Saturday 30 May 2015

The debate about the EU must be about democracy

I’m in favour of the UK having a referendum on the EU. It’s been clear for some time that this issue is of vital concern to millions of UK citizens and that it is an issue that crosses party lines. There are people in all the main UK parties that favour withdrawal and people who want us to stay. It’s time now for a rational debate and then a vote. But this vote must decide the matter.

My view of referendums has been coloured by my experience in Scotland. I was in favour of us having the independence referendum. The Scottish National Party had won a majority in Holyrood. The UK Government had always said that Scotland could have a referendum if it wanted one. I too wanted a referendum as I thought it would decide the matter. If my side had lost I would have accepted the result. I might even have worked to help bring about this independent Scotland. But almost immediately after the referendum we were faced with sore losers and people who had no understanding of democracy who were immediately campaigning for another referendum. This must not happen with regard to the EU.

The last time there was a vote on the UK’s relationship to the EU was in 1975. So the gap between referendums is going to be a little over 40 years. That is a sensible sort of gap for such a huge and hugely disruptive question. It focuses the mind quite clearly. People should vote with regard to the EU with the assumption that they will be deciding the issue effectively for ever. But what if some people are terribly disappointed with the result? What if a party that opposes the result wins a majority at the next General Election? Should they be allowed to organise another one? I don’t believe they should. Let’s say the UK votes to stay in the EU. Would it be right and proper for UKIP to continue campaigning for the UK to leave? Let’s say UKIP won more seats at the next election and held the balance of power. Would it be right for them to use that influence to try to overturn the result by means of another referendum. No. It would be antidemocratic. The purpose of a referendum in UK politics is to decide a matter once and for all. Perhaps it may be revisited sometime in the distant future. But we should campaign always as if we have one chance.

UKIP voters may think this is unfair. But think about it another way. Let’s say there’s a tiny majority that votes to leave the EU. Those who voted to leave would expect this result to be respected, but the likelihood is that the next General Election will be won by a party that is supportive of the EU. Should they be able to overturn the result? Should that party be able to say let’s ignore the result of the referendum, or have another? No, they should not. The will of the people should be respected. That is the purpose of referendums.

This above all then must be made clear. The referendum on the EU must be fair, decisive and such that everyone respects and abides by the result. There should be no further referendum for decades. This is exactly the same line that I take with regard to Scotland. I do so because I am a democrat.

Who should get to vote? I think everyone who votes in a UK General Election should be allowed to vote on this issue. I don’t think the EU citizens living in the UK should be allowed to vote. I believe we got this issue wrong during the Scottish independence referendum. This is a matter for UK citizens to decide. If I lived in another European country, I would not expect a vote on an existential issue. I would consider it none of my business. There is an issue of legitimacy. If the UK voted to remain in the EU by a tiny majority and this majority was perceived to be made up of non-UK citizens, it is highly likely that the result would not be seen to be legitimate. Of course whether the UK is a part of the EU or not, does affect those non-UK citizens who live here. But it should be made clear to them that no-EU citizen would be adversely affected by the result, that all would have the right to live and work in the UK as long as they pleased. Practically speaking this would be the case anyway. No-one is going to be asked to leave.

We are going to have a referendum in part because of Eurosceptics stretching all the way back to the Referendum party which by a circuitous route became UKIP. If it had not been for the millions of people voting for parties like this, it is likely we would never have had a vote at all. Parties previously always found a way to wriggle out of whatever commitment they made to look at the issue of the UK’s relationship with the EU. UKIP was primarily set up so as to obtain a referendum on the EU. Well done you have achieved your goal. But now is a good time to disband. UKIP supporters are nearly all going to vote for the UK to leave, but the UKIP leadership is not going to attract any others to this cause. The UKIP brand is completely toxic to many voters and their association with the issue will do more harm to that cause than good. If the UK votes to leave the EU, UKIP will have achieved its purpose so will have no reason to exist. If, on the other hand, the UK votes to stay it will be undemocratic for UKIP to campaign on this issue. What would be left? Apart from the EU the only other major issue that UKIP campaigns on is opposition to immigration. But an undemocratic anti-immigration party doesn’t have much going for it. Better by far to slip quietly away.

People who favour the EU should also welcome the referendum. By far the most likely result is that the UK will vote to remain in the EU.  But having voted to do so, our position in the EU will be far stronger than if we hadn’t had the vote. The issue would then be settled.

For me the greatest possible gain from the EU referendum is the possibility of changing the UK’s relationship to the EU in such a way that it better reflects our position as not being part of the single currency. We are not going to become a part of a country called Europe, so the issue of sovereignty is vital for us. Those Eurozone countries may eventually have to share their sovereignty or even give it up in order to create the single country called Europe which they are tending towards. What matters to me most is that I am part of a democracy, that my vote in however small a way influences those in power. If the UK is not to become a part of a single country called Europe, then to a great extent our sovereignty must be retained in the UK. If this were not to be the case we are liable to end up being ruled by a foreign power.

If the EU were to become a fully democratic single state like the USA, I would be very tempted for the UK to be a part of this. But at present the EU needs to work much harder on becoming fully democratic. Far too much power is held by people who are not elected. But really this is not an issue for us, it is an issue for them. We, above all, must make sure that our UK parliament is sovereign.

It is because I am a democrat that I want all of our laws to be such that parliament can accept or reject them. I want no law to be such that the will of the people cannot overthrow it. I do not want unelected judges to hold any sway over my life whatsoever. Of course it is right and proper that a country has some sort of constitution, whether written or unwritten that guarantees the rights of its citizens. But nothing in the constitution should be such that the majority of the people in a democratic vote cannot overthrow it. Every part of every constitution should be subject to the will of the people. By all means let it be difficult to change a constitution, but it must be possible.

What I like about the EU is above all free movement of people. We benefit massively from EU citizens who come to live and work in the UK. I want to be able to live and work where I please in the EU and I want that right for every EU citizen too. I like the Single market and hope that it extents further. We must bring down all barriers that hinder our economic interaction. If we do so we will all prosper. There are things I like less. There is no need for harmonisation. It matters not at all if things are done slightly differently in the UK than in another member state. Above all I dislike the fact that with regard to the rest of the world the EU tends to be protectionist. The Common Agricultural Policy, above all, hinders poorer farmers outside the EU. This damages free trade. I dislike what is happening in southern Europe. It is vital that help is given to the poorer parts of the EU like Greece, Spain, Italy and some of the Eastern European countries. This is especially necessary in order that the Eurozone functions properly. The UK will not be part of the single currency, but we too should be willing to play our part in helping countries like Greece. It is in our long term interest to do so. A prosperous Greece will help our trade. We helped Germany in the 1950s by writing off their debt. We should do the same for Greece and those others who are suffering now. Imagine if we had left Germany in poverty, we would only have hurt ourselves.

So there are things that I like and things that I like less about the EU. There are things I am hoping for in the coming year or so as negotiations are made with regard to the UK’s relationship with the EU. I have not yet decided which way I will vote. I am minded to stay in the EU as I think it can be a force for good. But above all I am a democrat and I don’t want to end up being ruled by people who I can’t vote for. So there are circumstances, which are hard to define which would make me vote to leave.

