Sunday 30 November 2014

Look where nationalism leads

Nationalist arguments are frequently made on the basis that a relatively rich part of a nation state should be able to secede so as to become richer by not having to subsidise the poorer parts. This is the foundation for the independence movements in Northern Italy, Catalonia, Flanders and Scotland. In the seventies Scottish nationalism gained support on the basis that the newly discovered oil wealth, if not shared with the whole of the UK, would make Scotland much richer. A similar point is made by wealthy Catalonia about sharing with the poorer parts of Spain, though this wealth is not the result of a discovery of a resource. More or less, the same argument is made by the other European secession movements.  One of the odd things, however, is that these arguments are often framed in terms of fairness, while a similar, at least theoretically possible form of secession would be considered to be grossly unfair. There is a contradiction at the heart of nationalism that can be illustrated in the following way.

Imagine I’m a merchant banker. I earn a huge amount of money, far too large for me to own up to. I have private health insurance. I went to a private school. My parents paid for me to go to university. I’ve never received any social security benefits of any kind. How much tax do I pay all together? The average amount of tax paid by everyone is closely related to the percentage of GDP that is taken up by state spending. Apart from borrowing, governments get their money from us. For average earners this amounts to us paying somewhere between 40% and 50% on tax.  When you add up income tax, national insurance, VAT, council tax and all the other ways that are found to tax us, it’s easy to see how taken together even average earners pay the government about half of everything we earn. But because I’m a wealthy merchant banker, I pay much more than that. Someone has to make up for all the non-tax payers.  Let’s say I pay 70% of everything I earn in tax. It could be more, it could be less. The argument does not dependent on the figures. What do I receive in return? Almost nothing. I live in the countryside where there aren’t even any street lights. My bins are collected once a week. There is a police force and there are armed forces. However, the vast majority of the tax I pay goes either to other people or for things I either don’t need or don’t want. This situation is universally described as fair.

Contrast this situation with the following scenario. Imagine I’m someone who has throughout my life used the National Health Service. I have also benefited from a state education. I live in a big city and so benefit from all of the things that the council provides for me. But I’ve never worked. Under these circumstances I receive everything from the state, but contribute nothing. Even the VAT I pay on the things that I buy is just a way for the state to recycle money. It pays me benefits and I pay some of it back. This situation is universally described as unfair. The solution to the unfairness that nationalists, in particular, advocate and the reason they support independence is that the person who receives everything and contributes nothing should receive more, while the person who pays everything and receives nothing should pay still more, indeed much more. This amounts to someone who is complexly dependent on the state wanting independence in order to receive more money for being dependent. 

Why should the merchant banker pay such high rates of tax? One reason is that both he and the unemployed person benefit from living in a cohesive society. The condition for the possibility of the banker earning such vast sums of money is that he lives in a liberal democracy. What use would his money be if society broke down and the poorest simply chose to revolt and seize wealth? It is in the interests of everyone that poverty is alleviated. It makes life more pleasant not only for the poor, but also for the rich. This is the social contract that unites a country. The benefit that the merchant banker receives is living in a country like Britain which has an economy and an infrastructure which enables him to earn a lot of money. The cost of that is that he pays a lot of tax in order to help provide services and benefits to those who otherwise could not afford them.

But the deal cuts both ways. There is a point at which the rich will always think they are being taken for mugs. Most will be more or less willing to pay even as much as 70% of their income in tax for the privilege of living in Britain, but they won’t accept paying 90% of their income in tax. Under these circumstances they vote with their feet. They secede. An extreme example of this is imagined in the novel ‘Atlas Shrugged’What would happen if all the inventors and wealth creators found a secret place where they could all live? What would happen if the wealthy chose to secede? This seems far-fetched and even impossible. But there is a modern example. In response to François Hollande increasing the tax rate for wealthy people to 75%, they simply voted with their feet and moved to London. This benefited London massively, but hugely damaged France. In the modern world the wealthiest people are the most mobile. A merchant banker can move to Singapore, a businessman can relocate. We no longer have capital controls. They can take their wealth with them. There is no way to stop them in a globalised world.

The social contract that keeps Britain together and prevents people voting with their feet is the same contract that keeps us together as a single country. Countries are fundamentally arbitrary. A different set of historical circumstances could have led to a different way of dividing up the map of Europe. Nevertheless, countries are vital for the social contract that means everyone is willing to contribute to the welfare of other people and the welfare of the whole. Through having a shared history we develop the idea that we have an obligation to the state. Why risk my life for my country if I lack this obligation? Soldiers in two World Wars were willing to die for Britain for exactly the same reason that the merchant banker is willing to give most of his money to the poor. Just as I have an obligation to the state, so I have an obligation to other people in the state. This obligation is greater than it is to people living in other countries precisely because my fellow citizens are from my country. If this is not the case, why can I not claim benefits from Norway when I have no connection with that country?

