Saturday 23 April 2016

All is but toys

Is our duty only to obey the law? This question was asked by Iain Martin recently during an article about tax and finance. The issues involved are recent touching upon the way people and corporations may try to pay as little tax as possible. Should capitalism be limited merely by the rule of law so that business can do what it pleases so long as it is legal? Or should there be a moral dimension to how we act financially? Do we have duties to others when we make business deals, or should we only be concerned with profit? These issues however, are quite ancient and go to the heart of the distinction between law and morality.

While law is grounded in morality it is distinct. Ultimately, the reason to obey a law is that I fear being punished for breaking it.  There are other things however, that are usually considered to be wrong without their being illegal. Telling lies is wrong, but unless I do it in court, I am not going to be punished by the law. Likewise, volunteering for the Red Cross may be considered to be a good thing to do, but if I fail to do so, I won’t be punished. Morality covers whole swathes of life that the law doesn’t touch. But crucially morality also underpins the law.  It is not merely illegal to kill someone, it is morally wrong. Moreover, without morality, law on its own would struggle. The reason for this is that our ability to catch criminals is highly limited. Law would soon collapse if the whole country decided to steal. It’s only because most people don’t steal because it is morally wrong that the police have time to catch those who don’t care whether it is right or wrong. The real danger of morality collapsing is that law collapses, too.

The question arises however, from where do I get my morality? Practically speaking, I no doubt get it from my parents and from the society in which I live. But why should I listen to my parents, why should I follow the norms of society? What is to stop me creating my own standard of morality different from theirs if it suits me to do so? As a child I have to follow parental rules and if I live in society, I have to appear to follow society’s rules, but in my heart why can I not rebel against all of these things? Given that I don’t break the law, what is stopping me? Nothing apart from disapproval. Well I can live with that.

The trouble though is this. If I can make up my own rules of morality as I go along, how will they limit my actions? If morality is subjective, whenever I am faced with temptation, I can simply change the rules to suit me. Practically speaking, a subjective morality is barely a morality at all. As soon as I reflect that society’s rules are arbitrary and not grounded in any objective reality, why should I follow them to my disadvantage? In this case those areas of life that are not governed by law become more or less a matter of taste and what I can get away with. But here is the problem. If I no longer have an objective morality, those areas of life that are covered by law also become a matter of taste and what I can get away with. If I can successfully get away with a crooked business deal, why not do so? If I can steal with impunity, what is stopping me? Of course, the law will still deter me, but then it simply becomes a matter of calculation. Can I get away with it?

It was not always this way. I like reading books from the past because they provide a window into how people lived and how they thought. I recently read the novel Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers, which came out in 1930. In this novel the character Harriet Vane is accused of murdering her lover. But she is condemned not only because she supposedly murdered him, but also for the fact that she lived with him outside marriage. The court thinks that it is evidence of her bad character that she lived in sin. Not only does the court and society in general think this, but Harriet Vane agrees.

From where did people get their morality in 1930? Was morality a subjective thing that you could pick or choose? Not at all. There were clear rules on all sorts of conduct that were not covered by the law.  Sex before marriage was wrong. Having children without being married was wrong.  Adultery was wrong. Fundamentally, pretty much everything that Christianity taught to be wrong was considered by most people to be wrong. The rules of society were more or less the rules of the church. Because these rules were generally accepted as universal, they were followed even by those relatively few people who didn’t believe in Christianity. Were these rules subjective? No, not at all. Ultimately, they were grounded in God.

Many people today would look back on 1930 and its rules with horror. I sympathise. There is a lot about life in 1930 that I don’t much care for either. But try to see the world from their point of view also. From the perspective of an adult in 1930 there would be much about 2016 that would fill them with horror, too.  One of the most disorienting things for someone from 1930 is how our whole reality has changed. Things that someone from 1930 would consider to be objective facts have turned out either to be subjective or even not facts at all.

This change may have had some positive effects. People in old books are full of prejudices that we enlightened, modern people no longer share. We dare not share them, because if we say certain words, or repeat certain prejudices we in 2016 will find ourselves just as condemned as Harriet Vane was for her adultery. There were unforgivable sins in 1930, but you try breaking any of today’s taboos, and you will find yourself just as much a pariah. They had lace curtains that twitched and condemned, but we do also. They are just a different sort of lace curtain.

But I wonder if people today are aware of quite what we have given up in order to be so enlightened and liberal. Think of all the things that were immoral in 1930 that are permitted or even encouraged today. Think of all the things that nearly everyone believed in 1930, that we simply are not allowed to believe today. The rules that governed a Christian life have been dispensed with. The church might have put up a bit of the fight to begin with, but finding itself fighting a losing battle has at times gleefully cooperated in dismantling its own rules.

I can now have as many partners as I wish. I can have as many children as I wish with or without marriage. I can marry who I wish. Whatever is to my taste is permitted.  Moreover, words that were once objective such as ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘marriage’, have become more or less subjective. Words mean what I want them to mean.

