmand, and in countless other areas, especially in the wilderness near the Pakistani border, the rule of law is still a distant ideal. Tribal leaders still hold more power than the central government, itself hardly an emblem of hope. It took three months this summer for a new president to be announced, after each side made claim and counter-claim of election fraud. At least the venal ex-President, Hamid Karzai, is no longer in power, but the deal which settled the deadlock (with one candidate, Ashraf Ghani, becoming President, while the other, Abdullah Abdullah, Prime Minister) leaves the government, and the country, divided. The democracy which the West claims to have brought to Afghanistan is little more than a charade.

Was it worth the nearly 3500 ISAF fatalities, not to mention the countless civilian casualties? I honestly do not know; it is impossible to say what could have been if there had been a different response to 9/11, if George Bush had not declared a war on terror.

I wonder if, in 2001, when I was still learning how to spell, anyone seriously thought troops would still be in Afghanistan when I was at university. It would be pleasant to think that now the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are over, we could put the war on terror to bed too. But now Western planes are again flying missions over Iraq, and Syria too – more limited action, yes, but still with no end in sight.

Two states are needed for a two-state solution

Today, quietly and with remarkably little fanfare, the House of Commons will debate recognition of a Palestinian state. If they eventually vote to pass any such motion, the world will have taken a small but not insignificant step in the direction of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This summer’s violence was just another episode in the six-decades long saga over land in the heart of the Middle East; just one cycle in the never-ending revolution of conflict-negotiation-ceasefire-conflict we have all witness so many times. The West places so much emphasis, and so much hope, on getting the two sides to sit together and talk, and yet we have ample evidence that this isn’t working. It is really only a matter of time until the rockets fly and the bombs fall.

Why? Because the Palestinians remain an oppressed people, and this, as in so many other places, makes them dangerous. At every round of talks – and, indeed, in every round of fighting – Israel benefits from its sure footing on the international stage. One among equals, it has the overt or tacit support of most Western countries, who willingly sell it the arms with which it flattens Gaza. No matter how many die or how disproportionate a response is handed out, Israel will always have the diplomatic upper-hand, including the killer-blow of US backing. Recognising Palestinian sovereignty would by no means level the playing field, but it may allow Hamas to move away from its backer Iran, a pariah itself.

More than that, any Western recognition of Palestine would right an entrenched hypocrisy in international relations; that self-determination is always a good thing, apart from when it doesn’t suit. When Scotland fancied it, we gave them a ballot box, and most governments support the Kurds in their bid for autonomy and independence. Yet we are unwilling to grant Palestinians an even more fundamental part of self-determination, an acknowledgement of their identity. So marginalised by international society, it is no wonder that Palestinians are drawn to extremist causes like Hamas; how can a middle-of-the road like Fatah come to control a state which doesn’t exist?

And of course this is why ceasefires never last. The Palestinian authorities do not have the state apparatus necessary to stop dissidents from firing rockets over the border, and provoking the predictable Israeli response. Even when the PLO tries to end hostilities, its efforts are doomed to failure.

Almost everyone believes that peace is contingent on the existence of two states – including, we must remember, the Israelis and Palestinians themselves, who agreed as much in Oslo in 1995. Almost twenty years later, the chances of this provision becoming reality are ephemeral at best. A symbolic decision by the UK government today is unlikely to bring universal acceptance tomorrow, but it will be a sign that hope is not dead yet.

Warwick: round 2

I honestly thought that this summer would drag, yet I have been remarkably busy. Most enjoyably, I have seen many old school friends and carers, who I had missed dearly. I have also managed to see almost all of my friends from Warwick, whether down here in London or up in Birmingham, which has been great, and I am grateful to those who made the trek as it’s easier for them to visit me than vice versa. But the highlight of the summer was definitely our trip to Barcelona, where the sun shone and we soaked in the delights of the city – I am very excited to see where we end up next year.

Whilst I have not been as productive as I should have been, I have at least used my brain a fair bit. I have done stints of work experience at Prospect and the Week, and have written quite a lot too. As ever, I’ve indulged in reading the media, and will miss days spent reading the New Yorker when term starts anew. To prepare for the coming year, I read a brief (if 600 pages can be called brief) history of the 20th century, in a bid to be able to contextualise what I learn, and have so far put a 118-page dent in Thomas Hobbes’ Levaithan, which will be one of my core texts. It is a tough and dull read, and I am a little apprehensive about studying it, so I am hoping that lectures clear things up. Nevertheless, at least I have started.

But the summer I have had pales in comparison to my excitement about going back to Warwick. University is definitely my second home, and I am so looking forwards to nights out and being surrounded by friends. Yet this year will be more serious than the last – as my marks now count towards my final degree, the pressure is truly on. I will have to work harder and sleep less, especially as I am also editing a magazine and still writing for Prospect. There’s a lot to do, but I have always liked a challenge and am quietly confident that I will survive. I gave myself a year to adjust and have fun, and now it’s crunch time. Bring it on, I say, so long as Hobbes doesn’t kill me before we’ve even started!

Redrawing borders

I am a firm unionist. If it wasn’t for the economic inviability of an independent Scotland, signified by complete confusion about its currency and the threat of a max business editor from Edinburgh, Alex Salmond’s annoying bluster is enough to put anyone off. But as a student of international relations, I am also conscious of the international relevance of the up-coming referendum, and its effects are almost all negative.

Redrawing borders has always been contentious, to say the least. The 1990s war in the Balkans after the dissolution of Yugoslavia is merely a recent, violent case in point. While it is impressive and laudable that Scottish independence will be won in votes not bullets, it is folly to ignore the history of independence movements – especially ones still burning today.

In Catalonia, which has been trying unsuccessfully to break away from Spain for centuries, campaigners are using the Scottish referendum to demand their own independence vote; indeed, on Thursday hundreds of thousands of people marched on the streets of Barcelona to do just that. At a time when Spain’s economy is barely growing, an eruption of Catalan independence protests will only create more problems. And whereas people in the rest of the UK are mostly apathetic to Scottish independence, the Spanish have a fierce emotional attachment to Catalonia and would not simply sit back and let it go. By creating the false sense that Scottish independence will be a walk in the park, Salmond may be fomenting potentially serious trouble on Europe’s southern flank.

Even more worrying is the effects of a Scottish yes vote on Northern Irish politics. We should remember that the peace process only came together in the late 1990s, and there are many in Northern Ireland who still want independence. The Unionists will worry that an independent Scotland will serve as a rallying cry for these people, and possibly see the referendum itself as a threat to their beloved United Kingdom. Indeed, only this week a group of Orangemen – Northern Ireland’s once militant Unionist group – marched in Scotland in support of the no campaign.

The situation in Northern Ireland is a delicate balance – one which could be easily upset. Although it would be extreme and ridiculous to predict a return to the Troubles, the referendum is a risk. If Scotland votes yes, Northern Ireland will certainly be among many regions of the UK demanding more devolution of power from Westminster. Some will vehemently oppose this, and tensions may rise.

No one has explicitly acknowledged these links, perhaps because no one wants to highlight them. But ignoring the international element of the Scottish question has left the debate poorer and insular. Even questions about Scotland’s place in the EU have been brushed aside, despite them being crucial to the new country’s place in the world. Yes, the economy is important, but a country is not just a set of GDP figures, and the decisions it makes can be felt well beyond any new borders.