What of Scotland? Scotland, of course, will do what the UK does. There is only one nation state in the EU. It is the UK. It matters no more with regard to an EU referendum which way Scotland votes than it does which way Yorkshire votes.  To say that Scotland should have a veto is to already assume that Scotland is independent. All nationalist arguments in the end beg the same question. They assume that Scotland is an independent country in order to justify their belief that Scotland ought to become an independent country. As is common in such cases they react with fury whenever someone points out the fallacy.

The reality is that unless Scotland takes leave of its senses the independence question has been resolved until and unless Scotland ceases to be economically dependent on the UK. Nicola and Co. might just be able to persuade Scots who don’t understand the economics to jump like MacLemmings off the cliff, but those same MacLemmings finding themselves in poverty with their benefits cut and their nice freebies no longer free would be liable to tar and feather Miss Sturgeon for the austerity she would have to impose on them. It’s a nice question. If she were offered independence tomorrow would she take it? She might and indeed so might the Scottish people, but then again the prospect of real decline in your own personal standard of living does have a way of concentrating minds. The SNP would be better advised for the moment to focus on making the Scottish economy more productive and less dependent on state subsidy. Until and unless the Scottish economy is more or less breaking even independence will remain a pipe dream or something for those who don’t understand the economics. They may or may not make up half the population, but that doesn’t change the truth about Scotland’s economic position. As I always say, truth is not democratic.

None of this matters however. If the UK votes to leave Scotland will go along for the alternative is far worse. The UK leaving the EU far from making Scottish independence more likely in fact makes it virtually impossible.  See elsewhere for detailed argument on this point.

The UK is going to have a relationship with the EU come what may. We must make sure that this relationship benefits us and also our friends in the EU. We must not be selfish, but negotiate in good faith for the benefit of ourselves and everyone else. I hugely doubt that the UK's relationship with the EU will change much, indeed I’m not sure that it’s even possible for it to change much. Whether we vote to leave or vote to stay is more a matter of degree than anything else. But above all we as citizens must focus on who we vote for and the power that these people have. That is the crucial issue for democrats. It matters not at all that I am part of state, be it the UK, the EU or even the whole world and that my part votes differently to the whole. What matters is that I am part of a democracy where my vote may influence, in however small a way, what politicians decide. I am an individual with one vote. That is what matters. Don't find yourself defined by the group. Democracy is about one man one vote. 
Let the whole world be one country so long as I have a vote that influences, but we must reject being ruled by those who I cannot vote for. That is not democracy. It is rule by bureaucracy. 

If you like my writing, you can find my books Scarlet on the Horizon, An Indyref Romance and Lily of St Leonards on Amazon. Please follow the links on the side. Thanks. I appreciate your support.

Marriage has no purpose now

I always think that it’s worth reflecting that in essence we are the same as we were 40,000 years ago. Evolution is a matter of millions of years rather than tens of thousands. There may have been some slight changes, but we have the same instincts as our ancestors who lived in caves. In terms of morality and law this means I believe that we should not try to legislate against human nature. Morality must flow out of human nature and must reflect our strengths and weaknesses as human beings.

It is in the nature of men to want to have sex with as many young healthy women as they can possibly find. If it were up to the average young man, other things being equal, they would sleep with one woman and then move on to the next ad infinitum. There are good evolutionary reasons for this. A man can make hundreds of women pregnant in the space of time that one woman can have one baby. If he lived in a land where all the other men had been wiped out, it might even be his duty to do so. Even today young single men are invariably looking for sex. Until fairly recently in human history young single women were not so much looking for sex as looking for marriage.
But why seek marriage? It may be helpful to think about all those years ago when we were hunting mammoths. A pregnant woman on her own would struggle to look after herself. Society needed a way to prevent men simply having sex with a woman and leaving. It is for this reason above all that we developed something called marriage. It followed from human nature. Stable family units were needed, otherwise humanity would not last past the Stone Age.

Imagine you are a pioneer on your way to Oregon in the 1840s. If you are a man, you know that if you want to have sex on a regular basis, you will need to find a wife. In those days no woman on the wagon train would have sex with a man without already having married him. The reason for this was very simple. If she ended up in a log cabin on her own with a baby, she would struggle very hard to bring up the child. In order to develop an ordered society in Oregon, certain rules of morality and law were established. Men, who wanted to have sex, had to be married. Women did not have sex before marriage. Once married it was difficult, if not impossible, to become unmarried. But why did society develop all these prohibitions? Why not just have free love? The reason again is quite simple. In the wilderness women needed men to help them raise the children they had created together. It would have been a disaster in Oregon in the 1840s if there had been thousands of children without fathers. Who would have paid for them? The Government was thousands of miles away. Fellow pioneers might have been willing to look after the odd woman and child if her husband died in an accident, or more likely she would rapidly remarry, but the stability of the pioneer society required that sex and marriage went together.

Much of our present day thinking about marriage stems from a time when there was a prohibition on sex. Much of the elaborate courtship ritual of 19th century fiction is dependent on the idea that these people cannot possibly sleep with each other until and unless they marry. The romance rather goes out of the fiction if after one or two dates the couple are already sleeping together. Who needs romance if you both simply get drunk and end up sleeping with someone you just met. Why indeed have words like love and romance at all under these rather instinctual arrangements?

In a world where there is freely available sex, it is a wonder that men marry at all. Why should they? In what way is it in their interest? The ideal sexual situation for a young man is probably that of a harem. If he could have a different woman every night, would he not choose that? No need to kill them, of course, as threatened in the 1001 nights: eventually the man ends up back where he started. What’s not to like? So why limit himself to one woman? Even if he does tire of always seeking new mates, so long as he can live with his partner, what possible purpose can marriage have for him? It is no longer the condition for him to have sex. In what way then does it benefit him any more than living together? Why need the law get involved? Why should there be any question of promises and undying faithfulness?

For women, too, it is no longer such a great disaster if they have children outside marriage. There is no taboo about it. People admit it on television. If it so happens that a woman is deserted by her partner, she will at the very least receive benefits and quite possibly child support. What purpose then does marriage have for her, too? Marriage no longer acts as the gate keeper to women’s sexual favours. It is no longer needed as a way of guaranteeing that a woman won’t be left destitute if she’s pregnant. It is a promise which if made, can easily be broken by either party. Apart from tradition, what is it for at all?

This is the issue that we ought to be facing in the context of a world where there is no prohibition on sex, when men and women can sleep with who they please, when they please. Why do we still maintain institutions like marriage when we have already given up the morality that underpins the idea? When I talk to people about marriage, they frequently do not even think of it as much of a promise. They are as it were crossing their fingers when they marry, for they reflect, if it doesn’t work out, I can always get a divorce. Nothing bad will happen. But to marry in this way is not to marry at all. To make a promise while thinking to yourself it will be easy to break it, is a form of self-deception. Only someone who marries while thinking I will never break this promise can be said to actually be married. The others are merely going through a complicated ritual for no purpose.