Whole areas of morality that everyone believed in 1930 have turned out to be lies and nonsense. But if the morality touching on these aspects of life can be dismissed, what of everything else that used to be part of the Christian life? This is our problem, when you start dismantling the teachings of the church, what use is there for teachings like ‘love your neighbour’? If I can choose to throw out rules of conduct that have governed life for centuries, what can I not throw out? What indeed am I left with?

Someone in 1930 who believed that morality was objective might be deterred from putting his money in a tax haven, because it was wrong. He might feel that he had a duty towards his neighbours and his country, because it was the right way to live his life. But why should I do any of these things now? What objective standard of morality tells me to have a duty towards anyone or anything?

We have learned in the past eighty years that whatever feels good is permitted. Wish fulfilment has become our religion. The church can no longer regulate anything, because people don’t bend to the will of the church, rather the church bends to the will of the people. It is always the church that changes its rules to conform to public opinion. But this is to simply give up having a church, for it is to show that the church is human all too human. The idea now is that if I disagree with God, then God must change his mind, not me. But this is just to say that I am God and that I am the standard of morality. No wonder I can do what I please.  But with the destruction of God and the destruction of objective morality we are left with the idea from Dostoevsky that if God does not exist, everything is permissible. 

This, I think, is where we are now. Everything is permissible as long as I can get away with it. There is no longer any objective basis for any morality I may choose to follow. There is no objective reason why I should do my duty. All that there is, is societal pressure, virtue signalling and the law. But it’s not enough. If I see nothing objective in morality, then really I am left with the position of Macbeth after he has committed murder.

From this instant
There’s nothing serious in mortality.
All is but toys. Renown and grace is dead.
The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees
Is left this vault to brag of.

There is nothing serious for Macbeth because after committing murder there is no question of him acting morally or immorally. For Macbeth everything is permitted. He only has to fear the law. But if everything is permitted for us, having successfully dismissed morality in the past eighty years, we too are in the position of Macbeth. We have murdered morality. All is but toys.

Why obey the law? Because I am scared of being punished. But what if I can get away with it? Why not, for I no longer have any sense of duty. Why risk my life to serve my country? Why be altruistic and kind to others? Why indeed? I threw all of those things out long ago.

Today everyone is encouraged to be a libertine. No-one may be criticised no matter how they fulfil their desire or how often. Why be faithful? In the competition between my duty and my inclination, my inclination will always win, for what can possibly underpin my duty in these circumstances. Anyway, whatever promises I may have made they are only contingent. They are only valid until and unless my inclination tells me to keep them. But the laws that were made to regulate human conduct depended on a morality that no longer exists. The law was clear in 1930 because the morality was clear. Now we are in the position where everything is permitted until it isn’t. It’s as if we all live in one enormous 1960s free love commune, but once in a while the law gets involved because the participants can’t agree or were too drunk to remember what happened. Without morality human relations soon descend into chaos and require oddities of behaviour that Harriet Vane could not have dreamed of. Law eventually becomes nonsensical and unjust when the morality that underpins it is disposed of.

We have a new religion in 2016 and a new conformity. Our religion is called equality. Everything must be equal and all difference must be erased. So long as I conform to this, the net curtains will not twitch and I will be allowed to do everything that I please.  But given that I can do everything that I please in life, don’t be surprised that I do everything that I please in business. What is to stop me? Morality? Well, I’m sorry we abolished that around the same time we abolished God. Pity really. 

Saturday 16 April 2016

Defeating the SNP from first principles

Why are the SNP so popular? Some pro UK people think it’s because people in Scotland have taken leave of their senses. Opponents of the SNP sometimes describe their supporters as deluded fools. But as SNP support keeps going up, it becomes harder to maintain that over half the population of Scotland is less intelligent than the rest. Unless something very odd happens, the SNP are once more going to gain a very large majority at Holyrood. Is this going to happen because of their policies? Is it because they have been running Scotland especially well for the last few years? Is it because their politicians are better than those from the other parties? No. It’s for none of these reasons. Most people recognise that Nicola Sturgeon is a talented politician, but it’s not because of her talent that she draws adoring crowds. It’s because of her patriotism.

The SNP have become the Scottish Patriotic Party. Where I live there’s a little SNP shop that sells framed pictures of Alex Salmond, leaflets, posters and the rest. I’ve never been inside, but even from a distance you can’t miss all the saltires. Along with the SNP kitsch it sells all the other sort of touristy stuff you expect to find on the Royal Mile. It sells flags and mugs and tea towels all of which tell you that if you are Scottish and if you are remotely patriotic you ought to vote for the SNP. This is why the SNP are so popular.

Most of us in Scotland from the youngest age possible can remember it being drilled into us that we are Scottish. I remember as a child having badges saying things like ‘I’m proud to be a Scot’. It was only later that I was able to reflect on the peculiarity of being proud of something I wasn’t responsible for. We’ve always emphasised our difference and our national identity. Many of us on holiday will carefully explain that we are Scottish. Most of us talk about Scotland in the same way that we talk about France or Germany. We do this to such an extent that many people from abroad are surprised to find out that Scotland isn’t an independent sovereign nation state.

