Saturday 28 May 2016

Rome shall perish

I’m naturally a pessimist. I sometimes try to write in an uplifting way as if to encourage the troops. The moral, after all, is to the physical as three to one. But it’s generally me who needs encouraging most of all. I fully expected the SNP to gain a majority in the Scottish parliament. I didn’t even consider that the Conservatives could possibly come second. I was sure that in last year’s general election there would be a hung parliament and that the SNP would have a place in a Labour cabinet. Let’s just say then that my ability to predict is dismal. But then which of us knows what is going to happen next week, let alone next year? How many of the surprising events of the last five years did you guess? We can’t even predict the weather with any accuracy. The best weather forecast is and will always be the act of looking out of the window. So if you are one of those who still remain optimistic about a win for Brexit in June, feel free to discount my prediction. Of course anything is possible. But my guess is that unless something very odd happens the UK will vote to remain. I also think that it won’t matter.

In William Cowper’s poem Boadicea: An Ode he imagines the British warrior queen on the verge of defeat to the Roman legions. A druid, who has a better ability to predict the future than I do, tells her that defeat at the Battle of Watling Street will in time become a victory.  Somehow he can see what Britain is destined to become and so in the long run dominance by the Roman Empire is merely a temporary setback.

Can it be accidental that the founding document of the European Union is the Treaty of Rome? The first Roman Empire was run by the Caesars. The second was described as neither Holy nor Roman nor an Empire, but still managed to rule central Europe from 800 to 1806. The third Roman Empire began in 1957. It will fall much quicker than either of the first two, no matter what we in Britain decide.

‘Rome shall perish—write that word        
  In the blood that she has spilt;       
Perish, hopeless and abhorred,                  
  Deep in ruin as in guilt.

The third attempt to establish Pax Romani in Europe is not bringing Europeans closer together. It is creating division and hatred. Far from preventing war, the European Union by its meddling created conflict in Ukraine where previously there had been peace. The European Union ought to have realised that Russia like every country has strategic red lines. The idea that Russia would allow the cradle of Russian civilization and a place where huge numbers of Russian speakers still live to join a hostile bloc is naïve. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, Russia was always bound to respond.  

The European Union is likewise in part responsible for the breakup of Yugoslavia and the fact that this country dissolved itself by means of war and genocide. It was once more, the promise of joining the European Union that encouraged secessionists in Yugoslavia. It was the fact that the European Union thought that it could manage the conflict which led to it escalating so horribly.

Above all it was the attempt to extend the borders of the European Union right up to Russia that has created the New Cold War that we are experiencing today. The fall of communism need not have been accomplished bloodlessly. This happened only because the Soviet Union chose not to fight it. A few machine gun bullets would have stopped the fall of the Berlin Wall in five minutes flat. It took something of a miracle for communism not to end in war. But that miracle only happened because the West promised the Soviet Union that we would not try to take over the Warsaw Pact and would not destroy the strategic buffer zone Russia bought with so many lives in World War Two.  The EU broke that promise and is itself the source of a potential conflict with Russia. Either it should have allowed Russia to join the EU in 1991 or it should have gone no further east than the Oder. Leaving Russia isolated and feeling threatened is no more wise than encircling Germany in the years leading up to World War One.  

Within the EU we now have a huge gulf between the wealthy North and the poor South. Countries like Greece, Italy and Spain have seen their young people impoverished by unemployment or forced to flee abroad. The European Union’s attempt to create a single currency is directly responsible for a great deal of suffering in these countries. Far from creating European unity, the Euro has only created resentment between those who have debts they cannot pay and those who lent the money and are determined to get it back at any cost. This cannot long continue. Either the Eurozone becomes a single federal nation state with fiscal transfers from the richer parts to the poorer parts or at some point someone is going break free and establish their own currency again. It won’t be Greece. It probably won’t be Italy. But who?

‘Rome, for empire far renowned,     
  Tramples on a thousand states;     
Soon her pride shall kiss the ground—     
  Hark! the Gaul is at her gates!

The French are very close to rebellion. It is not the French role to be quite so subservient to Germany. History always repeats itself. The Gaul at the gates is not this time called Le Brenn, but rather Le Pen. Perhaps this is why everyone is so keen that the UK doesn’t leave the EU. It might just provide the example that France is looking for.

