Each week, Benjamin Law asks public figures to discuss the subjects we’re told to keep private by getting them to roll a die. The numbers they land on are the topics they’re given. This week he talks to William Dalrymple. The Scottish historian and author, 54, is co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival and lives on a farm just outside Delhi in India. His latest book is The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company.
Regarding Brexit, you used to be “mildly pro-Remain” but have become more passionately so. What’s changed?
In the right-wing media for the last 10 or 15 years, there was this idea that Europe was somehow threatening the state, altering good British laws in an undemocratic way. That somehow, the European Commission was even standardising the size of condoms across the bloc – leading some to think British men would no longer fit. [Laughs]
Wait, is that real?
I’m not making that up! It was a famous piece by Boris Johnson, when he was the Brussels correspondent of the UK Daily Telegraph. We kind of bought into it, my generation, without particularly thinking about it. The prospect that the European Union wouldn’t be there never even occurred to me until about a month before the 2016 Brexit referendum. I wasn’t remotely worried that the UK electorate would be so stupid. Suddenly you start looking at things you take for granted, like the ability to cross frontiers without barely showing your passport.
So much hinges on the UK election result. How are you voting?
The Tories are definitely now Leave. Labour is sitting, dithering, on the fence with pathetic Jeremy Corbyn. It will have to be Liberal Democrats. Which is a party I’ve often voted for – never with any particular enthusiasm, because they’re slightly like white sliced bread. But in this election, there’s absolutely no question.
That gives us an idea of how you’d like the election to turn out. How do you think it’s going to turn out?
As a Scot, I’d always been at ease with the concept that I’m Scottish, but also British. But the Scots have been 80 per cent Remain. Now I’m very fearful the Tories will win the election, that we will have Brexit and the United Kingdom will break up.