The logic of Scottish politics is relentless. It began with the idea that it is unfair that Scotland votes Labour while the rest of the UK votes Tory. From this we demanded a Scottish parliament. But this just increased our sense of separateness and our sense of Scottishness only increased especially as our parliament was so grand and called itself a government. Well if we can have our own parliament why can’t we have our own independent country? Why not indeed? Once you go down the route of making people feel separate, don’t be surprised when they actually do feel separate.

It seems like a distant memory that at one point sometimes Scotland used to vote the same way as the UK. Whenever there was a Labour government, Scots could be happy that they got the government they voted for. Now even that becomes impossible for the simple reason that the SNP doesn’t stand in other parts of the UK. So from now on so long as we vote SNP we can be guaranteed that Scotland won’t get the government of our choice. We can then feel aggrieved about this, for this too is an expression of our patriotism.

At the moment in Scotland we have somewhat less than half of the population who might actually vote for independence. Rather more than this however votes for the SNP. Nearly all Scots though feel patriotic about Scotland. The problem Pro UK people have is that feeling patriotic about Scotland has become a path that will inevitably set you on the route to wanting independence. The logic of this is inexorable. As I’ve pointed out before the argument for independence boils down to the following:

Scotland is a country.
Countries ought to be independent.
Therefore Scotland ought to be independent.

This is why people support the SNP.  What have we got as an answer? Well we all remember the Better Together campaign. It was mainly negative. It involved telling people in Scotland that life wouldn’t be the same if we voted for independence. We wouldn’t get to keep the pound. We wouldn’t etc. etc. This continues. What we hear now is that if Scotland became independent today we would have a massive deficit. This would mean taxes would rise a great deal and spending would fall. No doubt this is all true. The problem however is that it’s a contingent argument. It may not always be true and anyway it doesn’t matter.

What if gold were discovered in the Highlands or if a Scot invented a new form of mobile telephone that was better than the one made by Apple? What if Scotland were making a decent profit? Would that mean that we should now all vote for independence? If our argument against Scottish nationalism depends on contingencies like Scotland always being poor and dependent on money from the UK, we make ourselves a hostage to fortune. In the 1970s Scotland transferred more money to the other parts of the UK than we spent. Who is to say that this will not happen again? Moreover it is as if Pro UK people hope that Scotland remains poor and dependent, for this is the only way we can remain ‘better together’. It’s a rotten argument.

Countries have been willing to fight revolutions and wars to become independent. When enough people feel sufficiently patriotic about their country no negative arguments will prevent them. Patriotism is far more powerful than economics.

The only way to defeat Scottish nationalism is to tell a better story. This is difficult because the SNP now control education. But still we have no choice. We must defeat them from first principles. The argument we make must not be contingent, but rather work always. No one would dream of saying that the United States is ‘better together’. No-one cares if Maine votes Republican but the US as a whole votes Democrat. No-one suggests that it would be a disadvantage economically for California to secede from the Union. All of these arguments are irrelevant. The reason for this is simple, most Americans feel patriotic about the country of which they are citizens. This is the default position for most people wherever they live all over the world.

What is a country? What is a nation? These words are used loosely sometimes. But for most people in most parts of the world, these words are used to describe a sovereign state.

For instance the Oxford English dictionary defines a nation like this:

A country likewise is defined in this way:

Well my political state is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I am a citizen of that state too. I am not a citizen of Scotland. It is simply incorrect to suppose that I am for the simple reason that Scotland is not an independent sovereign state. It is therefore perverse and an attempt to twist language to suggest that the UK is not a country or a nation. The UK is just as much a nation as any of the other countries in Europe that were formed from the joining together of formerly independent countries. Saxony has just as good a claim to being a country as Scotland does. In fact it has a better claim as it was independent enough to be fighting a war against its fellow Germans as recently as 1866. To suppose that there is something unusual about Scotland in the context of European history is to simply display ignorance of the process by which modern European countries were formed. 

I can say that I was born in the UK in just the same way that a German says he was born in Germany. I have a common language with people in the UK in just the same way that an Italian has a common language with other Italians. I have a shared history in just the same way a French person has a shared history with other people from France. We in the UK are one people in just the same way that Poles are one people. Alternatively if Scottish nationalists disagree they are duty bound to point out wherein lies the difference. To do this they must point out a real difference between, for example, Bavaria and Scotland that is not merely linguistic and they must do so without first making the assumption that Scotland is already an independent sovereign nation state. 

Going back to my syllogism, Pro UK people have two choices. You can either argue that Scotland is not a country, or you can argue that not all countries should be independent. There isn’t a third option. If you think that Scotland is a country and countries ought to be independent, then you’ve already joined the SNP. Alternatively you can think Scotland ought not to be independent until we can’t afford it. This amounts to the ‘better together’ argument.