We can already see the seeds of the destruction of the European Union. It may be destroyed by another debt crisis. But if that doesn’t do it, the crisis in the Schengen zone will. Last year Angela Merkel appointed herself Holy Roman Empress and decided to open Europe’s gates to all comers. In this she went contrary to the whole current of European history, which is the struggle to defend Europe’s borders. If there is one thing that has united Europeans for more than a thousand years it is the defence of Christendom. Without that there would be no Europe today, for we would have lost all the battles that kept our rather arbitrary little continent intact.

Merkel’s rash and unilateral decision had consequences for everyone. But here there was the first rebellion against Roman rule. The Hungarians built fences. The Poles refused to accept that the demographic makeup of Poland would change. The attempt by the European Union to bring down borders has already failed. They will go up again whenever they are required.

With hindsight it was obvious years earlier that communism would fall. But no-one at the time guessed that it would happen quite so soon. There were contradictions in the Soviet Union, but it was far more stable than the European Union is today.

The British rebellion may well fail. But it won’t matter. We will have to wait far less than Boadicea did. It may even be that defeat now will in the long run be better for us strategically. We will have a say in how the third Roman Empire collapses and we may be able to help it on its way. There will come a time when those who want the EU Empire to continue will deeply regret that their threats bound us to them.

Long term a defeat now is merely tactical. We too can look forward to a time when the third Roman Empire will be no more. It will happen no matter which way we vote. So if there is to be a defeat, let’s not worry about it, let’s get on with our lives knowing that we’ve suffered defeat before only to triumph in the end. There’s something peculiarly British about our celebration of defeat. It’s because we always win in the end.  Boadicea knew this, for unlike me she could predict what would happen centuries into the future.

‘Ruffians, pitiless as proud,   
  Heaven awards the vengeance due:
Empire is on us bestowed,     
  Shame and ruin wait for you.’

Quite soon historians will look back on the third attempt to create a Roman Empire and they will wonder at the sorrow and the pity of it all. Let us only hope that when it dissolves it does so in a measured and orderly way. It is no more possible now than it was at the time of the Caesars to unite people who speak such a variety of languages and who think of themselves as fundamentally different. The contradiction inherent in the project was there from the start and therefore from the moment they signed the Treaty of Rome it was already doomed. The prophecy from two thousand years ago remains just as valid. Rome will perish. It may be this year. It may be next year or we may have to wait a little longer. But be patient. The EU is as undemocratic as the House of Lords. Everyone with power in the EU is appointed rather than elected. But unlike the House of Lords the EU has the power to make terrible mistakes like Schengen and the Euro.  We can leave them too it. The third Roman empire will fall by its own folly.

Saturday 21 May 2016

Referendums are a threat to our democracy

Somewhere in Rousseau’s Social Contract is the idea that the whole electorate should vote on everything all the time. This would, of course, have been unworkable even in an eighteenth century city state. If the whole population were to spend every day governing the country, who would do any work? But now, such a model of direct democracy is perfectly possible. Everyone has access to a computer or a mobile telephone. We could be asked every day to decide on the various issues of the day. During the evening news we could be asked to key in our choice. If you want to leave the EU push the red button. If you want to remain push the green button.  There is nothing technically preventing us from having such a direct democracy. We could abolish elections and politicians tomorrow and let the people as a whole decide everything.

Would such a model of democracy work? I have no idea. As far as I know it hasn’t been tried anywhere. The closest is somewhere like Switzerland, perhaps not coincidentally Rousseau’s homeland. The Swiss continually have referendums. The threshold for calling one is small.  Power is devolved to each Canton. Central government is limited. The Swiss are prosperous and free. But a model of democracy that works for one place, doesn’t necessarily work for another.

There’s always a tendency for people who think about politics to look at other countries and think couldn’t we be more like them. Couldn’t we be more like Norway or Sweden ask some people. Couldn’t we be more like the United States ask others. But really the political culture of each country is a product of its history and the nature of its people. Scotland, for instance, could only become like Norway if you transplanted the whole of the Norwegian population to Scotland. The United Kingdom could only mimic the politics of the United States if we had a frontier, cowboys and an endless space that was our manifest destiny to fill.

Our democracy is a product of our history. It is the story of a Celtic pre-Roman people being gradually transformed and coming together as an Anglo-Saxon people. It is the story of Magna Carta and the gradual limiting of kings. It is the story of Parliament at first only for the few but then for the many. Britain does everything gradually, but we do it first. We abolished our serfs hundreds of years before most of Europe. We developed free markets, free trade and industrialisation when other European countries were stuck in the middle ages. Everyone else had revolutions but we did not. Better by far that parliament guided our gradual progress.

