DOUGLAS Murray takes an unusual position for an interview subject. Slumped low in a chair, his head leaning on the backrest he looks as though he’s been shot, a victim of one of the many groups to have threatened his life in recent years.

Or perhaps he’s simply staying low in case there’s a Guardian reviewer in the room whose gaze he’s trying to avoid, perhaps the very one who labelled his recent book, "a right wing diatribe".

We meet in London’s Bloomsbury to talk about the neo-conservative’s tome The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity which is already a best-seller and has confirmed Murray, the son of a Scot, as one of the most controversial of writers.

Murray again writes as fearlessly as he did when he criticised Islam after the Charlie Hebdo massacre of 2015 and faced the subsequent fall-out. His last book The Strange Death of Liberal Europe was hugely provocative, his opening line, "Europe is committing suicide", was followed by a contention that Muslim immigration into Britain should be halted. Not surprisingly, he was described by one left wing writer as, "Tommy Robinson in tweed. Katie Hopkins with an Oxbridge vocabulary".

Murray’s book sales, his columns for the likes of the Spectator and the Daily Telegraph and his 200k Twitter followers confirm, however, he is a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy rates him highly. “Whether one agrees with him or not”, he said, “Douglas Murray is one of the most important public intellectuals today.”

The new book is again contentious, this time examining issues such as gender and race, laying down in front of the steamroller that is wokeness. But in exposing the divisions, is he creating greater divides? What is there about this slight, softly-spoken gay man who manages to enrage the LGBT community and many feminists – as well as liberals?

“My critics almost read nothing of what I write,” he says in relaxed voice. “Just a couple of hours ago, I was on a radio show with a young Labour activist and when we began to talk about my book she began to condemn it. I said, 'But you haven’t read the book, have you!' She felt she didn’t need to because she knows what I think.

“Yet, the other week I was on a radio programme discussing a Guardian writer’s book. The day before I went into Waterstones and paid for it with my own money.”

He adds: “I would be embarrassed to talk about a book I haven’t read.”

That young Labour activist may have formed an opinion of the former Eton-Oxford student based on Wiki summaries. She probably wouldn’t have liked his argument that the splits in our society are down to a decline in ideologies, the demise of religion and traditional political values. And that the splits are driven by identity politics, based around race, gender, sexuality, religion.

“Our ethical system has changed and we don’t know where it’s going to land,” he claims in a soft voice. “It’s hard to identify as you go along. But my observation is that Scotland and Ireland are places where this has happened most swiftly. We had a Christian value system that believed in the nation – and through this identity and ethical questions were addressed.”

So God is dead – and the world needs new guidance? “Even as religion wanes, people want to be seen to live a moral life, and coming into this vacuum has been a well-developed moral system based on individual, group and minority rights. Discussions of minority interests are one way of claiming political virtue. I’m struck by the feeling that Nationalist parties are keen to jump on the LGBT bandwagon. For example, the Sinn Fein councillor who claims Bobby Sands died for gay rights. They are using this as an ethical system.”

Surely Nicola Sturgeon hasn’t strategised this? “No, I’m sure she hasn’t but it’s happening. There are very cynical politicians who are using this, and there are followers, smart young people who think this is a comprehensive system by which to live as warriors for equality. ‘What are you for?’ ‘I’m for equality.’ How can you argue with that? Or ‘It’s about decency.’ Does that mean I’m being indecent?”

I ask if he thinks that some women are leaping onto a bandwagon in the claim for equal pay, the likes of Carrie Gracie in the BBC. “We always have these arguments in the easiest way,” he says, shrugging. “The BBC isn’t a normal organisation. And none of this helps us to address the real issue in the pay gap, which is that young women believe when they start a job they will be paid less than a man. That’s been illegal for 40 years. They still tell me it’s happening and I ask them, ‘Where? Show me your pay slip?’

He adds: “The extent to which the pay gap exists is because women take time off to have children. And now because we have ended up weaponising women against men, men feel guilty and step back. I read a feature recently about an American man writing – boasting – about how he wouldn’t put himself forward for promotion because he doesn’t need any more men to be promoted. I don’t think any of this is helpful. It’s not good for business, for individuals, or society.”