The logic of the argument depends on hiding something. What is contained in the conclusion has to be in the premiss. If that were not so it would be illogical. For example,  Unless we assume 'man' to mean someone who is mortal, we cannot prove that Socrates is mortal from the fact that he is a man. Amusingly the argument for Scottish independence turns out to amount to is this:

Scotland is an independent country.
Independent countries ought to be independent.
Therefore Scotland ought to be independent.

By using the word “country” to imply independence the SNP always includes in its premiss what it wants to include in its conclusion. If independence were not already in the premiss, it could not be derived by the syllogism. Refuting the SNP argument therefore is simply a matter of pointing out that they are assuming what they are trying to prove. Scotland is not a country in the sense that they are implying in their assumption, for it is not an independent country. It is not a political state in the sense that Germany or France is. This is how nearly everyone in the world uses the word ‘country’. While Scotland is called a ‘country’ this is a matter of rather odd usage. It is a sort of archaism derived from the fact that Scotland once was an independent country. But the fact that somewhere once was an independent country does not imply that it is or ought to be so now. If that were the case even Scotland would dissolve into its former constituent parts and places like Germany would become once more a collection of tiny statelets. Once we recognise that the whole of Europe is made up of formerly independent countries, it becomes obvious that not all countries should be independent, namely not all those countries that formerly were independent, but now are not.  For too long the SNP have been allowed to get away with talking about Scotland as if it were already an independent sovereign state. For too long, too many Pro UK people have gone along with this, trying to match the SNP on patriotism. This just makes the SNP’s argument for them. They only have one argument, defeat that and we defeat them. 

In the fullest sense of the word 'country' in the sense in which everyone else in the world uses the world, there is only one country in which we live. It is called the UK. This will remain the case until and unless a part of the UK becomes a sovereign state in its own right. But you cannot become what you already are. The desire that Scotland should become a sovereign, independent state shows that it isn't one now.  The sovereign state is the UK. It is the UK that is at present a member of the EU and at present is a member of the UN. But what follows from this with regard to my feelings? Americans feel loyalty to their nation state. As do Germans, French etc. Well from this it follows that because the UK is my country, then I ought to feel patriotic about it. The argument against Scottish independence becomes simply this. It is unpatriotic. The problem we have in Scotland however is that while nearly all Scots feel patriotic only about Scotland almost none feel patriotic about the UK. It is for this reason that we went down the Better Together route in the first place. 

Too many Scots think of the UK as four countries joined together by a loose relationship rather like the EU. So long as it’s to our advantage to remain in these unions we do so. But these arguments are entirely contingent. What if it ceases to be advantageous to stay in the UK or in the EU? Ought we to leave? What if we could do better on our own?

But the EU is not remotely the same as the UK for the EU is made up of many different peoples. We know that there are many peoples in the EU, because Germans will not transfer money without limit to Greeks, for the simple reason that Greeks are not Germans. On the other hand the SNP has argued that the UK should continue to transfer money to Scotland? Why should people from other parts of the UK do this if we are not one people? By demanding that fiscal transfers continue in the UK, the SNP are acknowledging that we are one people. But to then threaten to break up that people is deeply hypocritical. A currency union that requires fiscal transfers requires a common identity, for otherwise it becomes politically untenable to transfer the money. But given that there is a common identity in the UK , the argument for independence collapses in and of itself. Political union and currency union amount to the same thing in the long run. The SNP's argument that an independent Scotland should keep the pound was self-defeating. Our common language, common history and common identity are the reason that the UK succeeds as a country and a currency union while the Eurozone is in continual turmoil. It succeeds, that is, so long as the SNP doesn't turn Scots into the equivalent of Greeks and English people into the equivalent of Germans. You can indeed turn a common identity into one of enmity so that people who didn't think of themselves as particularly different end up thinking of each other as strangers. There are some wonderful examples of how nationalism can do this in places like Ukraine and Serbia. Better by far that we in the UK continue to think of ourselves as one people. The alternative is far less inviting and far less friendly. 

The EU project will fail because it is trying to create political union between many different peoples who feel no common identity. If they did have a common identity there would be no problem whatsoever in setting up a single currency, complete with fiscal transfers. Even as the EU has attempted to move closer together politically and monetarily it has made next to no progress on creating a common European identity. This identity would only really be possible if we all spoke the same language at least in the work place. The fact is though that the common identity within Frances is far stronger than between France and Germany. Until and unless that changes the EU will lack the defining qualities of both a nation and a country. But trying to create a political union that lacks the one thing necessary for its success means that either it will fail or it will be held together by force. It's not accidental therefore that the EU decision making tends to be undemocratic. It's not accidental that it tends to ignore the votes and wishes of the various peoples that make up the EU. The EU project could not succeed if it depended on the consent of the peoples of Europe and so does not depend on it. The EU is good for us whether we like it or not. It is for this reason that the whole EU establishment is coming out so strongly against Brexit. Just this once we have a choice. For the sake of everyone in Europe who doesn't have a choice we must must show that there is an alternative to being in the EU.  