Marriage today has become about white dresses and a huge party costing thousands of pounds which is planned years in advance. Meanwhile, the couple live together “as man and wife”. Why spend all that money? What do you obtain that you don’t already have? No-one is preventing you making an eternal promise to your partner. But why turn it into a legal contract?

The reason we developed the whole idea of marriage in the first place was to protect women from being deserted by those who made them pregnant. All of this depended on a context of morality shared by everyone. We have thrown out the morality, but retained this thing called ‘marriage’, but we no longer believe the words that are said at the ceremony. It’s all very romantic, no doubt, to listen to the marriage service, but who actually believes these words? In that case, it would be more honest to simply dispense with marriage.

The real inequality is this. It is between the married and the unmarried. Why should those who have not taken part in this elaborate ritual be discriminated against? Rather, let us say that all those who love are before the law “married” and have the same rights as everyone else. We are, moreover, tasked to love all our neighbours and, indeed, all our enemies. So let us be married to everyone. Above all, let us abolish this expensive day, for in reality we have already abolished it. The logic of the past sixty years is not that marriage should be available for everyone, it is that marriage no longer has a purpose and should be abolished. Promise eternal devotion to whom you please, but don’t let’s kid ourselves that this ceremony brings about something that can justly be called  ‘marriage’. That is something we actually abolished rather a long time ago. All we have left is a charade. We play at something that people in the distant past understood, but it is forever lost to us because we don’t even share the same morality as they did. We lost it somewhere about the same time as we lost love and romance. 

If you like my writing, you can find my books Scarlet on the Horizon, An Indyref Romance and Lily of St Leonards on Amazon. Please follow the links on the side. Thanks. I appreciate your support.

Saturday 23 May 2015

Dazzling with an excess of truth

Schopenhauer writes somewhere in The World as Will and Representation that music ought not to represent. It is many years ago that I read this and I do not intend looking it up even if I had the text readily to hand. Schopenhauer is on the wrong side of the great dilemma that faces philosophy, which in the end can be understood as a simple choice, either Kierkegaard or Hegel. You can choose the Hegelian path, which ultimately resolves itself into the idea that everything is one thing, or you can choose the Kierkegaardian path that everything is indeed individual. There isn’t a third option. For Kierkegaard the individual is the base unit, which is not to say that there are not relations with others. There are. But it is as an individual that I relate to the other. With Hegel, on the other hand, in the end, I will be subsumed in the other, and in that way all contradictions will be resolved.

The choice can be explained in another way. Either you think the path is to lose the sense of self through chanting a mantra and through meditation (this, too, will take you on the Hegelian path to Nirvana), or you think that the self is retained, in which case you will avoid meditation as tending towards losing what is most precious.

Schopenhauer likewise thought in the end there is only one thing. He called it Will. He could just as well have called it Nirvana, or some other such word. But even if I disagreed with him on this, for a long time I agreed with him on the idea that music ought not to represent.

Many years ago in school there was a music teacher who I liked to plague. I worked hard in other subjects, so thought it reasonable to play the fool in subjects that were not examined, like music and RE. This music teacher played a piece of music and asked the class what it represented. Even then I thought this was absurd, and so said I thought the music represented a rabbit with Myxomatosis in a field of prunes. For this I was belted. But I was right. Or at least that is how I understood matters for many years. Music ought not to represent and when it does so, it is bad music. I hated when in Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony there is a thunderstorm. It always struck me as ludicrous to try to emulate natural phenomena with music. Music ought to be completely abstract and express nothing, or at least nothing that can be spoken about.

But I have been on a musical journey these past few years and I have come to refine my view.

Two of the greatest thinkers of the 20th Century, produced some of their most important works in similarly difficult conditions. Olivier Messiaen wrote his Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps while a prisoner of war. He wrote it for the only four instruments to hand in the camp. Likewise, Ludwig Wittgenstein while a prisoner of war wrote his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Both end up with the attempt to express the inexpressible. But Messiaen didn’t finish there. He went further, much further.

In the 1940s Messiaen produced a number of works with religious titles such as Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus and Visions de l'Amen. But if you played someone a CD of either of these pieces without giving them the cover, I doubt anyone could guess what they represent. In that sense they remain completely abstract, though they express something about theology which cannot be thought.

But Messiaen in the 1950s goes beyond this completely. He goes all around France and eventually all around the world collecting birdsong. He notates it and then transforms this into music. Is he then representing birds in his music? In one sense he is, but once more if you played someone Messiaen’s Catalogue d'Oiseaux, I’m not at all sure that he would guess that it is about birds. Perhaps, he might guess, but really it has been transformed so, that it doesn’t sound much like birds at all, or rather it goes beyond birdsong.

He continues in this way in the 1970s with his Des Canyons aux Étoiles which purports to represent a canyon in Utah and perhaps, it does, but no-one could guess where the canyon was and really the music goes so far beyond canyons that it even goes beyond the stars. And this is the point. This is what Messiaen is doing with his representing. He is transforming what he represents in such a way that he gives us a glimpse of what cannot be expressed.

Finally, with his greatest work Saint François d'Assise Messiaen does something quite extraordinary. This I believe is the greatest opera of the 20th century, perhaps, the greatest piece of music. This incredible composer does something that ought quite literally to be impossible. He shows us Heaven.

Saint Francis meets an angel who plays music that gives a foretaste of the beyond. The music is so beautiful that Francis reflects that if he had heard just one more note, he would have died. The angel before playing the music sings to Francis the following:

God dazzles us with an excess of truth. The music brings us to God when the truth overwhelms us. If you speak to God through music, He will answer through music. Learn the joy of the blessed through the sweetness of sound and colour. And may the secrets of bliss be revealed to you. Hear this music that hangs life to the scales of heaven. Hear the music of the invisible (Act 2 tableau 5).

What does this mean? What is an excess of truth? It is the truth that is beyond our understanding. It is the truth that Christ is God and Man. These are two truths that are incompatible with each other, God and not God, Man and not Man. Likewise, the resurrected Christ is dead and not dead. It is the combination of truth that expresses opposites that is the excess of truth that dazzles us. It is contradiction. When we are sitting perplexed having failed to understand the deepest truths of theology, then we can by all means reject it as all lies and nonsense. That is the rational thing to do. That in one sense is the correct thing to do. Alternatively, we can allow the music to bring us to God. If you are open to the music that Messiaen is playing, you may just get an answer. It is only when the intellect is crushed, when doubt overwhelms us, that if we are open to it, there is the chance of glimpsing what is beyond when we climb above the ladder and throw it away. Messiaen represents birds but uses them to represent heaven. They are the rungs on the ladder that carry him higher, so that finally he reaches where they cannot even fly. So Schopenhauer is wrong, but he is also right. Music represents and does not represent.

Messiaen’s opera Saint François d'Assise has more truth in it than whole libraries of theological speculation that amount to so much very dull argument about nothing at all. It is an opera that is rarely performed, but you can see it on DVD. The experience if you are open to it is the nearest thing to heaven that can be found here on earth. Even if you are not religious, you will find expressed the inexpressible. The deepest things cannot be expressed through reason. The attempt to do so simply brings them down to a level that is human all too human. As Francis says near the end:

Music and poetry have brought me to You, in images in symbols because the truth escaped us. Lord, light me with Your presence, free me, stupefy me, blind me forever with Your excess of truth.