We think sometimes that democracy is such a little thing. We fondly imagine that places that have never known it can adopt democratic ways in an instant. But how many centuries did it take us from the first stirrings of democracy to universal suffrage? Seven, perhaps eight. Yet we expect Russia that had slavery until 1861 and an absolute monarch until 1917, to be able to somehow be fully democratic in twenty five years. We think China that has never known democracy can become one instantly without bringing with it chaos. We imagine that countries in the Middle East if only they could overthrow tyranny would embrace liberal democracy. But how can they when they have no tradition of accepting democratic defeat?

The greatest threat to democracy is not that it is indirect, but that people refuse to accept the result.  Democracy perishes when people demonstrate against a democratically elected government or when the military intervenes and decides the people made the wrong choice.

For centuries in Britain we accepted the result of elections with barely a murmur. But lately that has begun to change. This began during the long years of Conservative rule from 1979-1997. Labour’s disappointment at losing UK general elections became such that they decided they wanted to at least rule where they did win. Their refusal to accept the will of the British people has had long term consequences for our democracy. It has given birth to the idea that you don’t have to accept the result.

Since then we have had perhaps the worst instance of failure to accept a democratic vote in our history. In Scotland we had a referendum on Scottish independence. Prior to the decision I believed it would be decisive and would solve the issue once and for all. I think everyone on both sides thought this. The referendum decided nothing. Those who were disappointed by the result didn’t wait even a day before beginning their campaign for a second referendum. But failure to accept the will of the people is what makes democracy so hard to maintain in countries like Zimbabwe and Egypt.

Now we have another referendum on the EU. It is likewise very divisive. It has taken huge amounts of energy. People have worried about the result and it has had real world effects on our economy. Some people are already saying that they won’t accept the result, but will campaign for another referendum if they lose. What is the point?

I have been campaigning for the UK to leave the EU. But for me it’s a question of balance. There are things about the EU I quite like. I have some worries about leaving. But I think the scare stories are exaggerated. But I don’t know the truth. When I weigh up the pros and cons, I don’t know for sure what is a pro and what is a con. I can’t see into the future and I don’t know for sure what would happen if we left the EU nor indeed if we remain. But for the sake of our democracy I will accept the result, whatever it is. I expect at the moment that the Leave side will lose. But even if we lose by one vote, let that be decisive.

I fear I am in a minority on this. I fear that even if Remain wins well, there will still be political parties campaigning for the UK to leave the EU.  I can’t imagine UKIP giving up and ceasing to exist. I can’t imagine many Conservatives giving up the idea of Brexit.

It’s time to think again. For centuries our democracy had no such thing as a referendum. Indirect democracy worked for us. We had elections and we let those we chose rule.  There was no referendum on whether we should fight the First World War, nor the Second World War. Parliament decided that women should get the vote and huge numbers of other vital matters. Let Parliament be sovereign and let it decide all these matters.

During the present campaign I’ve long thought that Mr Cameron knows something that we don’t. I can’t believe he is using such scare tactics, unless there is some threat that he knows that he can’t say. If not then his scare stories are simply dishonourable.

But the main advantage of indirect democracy is this. We elect people who are better informed than the electorate. We elect people to make choices for us, because we hope they may have access to information that is either secret or too complex for the electorate as a whole to understand. We wouldn’t want the electorate as a whole to decide whether interest rates should rise, because the matter is difficult and requires specialist knowledge.

Direct democracy is perfectly possible. We could go further than we do at present and have referendums every day on all sorts of issues. But it would not make Britain more stable. Quite the reverse. Would we really want the people as a whole sitting at their computer terminals to decide if we should bail out a bank or even go to war? Well once we accept the benefits of indirect democracy, why not accept that referendums are themselves problematic.

It is becoming ever more clear that referendums are divisive and that they do not decisively decide issues. Well if that is the case then we ought not to have them. Let us decide once and for all that Parliament is sovereign and Parliament decides. On all constitutional matters whether it is Scottish independence or leaving the EU, let it be the case that the whole of the UK decides at a General Election. After all it was the UK Government that decided that Ireland could be independent, but that Northern Ireland could remain. Let us abolish referendums in the UK. They are a threat to our democracy. 

Saturday 14 May 2016

Destroying the SNP’s dream

The SNP’s failure to win an overall majority in Holyrood was a setback for them and their cause. It will be very hard indeed for Scottish nationalists to push for a second independence referendum in the next five years. Importantly, in the present context, this is the case even if the UK as a whole decides to vote to leave the EU. If that happened there is no question that the SNP would complain and kick up a fuss. But there would be very little that they could do. They just don’t have the numbers. Too few Scots support independence at the moment and the Scottish economy is too dependent on subsidy from the UK.

