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Technocratic governments are all the rage. Who might be in a UK one?

Prime minister: Lord (Chris) Patten. The technocrats’ technocrat, having been governor of Hong Kong, European commissioner and now BBC chairman.

Foreign secretary: Lord (Paddy) Ashdown. The former Marine and international high representative for Bosnia is a man for a crisis.

Chancellor of the exchequer: Lord (Norman) Lamont. The former chancellor has unfinished business from 1992.

Treasury chief secretary: Lord (Adair) Turner. As a one-time proponent of UK membership of the euro, the Financial Services Authority chairman would counterbalance Lord Lamont.

Business: Sir Terry Leahy. The former Tesco chief brings business credibility and ideas about rebalancing the economy.

Health: Lady (Shirley) Williams. The veteran Liberal Democrat fought for safeguards in the health bill.

Education: Sir Richard Lambert. Apart from heading the CBI and editing the FT, he led a review of business-university collaboration.

Work and pensions: Camilla Batmanghelidjh. Britain’s most colourful charity worker twice remortgaged her house to fund her work in Peckham.

Defence: Sir Max Hastings. As the first journalist to enter the liberated Port Stanley during the Falklands war, he would lead from the front.

Science: Sir David Attenborough. No need for explanation.

Communities: Kirstie Allsopp. Could she find desirable homes for all?

Environment and food: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The way things are going, we will all need to learn self-sufficiency.

Cabinet Office minister: Armando Iannuci. Someone has to write the script.

Chief whip: Joanna Lumley. Not a woman to cross.

Scottish flyting

The media love a good literary row and this column is no exception. No sooner had we absorbed the spat over Pankaj Mishra’s scalding review of historian Niall Ferguson’s Civilisation: the West and the Rest than news comes of a grand conflagration in Scotland, played out in the Scottish Review.

It began with novelist Sophie Cooke asking why, with nationalism growing, so many writers and critics wanted to “de-nationalise” Scottish writing. She criticised Stuart Kelly, literary editor of Scotland on Sunday, a paper I used to edit, for emphasising “writing” rather than “Scottish writing”. Surely, she said, common experiences such as the Highland Clearances were “the deep underlying motor” that drove the Scottish psyche, just as the Holocaust touched all Jews.

Mr Kelly disputed her view and called her comparison with the Holocaust “tasteless”. “The Clearances were a vicious moment in the history of Scotland,” he wrote. “The [Holocaust] was a stain on civilisation. To attempt to co-opt one to the other is a shameful piece of intellectual legerdemain; akin to saying to an amputee that you yourself once suffered a hangnail.”

Ms Cooke complained of Mr Kelly’s “unpleasant personal attack” and found the accusation that she had belittled the Holocaust “sickening”. Others accused Oxford-educated Mr Kelly of snobbery.

Novelist James Robertson wrote, with what appears good sense: “As we have become more culturally self-confident so Scottish literature has become more diverse, more multi-voiced and more tolerant of difference. Does that make it less Scottish? I don’t think so.”

This row seems in itself distinctively Scottish. To the literary world’s habitual disputatiousness, the Scots (and I love them dearly) add an obsession with identity and love of a good stairheid rammy. “Pugilism of one sort or another is never far from the edgy surface of our national life,” writes Kenneth Roy, the review’s editor. His estimable magazine cheekily describes itself as “the home of Scottish flyting”, or argument.

Odd one out

Deborah Hargreaves, chair of the High Pay Commission, was told by one FTSE chief that he was paid too much and wanted his pay reduced, but was blocked by the board, which feared it would disrupt differentials with other executives and other companies. So it seems the only way executive pay could come down, except by gradual restraint, would be if all bosses took a pay cut at once.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

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