Scottish nationalists break the social contract within the UK. They are saying that I have no more obligation to share my wealth with people from Wales, England and Northern Ireland, than I do with people from Germany. It is for this reason that they fundamentally treat the people from the other parts of the UK as foreigners. But if I have no obligation to the other people of the UK, why should I have an obligation to other Scots?  By breaking the historical UK social contract, which amounts to our obligation to the state in both peace and war, our obligation to share both our lives and our money, the nationalists also undermine the social contract that makes Scotland cohesive. This can be illustrated by the example of another secession movement.

If it is morally justified for rich Catalonia to secede from poorer Spain, then it is obviously equally morally justified for rich Catalans to secede from poor Catalans.  The same is true of Scotland. It is for this reason above all that so many Scots were planning to vote with their feet if there had been a Yes vote.

The social contract whereby the rich subsidise the poor is the same social contract whereby the rich parts of a nation state subsidise the poorer parts. Morally the attempt to avoid this subsidy is the same as the rich man’s attempt to avoid his obligation. Nationalism amounts to tax evasion.

The UK is a country like every other country that arose by accident, but we have a duty to each other because of our shared history, fundamentally because all fought for all. It is the duty shown by our ancestors that created the obligation that we owe to each other now. The poor fought just as much as the rich. It is a betrayal of their sacrifice to refuse to share the wealth that you earn in exactly the same way as it is a betrayal to try to break up your country.

There is a limit to secession. Just as it is wrong for a rich man to say I have no duty to the poor, so it is wrong for a Scot to say I have no duty to my fellow British citizen. Each action breaks the social contract of our country and leads to fragmentation. Morality depends on acting selflessly. If Catalans can be selfish in relation to Spain, why can they not be selfish in relation to each other? It is the unselfish duty to my country that forms the basis of my unselfish duty to everyone living in my country. If you destroy the one, you destroy the other. Scottish nationalism is morally self-defeating. If it were moral for Scotland to secede from the UK, it would be equally moral for rich Scots to vote with their feet and secede from poor Scots.  The morality of selfishness leads to Atlas shrugging and the rich doing all they can to avoid their duty to everyone else, the poor doing all they can to force them to share. Instead of a social contract of consent and some sort of harmony in a nation state, we have what amounts to low level permanent revolution.

Scotland has become fragmented precisely because the nationalists have broken our social contract. Why should I have an obligation to someone who wants to break up my country? On the other hand, why should a nationalist have an obligation to someone like me who prevented his dearest wish for Scottish independence? The word “Scottish” describes different places for us both and we have become foreigners to each other. Independence becomes a prize that is not worth having as there is no longer even a united Scotland to become independent. There is my Scotland and there is your Scotland. They are both here, but they are separated by a gap that we cannot cross. This is why Scotland has never been more divided both in terms of our relationships within and in terms of our relationship with the other parts of the UK. The tragedy is that once you break the social contract that keeps society together, it’s very difficult to put it together again. As I always say, look where nationalism leads.

If you like my writing please follow the link to my book Scarlet on the Horizon. The first five chapters can be read as a preview.

Saturday 29 November 2014

Scarlet on the Horizon, a novel by Effie Deans

It’s June 1990 and Lena, a young student from the Soviet Union, meets David in rural Denmark.  There is a mystery at the heart of their initial meeting for he senses that somehow she recognises him, though they have never met. In the few days remaining to them they find a romance that appears impossible to continue. She comes from a closed city on the Baltic while he lives across a channel she cannot cross.  But a Russian fairy tale, Scarlet Sails, seems to hold out the possibility of a future if only they can grasp it before the Soviet Union falls apart.

A love story with intrigue, but above all with old-fashioned romance, Lena and David’s story will surprise all of your expectations.

This is a summary of a novel I first published in Russian. I wrote it as a sort of exercise to see if I could and to preserve something that was special to me. It is, of course, complete fiction. But like all fiction grounded in experience. What happens didn’t happen to me, but perhaps, it would be fair to say, the opposite of it happened to me and out of that opposite I constructed the plot of the novel.