Despite all the scare stories it remains the case that leaving the EU would be relatively straightforward for the UK. All we would have to do is revert to the norm. Most nation states in the world are like Australia, Japan, Iceland and Switzerland. These countries trade freely with the rest of the world, but their own parliaments are supreme. The laws these parliaments make are not subordinate to the laws made by unelected bureaucrats. They don’t allow countries they trade with to tell them what to do. Fundamentally, Brexit supporters are simply saying that the UK can become once more what we had been for centuries until we joined the then Common Market.  The scare stories from our opponents amount to the claim that the UK cannot revert to being a country like Australia. In the end what’s scary about being like Australia? Nothing at all.

The thing that makes Brexit relatively straightforward is that the UK already is a nation state. The arguments that were used in the Scottish independence referendum against Scottish nationalism simply do not apply. Guess what if the UK leaves the EU we get to keep the pound.

No-one knows anything about economics in the short term. Almost no-one predicted the 2008 economic crisis. We cannot predict what will happen to the UK economy in the next twelve months let alone the next twenty years. The future has not happened yet. What happens depends on things we cannot control, but also to an extent on the choices that we make. There will be a recession some time relatively soon if we leave the EU. But there will also be a recession if we stay. We know this because recessions are cyclical. All you can do is make sound economic decisions for the long term.

The core EU countries share a single currency. In the next few years they will face a choice. Either the Eurozone will become something like a single nation state or it will break up. Currency union requires political union and fiscal union. Money has to be transferred from the richer parts of the union to the poorer parts. At the moment the Eurozone simply isn’t working. Countries like Italy have had to endure long term recession with no hope of finding growth. The idea that leaving the EU causes recession is preposterous. The EU itself is a recession machine.

In order to work properly the Eurozone will have to come much closer together and gain a federal structure. Alternatively it could break up. No-one knows which of these two options will happen. My guess is that the Eurozone will become something like a single federal nation state. Breaking up would be too traumatic. We learned that last summer. If Grexit were going to happen, it would have already happened.

The Eurozone is going to have to make some tough decisions in any event. German tax payers are going to have to pay for Italian debts. Naturally they don’t want to. They would far rather that the UK had to pay too. It is for this reason that staying in the EU is a long term threat to the UK. There are benefits of sharing a single currency, but we don’t share them, yet even so we will end up paying the cost of Eurozone unification.

The only way the Eurozone countries can gain political union is if the majority can overrule the minority. The idea that the UK can remain in the EU while not sharing the costs of political union is to misunderstand the nature of the EU. Whatever guarantees are made turn out to be worthless a few years down the line. What’s more there will be nothing we can do, because we will be outvoted. If we choose to remain in the EU, we choose to make our laws and our parliament subordinate.

Likewise we don’t share the benefits of being in the Schengen zone. Recently we have been discovering that there are costs too. The EU cannot control its external borders. If at some point in the future the EU decides that everyone has to take their share of those who take advantage of the EU’s open border policy, what will we be able to do to stop this? Nothing at all. By choosing to remain in the EU we choose in the end to be outvoted on anything and everything. That’s what political union means.

The EU is one crisis away from moving decisively towards political union. That crisis may come with the next global recession, which cannot be far off now. The reason for all the scare stories by the global establishment is that they fear that Brexit would give an example to countries like Italy and Spain. What they fear is that the UK shows that there is life outside the EU and indeed that it is better.

But Brexit might also be of huge benefit to the EU. In the next few years while they try to come closer together, what is going to be their stumbling block? It will be the UK. It’s hard to imagine a UK government being pleased at being outvoted. It's equally hard to imagine the British people being grateful that we have to do things we don’t want to do for the sake of European unity. But if we were not there, if we were not always a hindrance, it is possible to imagine the European project succeeding.

Once you understand what the EU is going to become, then the result of last week’s Scottish parliament election becomes ever more important. The crucial thing is that there is no longer a threat that Scotland will try to leave the UK if we vote to leave the EU. Pro UK Scots can then vote for Brexit knowing that the SNP can do nothing about it.

But won’t this just store up a grievance for the future? Well it’s not as if the SNP will cease having a grievance in any event. But it’s vital to realise that leaving the EU makes Scottish independence must harder to realise. If you don’t believe me then perhaps you will believe this from the site Wings over Scotland.