The UK is a nation, a country and a people and the fundamental quality of being such a thing is that we are not subordinate to anyone else. Our laws should not be subordinate to the laws of the EU, for this is to diminish what we are. The argument for leaving the EU then becomes simply a matter of defending our status as a free, sovereign nation state. It has nothing whatsoever to do with economics, or whether we are better off in the EU or not. All these things are contingent and subject to change. Our country on the other hand has existed for centuries and fought many wars to defend our freedom. Luckily this time we can fully regain our sovereignty simply by ticking a box. 

Once we realise that the UK is our country and the place about which we ought to feel patriotic then the reason why the the SNP dominates Scottish politics becomes clear. It is as if someone from Massachusetts hated the United States and felt only patriotic about his own state because it was a 'commonwealth'. It's as if people in Fife hated Scotland and loved only Fife because it was a 'kingdom'. Fife may be called a 'kingdom', but it lacks the defining quality of being a kingdom, because it doesn't have a king. In the same way Scotland lacks the defining quality of being a country because it is not independent. The fundamental basis for the SNP's massive support is that Scotland is treated by both supporters and opponents of Scottish independence as if it already were an independent country. This simply makes their argument for them. The key is not to agree with the SNP's error, but to refute it. Far too many Scots from all parties, far too many people who think of themselves as opposed to independence have forgotten the fact that the UK is our country. If we all felt about the UK like Americans feel about the USA we would have no problem with Scottish nationalism, nor for that matter would there be any question that we'd vote to leave the EU. No American that I've ever heard of would subordinate his country to anything or anyone for the simple reason that it would be unpatriotic to do so. 

Saturday 9 April 2016

Getting out of the burning building

There is an establishment in British politics. What I mean by this is that there is a political consensus, for I don’t want to personify the word ‘establishment’ in a way that is not true. It may be that at one time there was a group of powerful people sitting in a room somewhere that pulled the strings of whichever government was in power, but even that idea seems just a trifle paranoid. What there is however is the idea that certain things are done and certain things are just not done. Here are a few examples.

Whenever the Americans want to invade someone else’s country, it’s OK simply for the reason that they want to. Because it’s OK, the UK has to support them. If we didn’t we’d lose influence. For this reason the UK has to spend lots and lots of money on our armed forces, not so much so that we can defend our island, but so that we can do what American presidents tell us to do. Our armed forces in fact have not been used to defend our island since around 1941 and there has been no credible threat of a nation state invading us for decades. Nevertheless, we must describe our armed forces as defence event though they are never used to defend. The countries we attack however are no threat to us whatsoever. The idea of Afghanistan attempting to invade the UK with armed forces becomes faintly comical when we reflect that landlocked countries usually lack a navy.

But the threat, of course, is not from nation states, but from failed states that export terrorism. Here again we come up against the establishment. Whenever there are attempts to overthrow dictators, whenever there are people demonstrating in the street, whenever there is ‘spring’ in the air, we must support the revolutionaries. The Americans are convinced that all revolutions lead to peace, love and democracy and so they keep interfering in the world in order to make it better. But look at the results of their interference in the past decades. Libya is in a worse state than it was. Afghanistan is worse. Ukraine is worse. Syria is worse. Meanwhile the threat from terrorism has never been higher.

The establishment thinks that we can stop terrorism by attacking the countries where terrorists come from, while doing next to nothing to stop people from those countries traveling here. Ludicrously we are supposed to believe that Iraq or Afghanistan or whoever intend to wage war against our island, when in fact there is next to no terrorist threat at all from people living in any of these countries, but only from those living in ours. You actually have to be in the UK to carry out a terrorist attack, you can’t very easily do it from abroad.

The establishment pretends that the UK must live within its means, but always acts so that we spend more than we earn. We are promised that sometime in the future the UK will make a profit, but that future is like the end of the rainbow, as you approach it you find there’s no pot of gold just more debt. Meanwhile we borrow money to give to other countries. This act of 'generosity' both increases our own debt, while at the same time hindering those who we supposedly help by making them dependent on us, thus making them less self-reliant and ever more in need of our aid. This process makes the establishment feel virtuous, increases their influence in the world, while harming the prospects both of those at home and abroad.  If anyone questions this method of running our finances, they are told that there is nothing that can be done. We have to continually increase our spending here there and everywhere, for if the music stops and anyone ever realises that we all owe each other debts we can never pay back, then we'll have to go back to bartering with shells for no-one will trust money ever again. But according to the establishment this is the only way we can run our country’s finances. After all the USA has debts that it can never pay back, so has Japan. It's a select club for the elite. We would lose prestige if we ever attempted to earn more than we spend.  