During one of my breaks from the campaign, I looked over what I had written and with the help of a friend translated it back into English, rewriting what seemed to me not to work anymore and generally tidying things up.

Above all the story is a romance, a love story. But it has some philosophy in it and some allusions to the things that interest me. Those who are curious about what I’m like will find out a lot if they read my words. Those who are not curious will, I hope, simply enjoy a story that was written to be read quickly and, hopefully, with continually turned pages.

Below are links to where you can find a copy both of the physical book on Amazon and a copy for Kindle. The Kindle copy includes the first five chapters as a preview. I’m selling it as cheaply as Amazon allows, because I’m most interested at the moment in finding readers.  If you enjoy it, please, consider leaving a review on Amazon.

I would be really grateful, dear friends, if you could share this on Facebook, on Twitter or simply by word of mouth.  As always I completely depend on your Retweets. The main pleasure in writing is being read.  If this novel goes well, I have another in the pipeline about the independence referendum. I even have a prominent role in it. As always thanks for your support. 

Kindle £1.97 

Book £8.01

Saturday 22 November 2014

SNP plots have not been thought through

Predicting what happens next in British politics is becoming rather like predicting what happens next with the weather. Our system is designed to work best when there are two parties competing. It works less well with a major third party and when there are five or six parties competing it becomes chaotic. There may be some very odd results indeed at the next General Election. The Lib Dems may benefit from First past the post and gain more seats than their percentage of the vote deserves. The Conservatives may win more votes than Labour, but get fewer seats. UKIP may win over a fifth of the votes but end up getting less than five seats. The SNP on the other hand may win a far greater share of the seats in Scotland than their share of the vote deserves. 

Alternatively with the economy continuing to improve voters may reflect that the Lib/Con government hasn’t done such a bad job, which ought to benefit both parties, though it probably won't. Meanwhile Labour in Scotland and elsewhere will certainly benefit from a centre left charismatic leader in Jim Murphy who can attack the SNP at their weakest points. To have as your central policy something that has been decisively rejected by the Scottish people (independence) is a long term weakness, even if it is a short term strength. Furthermore, sensible people across Britain from all parties understand that we have to live within our means. We can’t continue to spend more than we earn. Hard choices must be made and ways to cut found. I’m sure Jim Murphy gets this, just as I’m sure "the 45" don’t. This is another strength that he can built on and a weakness he can exploit.

I keep hearing of SNP plots to overturn the result of the referendum. These are based on a number of scenarios. The first scenario is that the SNP hold the balance of power at the next election and make a deal with Labour. The deal would be that Labour would allow a second referendum on independence. This is possible of course, but it's hardly likely to help Labour’s fortunes in Scotland. If No voters think Labour would, contrary to the Edinburgh Agreement, allow a second referendum less than a year after the first, we will desert Labour in droves. It’s also unnecessary. Labour could form a minority government at Westminster or alternatively a grand coalition of Lib Lab and Con could decide to simply run the economy in the national interest and bypass the UKIP/SNP insurgency that way.  If Germany can have an SPD/CDU coalition of centre right and centre left why can't Britain? This would be better by far than being held to ransom by nationalists whether they are English (UKIP) or Scottish (SNP).

The second scenario, which is the one the SNP secretly hopes for, is that the Conservatives win the next election either by themselves or together with UKIP. The SNP narrative depends crucially on the wicked "Tory" enemy, posh and with an RP accent. Conservatives will be even more wicked if they make a pact with the Devil otherwise known as Nigel. The scenario goes this way: Either next summer, Farage’s plan, or in 2017, there will be a vote on the UK leaving the EU. Scotland will vote to remain in the EU, but the UK will vote to leave. This will lead to some sort of crisis which will end up with Scotland becoming independent.

I doubt very much that there will be a vote on leaving the EU in 2015. There will be no need for the Tories to make a deal with Farage, not unless he gets hugely more seats than he’s likely to. He can anyway quite easily be bypassed if necessary, in the same way as Lib Lab Con can bypass the SNP. I suspect however that at some point in the relatively near future there will be a vote on leaving the EU. It’s clear that a majority of people in the UK want one. I do too, though at present I'm still in favour of remaining in a reformed EU. But what would be the result of an in/out EU referendum? This is about as easy as predicting the next General Election. It must be about a fifty-fifty chance. But let’s imagine there were a vote to leave. Where would that leave Scotland?