Music and poetry can express what is beyond the ability of reason to depict. It is in this sense that music both represents and does not represent. It represents what is beyond our words, that about which we must remain silent. Messiaen created a new language of music in order to go beyond what had hitherto been possible. This new language is difficult. Like every language it requires time and effort to learn. But to dismiss it without having taken the time to learn is like someone who has not learned Russian going up to a Russian and saying you are talking gibberish.

If it were up to me, if only I had the courage and the ability to sacrifice self-interest, I would take my students and give them a course in Messiaen. I would tell them to learn Russian, so they could read Dostoevsky, German so that they could read Wittgenstein, and Danish so they could read Kierkegaard. When they had made some progress in this, I would play them Saint François d'Assise and tell them to go home and do something useful with their lives, above all, be kind and try as far as they are able to follow the example of people like Francis. I would then say I have nothing more to teach, for there is nothing more to be taught.

 If you like my writing, you can find my books Scarlet on the Horizon, An Indyref Romance and Lily of St Leonards on Amazon. Please follow the links on the side. Thanks. I appreciate your support.

The positive view of the SNP is only shared by insiders

Every now and again I read an account from one of the nationalist intellectuals that describes the SNP and the other parties that form the “Yes alliance” in the most positive, glowing terms. Naturally, everyone likes to describe their own politics in this way, but the description can appear rather odd to those of us who do not share these political prejudices. Scottish nationalism is portrayed by some of its intellectuals as the most positive, liberal, friendly mix of idealistic young activists hoping to change the world into a better place through the sheer force of their own goodness. Civic nationalism is described in terms that make it appear to be the heir to both Gandhi and Mandela. Nationalist meetings are  depicted as some sort of combination of the Liberals and the Greens all wearing sandals and eating mung beans coming up with ever more creative ways to make the world more virtuous. If only the whole world followed the doctrines of civic nationalism, we’d have world peace, an end to poverty, peace and goodwill among men and, of course, women.

This may well be the experience of civic nationalism from within.  I have no idea, because I am not within. Perhaps, there are these groups of eager young civic nationalist intellectuals trying to bring paradise to Scotland, Britain, Europe and tomorrow, the world. But this insider view is not shared by anyone who is not on the inside.

I have already argued extensively elsewhere that civic nationalism is itself an intellectual sham. That is not to say that civic nationalists are insincere. They are all too sincere, but they are mistaken. Why distinguish between that which is the same? Why distinguish between people in the UK if there is no distinguishing mark by which you can legitimately separate them. Without the sense of nationalism that is far from civic, that I am Scottish and this is the mark that distinguishes me from all the world, civic nationalism could not get off the ground. It is built on the foundation of difference and though it puts a mask on this foundation that enables the intellectuals to eat their mung beans, the mask not infrequently slips.

If the SNP is such a positive, liberal, charming force for good, why is it that so many people fear it? For many people in Scotland, even, perhaps, for half the people of Scotland there is nothing worse than the SNP. They have supplanted the Tories as the party that others vote tactically against. It didn’t work this time. Not enough of us voted in this way, the No vote remains divided apart from at a referendum, but it is obvious that while the SNP has become more popular amongst a part of the Scottish population, it has become much, much less popular amongst another part. A party which opponents are willing to gang up on is not obviously the party described by the nationalist intellectuals. Why vote tactically against such virtue and such goodness?

Scotland has become an extraordinarily divided society. Some people think we have not been this divided since the 17th century. Part of the Scottish population wants independence more than anything else in the world, but an equal or I suspect, still greater part, passionately does not want independence. The only issue in Scottish politics is independence. Only this issue could have destroyed the Labour party. The SNP and Scottish Labour have for the most part similar policies. The SNP may portray itself as somewhat more left wing, but the issue that divided these two parties like a chasm is nothing that what is in the SNP manifesto, rather it’s the SNP’s goal of independence. The biggest problem for the SNP in portraying itself to opponents in a positive way is that for No voters there is nothing remotely positive about breaking up our country. For all the liberal progressive spin, this one policy will always make the SNP appear as extremists to people like me.

We have a set of political problems in the UK like poverty, inequality, living within our means and the attempt to find economic growth. I can think of no more extreme policy to deal with any of these issues than the one of breaking up a 300 year old country. What SNP supporters don’t get is that to those of us who care about both Scotland and the UK, this threat is painful. It is completely horrible to us to imagine that we would no longer live in the UK. No nice sweet words from Nicola Sturgeon can in any way diminish this horror. Don’t fear us, she says, but this is because she wants to create the conditions for independence by stealth. The population of every other country in the world would rightly fear those who threaten the territorial integrity of their country. Yet, we like cattle before slaughter, are supposed not to fear it as soothing words take us along the path.

Many Scots are quietly making plans to leave Scotland if the SNP ever get their dream of independence. This is not merely because we don’t much want to live in a nation dominated by nationalists with policies that are liable to make us poorer. Rather, we would prefer to leave the country of our birth than live in an independent Scotland. The usual nationalist response to this is a form of good riddance. Fair enough, but Scotland is liable to lose some of its best talent if it goes down that route. No voters are disproportionately to be found in many of the jobs that Scotland needs most. Our absence would tend to leave a gap.

This feeling that it might be time to leave is especially felt by English people who have come to live in Scotland. Of course, this feeling is not shared by everyone. Lots of English people love the SNP. It is one way to fit in. It’s also, I suspect, one way to keep harmony in a household where one partner votes SNP. Suddenly, by supporting the SNP everyone is so nice. Wearing a little yellow thistle means no-one any longer makes snide comments about the football or about the poshness of your accent. You’re one of us now. What’s not to like? But still this is a minority experience amongst our largest “immigrant group.”

It is not accidental that the vast majority of English people living in Scotland voted No. They had no desire to be turned into foreigners in their own land. Moreover, as they frequently tell me, they have seen Scotland change in the past 20-30 years. Where once was a land that was at peace with itself, here now is a land that is divided and frequently hostile. Look at the online reaction to English people asking questions in one of the debates. What has it to do with you, you’re English, was the typical response. Again this may not be the impression from inside, but it is the impression from outside. Many English people in Scotland are genuinely afraid of Scottish nationalism. They don’t think they would have any place at all in a country that they think would have been founded on the age old hostility to them.  The fact that the SNP can point to a tiny proportion of English people who have as it were become more Scottish than the Scots does not change this fear. There are littered throughout history examples of self-hatred, and people trying desperately to fit in. These examples are not always as positive as they might at first seem.

