Saturday, 18 April 2015

We must attack the SNP at its roots


Why are so many people voting for the SNP? In 2010 they got less than 20% of the vote and won 6 seats. This time according to some polls they may win all of them. My view is that they will do rather worse than they expect, but still unless the polls are hopelessly wrong, they are liable to at least double their share of the vote. What has changed in the course of 5 years? It’s only necessary to think for a second to understand what has changed. We had a referendum on independence.

When I lived in the USSR, I used to visit friends and relations in what is now the Ukraine. People on the whole got on pretty well. There were some jokes and bits of banter, but nothing unpleasant. Everybody I met thought of the USSR as one single indivisible country. Nobody dreamed that it would all fall apart so soon. I never met Ukrainian nationalism in those days. No-one I met thought of themselves as particularly different in any real way.  People from what is now Ukraine and what is now Russia were far more united during the Soviet Union than people in Scotland are today. 

People may wonder why I write so much about Scottish politics. One reason is that I am one of the few Scots with first-hand experience of seeing a country fall apart. The other is that I have seen what nationalism has done to Ukraine. Nationalism was latent in Ukraine, but it was ignited by foolish politicians and this spark led to a bonfire. People who had previously thought of themselves as the same now hated each other, now fought each other, now killed each other for a difference that two decades earlier they had barely been aware existed.  

When I was a child in Scotland, nationalism barely existed. There was no division whatsoever between Scots and precious little between Scots and people from other parts of the UK. Even five years ago less than 20% of the population were nationalists. The event that changed everything was the Scottish election of 2011. I don’t particularly remember following that election. Just another boring Holyrood election, I thought. We all sleepwalked into letting our country be run by nationalists. For the first time the SNP won a majority. Who knows, if they hadn’t won in 2011, we might still be having an ordinary election in 2015 with the SNP winning just less than 20%. But the SNP only needed to win once in order to play the nationalist card that sparked the bonfire that is now sweeping across Scotland. They claim to be civic nationalists, but the logic of civic nationalism ultimately collapses, for why separate people if there is no characteristic that distinguishes them. To be a civic nationalist logically entails that you are not a nationalist at all. But it can act as a convenient fa├žade, which even its followers are unaware exists. Again I saw this in Ukraine in the 1990s. Everyone said they wanted to get on with each other and have friendly relations with their neighbours.  It was all very civic, even civil, but when the mask was taken off, the result was civil war.

It was the seemingly never-ending indyref campaign that brought out the hitherto latent nationalism in Scotland. Up until then Scottish nationalism was a minority pursuit, but the referendum meant it went mainstream. For the first time huge numbers of Scots were exposed to nationalism. They found it appealing. It is appealing. That’s why it is such a strong political card to play. That’s why it’s a card that should never be played.
There’s only one good argument for an independent Scotland. But it is a very good argument indeed. It can be stated in the following way:

1 Scotland is a country.
2 Countries ought to be independent.
3 Therefore Scotland ought to be independent.

Once you have accepted this argument, then all other arguments will be impotent against it. We know from history that people seeking independence have been willing to endure all sorts of privations in order to achieve it. They don’t care if their material situation will be worse, so long as they are free. It is for this reason that the campaign that we ran against the nationalists was in the end only partially effective. The slogan “Better Together” will never persuade someone who thinks Scotland ought to be independent.  Moreover, it looks from their perspective a little like the argument of a scoundrel. The nationalist doesn’t care if he will be worse off, he doesn’t care if times will be tough. He looks down on someone saying ‘watch out, you’ll be worse off’ with contempt.

While Better Together won every economic argument, while we could show that Scotland was indeed materially better off in the UK, we saw our opponents grow impervious to all our arguments. At the beginning of the campaign it was genuinely a debate about what was better for Scotland. Towards the end we were arguing against fundamentalists who couldn’t care less what was better for Scotland so long as Scotland was independent. That was the only better they were interested in. At this point rational argument ceases. It literally has no point. Since being defeated in September, nationalism has if anything grown still more fundamentalist. It matters not one little bit to them that the price of oil has crashed. It matters not one bit that the SNP’s argument for full fiscal autonomy are economically incoherent. All they care about is achieving independence for Scotland. All our arguments are brushed aside. But then if you went up to a soldier in an army fighting for independence and started talking about material wellbeing, he too would brush aside the argument.

In order to defeat an opponent it is necessary to put forward his best argument and then refute it. The only way to refute an argument is by either refuting the reasoning or the assumptions. 

How many countries in the world can you name that are not independent? Off the top of my head I can name four: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. No doubt, there are others. But the vast majority of countries I can think of are independent, sovereign nation states. It would almost appear that the defining characteristic of a country is that it is independent and sovereign. Countries fight wars to maintain their independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Being independent therefore in the vast majority of cases is the defining characteristic of being a country.  For that reason the statement “countries ought to be independent” would on the surface appear to be true and reasonable.

In order to defeat the SNP we must defeat their assumptions. The initial assumption “Scotland is a country” must not be allowed, for if we do allow it, the rest of the argument follows as a matter of course. While Scotland is called a country owing to a quirk of the English language, it is not a country in the sense in which 99% of the countries of the world are countries. As I frequently say Scotland is a country in a similar way that Fife is a kingdom. Fife is called a kingdom, but it lacks the defining characteristic of being a kingdom. It lacks a king. Scotland too lacks the defining characteristic of being a country, for it is neither sovereign, nor independent.

This would all appear to be straightforward. The difficulty is that the pro-UK side of the argument is frequently unwilling to say what is obviously true for fear of upsetting or offending Scottish voters. This is our biggest mistake. We ignore the strengths of the UK. Instead of fighting on ground that is strong for us, we fight on ground which is strong for our opponent. The debate always is framed in terms of Scotland. Every sentence involves Scotland, and Britain is never mentioned. We end up in a ‘who cares most about Scotland’ contest. But in a contest about who is most nationalistic about Scotland the SNP are always going to win.  