Could Scotland have avoided joining the Common Market if we had voted No in 1975? Well actually Scotland was less supportive of staying in the Common Market than the UK average.  Indeed two parts of Scotland were the only parts of the UK to vote to leave. But it didn’t matter. We lived then in a single nation state called the UK and we still do. Just like every other nation state in the world, when votes are held nationwide everyone who is a democrat has to abide by the wishes of the majority. But of course there would be undemocratic nationalists in 2017 who would try to use the UK leaving the EU as grounds for Scottish secession.

How could they go about it? There are two ways. They could ask to be granted another referendum on Scottish independence by the UK government. There is no chance whatsoever of this under these circumstances. Alternatively Scotland could organise its own referendum. This would probably require another SNP majority in Holyrood. But even so such a referendum would obviously be illegal as constitutional matters are reserved to Westminster.

But would Scotland want to vote to the leave the UK if the UK voted to leave the EU? It just takes a little thought to realise that it would not, because it would be very stupid indeed to do so. What fundamentally is the EU? It’s a trading block. It’s other things as well, but its main purpose is economic. That’s the reason we joined in the first place. Scotland trades far more with the UK than with the other parts of the EU. To leave one trading block (UK) in order to remain in another (EU) with which you do far less trade is economically illiterate.  Moreover remember all the arguments about keeping the pound. It would be complicated enough for Scotland to continue to use the pound without political union with the UK, but it would obviously be impossible if the UK were not in the EU while Scotland was. Currency union while being in different trading blocks is clearly ludicrous. Besides no-one in the EU wants to encourage illegal secession, no-one in Nato also. It’s not even clear that Scotland, having declared UDI, would be recognised by countries like Spain. Sorry Yes friends that plan looks completely mad and unthought out. 

The Eurozone has become a depression/deflation machine. It may already be too late to get it off the rocks without breakup. The only thing that looks like bringing much needed inflation/growth to Italy is devaluation and that of course can only happen if it left the Euro. This would also mean default, but this looks like coming anyway. An alternative scenario that might just work is epic amounts of Quantitative Easing and Germany accepting that it must treat the whole of the Eurozone like it treated East Germany. There needs to be massive fiscal transfers from north to south and this needs to happen in the context of creating a new nation state called Europe. Neither scenario is likely to happen anytime soon, so we’ll continue for the time being with the depression/deflation machine.

These are the options facing Scottish nationalists in 2017 dissatisfied with the UK’s decision to leave the EU. The Eurozone at the moment is failing economically, but neither way of solving the problem can be palatable to independence supporters. Do you fancy the breakup of the Eurozone and probable breakup of the EU, or do you fancy being part of a nation state called Europe? Where's your independence under those circumstances? The UK, on the other hand, is one of the few world economies at present which is successful and recovering rather well. Would you really want to leave because you can’t stand the wicked “Tories”? 

If you like my writing, please follow the link to my book Scarlet on the Horizon. The first five chapters can be read as a preview.

Saturday 15 November 2014

What is devolution for?

What is devolution for? Ask different people and you’ll get different answers. Those old enough will remember the Scottish Constitutional ConventionThe parties and organisations that met more or less were united in what they thought devolution was for. It had two goals. The first and most important was that if England voted Conservative, as it had been doing in the 80s and early 90s, then Scotland would still be ruled by the left. The second goal was that devolution would kill off the SNP. The Liberals and Labour, the main two parties that were part of the Constitutional Convention, thought they had a clever wheeze. The expectation was that there would be a permanent Lib/Lab pact in the Scottish Assembly. For this reason, I suspect, neither the Conservatives nor the SNP took part. The Conservatives knew it was a stitch up and the SNP only ever wanted independence.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I try to avoid making party political points against Better Together friends, but let’s be clear we made an almighty hash of devolution in 1997. How’s it working out in terms of its goals? Did it succeed in killing off nationalism? Far from it, if there is one thing that can be pointed to as being responsible for the rise of Scottish nationalism, it’s the Scottish parliament. In time the SNP realised their folly in boycotting the Constitutional Convention. People like Alex Salmond knew that rather than make one giant leap to independence he could make little steps. The first steps had been made for him. Some rather foolish people began speaking grandiosely about Holyrood as if somehow we were returning to the time before 1707. We built an enormous building and made claims about the sovereignty of the Scottish people. We began to act as if Scotland were a nation state. Salmond took this further by renaming the Scottish Executive as the Scottish Government and acting as if he were a national leader in the same sense as Angela Merkel or François Hollande. Each time, he was making one of those little steps towards independence.