Yet, there needs to be adjustment, surely? Women have been taken advantage of in the workplace for decades. “Yes. I can understand the over-correction – the introduction of all-female panels, for example, but who decides when we go back to being equal? And there are groups who are doing too well out of the aggravation.” He adds: “If a charity is set up to counter a disease that charity usually continues after the disease is defeated. People’s salaries are involved.”

But he does offer hope for meritocracy and fairness. “I expect this will balance out over the next few decades.”

We shift to the abuse of women in the workplace but he’s extremely wary of the Weinstein example. Tinsel Town, he says, has never been a world in which we could/should look for moral example. He cites the cases of Roman Polanski being applauded by an Academy Awards audience, (despite the rape of a minor case hanging over him) of Woody Allen’s affair with his adopted daughter, of Gloria Grahame’s affair with her 13-year-old stepson.

“Yet, in its own way, the oddity of the entertainment industry always does hold up a mirror. And if it is not any exemplar of how to behave it is certainly a mirror which highlights the confusion of the age.”

He cites a range of examples of this confusion which has left so many men and women bewildered as to behavioural rules: Drew Barrymore baring her breasts to David Letterman on his show, of The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik who exposed herself (twice) to Piers Morgan on television. And the then 69-year-old Jane Fonda kissing interviewer Stephen Colbert full on the lips, after climbing onto his lap. The media didn’t trash any of the women, he points out. The likes of the Huffington Post considered the acts empowering. "Fonda’s Still Got It" declared their headline.

But then, in 2017, came Hurricane Harvey. “After the Weinstein affair everything to do with interaction between the sexes in Hollywood and the wider world was presented by the press as really wildly easy and obvious. Yet, it clearly wasn’t, either in Hollywood or anywhere else.”

Murray’s cataloguing of the incidents is, he says, not an attempt to decry women, but to examine where power lies. Pop singer Nicki Minaj achieved 900m hits for the video of her song Anaconda, which sees the near-naked singer tease "my boyfriend" with her barely covered breasts and bahookie for the longest time, then slap him down when he touches her.

“Power, to the extent that it exists in our society, it’s claimed, is held by elderly white men. And there are cases where this is true."

Can women hold power that men can’t? With sex? “Everybody in their working life knows of cases of women being inappropriately dealt with, and I think this is a problem which will always exist – the hand on the knee at the Christmas party. But we’ve been hearing of a woman who went around collecting money for a start-up firm, and I know that she would have been successful because she is blonde and attractive. The grey-haired middle-aged men would not try anything on with her – but they’d be so pleased it wasn’t a meeting with other grey, elderly men.”

Would that sort of example pertain to our current Prime Minister, who would promote the services of a blonde, pole-dancing, tech firm businesswoman? He laughs: “It’s impossible to decipher that relationship.”

Is it? Try, Douglas. His eyebrows lift and he grins. “There are women who know other women who play the game. I just want us to acknowledge that it does happen.”

He knows he’s on dangerous ground. But he adds: “Most relations between men and women cannot be turned into criminal acts in waiting.”

Does he believe a male coffee shop worker shouldn’t be sacked for shaking a chocolate heart onto the foam of a female customer? “There is a way through this sort of thing,” he says, hopefully. “It will be sorted out by individuals standing up for their friends.”

I am Spartacus? “Yes, exactly. We need a bottom-up rebellion, with colleagues saying, ‘He is a good person. He meant no harm.’”

He adds: “It has to change. The extremes such as, "All men are rapists" usually burn out around parenthood when you ask these crazy fourth-wave feminists, ‘Is your son a rapist? Is the son you love a potential rapist?’ And if it doesn’t change, from a parental point of view, life is going to be very difficult for young men and they are going to leave women unmarriable.”

Murray’s head still hasn’t lifted from the back of the chair but he’s fully animated detailing where he thinks the world has gone mad. When did he first develop an arm for throwing hand grenades into a room? “You know, I don’t think I do. But my brother and I were brought up by parents who encouraged a good discussion around the dinner table.”

Murray says his civil servant father moved from Lewis to London aged 19. “He thought he’d be here six months, but he met my mother, a teacher and stayed. Neither are political.” He acknowledges it’s not easy for the parents of a son with a bazooka for a mouth. He laughs. “They tell people they have no responsibility for the thoughts of their son.” His mind returns to the original question. “I don’t do self-analysis and I don’t really know why I do what I do.”