We are lectured by the establishment that we must pay our taxes and that we must run our businesses honestly. But these rules don’t apply to them. If I have a business that makes a loss and has debts that are overwhelming, it will go bust and I’ll lose everything. If I do anything remotely crooked in a desperate attempt to save my business, I will go to jail. But if I am rich enough and part of the establishment, everything will be fine. The same rules don’t apply.

Big businesses being propped up and bailed out by governments is not how free markets are supposed to work. In that case they are neither free, nor are they even really markets. When the financial crisis struck, my first instinct was that the banks should be allowed to fail. Perhaps this was na├»ve of me. Maybe it was necessary to bail out banks that could have brought down our country. Opinion is divided on this issue. Still even if we did need to bail out some banks in the short term, it didn’t follow that we had to be quite so generous about it. Those people whose behaviour led to the economic crisis ought not to have profited by it. Some of those people ought to have gone to jail. We should have learned from our mistakes such that these banks could never hold our country to ransom again. Have any of these things happened? No, because the establishment looks after its own and the rules and disciple of the market only apply to people who can’t afford to have a bank accounts in Panama. It would be far too risky for members of the establishment to be involved in anything as vulgar as a market where you can win or lose. Better by far to rig it so that they can’t lose. Only we can lose.

The establishment tells us that we have the best health service in the world. It’s the UK’s national religion now that almost no-one believes in God. It equally depends on faith that contradicts the scientific evidence. It also depends on the fact that most Brits have never lived abroad. I've lived abroad. Let me tell you healthcare is better in Russia than in the UK. There, if I need to have my wisdom teeth out, I arrange an appointment for some time next week rather than next year. Treatment in Russia is not only a little better, it’s much better. This is despite the fact that Russia is vastly less wealthy than the UK. The treatment usually involves a detailed examination and seeing a specialist involves does not involve being put on a waiting list. The concept of a waiting list for health is met with bafflement. The reason for this is simple, Russians don’t spend all their time telling themselves that they have the best health service in the world.

Why do Russians receive better treatment than Brits? The reason for this is that doctors in Russia earn more than average, but not that much more. They’re well off, but they don’t expect to earn what oligarchs earn. In Britain, on the other hand, we decided because doctors were saints we’d pay them what merchant bankers earn. This means that they can afford their Porsche Cayenne even if they only work three days a week. It also means that we can’t afford to employ doctors and so we have to wait. This though can’t be changed because doctors are now rich enough to be part of the establishment and so we must continue to believe that they are saints while their assistants are angels. We must believe this because everyone in every political party tells us that it is so. 

The NHS sucks in ever more resources and uses those resources ever more inefficiently. Socialism doesn’t work and neither does a health system invented by socialists. But too many NHS salaries depend on keeping a shortage of doctors, rather than training more. Too many vested interests tell us that nothing can be done.  Instead of looking at examples from all around Europe where everyone gets free health care paid for in a variety of ways and thinking about what we could do better, we prefer the myth that our way is best. The establishment has told the British people that our NHS is perfect and so the people agree. ‘Mustn’t grumble’ they say as they are put on another waiting list.

The final establishment view that everyone must believe is that the UK must remain part of the EU. In Scotland this is so much the establishment view that there is hardly any dissent at all. Even many people who think of themselves as opposed to the SNP think the EU is far more important than the UK. They thus make their support of the UK conditional, which can barely be described as support at all. But then the Scottish establishment has always been soft on Scottish nationalism. They agree with the SNP that it's a problem if Scotland votes to stay in the EU while the UK doesn't. For years they have been making the SNP's argument for them. How awful that the UK votes for a Tory Government while virtuous Scotland votes for someone else. No wonder their supporters deserted them for the SNP. The Scottish establishment in effect told them to do so and thereby destroyed itself. From the ashes rose the yellow thistle of the SNP. Absurdly this new establishment wants Scotland to leave one union (the UK) but remain in another (the EU) which has the aim of creating a political union which will in time abolish this newly won Scottish independence. But at least we won't be ruled by Westminster.  

William Hague famously described the Euro as a burning building without any exits. But he was wrong. It’s the EU itself that’s the burning building. But even though it’s burning we must believe the establishment when they tell us that it is far too dangerous to go outside. But if it was so dangerous to go into this building, why did we do so all those years ago? If leaving the EU would be such a catastrophe why did they set up such a dangerous club in the first place? Shouldn’t we have been warned? What could have turned all those Eurosceptics like William Hague into Europhiles? It’s quite simple. Eventually when you are part of the establishment for long enough you just go native. Finally the civil service mandarins grind you down. The foreign office careerists continual worry about loss of influence becomes too much to bear. You begin to think what purpose would there be in life if there was a big European summit and I wasn’t there. At this point you realise that you’re in the building, it’s on fire, but that the most dangerous thing you could possibly do is to pick up the hatchet and chop your way out.