So now there’s no Lib/Lab pact in Holyrood and unlikely to be one in the near future and 44% of the Scottish people voted for independence. When I was a child this was a fringe issue that strange men in tweeds, who wore kilts all day, used to support. So how is devolution working out for you?

In order to make progress we have to answer the question what is devolution for? The answer for No voters must be that it is for strengthening the UK. This is the mistake that we made in 1997. The issue of devolution was treated on its own by Scotland rather than as a whole by the UK. People thought that if we only made some concessions to the nationalists we would kill of nationalism. This is simply false. Nationalists want more devolution in order to bring about independence. It is not our task to help them. Rather it is our task to hinder them. Don’t make concessions to nationalists. They’ll bite your hand off and then your whole arm with it.

I am not opposed to devolution. There are countries with masses of devolution that work well, for example Germany, Australia, USA. In these countries the answer to the question “what is devolution for?” is that it brings power to local people at a state level while maintaining a strong stable and united country at the national level. Devolution works in these countries because every citizen in every part of these countries has a similar degree of local power. Imagine if Texas had devolution, but Vermont did not. Would this help or hinder the unity of the USA? Unequal devolution foments division.

Devolution can only work if a country is not continually threatened with breaking up. If the answer to the “question what is devolution for?” is so that , for instance, Bavaria can regain the independence it lost in 1871, then the answer will be that Germany requires more centralisation not more devolution. The condition for the possibility of maximum amounts of devolution is that there is not a continual rebellion against the centre.

The three main party leaders made “a vow” to extend devolution. This really was no more than a concise statement of what they had all said throughout the summer. There is nothing in this vow that I disagree with. But it is important to realise what it is and what it is not. It is promising extensive new powers. The parties at the time of “the vow” had different ideas of what that would mean, therefore it was deliberately vague. We are now debating it further. No-one has ever promised devo-max. That’s just something the SNP made up to break the Union. Moreover, every promise has a context. When promising more devolution, the party leaders were answering the question “what is devolution for?” with the answer in order to strengthen the unity of the UK. After all, they were campaigning against independence. Besides “the vow” was obviously made in the context of the Edinburgh Agreement. If the SNP refuse to accept the democratic will of the people in Scotland, if they refuse to cease fighting for independence, at least in the short term, then I’m sorry but we have no obligation to them. “The vow” anyway was made to No voters. How can we best keep it?

We must devolve equally across the UK. I do not want to have a right or a privilege that my fellow British citizen lacks. There are different ways to allow England to have as much devolution as the other parts of the UK. But fundamentally it is up to English people, not people like me, to determine what they want. Just as Labour and the Liberals were mistaken when they put party before country in setting up the Scottish parliament, so the Conservatives would be mistaken if they put party before country in setting up English devolution. It must be possible for national government to rule effectively over the whole of the UK and no party should be structurally disadvantaged. But Labour can’t expect to push through matters that only affect England if they lack a majority there. You can’t set up a Scottish parliament in order to avoid Tory rule in Scotland and expect to rule England when it has a Tory majority. That’s unfair. There is a solution. But only if parties rise above party difference and act for the good of the UK.

As we devolve so we must unify. We must cease helping the nationalists. The SNP sees its task as continually to emphasise the separateness of Scotland and to act always as if Scotland were already an independent nation state. They only really have one good argument. Scotland is a country, therefore Scotland ought to be an independent country. If you think that Scotland is a nation in the same way that France is a nation, you should have voted for independence. If you think Scotland has sovereignty you likewise should have voted for independence.  The key task of bringing unity to the UK is to recognise that although Scotland is called a country we are no different from the parts of Australia, USA or Germany. Again if you don’t believe this, then you should have voted for independence.

Through some quirks of history we use the word “Scottish” rather a lot. Everything is separate in Scotland. Whereas everyone else has the RSPCA we have the SPCA. This would be fine if it were once in a while. But it is relentless. Everything in Scotland from adverts to charities to professional organisations is prefixed by "Scottish". The same does not apply to Saxony, Maryland or Queensland. Likewise none of these states have international football and rugby teams. It is anachronistic and absurd that a place that is not an independent nation state takes part in international sporting competitions. No-one else does. It might seem harmless. But it is not. It is the thing that most feeds nationalism in Scotland.

We will not put the nationalist genie back in the bottle quickly, but gradually we must work towards a new common identity in Britain. This requires the use more often than not of common symbols and less often than not of symbols of division and separateness.