It’s not accidental that the SNP has for a long time supported the EU. The reason fundamentally is that it makes independence more palatable and less of a shock. The whole SNP argument is that independence would be a relatively minor change. All of the things that we like about the UK would continue, but Scotland would be independent. This can be described as independence light. If on the other hand it turns out that we would be voting for independence heavy, the likelihood of the SNP winning the argument becomes much smaller. If the UK leaves the EU Scottish independence becomes very heavy indeed.

I have made this point on a number of occasions, but it’s worth reiterating. Imagine five years from now. The UK has left the EU. Things are going fairly well. The Scottish nationalists still want independence and they want to join the EU. Well the EU five years from now will most probably be still more integrated. Moreover the condition for joining the EU is that you promise to join the Euro and Schengen. There is zero chance that new members will be given any sort of rebate on their subscription. Will Scots really prefer to join a United States of Europe, where they will actually have no more independence than Texas? The Scottish parliament in those circumstances would lose power rather than gain it.

At present 64% of Scottish trade is with the rest of the UK and only 14% is with the EU. Would Scottish voters really want to leave the trading block (the UK) with which we do most of our trade in order to join another with which we hardly trade at all? That would be senseless.

There could be no question whatsoever of Scotland keeping the pound under those circumstances. The idea of a currency union between a country that’s in the EU with one that isn’t is preposterous. Anyway we just learned the lesson of the Euro that currency union requires political union. So in order to join the EU Scotland would first have to set up its own currency and then join the Euro. Would Scottish voters really go for that? It would be like first changing your money into dollars and then into Yen. That's a really good way of losing money. 

If Scotland were in Schengen, while the UK was outside the EU, it’s hard to imagine that we could maintain an open border. If there were an open border between Gretna and Berwick then anyone who got into the EU would immediately be able to go to London. But it would be precisely to stop this that the UK left the EU in the first place.

The failure last week of the SNP to win a majority in the Scottish parliament gives us a chance to kick Scottish nationalism in the teeth. They have had a setback we can turn it into a rout. The main reason why I support Brexit is that it makes Scottish independence so heavy that it becomes a dead issue. We will face challenges if we vote to leave the EU, but we will face them together and that will unite our country as such challenges always have. It may be the only thing that will bring back our unity. 

The alternative is that we vote to stay in the EU. Five years from now perhaps the SNP will be ready for another push for independence. Who is to say they won’t have a majority then? Who is to say that the UK government will not feel compelled to give them another referendum? Who is to say they won’t win next time? Now the SNP are at their weakest. The Scottish economy is in trouble and dependent on UK subsidy. The condition for the possibility of Scottish independence is UK membership of the EU. Destroy the Scottish nationalist dream before it turns into our nightmare. 

Saturday 7 May 2016

We are all Tories now

The greatest certainty for most people all over the world is that they live in a place that is stable. Whatever else happens they can draw comfort from the security of knowing that their country will remain intact. This is their bedrock and their foundation. Whatever natural disaster happens, whatever personal distress, at least there is the stability and security of citizenship and belonging to a nation state that has existed for centuries before and will exist for centuries after. For most people in the world this feeling is only threatened in time of war. In such times, people wonder if their country will be invaded, or dismembered. For years they live with the tension and the uncertainty has a cost that everyone must pay. For the past couple of years it has felt rather like this in Scotland. But it feels much less so now. Scottish nationalism has been checked. It may already be past its peak. It is possible to see a new opportunity and an unexpectedly different future for Scotland safe and secure in our UK homeland. Only from the perspective of the future will we know for sure whether this was the decisive turning point. Such things are never known at the time. After this perhaps we’ll say we never had a defeat.

Something has changed. Ordinary Scots are sick of SNP threats. How are we supposed to plan when at any moment Nicola Sturgeon thinks she can decide to put us all through the mincemeat machine once more? I hated the independence referendum. I would do absolutely anything to avoid having that experience ever again. I think most No voters feel exactly the same way about it. Living with this continual uncertainty is both economically and psychologically damaging.  Eventually it becomes too much. Some people decide that they can’t face living in Scotland any more. Others do something more positive. They deny the SNP the opportunity to make its threats.

The main worry has always been that the SNP would have an absolute majority in Holyrood. What if they once more decided that they wanted another referendum? Well, of course, just like last time they would have to ask permission from the UK Government.  That’s the only legal route they could take. What would the UK Government say? I have no idea. They would be perfectly within their rights to say sorry you’ve already had your referendum. You need to wait for a lifetime. They could even go down the Spanish route and say the UK is indivisible and the parts have no right to secede. Few European countries after all would give a referendum on secession to their formerly independent parts. Germany would not allow Saxony to secede, nor would France allow Burgundy. So there would be no problem theoretically in blocking the SNP forever. But would the UK Government act in this way? I honestly don’t know and for this reason an SNP majority worried me. Thank goodness they no longer have one.  