There are two prejudices that blight Scotland: Anglophobia and Sectarianism. These are not confined to Yes voters or No voters. To a lesser or greater extent they are a feature of all of us.  Prejudice is not someone else’s problem, it is my problem for which of us is without some prejudice or other? The perception, however, is that Anglophobia and, to a lesser extent, sectarianism underpins some of the support for Scottish nationalism. It is, without doubt, not felt by the intellectuals, but there is more than enough evidence that it is felt by some of the foot soldiers. Scotland defines itself as not being England and low level hostility about our nearest neighbour is something we learn at our mother’s knee. I have felt this, you, too, have felt this, but would we even be thinking about separating ourself from our nearest neighbour if we did not feel it?  Which of us has not said something unkind about England or the English that we would not dream about saying about any other country or people? I have, I confess it. But I wish that this had not been a part of my upbringing, I wish none of us had made jokes about the English, for if 30 and 40 years ago there had been no such banter in Scotland, our place in the UK would now be absolutely secure. It is the seed of difference that has grown into 56 SNP MPs and a significant part of the population that doesn’t think it is from the country stamped on its passport. We are, all of us, both Yes and No voters, equally guilty for what has happened to our country.

The SNP has an image problem. They were so feared in parts of England that they drove huge numbers of people to vote for the Conservatives who otherwise would not have done so. The most disastrous result of all was seen as a Labour government propped up by the SNP. If the SNP were as their intellectuals portray them, why do so many people fear them? #SNPout did not work particularly well in Scotland this time, but it worked a dream in England. They voted to keep the #SNPout.

The SNP have destroyed the Labour party in Scotland. They have pretty much destroyed it in England, too. May I suggest that this is not exactly progressive. The SNP is not really a Left wing party at all. Nationalist politics is rather like Abraham Lincoln’s attitude to slavery. If the SNP could achieve independence by being Left Wing, they would do that, if they could achieve it by being Centrist, they would do that, and if they could achieve it by being Right Wing, they would do that also. Their aim is independence and whatever combination of Left, Right, Centre, plus a dash of populism that gets them to their goal, will be embraced. The SNP have been a right wing party before when it suited them, and no doubt there are still some right wingers in the party willing to accept any amount of socialism if only it gets them independence. Much of what is progressive in the UK came about because of the Labour Party. Those who are responsible for destroying the Labour party in Scotland and replacing it with a nationalist party should be very careful when they describe themselves as progressives. It doesn’t look that way from the outside.

SNP intellectuals may portray the party as progressive, liberal and kindly, but that is not how it appears to those of us who oppose it. We not infrequently are opposed by the mob and by foul mouths that are neither civic, nor civil. If every SNP supporter was as reasonable and sensible as some of those writing in newspapers, then these claims might not appear quite so ludicrous. But Scotland, in fact, is a country where No voters don’t dare put posters in their windows, where we don’t talk about politics with those we don’t know, where friendships and families are lost because of political disagreement and where men suddenly appear out of nowhere to shout abuse in the face of the leader of the Scottish Labour party. I campaign online. I can count on the fingers of one hand the SNP supporters who I trust and who always appear reasonable, liberal and civil, the rest sometimes portray themselves as friendly at first, but in the end, most commonly attack relentlessly and  in the foulest most abusive way possible.  It might be an idea to clean up your own house before pretending how nice it is.  We can see what Scottish nationalism consists of.  No other party, except those on the extremes, has supporters like the SNP. I wouldn’t vote for them even if I supported independence, for fear that I would be tainted by the very act of voting.

If you like my writing, you can find my books Scarlet on the Horizon, An Indyref Romance and Lily of St Leonards on Amazon. Please follow the links on the side. Thanks. I appreciate your support.

Monday 18 May 2015

A Letter from Scotland to America.

Dear friends,

The United States is a nation of immigrants. Even the Native Americans originally came from Central Asia. But then if we go back far enough all of us are immigrants. In the UK even people who can trace their ancestry back centuries are descended from immigrants. Celts came from Central Europe. Anglo-Saxons and Jutes came from Germany and Denmark. Vikings came from other parts of Scandinavia.  Scots originally came from Ireland. We are all immigrants.

People in the United States frequently reflect on where their ancestors came from. Some people call themselves Italian Americans, others call themselves Irish or Swedish Americans. People maintain this identity even if their ancestors left these places a long time ago. It’s good to have roots and it’s perfectly possible to feel two things at once. Someone can feel, for example, both Scottish and American even if they’ve never been to Scotland. Why not take pride in a heritage? Why not celebrate where your ancestors came from?

The United States is defined by two great wars of independence. In the first you gained independence from Britain. When I read the history of the American war of independence, my heroes are the Americans. Thank goodness the Americans won, because they were able to set up the first real democracy. They were able to show that democracy is system of government that can work. They created a nation that welcomed people from all over the world. The world needed the United States in the 20th century. Thank goodness your ancestors won the war of independence that enabled that country to come into existence.

The other war of independence was the Civil War. It is perhaps a little controversial to describe it as such. But that if you think about is what the Confederacy wanted. They wanted to become independent from the United States. I don’t want to go into the rights and wrongs of that conflict too much.  But I can say that I’m mighty glad the United States was preserved as one country. It would have been a disaster if the Confederacy had won independence. The whole world throughout the period afterwards needed the United States to continue to exist. Let us be thankful that it did. I suspect even most people from southern states today are glad that the Confederacy lost. They may be proud of their ancestors, but few southerners today regret that they live in one country rather than in a country that was split.

Did the United States have the right to prevent the southern states from seceding? This was what the war was about. The South thought it had the right to leave. The North said it did not. The issue was decided by war. After that there was no question that a part of the United States could secede. This is the case with most countries in the world. No-one today thinks the Maryland could secede from the United States even, if for some strange reason, the majority in Maryland wished to do so. Likewise no-one thinks Bavaria could secede from Germany or Sicily could leave Italy. No-one likewise thinks that the island of Honshu in Japan could choose to leave Japan. But why not? The reason is that most countries are considered to be indivisible. This is after all what most children in America say about the United States. It is one nation and it is indivisible.

States in the United States used to think of themselves as semi-independent. The reason South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1861 was because it thought of itself as having the right to secede. People thought of the United States as a sort of loose federation of independent states with states’ rights.  The Civil War showed that this view was incorrect. The United States is one nation, it is not fifty.

Scotland was once independent, but then again so was each of the original 13 colonies as was Texas. The process of creating the United States was the process of states subsuming their independence into the Union. This too is what happened to Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. These places ceased to be independent when they became parts of the United Kingdom. We still describe them as countries or nations, but just as with the United States there is only one country. It is called the UK.
Last year we had a referendum on independence. This referendum was very unusual. Very few countries in the world would allow a part to have the chance to choose to leave. I very much doubt for instance that Texas would be allowed a vote on secession, because it wanted a Republican president rather than a Democratic one. Why would Texas not be allowed a referendum? The answer is that Texas is a part of one nation that is indivisible. It matters not at all that Texas was independent in 1845.

Scotland ceased to be independent in 1707. It wasn’t taken over by force and it isn’t a colony.  It has been an integral part of a single nation state for over 300 years. That state, the UK has done some great things. The world would be a very different place if the UK had not stood alone in 1940 against the Nazis.