Surely adverse comments on social media prompt a certain self-examination? “I tell friends to avoid social media. It’s like self-harming for a writer. If you do your best thing, you may get great response or people hate you. And too much of either is bad for you. I know writers who are very wounded as a result.”

Yet he has a couple of hundred thousand Twitter followers. “I only use it as a publishing forum, not a platform for communication. It’s too easy to abuse another human being.”

We switch track. We’re facing an election. In Scotland, the land of your forefathers, Douglas, the SNP is demanding another referendum on independence. “There is an oddity here which is unresolvable in the case for nationalism in Scotland, as opposed to nationalism across Europe. Nationalism is tarred everywhere except in Scotland and it’s very strange. Viktor Orban [authoritarian Hungarian Prime Minister] is a nationalist. That is seen as not being good, but Nicola Sturgeon is good.

"The SNP present themselves as international nationalists, independent within Europe. But I see Scottish nationalism as a uniquely anti-English view.”

What of the argument that Scotland has long been subjugated by Westminster? “Scottish self-pity is something I don’t have time for,” he says crisply.

“I have friends in Hungary who grew up under communism and they know what not having borders means. No one in western Europe has any sympathy for them, despite being invaded by the Nazis and the communists.”

Murray is against British identity being diluted by too much immigration. But does it really matter? Surely nationhood evolves?

“Yes, it’s what I describe as The Ship Theseus. [Outlined in Greek philosophy; the same paradox is highlighted in the case of Trigger’s broom in Only Fools and Horses. If a new brush and pole is introduced is it still Trigger’s broom?] “I‘m not against some immigration but it’s all about numbers, speed and identity. Too many, too fast and the negatives become clearer than the positives. I believe in small numbers, around 40,000 a year.”

But in Scotland we have an ageing population and that brings its own problems. “Having an ageing population brings challenges but at least we’re living longer. If we import a workforce you have to be aware of what this actually means: do you end up importing more people to look after the imported?”

He adds: “Despite not being a nationalist, I feel a need for home, a place where you have a reciprocal relationship.”

Murray feels a need for calm, the end of angry groupings in society. “The groups don’t rub on well together. More women on the left, for example, are coming out against the trans movement. Being gay will not itself be enough. Or being a woman. Or being black. People are joining these up but they shouldn’t lean on it this hard because it won’t bear the weight."

He doesn’t rate politicians or trust them to heal the divisions. “It’s the price we pay for making politics so unattractive. They often have to defend something mundane they don’t agree with, which happened to be policy. And the only ones who will do this are those who have nothing else to do, have a deep passion for it or a personality disorder. Broadly speaking, the talent pool isn’t that good.”

Much of Murray’s overview makes sense to me. He wants calm. He wants equality. He wants the end of oppression by the self-interest groups.

Yet, does he think he’s ever gone too far? “Yes, I have.” For example? “In my mid-20s I was very angry.” At this point he described Muslims as a, "demographic time-bomb" and argued that, "All immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop".

At 40 he’s no longer an angry young man. “As you get older you realise there are things you can’t change. It’s hard to get me angry any more.”

Why bother writing then? “I’m attracted to difficult subjects. I feel if we have lots of people with different views hovering over the difficult bits we will arrive at a more reasonable view.”

He doesn’t love Scotland, or England. “I love people. I love things about the people.” But he loved the holiday time he spent on Lewis with his grandparents. “People were not dour and unfunny by any means. Sundays were not fun. But there is something about the place, its cultural values. It’s a very special place.”

What of his personal life? Murray had a regular partner for 10 years but they split last year. “That changes everything,” he says, softly. “And it’s not easy to meet people. Once you have any public profile people think they have to agree with all of your views or it’s not going to work. It’s not the case. At the same time it’s not good to be with people who are fans, if you know what I mean.”

It must be hard to meet someone given he’s so often travelling. “I work seven days a week. This week, on Sunday in Montreal, back to London on Wednesday. Got up at 4.30 to Eurostar to Paris, came back Thursday to take a 94-year-old to a party and then I wrote two columns on Thursday.” This explains his relaxed position on the chair next to me. (I’d be on a bed.)

And this morning he’s been on radio with the Labour activist who hadn’t even read his book. “The advantage is I do what I love,” he says. “The disadvantage is I do it all the time.”

The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity is published by Bloomsbury.