Please write a bit about your background.
I grew up in Glasgow and went to school at Killermont Primary School and Mosshead School, then to Glasgow High School, on a scholarship. After that I studied law, first at Brasenose College, then at Harvard Law School. Many years later, I came back to Oxford to write a doctorate.
I’m married to Isabelle Pitt, who works to make the University fairer, more equal and more diverse. We have two wee boys, Magnus and Fin.
What led you to a career in academia?
I get to work on problems I care about, and I don’t think I'd have the freedom to do that in any other job. But I’m not sure I've had a career in academia. After I graduation, I was in legal practice with Debevoise and Plimpton in New York. then worked for the Foreign Office for ten years, on counter-terrorism in the Middle East and politics in China. In my experience, practice, research and teaching are mutually reinforcing occupations, so maybe this is just one way to have a career in academia.
What are your research interests and why have you chosen those particular areas?
I’m interested in China. I’ve been working on the Communist Party since 2007 and my recent work looks at the how the Party conceives of familiar ideas like the rule of law and the separation of powers.
I’m also interested in foreign affairs and national security. My work on UK law looks at how the constitution regulates those things. I think foreign policy is perhaps the last great wilderness of arbitrary power in the United Kingdom. My recent work argues that we should enable Parliament, judges and civil servants to hold our foreign policy to account, and suggests how we might do that.
Why have I chosen these areas? I think constitutional lawyers can make the constitution better, and good constitutions have a great deal to learn from bad ones. I think arbitrary power is a key problem for constitutional lawyers, maybe the key problem. I think better oversight makes governance easier and better, nor harder and worse.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on articles on political parties, constitutional conventions and the rule of law, but I’ve been researching devolution in the run-up to the Scottish elections. I expect this will be the next episode in the UK's unfolding constitutional space opera.
Do you have any other accomplishments besides your academic career? For example, are you an accomplished violinist, qualified aromatherapist, competitive skier, artist, trained dressmaker, qualified chef etc.
My recent non-academic accomplishments include an F.A. Level One First Aid Certificate but, generally, I would hesitate to describe myself as “accomplished", “trained" or “qualified", still less “competitive.” Among other things, I am an intermittent magician, a sports tragic, a tolerable singer, and an extremely-greedy chef.
What is the best thing about living/working in Oxford?
The best thing about working at Oxford is you get to work with some of the most brilliant young people in the world. You help them get better and then you get to watch them go out and make a difference. The second best thing about working in Oxford is you get to work with some of the most brilliant old people in the world. They help you get better, and you try not to let them down. It’s hard to be sincere about this sort of thing without gushing, but it’s true.