Exceptionally Scotland was given a referendum on independence. Everybody living in Scotland was given the choice to decide this question once and for all. The result wasn’t close. The Scots who wanted Scotland to remain an integral part of the UK won the referendum by more than 10%.

Just as people in the United States can be both Italian and American, so we Scots can be both Scottish and British. There is no contradiction in this. We can love both Scotland and Britain, just as people in the United States can, for example, love both Maryland and the United States. Just as most people in the United States want their country to remain intact so most people in Scotland want our country the UK to remain intact.

It’s great that so many Scottish Americans remember where they come from. But it’s also worth remembering that most Scots voted last year to remain part of the country, the UK, that has a history stretching back more than 300 years. Of course some Scots disagree, but they lost. Some of them want to continue fighting this battle until they win. This seems to me to be like the Confederates continuing to fight after losing the Civil War. The Civil War decided whether a state had the right to secede. After that the United States was one nation and indivisible. The same can be said for the UK. We had a peaceful debate. But it decided the question. The people who are continuing the fight now are dividing Scotland in a way that is very painful for those of us living here. Please do not support them as you are supporting people who lost democratically but still won’t give up.

In the end it amounts to this. If you do not want your own country to break up, why would you want to break up mine? If an Italian American would neither want Italy nor the United States to break up why would he want to break up a country that has existed for longer than either Italy or the United States?  The United States and the UK have a history of friendship and helping each other. Please continue to support this friendship by supporting the majority view. The overwhelming majority of people in the UK want the UK to continue and so do most people in Scotland. If you consider yourself to be a Scottish American you should support us too. We need your support and would be very grateful indeed to receive it.

Best wishes,

Effie Deans

If you like my writing, you can find my books Scarlet on the Horizon, An Indyref Romance and Lily of St Leonards on Amazon. Please follow the links on the side. Thanks. I appreciate your support.

Sunday 17 May 2015

Отбрасывая лестницу

В книге М.Ф. Достоевского «Братья Карамазовы» есть один небольшой, но важный отрывок, в котором содержится зародыш одной интересной дискуссии. Величие этой книги, тем не менее, заключается в том, что в ней возможно найти множество таких отрывков, которые несут в себе что-то глубокое и проникновенное.

Алеша, проживающий в монастыре, имеет следующий разговор со своим братом, Иваном, склоняющимся к атеизму:

– Слишком понимаю, Иван: нутром и чревом хочется любить – прекрасно ты это сказал, и рад я ужасно за то, что тебе так жить хочется, – воскликнул Алеша. – Я думаю, что все должны прежде всего на свете жизнь полюбить.
– Жизнь полюбить больше, чем смысл ее?
– Непременно так, полюбить прежде логики, как ты говоришь непременно, что прежде логики, и тогда только я и смысл пойму. Вот что мне давно уже мерещится. Половина твоего дела сделана, Иван, и приобретена: ты жить любишь. Теперь надо постараться тебе о второй твоей половине, и ты спасен. (Ф.М. Достоевский, «Братья Карамазовы», Библиотека всемирной литературы, 2011,
 с. 282).

Алеша, прежде всего, пытается спасти своего брата. Иван в течение романа делает тонкие и разрушительные нападки на христианство; для Ивана Бога не существует, как и не существует бессмертия. Достоевский предоставляет один из самых сильнодействующих аргументов против христианства, но в то же время предлагает и весьма хорошую его защиту. В этом небольшом отрывке, а также в других подобных отрывках им раскрывается сущность христианского экзистенциализма.
Недавно я смотрел фильм о великом ученом Стивене Хокинге. Он называется «Теория всего». Однажды во время своей пресс-конференции Хокинг упоминает нечто вроде того, что он объяснил для себя все во вселенной. Бог не нужен или, точнее, для Бога нет места. Уяснив все, он как будто не оставил для Бога места, и действительно, тем самым лишил Бога смысла посредством своих домыслов. Все, что утверждается современной физикой, без сомнения, верно или верно до той степени, до которой дошло наше знание на сегодняшний день. Тщетно сомневаться в том, что было открыто великими умами в сфере познания вселенной. Однако если физика может объяснить все, так что для Бога не остается места, то может показаться, что и вера не может больше продолжать существовать. Где Бог, если г-н Хокинг может объяснить все?
Г-н Хокинг перемещается за пределы себя, и его великий ум направляется во вселенную и обратно во времени и к началу времен. Но его путешествие происходит не в нужном напралении, если бы его целью была цель была найти Бога. Бог не есть в направлении во вне, напротив, Бог обретается изнутри. Это, конечно же, не означает, что Бог есть во мне или то, что я есть Бог. Это нонсенс и ересь. Но путь к познанию Бога есть в другом направлении мысли, нежели чем в том, что идет вовне к началу времен.
Что значит любить жизнь? Это значит, любить каждую секунду жизни. Но что значит испытывать жизнь? Это как раз то, что я делаю изо дня в день. Сегодня утром я лежал в кровати, но в один момент решил встать. Я мог бы полежать еще. Я решил приготовить кофе, а мог мы решить приготовить чай. Мой повседневный, коренной жизненный опыт и все то, что привлекает меня в нем – это моя способность выбирать. Мой коренной жизненный опыт равно как и мое ощуение того, что трава зеленая заключается в том, что у меня есть абсолютная свобода воли. Конечно же, я могу ошибаться в своем опыте, но опять же со времен Декарта мы знаем, что я могу ошибаться в своих ощущениях внешнего мира. Путь скептицизма ведет в тупик. Но мое чувство свободы так же реально для меня как и все остальное в этом мире, а возможно, что и более, чем реально. Я менее готов сомневаться в моей свободе, чем в чем либо еще, исключая мое собственное существование. Я свободен, поэтому я существую.
Но моя свобода такова, что я являюсь беспричинной причиной. Любой мой выбор есть выбор без причины, исключая лишь тот факт, что я делаю этот выбор. Нет ничего или нет нужды ни в чем, что бы заставило меня выбирать пить чай или кофе. Я могу делать или одно, или другое. Но вселенная г-на Хокинга не содержит беспричинной причины, по крайней мере, не после большого взрыва. Физика представляет собой совокупность бильярдных шаров, бьющиеся друг о друга. Возможно, что эти шары весьма непростые и ведут себя весьма замысловато, но все равно это лишь материализм, поскольку все то, что существует есть материя. У каждого действия есть причина: нейрон ударяется об электрон, кварк порхает, и я выбираю кофе.
Наука желает объяснить мою беспричинную причину в терминах биологии. Мозг – это лишь собрание атомов, и посредством сложных цепных реакций я выбираю пить кофе. Но отчего я должен сомневаться в своем коренном опыте выбора ради теории строения атомов и атомных частиц, которые не видны глазу? Почему мое основное чувство свободы не должно обыграть все то, что пытается сделать наука с целью доказать то, что мое ощущение свободы иллюзорно? Однако же если наука могла доказать мне, что видимый мне мир на самом деле иллюзия, я все равно буду продолжать верить в видимый мне мир. Так, тем же образом я продолжаю верить в мою свободу, несмотря на все доказательства науки того, что я являюсь неким сложным роботом.  Я, как и вы, не чувствую, что являюсь роботом.
Все остальное следует из этого. Мое ощущение свободы – это ощущение того, что не контролируется законами физики. Мой каждый шаг – это маленькое чудо. Это беспричинная причина. Это как раз то, что заствляет меня любить жизнь. Если бы причиной всего, что бы я ни делал было следствием инстинкта, нужды, атомов, то я бы возненавидел свою жизнь и посчитал бы, что не стоит даже дальше жить.
Алеша говорит Ивану: подумай о своем собственном опыте, о том, что ты любишь жизнь. «Полюбить прежде логики». Есть тайна в сущности жизни, и эта тайна заключается в том, что мы свободны таким образом, что это невозможно объяснить вполне.
Здесь опять же ключ к христианскому экзистенциализму. Мы должны идти дальше логики. Когда Людвиг Витгенштейн написал свой «Логико-философский трактат», он показал логику на целых страницах совершенства, которые потрясли его экзаменаторов в Кембридже. Они говорили, что не понимали его, но видели ясно, что это было творение гения, так что несмотря на отсутсвие сносок, он все-таки получил степень доктора. Тем не менее, после столь прекрасных логических демонстраций Витгенштей заключил свой трактат следующими словами:

