The idea of a four-way home rule is an increasingly fashionable view and it may well in time prove a correct one. But if Esler’s diagnosis is fluent and often plausible when it comes to England, he loses his bearings when considering Scotland, his native land. Here he largely accepts the SNP’s rhetoric at face value. To put it another way, he judges Scottish nationalism more generously than its English sibling. He even argues — to my mind absurdly — that the SNP’s 2014 prospectus for independence was really only a souped-up form of federalism. That was not how Alex Salmond saw it.
Esler — born in Glasgow, educated in Edinburgh, and whose first journalism job was as a reporter for The Belfast Telegraph — has written a fascinating book that draws on poetry, literature and on-the-ground reporting. But primarily it is a howl of rage about Brexit. Like millions of heartfelt Remainers, Esler is grieving because the European part of his identity has allegedly been erased. He is more furious about this than just about anyone other than Alastair Campbell.
His book is intelligent, interesting and, like many thoughtful works, sometimes irritating. For instance, he observes that Boris Johnson, winning his majority with only 43 percent of the vote in the 2019 election, was rejected by 57 per cent of voters. On the other hand he seems sure that Nicola Sturgeon speaks for Scotland even though the SNP, benefitting from what he calls the “antiquated” first past the post system to win 48 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats on 45 per cent of the vote, was likewise rejected by a majority of voters, 55 per cent in her case. Sauce for gander, sauce, I would have thought, for goose.