This same mistake has been there from the beginning of creating the Scottish Parliament. I’m all in favour of devolved power. It works well in Germany and the USA. But the Scottish parliament was created in far too grandiose a way. People went on about how we were recreating the Parliament we had lost in 1707.  Well, naturally Scottish nationalists would see this as a step on the way to independence. Why be satisfied with a parliament that had some powers when you could have a parliament with all powers? The same can be said for 'the vow' just prior to the referendum and the Smith Commission just afterwards. If you are talking to a freedom fighter and you offer him some freedom, he will of course grab it, but it will only whet his appetite for more. Independence supporters are never going to be satisfied with devolution.  Moreover, from their point of view they ought not to be satisfied. No concession will make them cease to want independence.  But they are always happy to reach that goal gradually. The logic of their argument is to demand ever more power until they approach and then fall over the line that makes them independent. The logic of our argument must be different.

We must attack the SNP at their roots. I have tried to outline how to do this in the past few weeks.  First, accept that the UK is one nation, that is indivisible. Therefore, cease treating the parts of the UK as if they were really countries. By all means let us keep our identities as Scottish and English etc., but let us accept that these are not real distinctions, no more than the distinction between someone from Yorkshire and someone from Lancashire. It has turned out to be a long-term historical mistake that in a number of respects the parts of the UK have been treated as if they were independent countries. No other nation state in the world allows its parts to have separate money and separate international football teams. If France or Germany treated their parts, which likewise were formerly independent countries, as if they were still independent, perhaps they too would have problems with nationalism. Scotland has not been independent for more than 300 years. The mistake is to treat it as if it still is independent. This simply concedes the argument to the nationalists.  It’s because we act towards Scotland as if it were independent that nationalists want it to be so in reality. Their logic is impeccable, for which reason we must refute it.

Secondly, rule out any further referendums ever. No-one would allow Aberdeenshire a referendum on independence. Well, on the same basis we should say that Aberdeenshire is to Scotland as Scotland is to the UK. Because it is an indivisible part of the whole, there is no right to secede. This is perfectly legal and is indeed perfectly fair. No nation state can forever be faced with being destroyed from within.  A second referendum moreover would spark nationalism still further in Scotland, it would lead to still more division in a place that is already divided enough. Who knows where this would lead? I have a right to live without a continual threat to my country’s existence.  Why should I, a British citizen, not have the same right as a French or a German citizen?

It is because the world recognises Ukraine as a sovereign independent nation state that is indivisible that the secession of the Donbas and Crimea without the permission of the Government in Kiev is considered illegitimate. There is wrong on both sides of that conflict, but in principle it is perfectly legitimate for a sovereign independent nation state to protect its territorial integrity. If that were not the case, it would be wrong for the West to object to the people in Crimea and Donbas seeking to secede. But if a nation state that has existed since 1991 is allowed to defend its territorial integrity why cannot a nation state that has existed since 1707? The UK has existed for longer than the United States, Germany and Italy. They would not allow secessionists to infringe their sovereignty. Why on earth should we?

Thirdly, don’t make any sort of deal with those who have only the goal of destroying our country. Don’t work with them even if they pretend to be our friends. They are nothing of the sort. They are the greatest threat to the UK in over 300 years of history. Treat them as such. Under these circumstances it would be normal for the main pro-UK parties to work together for the good of our country. If necessary, they should do so again.

Fourthly, we must find a way to bring about more unity into the UK and promote a feeling of common identity. As we devolve, so must we unite. In the United States there is lots of local power, but there is also much that unites everyone no matter how far apart they live. The United States overcame historical division and reinvented itself. We can do the same. This will take time, perhaps generations. It took much of the USA over one hundred years to heal the wounds of the Civil War.  How long will it take to heal the wounds of our referendum in Scotland? I have no idea, but we have to start putting the nationalist genie back in the bottle.

Some people who voted No in Scotland will object to what I write here. My answer is as follows. If you think that Scotland is a country in the same sense as France is a country, you should join the SNP. If you don’t feel particularly British, you likewise should join the SNP. We need people throughout the UK who are willing to say we value our country and we are willing to fight for it. Too many are lukewarm about Britain. Sorry, but you only help the Nats. We need to tell a story about the UK that is more attractive than the story the SNP want to tell about Scotland. If we had run a campaign based on how much we loved the UK and how it is a great country, it would have been both positive and it would have meant that we were fighting on firm ground, our ground.

We have a battle on our hands. We can’t do it alone. We need people throughout the UK to realise that the breakup of our country would be a disaster for all of us. It would be a disaster economically, but much, much more important it would involve the loss of our country. A Frenchman or an American would see the breakup of his country as the greatest disaster imaginable. So too must we. We also have to recognise that the divisions in Scotland are becoming dangerous. We must make no further concessions to nationalists. Don’t try to be more nationalistic than the nationalists, you only help them. Don’t appease them as they attempt to destroy our country. You will only help them do it. Don’t accept the assumption on which the SNP campaign. Rather attack their assumptions. They assume there will be a hung parliament. Unhang it by letting all pro-UK parties work together. They assume that in the end, there will be another referendum. Refute their assumption. Just say No. They think they can use the Scottish Parliament to ferment division in the UK.  Some say they will use the Scottish Parliament to claim UDI. Show them that we are serious and will take all necessary steps to stop them. 

This is Britain’s most difficult fight in centuries. But we have been in tough spots before and remember, this is Britain. We always win. This time, however, a few will not be enough. We will need all those who love the UK to work together to defeat Scottish nationalism. We had another finest hour last September, but this time we will need rather longer.





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