6.54. мои предложения поясняются тем фактом, что тот, кто меня понял, в конце  концов уясняет их бессмысленность, если он поднялся с их помощью - на них - выше их (он должен, так сказать, отбросить лестницу, после того как он взберется по ней наверх). Он должен преодолеть эти предложения, лишь тогда он правильно увидит мир.
7. О чем невозможно говорить, о том следует молчать.

Конечная правда вселенной дальше логики и дальше человеческой способности ее понять. Поэтому она может быть выражена только посредством литературы, искусства и музыки. Тем не менее, ее можно ощутить и, действительно, она ощущаема нами каждый день в чуде нашей свободы.
Исходя из моей свободы я знаю, что не завишу от атомов и в связи с этим я знаю, что по своей сути я представляю собой нечто другое, нежели чем камни или деревья. То, что я представляю собой, не есть то, что я когда-нибудь смогу понять, потому что это находится за пределами человеческого разума. Г-н Хокинг пытается прорваться чрез райские врата посредством разума, и не ничего не найдя там, утверждает, что ни рая, ни Бога не существует. Но его попытки столь же тщетны, как и попытки средневековых монахов, пытавшихся выстраивать замысловатые ряды логических построений доказательства существования Бога. С помощью логики этого добиться невозможно, так что и не пытайтесь.
Если моя сущность не зависит от физики, тогда отчего же мое существование не должно преодолеть смерть моего физического тела? Если истина, наконец, превыше логики, тогда почему бы Деве не родить, почему бы Богу не быть и Богом и человеком или Богом и не Богом? Почему бы, наконец, не быть воскресению, смерти и не смерти?
Мы еще не дошли до конца. Алеша говорит нам, что любовь Ивана к жизни такова, что он лишь только на пол-пути. Ему еще нужно узнать, что он достиг верха лестницы, а затем отбросить ее. Ему нужно совершить прыжок веры. Как учил нас Серен Кьеркегор, ему нужно объять противоречие.

Конечно же, как только вы это совершите, теологии и философии наступит конец, по причине чего Витгенштейн советовал работать, например, на ферме. Но то, что останется, это способность ощущать Бога изнутри, из-за чуда свободы и существованияб и выражать это чувство посредством искусства. Величайшим композитором, на мой взгляд, являетя Оливье Мессиан, поскольку всю свою жизнь он провел пытаясь выразить то, что было за пределами лестницы, и в какие-то мгновения, как, например, «Квартет на конец времени», он вполне преуспевает в этом. И мы вместе с ним на какое-то время это видим. Или, по крайней мере, способны видеть, если захотим.  

Saturday 16 May 2015

The Poundzone and the Eurozone follow the same logic

There are two great issues facing the UK in the next few years: sorting out our own constitutional mess and sorting out our relationship with the EU. In reality, they are the same issue.

I’m going to start with a few assumptions. They are widely shared. In the modern, globalised world you can’t have a long-term, viable currency union without a political union, a fiscal union and a transfer union.

It was the establishment of a single currency that made East and West Germany united. It was the willingness of West Germans to transfer vast sums to East Germans that made them compatriots. To cease to be willing to transfer those sums is already to cease to be part of the same country. The difference between a compatriot and a foreigner is that money is transferred to a compatriot in trouble as a gift while to a foreigner as a loan. We have friendly relations with other sovereign states, but we tend to be unwilling to pay off their debts for nothing. Within our own sovereign state, however, we do not count the cost. We share with the poorer parts of our country without limit and we do this forever without thinking of repayment. It is this willingness or unwillingness that marks the difference between one sovereign nation state and another. It is what makes Germans compatriots to each other rather than foreigners. But there are two sides to this coin. When East Germany accepted membership of a currency union and accepted transfers from the West, it also gave up its own sovereignty. It ceased to be a sovereign nation state in its own right. Ultimately, those who control the currency hold the sovereignty.

In the United States the Fed controls what is politically possible. In the Eurozone the ECB has this control, and in the UK it’s the Bank of England. These banks may or may not be politically independent, but this matters little. What is possible politically is determined by those who hold the purse strings.  This is especially the case when an economy gets into trouble. The Republic of Ireland found its political decision making controlled by the ECB and others. The same, of course, goes for Greece et al.

The issue facing the Eurozone is either they must become like the USA, (i.e. they must create a single nation state called Europe, let’s call it the United States of Europe (USE)), or they must revert to their old currencies. There isn’t a third option.

We in the UK are approaching a vote on membership of the EU, but it is crucial that we reflect on what we would either be leaving, or on what we would be choosing to remain a part of. The Eurozone may become a single nation state with a political union, fiscal union and transfer union, but the UK will not be a part of this until and unless we choose to join the Euro. You can’t have political union without currency union, but we have our own currency, so if the Eurozone creates a political union, we in the UK will be outside it.

So our relationship with the EU will by default be different from, for example, France’s relation. There clearly needs to be a different status for countries like us who don’t share the Euro. We are not moving towards becoming part of a political union, because the condition for the possibility of that movement is sharing a single currency. Therefore, it is clear that the EU ideal of ever closer union does not apply to the UK.
We cannot be part of the transfer union, fiscal union and political union necessary for the Eurozone to function for the simple reason that we have our own currency, which necessitates our own political, transfer and fiscal union. It makes no sense to expect the UK to transfer funds to Greece, because Greece does not share our currency. But it does make sense for Austria, Finland and, above all, Germany to do so.

In reality the UK’s special status in relation to the EU happens in and of itself. EU countries within the Eurozone have one status while EU countries outside it have another. By choosing not to be part of the Eurozone we have already chosen not to be a part of the core EU project of moving towards becoming a nation state.