When Lincoln towards the end of the Civil War said that they were “testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” he was articulating that there is not a universal right to secession. Democracy triumphed in the United States precisely because the Civil War made it clear that it would be united for ever. We too in the United Kingdom can “have a new birth of freedom” devolving to the most local of levels, but only if we unite also and accept that the war is over. People threatening to take matters into their own hands, people who continue fighting after the battle has been won clearly have no understanding of nor love of democracy and freedom. They are the enemies of devolution and the main obstacle to its being extended to the maximum amount possible.    

If you like my writing, please follow the link to my book Scarlet on the Horizon. The first five chapters can be read as a preview.

Saturday 8 November 2014

To remember you need to know what you're remembering

When I was very young I watched what must have been a repeat of the extraordinary 1964 television series The Great War. I always remembered the haunting music that accompanied the opening credits, the face of a soldier staring at the camera and a skeleton dressed in a uniform. I watched the whole thing again relatively recently. There were twenty six parts, with archival footage and photographs, but mainly with men talking about their experiences fifty years earlier. I’ve been reading about the First World War on and off since I was a teenager, but here was television that could still tell me things I didn’t know and give a perspective I’d never thought of. Where is the equivalent of this today?  I remember a newsreader dashing through the First World War in three or four episodes, which was so "accessible", it assumed the viewer knew absolutely nothing about modern European history. I realised then Television was not for me.

By one of those generational quirks, both my grandfathers were born in the 1880s, one near Dublin, the other near Aberdeen. They both fought in the First World War and both survived, which is lucky for me not least because I had the chance to know them while I was a very little girl. For this reason the Great War has always been very close to me. I take it very personally as do many other British people whether or not they met those who fought in Flanders. It’s not as if I were told wartime stories as a child. That generation was very quiet about what it had experienced. Still there were those few occasions when something was let slip. It was sometimes only twenty years after a grandparent had died that I understood a chance remark that had been told to me.

I’m not a First World War obsessive, nor am I an expert, but I believe that if we are to remember we have to know what we are remembering. There is a distorted view of 1914-1918.  What is it that everybody knows? What are the famous battles? Most people know a little bit about the Somme and they know a little bit about Passchendaele. There’s the idea of brave men charging against barbed wire and being mown down by machine guns. There’s the idea of vast expanses of mud and futile attacks ordered by generals safely behind the lines who were fools or worse. Above all, there’s the idea that the First World War was wrong, stupid and unnecessary. 

A view that is partly true is far more insidious than one that is wholly false.  There was mud, there were trenches, there were attacks that cost thousands for little gain. It’s easy to point to the futility of it all. But this way of looking at the events of 100 years ago is not remembering, it is distorting. Almost everything most people think they know about the First World War is false in the sense that it misses the whole picture that is the truth.

Who started it? The Germans. No. Read, Christopher Clark’s Sleepwalkers to find that everyone was in some ways to blame. Some of what he writes is, of course controversial, other writers disagree with him, but at least you should realise that there are two sides to this argument and that it is complex.

The generals were stupid. Can you come up with a plausible strategy that would have broken the deadlock of the Western Front? I can't. At least I can't without hindsight. The fundamental problem was that due to the nature of the weaponry, especially machine guns, the defenders had a massive advantage, and breakthroughs could be contained. The defensive side could always reinforce more quickly than the attacking, for they weren't reinforcing across a no-man's land all churned up and fought over. It took until 1918 for both sides to learn how to break the line. The Germans did so in March 1918, the allies in August 1918. This happened because of developments in tactics and technology. Above all, it required lessons to be learned.

The Somme and Passchendaele show that General Haig was a buffoon. Not so. The British and the French won The Battle of the SommeIt lead to a massive retreat on the part of the Germans and crushed the German army. Without these battles there could have been no victory in 1918. It was precisely because the German Army was being put in such a desperate position in 1917, that in  March 1918 it launched the Kaiserschlacht offensive that eventually led to short-term success but long-term self-destruction.

Nobody won the First World War. Not so. The British Army won the First World War. We defeated the German Army and by 1918 were the dominant army in the field. We broke the Hindenburg line and did what had seemed impossible two years earlier. But it only became possible because of what we’d learned on the Somme. The greatest victory in British Army history occurred in 1918. It's usually known as the Hundred days. Hardly anyone remembers how we won, only the tough times getting there. It's as if the Russians only remembered the desperate days of 1941 and forgot Berlin 1945. I assure you they don't, quite the reverse. 