What I would really like is a new Act of Parliament that stated that no-one had the right to threaten the security and integrity of the UK, just as no-one has the right to threaten the USA. But in the meantime I will settle for the fact that SNP threats have turned out to be empty.

Some Scottish nationalists will maintain that they still have a pro-independence majority as the Greens are pro-independence. But the Greens don’t want an independence referendum any time soon, even if the UK should vote to leave the EU. Moreover it will be Nicola Sturgeon who will be asking for a referendum and it would be much easier for the UK Government to point out that the SNP didn’t win a majority of seats at Holyrood. There’s nothing undemocratic therefore in refusing such a request.

The reality of the situation is this. If the SNP were destined to ask for a second referendum any time soon they would have won a majority in Holyrood. The fact that they didn’t puts independence off the agenda until and unless they do. We must remain vigilant and we must continue fighting hard, but for the moment the UK is safe.

The long term key to defeating the SNP in Scotland is that support for the Conservative Party increases here. The root cause of support for Scottish independence is that Scotland votes differently from the other parts of the UK. This was the reason why Labour went down the nationalist path of setting up a Scottish Parliament in the first place. They couldn’t bear the fact that they won in Scotland, but lost in the UK overall. The result is like a Greek play, tragic but inevitable. If Labour could get in a time machine and go back to when they first started demanding a Scottish Parliament, would they still do so? Somehow I doubt it. They don’t seem terribly good at the moment at learning from their mistakes.

The problem for Labour is that they can’t win in the UK without winning Scotland. But the idea that they are going to overturn the SNP anytime soon is becoming ever more unlikely.  The result is that a Labour leader will have to answer the same question as Ed Miliband. Will you do a deal with the SNP? Well the only way you can get a Labour Government in Westminster is if they do a deal with the SNP. The answer therefore obviously is Yes. This means that voting Labour in England gets you an SNP coalition. English voters, just like last time, will vote for anybody to avoid this. Voting for the SNP therefore all but guarantees a Tory Government.

The grievance will continue therefore that we in Scotland vote for one party (the SNP) while we get a UK Tory Government. Long term this is the biggest threat to the UK. There is only one solution and many Pro UK Scots have already grasped it. Scotland needs to return more Conservatives. If Scotland votes more like the other parts of the UK there is no longer any grievance.

The UK Labour Party is led by an extremist who is happy to stand at May Day parade where people wave Stalin flags. People who hate the UK and everything we stand for he calls friends. The Scottish Labour Party is led by someone who is at best lightweight at worst undecided about whether she is Pro UK or not. Pro UK people should only vote for a party which is unambiguously Pro UK. Nothing else matters.

The Conservatives in Scotland have in Ruth Davidson someone who is moderate and capable of attracting support from Pro UK people right across the political spectrum. Our best chance long term of securing the future of the UK is for us all to get behind her.

The SNP has depended on the fact that although we are the majority, we have divided our support. This is to break the first rule of warfare. Never divide your forces in the face of the enemy. It enables him to defeat you in detail. Now it is time to recognise that there is only one unconditionally Pro UK party in Scotland. If all Pro UK people unite behind Ruth Davidson in time we can defeat the SNP decisively.

We are justified in feeling good today. Let us all feel a sense of relief. It's our best day since September 2014. But there are still battles to be won in the future. The SNP are the anti-Tory party. They gain their strength by using the word ‘Tory’ as if it were the worst insult they could imagine. But look what they have done. The SNP have made it so that Tory is no longer a toxic brand. People from all parties and none are getting behind Ruth Davidson because 'Tory' in Scotland now means Pro UK. If that’s you then you already are a Tory. Embrace that fact and come out fighting together.

Sunday 1 May 2016

Project Fear 2

What would happen if the UK voted to leave the EU? All sorts of claims and counter claims are made about this. But the answer in the end is that we just don’t know. The future is uncertain and undetermined, because it hasn’t happened yet. What we do know however, is that political claims about the future are always influenced by the desire to influence voters. One party says that there will be something approaching heaven on earth if they win. The other party says there will instead be disaster and catastrophe. But neither of these claims has much to do with truth.