At the moment, however, there is no guarantee that the Eurozone will become a political, fiscal and transfer union. The failure of countries to follow through the logic of monetary union and transfer money from the richer to the poorer states means that the Eurozone remains fragile. It may break up. If that were to happen, we would all go back to being nation states with separate currencies. In that case, if the EU were to survive at all, it would go back to what it was when we called it the Common Market. It would be a trading block. But if this is what the EU would be if it ceased to have the Eurozone, it makes sense that this is what it ought to be for those countries who do not take part in the Eurozone.

The main benefits to the UK in being part of the EU are free trade, the Single Market and free movement of people. The UK particularly benefits from access to the EU labour market. One of the main reasons for our economic success in recent years is that our job vacancies have been filled by citizens from the EU. But clearly if we are not going to be part of an EU superstate, and how can we given that we have our own currency, it makes no sense for us to take part in those aspects of the EU which have to do with political union. The UK ought to be able to negotiate a withdrawal from those areas of EU life that simply do not and will not apply to us.

The logic of currency union is relentless. In the end, to be in a currency union is to be in a country.  Scotland is in a currency union with the other parts of the UK. But this requires political union, fiscal union and transfer union. It is this, above all, which makes the idea of Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA) so problematic. The reason for this is that FFA would apparently get rid of the fiscal and the transfer unions. If the fiscal and transfer unions were to be retained, Full Fiscal Autonomy would be neither Full, Fiscal nor Autonomous, which is all rather pointless. Moreover, Full Fiscal Autonomy really already equals independence. West Germans were willing to transfer billions to East Germans as they thought of them as compatriots. They are at present unwilling to transfer billions to Greeks as they see them as foreigners. It is this willingness or unwillingness to transfer which marks the distinction between one independent nation state and another. Therefore FFA equals independence. With FFA the UK would turn into a mini Eurozone. Moreover, given that Scotland had its own parliament and that parliament had Full Fiscal Autonomy, what purpose would it serve to send MPs to Westminster? On what issues would they vote? Logically FFA makes even political union pointless. All the issues that affect Scottish constituents would already be decided at Holyrood. What’s left?

But it’s worth remembering that FFA is not an ideal situation for anyone in the Eurozone. It is the absence of fiscal transfers that is causing such trouble there. Of course, countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal are doing worst out of the arrangement, but it’s not as if the Northern European countries are particularly happy either. Likewise, in the UK it is hardly an ideal arrangement for England to be put into the Eurozone in relation to Scotland. After all, isn’t it precisely this that everyone has been so desperate to avoid all these years?

Scotland with FFA would cause the UK the same dilemma as the Eurozone. Scotland would require huge levels of austerity in order to remain in the Poundzone, just like Greece et al. It costs more to provide services in Scotland owing to the rural nature of most of the country. It is for this reason that it has been right and proper that Scotland has over the years received rather more from Central Government than places that are more densely populated. But anyway why would a patriotic UK Government want to treat a part of the UK as if it were Greece? We didn’t act in this way towards Northern Ireland when a proportion of their population were opposed to the UK. Rather we stuck by the pro-UK people of Northern Ireland through thick and thin. The majority of the Scottish population, as measured by the referendum, want to stay in the UK. Why treat us worse than our compatriots in Northern Ireland?

FFA in Scotland would lead to years of austerity undreamed of up to now. It would lead to a huge increase in taxes for ordinary Scots, it would lead to job losses and massive cuts in public services. The SNP may or may not be blamed for this. My guess is that Cameron would be blamed just as the Greeks blame Merkel. If you think Nicola Sturgeon would be blamed, you don’t understand nationalist psychology. Anyway, soon enough the logic of currency union would be made plain.

Either Scotland would eventually find its position in the Poundzone untenable and would be forced to leave, or the UK would be forced to reintroduce a political, fiscal and transfer union. There isn’t a third option. If leaving a currency union were so easy, why hasn’t it happened in the Eurozone? Why is everyone going to such desperate lengths to prevent the breakup of the Eurozone? Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Greece have had to endure huge levels of austerity in the last few years. They could have avoided this by defaulting, devaluing and leaving the Euro. Why didn’t they? The answer is simple. It would have caused chaos, not only for the country leaving, but also for the countries remaining.

Whether Scotland is “independent”, or has FFA it is not really possible for us to leave the Poundzone.  The talk during the referendum of Scotland being forced to leave the pound was, of course, nonsense. When push came to shove, the central bankers would have knocked heads together and pointed out the damage to both Scotland and the other parts of the UK of Scotxit. It would cause economic chaos not only in Scotland but in the rest of the UK as Scotland leaving the Poundzone would involve default and devaluation with shock waves rather larger than Lehman Brothers.  It would have the potential to make 2008 look like a minor blip. But the logic of this works both ways. Given that Scotland is in a currency union with the other parts of the UK, independence is not really possible, nor for that matter is FFA. We can harm ourselves hugely testing this by experiment, but the logic of currency union is relentless. Currency union quite simply requires political, fiscal and transfer union. The mere fact of being in the currency union acts as an elastic band pulling you back to the centre. The attempt to become independent is like a Tom and Jerry cartoon where Tom is running with an elastic band tied round his waste. He runs and runs, but eventually he’s yanked back to where he started. Of course, a lot of energy is wasted in this attempt to get away and it may well cause chaos to not a few of us, but it’s all futile and illusory. The Bank of England and the markets anyway determine what is politically possible. Full Fiscal Autonomy would provide the illusion of autonomy just as independence would amount to little more than flag waving and an opportunity for minor grandstanding on the world stage.  

Ireland made a choice in the 1920s which looks like it may have a long term political consequence unforeseen back then. If the EU becomes a United States of Europe, then Ireland will find its independence and sovereignty subsumed into the USE. They will have a football team and they’ll still no doubt be called a country, but in reality they will have no more sovereignty than Saxony or Bavaria. All will in the end be ruled by the paymaster in Berlin.

In the same way for Scotland there is a choice. Choose the EU, choose Scotxit be a nation again, but just like with Ireland you will eventually end up putting a hard border between your fellow English speakers and largest trading partners, and you will end up being ruled by people who don’t speak your language.

The alternative is a semi-detached UK with rather a lot of sovereignty big enough to be a Japan to the EU’s China. Devolved power in a relatively independent UK looks a better long term bet to me.

On the other hand, and this is highly unlikely, if the whole of the UK decided to join a United States of Europe, i.e. if we joined the Eurozone, what difference would it make where we drew the borders? After all, in the USA it hardly matters now whether there is a border between West Virginia and Virginia. The former seceded in 1861, but now that there is one USA, it makes no difference whether that act of secession occurred or did not. It is an accident of history and of no consequence.

The whole debate both about independence and the EU is sterile and ultimately meaningless. Scotland can no more leave the Poundzone than Greece can leave the Eurozone, or at least it can’t without economic disaster for all concerned. There is an important debate to be had about the UK’s relationship to the EU and it would make sense for our special status to be recognised and for concessions to be made. But having a vote on the UK leaving the EU is for the most part meaningless because we have already left. The difference between voting to leave and voting to stay is only a difference of emphasis, for whatever happens, we will need some sort of relationship with the EU, but it is of very small consequence compared to what the Eurozone itself decides to do. That far more than anything we decide will determine the nature of our future relationship.

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