Was the war worth fighting? If we had not fought the First World War, it is probable that the French would have lost in 1914 or a little later. This would have led to a Europe dominated by Germany. We can speculate about counterfactuals as much as we like, but Britain did not think this was something we could allow to happen. To suggest that we could have avoided fighting just does not fit in with how people, both the public and the politicians, thought in 1914. Given that we were going to fight, there was no real alternative to fighting the way we did. Mistakes were made, but there is no possible general who could have fought the First World War much better than the ones who did. Ferdinand Foch in my view is second only to Napoleon as the greatest general in French history. Haig had his faults, but was a much greater general than Montgomery.

Now that we’ve got those myths out of the way, we might briefly look at some others. Some Scottish nationalists are pointing to the supposed fact that more Scots died in the First World War proportionally than people from other parts of the UK. Firstly, I would question whether this is true. It’s always possible to manipulate statistics, especially given that many Scottish regiments contained non-Scots and many Scots fought in non-Scottish regiments. Secondly, so what? Must we always hunt for grievances in our history? Does anyone seriously think that wicked English generals deliberately used Scots as cannon fodder? The best regiments always suffered the highest casualty rates. This was certainly true of the Anzacs, Canadians and South Africans, let alone the Newfoundlanders who suffered 80% casualties in twenty minutes on July 1st 1916 .  Scotland has one of the best military traditions in the British Army. Our regiments are famous because they have always contained some of the bravest soldiers. Tragically, the brave have a greater chance of being killed. This is something we should all be proud of, rather than turn into just one more moan at the injustice of history to the Scots.

I deplore the growing tendency to view everything in terms of Scotland and to attribute the adjective 'Scottish' to everything. Viewing the First World War through a nationalist lens is disgraceful, not least because if there is one thing that caused the First World War, it is Serbian nationalism. If the Serbs had not drunk at the poisonous well called nationalism, we would not have had the assassination at Sarajevo and we might just have escaped the whole thing. The First World War was not inevitable. If we’d got through just one more year, we might have avoided it altogether.

We voted against nationalism in September. What I remember most about my grandfathers is that they unquestioningly thought they were British. They were also Scottish and Irish, but first of all, they were Brits who had fought for their country. Every single one of their friends also considered themselves to be British, both those who survived and those who died. It will take time for us in Scotland to get back to that time, but we must begin by using the adjective 'British' about things in Scotland. I want to see the word 'Scottish' used less and the word 'British' used more. This is not because I don’t like the word 'Scottish', it’s because I see it as another way of expressing my British identity and I want some balance in the words we use to describe ourself. It is for this reason above all that the Royal British Legion have betrayed the Scottish soldiers who fought for Britain by rebranding themselves as Legion Scotland. This is not what they fought for; this is not what we remember. We remember how soldiers from all over Britain and overseas fought together for the sake of democracy and freedom in Europe. These people fought for Britain. That memory should unite everyone in Britain wherever our grandparents came from. Particularly this weekend I have absolutely no time for, nor any respect for people who would divide Britain. Having shown themselves to be the enemies of democracy, they have also shown that it is they who their grandfathers were fighting against. 

If you like my writing, please follow the link to my book Scarlet on the Horizon. The first five chapters can be read as a preview.

Saturday 1 November 2014

There’s something rotten in the state of Scotland

There’s a long history in philosophy of discussing possible worlds.  Remember the bit in Candide satirising Leibniz “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”. In more modern times, thinking about possible worlds was given impetus by scientific theories that the universe might be infinite. If so, there are an infinite number of worlds just like ours all of which just had an independence referendum. There are also an infinite number of Alex Salmonds and in some of those possible worlds, indeed, in an infinite number of them, he won the referendum. There is also a possible world where Yes won the Scottish independence referendum by one vote.

This is all very abstract and metaphysical. But stick with me, fellows; I’m the lady you came in with.  The point of possible world theory does not depend on belief in extra-terrestrial life. It’s really just a way of illustrating counterfactuals. Think back a few weeks. I thought Yes had a chance of winning with two weeks to go. Perhaps, I was wrong in this. Maybe I overestimated their chances. I might even have been deceived by a rogue poll. But that poll changed my behaviour. It changed not only the way I campaigned but the way people far more important than me campaigned.  Because I believed Yes had a chance, I gave absolutely everything I had to the No campaign. I lost sleep, I lost weight and I lost friends. I have never been so stressed. The thing that kept me sane was that I could escape into Russian and for at least an hour every day read about the saintly Prince Lev Myshkin who is the most intelligent “Idiot” you could ever find. Why were so many No campaigners so stressed? The answer is obvious. We all knew that this was our only chance. If we lost we would lose forever.