Negative campaigning works. If it didn’t work no one would use it. I used to love negative campaigning. During the Scottish independence referendum I was overjoyed whenever someone in the Better Together team described some new disaster that would happen if Scotland voted for independence. When George Osborne explained that Scotland would definitely not get to keep the pound after leaving the UK, I thought it was a masterstroke. Surely now support for independence will dwindle to almost nothing.

Every few weeks some experts would publish a detailed report designed primarily to scare Scottish voters into voting to stay in the UK. No doubt these experts believed what they were writing was true. But they also had a brief to fulfil for which they were amply rewarded. But did these reports diminish support for independence? Perhaps they did. Some people who might have voted for independence were too scared to do so. Negative campaigning works. But it only works in the short term.

Scotland used to be a place where support for independence was a minority pursuit. Around one quarter of Scots wanted independence. That figure had stayed more or less fixed for decades. What turned 25% into 45%? Project Fear did that. Nothing else. So negative campaigning works. It works so well indeed that it has turned Scotland from being a place where the overwhelming majority used to support the UK, into a place where the majority will vote habitually for a party that supports independence. Long term this isn’t a success. It’s a disaster.

At the moment we may be able to keep Scotland in the UK because of the economics. But this support is contingent and to an extent reluctant. If for whatever reason it were economically advantageous for Scotland to leave the UK, what is the likelihood that we would vote to remain? Yet Pro UK people still think that ever more negative campaigning is a great idea. If we have any more great ideas like this, we may as well forget about the long term future of the UK.

In any political debate you are allowed to counter your opponent if you think he says something that is untrue, over-optimistic or unlikely. The Scottish nationalists made claims about the future of an independent Scotland that have turned out to be false. But has this harmed them? We all still gleefully point out that Mr Salmond got his sums wrong? We show that if Scotland had voted for independence, we all would have been much poorer, that taxes would have risen and public spending would have fallen. We do this because we think it will harm the SNP? Has it? Is there any sign that support for the SNP has fallen or will fall in the near future?

It doesn’t matter that the SNP got their sums wrong. No-one expects people to be able to predict the future. What matters is that they tell a hopeful story and that the story they tell is one that a majority of Scots at the moment like. That’s why they are winning.

If Scotland became independent tomorrow, how we’d end up 20 or 100 years from now would depend on the decisions that were taken. Becoming independent, no doubt, would involve some tough times and some hard choices, but this is quite normal when countries become independent. But that isn’t a reason why you can’t tell an optimistic story about it. The Republic of Ireland fought a civil war, found their country partitioned and went through decades of poverty. But they still think it was worth it. Compared to that independence for Scotland would be easy. So you still think scare stories are the answer? Project Fear, in fact, is the equivalent of Easter 1916. Shooting people, no doubt scares their friends. What a great idea. How long did Ireland remain a part of the UK after that?  Short term Project Fear wins. Long term it loses.

What would have happened if Scotland had voted for independence in 2014? There would have been some short term market chaos. Then our lives would then have gone on more or less as normal. There would have been some negotiations. Everything that had been said in the campaign would have been forgotten. Both sides would have tried to find a way of fulfilling the wishes of people in Scotland and the other parts of the UK. Democrats respect the result of a referendum. What would have been the end result?

My guess is that we would have ended up with something remarkably similar to what we have now. Central bankers would have pointed out that it would be economically problematic to break up the poundzone. Any other option apart from sharing the pound would have been very bad news for Scotland, but also for the UK. After all Greece leaving the Eurozone would not only harm Greece, it would also harm Germany in ways that we perhaps cannot guess. Scotland would therefore have kept the pound.

The UK however, would have pointed out that monetary union with the fiscal transfers necessary to make it work implies some form of political union. We would therefore have ended up with a sort of federal structure. The UK would have been loosened, but not dissolved. Scotland could claim independence, but there would be many areas of shared government. In the same way that Greece can be independent, but part of the European Union, so Scotland would have ended up being independent, but part of a union (the UK) that would not so much be approaching political union as already being just that. The result in fact would be very similar to what we have at the moment.  So long as Scotland wants to be part of a currency union with other parts of the UK, we must accept that the goal of independence is limited. We are always going to be in a political union with those with whom we wish to share a currency. Once you accept this, then the debate becomes largely sterile.

If Scotland had voted for independence everyone would have done their best to avert whatever Project Fear said would happen. The economy of the UK would be damaged by horrible things happening in Scotland, so out of self-interest politicians and economists would have done their best to accommodate the wishes of people in Scotland and reconcile them with the wishes of everyone else. Forget the fall in the price of oil. It matters not at all. Currency union would have continued and so would fiscal transfers. The condition for this is that Scotland would have been ‘independent’ within the UK. Sorry nationalist friends, but this is what your goal of independence looks like. So much energy expended in Scotland over precisely nothing.