Politics for me is about the possibility of change. But in Britain there is a political establishment that says that nothing can be done. We want to deport some person who hates us. Sorry you can’t do that. We are told that the population of Britain will top seventy-five million, then eighty million. Sorry there’s nothing to be done to stop that happening. We’re told that you now will have to work until your something like eighty-five before getting your pension. That’s just the way the world works. After all someone’s got to pay back the debts and it sure won’t be members of the establishment.

The root of this idea that nothing can be done is always the EU. It’s being in the EU that means that we can’t control our own borders. It’s the EU that means that our laws and our politicians are subordinate to the will of unelected bureaucrats. It’s the EU that stops us doing what we need to do to make our country better. We won’t change the direction of our country with one vote. The political establishment will remain. But this is our one chance of telling them that we the people are really in charge and we want to get our country back. If you’re happy with the political establishment by all means vote to stay in the EU. That’s what they want too. They are so desperate that nothing will harm their power and their influence that they will say and do anything to make you vote to remain in the EU. The establishment can always come up with gruesome stories to prevent anyone doing what is contrary to their interests. How else could they have remained the establishment for so long? 

But if you want to make one small step that might bring a little bit of power back to us, then vote to leave. It won’t finish the journey of bringing democracy back to Britain, but it will be the first step in the right direction. We don’t get this sort of chance to vote for change often.  Indeed it may not come again. Make sure you grab it, or else regret it. Remember, if you vote to stay in the EU you will have forever lost your right to complain about both the EU and our political lords and masters. You will have chosen to remain in the burning building when you still had the chance to get out. 

Saturday 2 April 2016

Hatred of Tories is prejudice

There’s something rotten at the heart of Scottish politics. We have our own parliament with extensive powers, including the ability to raise or lower taxes. This parliament may not be enough for some. It may be too much for others. But it is a reasonable compromise between Scottish independence and British unity. Our population is deeply split. A devolved parliament with the power to change Scotland one way or the other may be the best chance we’re ever going to get to give everybody some of what they want.  It’s a sort of power sharing arrangement between those who want independence and those who don’t. Pushing the arrangement too far one way or the other may be a very poor strategy indeed for anyone who wants a degree of unity in Scotland.

The SNP have been in power since 2007. Yet the debate isn’t about their record in government. Instead it's about something completely irrelevant. Nicola Sturgeon's argument against Labour is that they campaigned together with the Tories during the Scottish independence referendum. Her argument against the Lib Dems is that they were in a coalition with the Conservatives. Her argument against the Tories is that they exist.

It is highly unlikely that the Tories will win power in Scotland. Of course, everyone must campaign as if they had a chance and polls cannot be trusted. But it would take something close to a miracle for Ruth Davidson to be the next first minister. Her party just might come second and that would be a brilliant result to build on. So why make such an issue about whether Labour or the Lib Dems once cooperated with the Tories? What has that to do with how we run Scotland?

There are three great hatreds in Scotland. The first is hatred of English people. The second is sectarian hatred. The third is hatred of Tories. All three of these hatreds diminish all of us. But the third hatred is, if anything, more toxic than the first two. Most of us agree that it is wrong to hate someone because he comes from England or because he follows the Catholic or Protestant version of Christianity. But astonishingly it is perfectly acceptable to hate Tories. It’s so acceptable indeed that this hatred goes right to the top of Scottish politics. Listen to the way Nicola Sturgeon says the word “Tory”. It’s as if she couldn’t think of a worse insult to call someone. There is loathing in the way she says the word, there is contempt. This is all quite deliberate because she knows that her support depends on hatred of Tories. The SNP is now the anti-Tory party. She encourages this prejudice against Tories for party political ends. She fans the flames of hatred and keeps it going for she knows that then no-one will much think about her party’s actual record in government.

I don’t dislike the word “Tory”. I use it about myself and am happy for others to use it about me. But I dislike it being used as a term of abuse. I dislike it being spoken in a way that implies contempt for me and what I believe. Why am I a Tory? This is partly because of my experience living in a socialist country and the stories I heard about the 1930s where members of my family were sent to the Gulag because they were from the nobility and had the wrong sort of surname. I’ve experienced the way socialism doesn't work at first hand. I believe that it can only succeed by forcibly changing human nature. I also believe that it makes society poorer, both economically and in terms of freedom of the individual. Capitalism is imperfect, but free markets are our best indeed only chance to raise the standard of living of everyone. I care about poverty just as much as anyone else in Scotland. The cohesion of society depends on government helping the poorest, but the long term viability of our country also depends on our living within our means. Therefore we sometimes have to make tough choices about public spending. 

I don’t agree with every policy of the present Conservative party, but I agree with the following principle: Virtue depends on freedom of choice. The Left would make us ‘virtuous’ by means of law, while the Right would allow us the freedom to follow our own conscience. The Left therefore fundamentally is about destroying morality by making it obsolete and turning it into a matter of coercion.  The Left’s goal of equality can only be achieved by forcing some people to give up what they have and giving it to others. The Right on the other believes in the individual and makes morality a matter of my choice. I can after all give all I have to the poor without anyone compelling me to do so. That’s the difference. It's that choice and that alone that makes an action virtuous. 