But in that possible world where we woke up on September 19th to find that Yes had won, where would we be now? Counterfactual history is always problematic for the simple reason that the following statement is logically true: “If the Germans had invaded Britain in 1940, the Britons would have escaped on winged horses”. If you don’t believe me, get hold of an introductory book on propositional logic. But it is in the nature of human beings to speculate about what might have been. The point to remember is that nothing about counterfactual worlds can be proved. So don’t let’s get into an “oh no, it wouldn’t, oh yes, it would” type argument.

If Yes had won, there would have been wild celebrations for some days. Some Scots would have left Scotland or would right now be in the process of leaving. Most like me with jobs here would have had a few dark days and then we’d have got on with our lives. I’ve lived in far more difficult political/economic circumstances than anything that would be likely to happen in an independent Scotland. The trick I found was to not let it touch you. Existentialism was my way of dealing with the Soviet Union; it would have been my way of dealing with an independent Scotland.

If Yes had won, it is likely I believe that some at least of their campaign promises would have turned out to be false. We already know that they were overly optimistic about oil. It may well have turned out that George Osborne and Co were not bluffing about a currency union. Perhaps the EU would already by now have said that it would take many years and certain rather onerous conditions for Scotland to become a member. Under these circumstances, of  things turning out otherwise than promised in the campaign, would it have been democratic to overturn the result, especially as Yes only won by one vote? Of course not. I’m not as cynical about politicians as some people are. I believe for instance that if Nick Clegg had remained in opposition, he would have kept his promise of opposing tuition fees. But circumstances changed, he ended up unexpectedly in government, so couldn’t keep every promise in his manifesto because he was in government with a party that also had a manifesto.

It’s November in our possible world, the UK economy is in chaos. There was a huge stock-market crash and the pound has been devalued by 20%. Businesses are leaving Scotland. People are desperately worried about negative equity. Huge numbers of Scots are repenting their decision to vote Yes. How would Yes voters react if Better Together were still campaigning, indeed, that the campaign had grown? Imagine huge demonstrations of No voters telling Cameron that Scotland had been lied to and that he should ignore the result of the referendum. They only won by one vote after all. What would Yes voters be saying under these circumstances? They would rightly be saying that the result of the referendum had to be accepted. The rules were clear. If Cameron even hinted that he would block independence, there would rightly be talk of betrayal, of Britain being an undemocratic country. Yes voters under these circumstances would rightly describe Better Together campaigners as undemocratic and unwilling to follow the will of the majority.

Imagine if Better Together had decided to merge into a single alliance with the goal of overthrowing the referendum result. What if it was by now clear that the majority of Scots regretted that there had been a Yes vote? What if there was a poll showing that the “No alliance” had a majority of 52%? What if we planned to fight the General Election on the platform of overturning the result of the referendum? Remember Scotland was not due to become independent until March 2016, so we could have fought in May on that platform if we’d wished. How would Yes supporters have reacted to such behaviour? They would, of course, have pointed to the Edinburgh Agreement that everyone signed and would rightly have described such behaviour as undemocratic. After all we had a free, fair decisive referendum and all democrats agreed to abide by the result.

Sorry, Yes friends. This is why you are not democrats. If our positions were reversed, you would be in the streets demonstrating against us if we were now trying to overturn a narrow Yes win. I don’t suppose in our possible world where Yes won Mr Salmond would be allowing “No Alliance” supporters to demonstrate against the result. I suspect we would all be called “Enemies of the people.”

It’s the inability of Yes supporters to see any other position than their own that makes them so dangerous. They have reached the stage where democracy to them only means their side winning and they are unwilling to accept any other result. If they had won the referendum, that would have been the end of the matter. Scotland would have become independent. But losing the referendum likewise makes no difference to the outcome. Scotland still becomes independent. They only have to win once. We have to win perpetually. That’s not democracy, that’s heads I win tails you lose.

Real democrats have no obligation to cooperate with those who wish to use democracy for undemocratic purposes. Rather, we have a duty to use democracy to oppose the undemocratic. That lesson has been learned from history. There’s something rotten in the state of Scotland. UK democracy will survive this. We’ve survived worse. But it’s time for sensible Yes voters to disassociate themselves from this nonsense. Let’s be absolutely clear there is nothing progressive about Yes. They campaign in the name of democracy, but don’t believe in it. 

If you like my writing, please follow the link to my book Scarlet on the Horizon. The first five chapters can be read as a preview.