What then would happen if the UK voted to leave the EU? Would the disasters predicted by Project Fear II happen? They might. But the EU more likely would try to come up with an accommodation which suited both the EU and the UK. The alternative would damage everyone. Imagine if both the EU and the USA decided to take revenge on the UK. Imagine if they created all the disasters that Project Fear II so gleefully predicts. If the UK became something of a failed state, not trading with anyone at all, living in awful poverty, would this help or harm the world economy? The Pro EU side depends on the idea that the rest of the world would prefer to damage the UK rather than cooperate with our wishes.  The fall of one American bank was enough to plunge the world into depression, but wrecking the fifth largest economy in the world would, no doubt, have no effect whatsoever on the wealth of people in other countries.  

It is perfectly possible for both Scotland to be independent and for the UK to leave the EU. There are lots of European states that are both independent and not in the EU. Many of them are successful. Given that it is possible for Iceland to be independent and not in the EU, the idea that it would be some sort of catastrophe for the UK to be in that position becomes faintly silly. There might be some difficulties to be overcome, but we have a long history of overcoming difficulties.

I don’t want to be negative about Scotland ever again. Independence is possible. There might be some tough times, but if you think it would be worth it, by all means support that position. I disagree with Scottish independence, because I see the UK as my country in the same way an American sees the USA as his country. That’s it. There’s no need to argue with a New Yorker about New York independence, because he has a positive story to tell about the USA. The UK is a great country, with a long history and a people who have done marvels. If you reject that, then it’s you that’s being negative not me.

Project Fear II is fundamentally insulting to Britain. It is to suppose that we couldn’t survive outside the EU. This is quite simply false. We survived for centuries before the EU even came into existence. We could do so again. There might be challenges, but we’d meet them. Pro EU people are fundamentally arguing that what Iceland can do successfully we cannot.

In many EU countries there is no need to argue in favour of remaining. Greeks are still enthusiastic members of the EU. If they weren’t they would have left already. The reason for this is that they think being part of the EU guarantees their place in Europe rather than in Turkey. For Poles and other Eastern Europeans being in the EU is a sort of guarantee that they won’t revert to being part of the Warsaw Pact. For Spain and Portugal the EU guarantees that they won’t return to tyranny. But few Brits have any great feeling for the EU. Few indeed feel particularly European. There is no common European identity, for the simple reason that few of us know a word of Slovenian or Hungarian and our knowledge of the history and culture of such countries is practically speaking non-existent.

It is the failure of Pro EU people to come up with a positive story about the EU that means they have to resort to ever more unlikely scare stories. This may well win in the short term, but long term it loses. The EU may well keep the UK as a reluctant member, but this neither helps the EU nor does it help Britain. The Eurozone has to move much closer together or else fall apart.  They are on a different path to us. The UK can only hinder further EU integration, because our interests differ from theirs. It makes much more sense for non-Schengen, non-Euro countries to have a relationship to the EU that reflects this reality.  It may be that it is a condition for the possibility of long term healthy EU survival that the UK votes to leave. Being Pro EU may mean voting for the UK to let them get on with it. 

Remember when the Greeks had a referendum last year. They were threatened with Armageddon if they dared to say No. They were told that they’d be kicked out of the EU and out of the Euro. Did any of these scare stories come true? Not one.  Only when they actually voted No did the negotiations even begin. It would be the same here. If we vote to leave the EU, everyone would try to accommodate our decision in the way that would be most beneficial for everyone concerned. No-one is going to cast Britain into the wilderness, for we are all interconnected and to seriously damage the UK economy is to seriously damage the world economy.

Project Fear II may win, but it is a double edged sword. It may damage the case for leaving the EU in the short term, but long term it damages the case for remain. Discontent about the EU will only increase. If the UK electorate comes to feel that it has been conned by scare stories, it’s hardly likely that it will embrace the EU with hearty singing of the ‘Ode to Joy’.

Being negative about Britain leaving the EU still feels great for an awful lot of Pro EU people. Many of them likewise still think that being negative about Scotland leaving the UK is working just brilliantly. When the SNP wins all the seats the triumph of Project Fear will be clear to all.  If you really care about the EU start telling me about how brilliant the EU is. The fact that you can’t is itself a reason why we should vote to leave.