I disagree with socialism and nationalism. I’ve seen what these two ideologies can do. I’ve seen how they lead to poverty, hatred and war. I have more reason to hate socialists that nearly all Scots have to hate Tories. But I hate no-one. Hatred only damages the person who hates. I disagree with my political opponents and try to put forward reasons for why I disagree with them. But the reason I debate is that I want to hear good arguments that can be made against mine. When I write something I believe it to be true, but I know that my ideas will only evolve if they are countered. But this can only happen if I respect opponents. If I think of them with hatred, my own ideas would simply be dogmatic. That is the greatest danger that Scotland faces. Many nationalists are so consumed with hatred for Tories that they are unwilling even to consider the possibility that Conservatives might actually have some good ideas sometimes. It’s this close-mindedness that is so harmful. It is the fertile ground in which prejudice can grow. 

The SNP use two things to deflect attention from their record in government. They continually work their supporters up into with talk about independence, while at the same time emphasising their hated Tories. Once this is done, there’s next to no time left to talk about the SNP’s own record on healthcare, education, the police and all the other things they control. The Tories in fact have had next to no influence on Scottish life for years. Mr Cameron couldn’t influence policy on Scottish healthcare, education, or the police if he tried. The SNP want power without responsibility. They want always to be able to blame the hated Tories, even if when it is they who control something. When did you last come across a self-critical SNP politician? When did the SNP last admit to making a mistake? But to blame someone else for your own mistakes is a very typical prejudice. It's all the fault of the ... (insert whichever group you dislike). This has a very long history and a very ugly one indeed. 

The SNP think that it was wrong for Labour to share a platform with the Tories even though they agreed that the UK should remain united. Ms. Sturgeon refuses to share a platform with David Cameron, even though she agrees that the UK should remain part of the EU. On the whole I dislike the idea that we shouldn’t share a platform with someone just because we have different views, but I can see that this might be justified in the case of real extremism. But it is pure and simple prejudice to suggest that the Conservative party in the UK are extremists. It is completely unjustified to treat them as if they were fascists. Whether or not you agree with the Conservatives you have to acknowledge that they have significant support across the UK and in Scotland too. We are not extremists. We hold views that are similar to other centre-right parties throughout the world. If Nicola Sturgeon thinks it wrong to share a platform with David Cameron, she ought to think that it would be wrong to share one with Angela Merkel or Nicolas Sarkozy. They two lead mainstream centre right parties just like Mr Cameron does. My guess is that Sturgeon would gush if she ever got to meet Angela Merkel. So why the difference in treatment?

It was in no way wrong for the Lib Dems to go into coalition with the Conservatives. They put country before party and did an excellent job under difficult circumstances. It is a good thing when political parties cooperate and learn from each other. Nicola Sturgeon thinks that she can persuade Lib Dem voters to desert their party solely because of prejudice against Tories. Unfortunately she may be right.

Many people vote for the SNP because they think this is the way to bring socialism to Scotland. But look at the SNP’s record. They have successfully destroyed the Labour party in Scotland. But now that they have the power to change how Scotland is run economically they choose to simply follow what the Conservatives are doing in London. The SNP could raise taxes and redistribute the money raised to the poor. Nothing is stopping them doing this. But instead they will more or less follow what George Osborne does in this budget and no doubt the next also. The SNP priority at the moment is keeping the Scottish middle classes happy. How then can we describe the SNP as a political party? Beyond their desire for independence (nationalism) what do they believe? They believe in power and they know that power lies in the centre, even the centre right. The difference between the Tories and the SNP is actually quite small. They work together reasonably amicably and cooperate on issues that they have in common such as coming up with an arrangement for UK central government funding. The SNP’s hatred of Tories then really does look like prejudice as to a great extent they actually agree with them.

The political identity of far too many Scots is founded on an unwarranted hatred. Hating people who you have never met, because of their beliefs is obviously prejudice. It is quite simply wrong. Hating views that are held by ordinary people throughout the UK is likewise prejudice. My views are sincerely held. They have developed over a number of years through discussion and thought. By all means disagree with my views, but let's debate amicably and accept that we are all sincere. To discover that huge numbers of Scots hate my political views is as disturbing as if they hated my following the teachings of the Russian Orthodox Church. Unfortunately this hatred, this prejudice comes from the very top of Scottish politics. It’s not only acceptable to hate people because they are Tories, it’s obligatory. Far too many Scots use language about Tories, that they would not dare to use about any minority.  Apparently we are evil and the scum of the earth and this justifies all hatred. But Tories are also a minority in Scotland, indeed we are the only minority in Scotland who can be hated with impunity. This above all is poisoning Scottish politics and hindering genuine debate. All of the ideals that people like Nicola Sturgeon pretend to have about equality, fairness and creating a welcoming, friendly Scotland founder because she is herself consumed with hatred of Tories. It’s unacceptable, it’s bigoted and it has to stop.