Saturday 31 December 2016

The Turning Point

Certain people I know and certain people I read have been describing the past year as something horrible. You only have to go back one hundred years to see how foolish this assessment is. Imagine you had just celebrated Christmas in 1916. There is every chance you would have lost someone during the previous years fighting. What would you have to look forward to in 1917? Well there would be further stalemate on the Western Front. The French Army would reach the limit of what it could take on the Aisne and come quite close to revolution. The Russian people would overthrow autocracy only to have it reimposed in a worse form than before. The British Army would spend all summer and autumn trying to capture a little Flemish village called Passendale and in doing so perhaps reach its lowest point in history. So no, let’s have a little perspective, 2016 was not such a bad year after all.

I don’t follow the day to day events at the Scottish Parliament with any real closeness. If I see Nicola Sturgeon on television I have the immediate urge to either turn it off or throw a brick at it. Given that it would be wasteful to destroy televisions, I opt for the former alternative. There was an election last May. The SNP did worse than before. They no longer have a majority. No-one expected this result. We have a long way to go before Scottish politics gets back to normal. But this is the starting point.

Far too many Scots at present vote because of identity issues and because they think it is patriotic and Scottish to vote for the SNP. So long as this continues we will have permanent SNP rule. Along with it we will also have corruption and incompetence. Good governance depends on kicking out your rulers from time to time. It also depends on voters choosing one party as opposed to another because of ordinary political issues. So long as the Scottish electorate votes for a party that is only concerned with independence, Scotland will be run poorly. It is becoming ever more obvious that many SNP MPs and MSPs are simply not up to the job. They would never have got near a Parliament if it hadn’t been for their involvement with the independence campaign. Well what do you expect when an electorate elects poorly qualified nobodies?

What Scotland desperately needs is an ordinary political debate that is balanced between the moderate centre left and the moderate centre right. At that point we can debate about the economy and how best to make that economy work to the advantage of all of us. We are a long way from this. But the path towards it does not go through continually talking about independence. In time as SNP incompetence becomes ever more apparent we can hope that the Scottish electorate may realise this. Until then we have reached stalemate. Each side faces the other across no-man’s land and there is no end in sight. But just as 1916 was the turning point, so too 2016 may turn out to be the year that in the long run defeated Scottish nationalism.

The thing that disappointed me most about 2016 was that we have reached the stage where it is routine for politicians and voters to not accept the result of elections. I thought this was a purely Scottish phenomenon. The SNP were bad losers right from the moment they lost the independence referendum. They campaigned to overturn the result immediately. I thought this was an aberration. But no. Exactly the same thing happened after we voted to leave the EU. Suddenly people who didn’t like the result were trying to find ever new ways to overturn it. Some wanted a second referendum. Some wanted courts to get involved. Some wanted Parliament to say No. This was exactly the same sort of response to a referendum result as that of the SNP. This is dangerous folks. If you give the people the chance to vote in a referendum and then ignore what they say, the people are justified morally in treating Parliament as an autocracy. This is a lesson that must be learned in 2017 when we approach the anniversary of the most dreadful revolution in human history bringing with it terror that the French could not even imagine.

The disease of not accepting election results is not even confined to Britain. I can’t imagine that it is spreading because of the SNP. They are too obscure and unimportant to even be known about in the USA. But somehow we have reached the stage where large numbers of Americans somehow think that the correct response to an election is to refuse to accept the result.

2016 looks like the year that changed everything. We don’t know where this will lead. The future is undetermined. A hopeful positive attitude has the best chance of bringing us benefits, pessimism guarantees failure. It is necessary to recognise and accept that electorates in Britain and the United States voted for change. Given the chance I suspect many more voters elsewhere will vote for change in the coming year. Far from being stupid, the American electorate knew that voting for Hilary Clinton meant voting for more of the same. It was this that they didn’t want.

Much of where we are at present in the world has happened because of the shared assumptions of most western politicians. David Cameron, Hilary Clinton, Angela Merkel all have basically the same ideas about everything. They are unwilling to change their assumptions, but their assumptions are leading the West into an ever more dangerous position.

The world economy has not properly recovered since 2008. It is no longer on life support, but interest rates have hardly risen for years, central banks still pump in money created from nothing into the veins. Meanwhile debt keeps rising beyond the point that it can be repaid.  Who can say what will set off the next crisis in the markets. Perhaps the Euro will blow up again. Perhaps the French or the Italians will call time on the whole project. Monetary union without political union looks like one of the worst ideas in modern history. Is this still what the SNP wants? I’ve rather lost track of what money the SNP expects us to spend in their Brave new Scotland.  

Beyond economics the two main dangers to the West remain Russia and Islamic fundamentalism. The assumptions of most of the West’s politicians are that we must confront Russia and deny that terrorism has anything to do with Islam. Because terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, Angela Merkel assumed that it was perfectly safe to allow millions of people from Islamic countries to come to Germany. Her assumption was that this would in no way make Germany more dangerous. How’s that working out for you Angela?

Donald Trump does not share the assumption of Hilary Clinton, David Cameron or Angela Merkel. Some of his ideas may turn out to be stupid, but it’s not as if the assumptions of the establishment politicians have been doing all that well.
The West needs to make peace with Russia. It is too dangerous for us to be enemies, not least because we have a common enemy who we can only defeat together. 

There is just a chance that Donald Trump might be able to do what Ronald Reagan did with Gorbachev. At least he is willing to try. Give him that chance at least.  The mockers of Reagan ended up looking rather foolish when he won the Cold War, but then if those on the Left were any good at learning the lessons from history, they wouldn't be on the Left.

We need to prevent the spread of Islamic terrorism. This means defeating it in Syria and Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. We are closer to this than we were a year ago, because of what Russia has been doing.  Russia has been winning a war, because it chose not to fight in the western way that guarantees defeat. For this they have been condemned by a western media whose assumptions and coverage would prevent any troops from defeating any enemy. This is to forget the lesson that we could only defeat German and Japanese militarism by making a war that was so terrible that the people of those countries wanted never to experience it again. 

We face a similar threat today, but the BBC will not even call it what it is. It is a so called threat from a so called state. In fact Islamic fundamentalism is if anything a more dangerous threat than the ones we defeated in the Twentieth Century. It has reached such levels of depravity that it is hard to find comparable examples in history books. Worse than this it is irrational, suicidal and spreading. There is a chance soon that this ideology will be defeated in Syria, but for some odd reason the BBC is unhappy.

Syria used to be a perfectly safe country. It wasn’t a democracy, but then the only democracy in the Middle East is Israel. There is a chance that if all terrorists and rebels are defeated in Syria and Iraq then these countries can go back to being what they once were. Their rulers will not be ideal, but it is better than the alternative.

I refuse to accept that it is normal that in western cities there should be the continual expectation of terrorism. I think we should do whatever is necessary to prevent such attacks. Why should we all have to live in fear that in European cities someone will blow himself up or drive a truck into a crowd? The establishment assumption is that nothing can be done. We can’t possibly prevent ISIS fighters coming home to the UK. After all they have rights. There is nothing that we can do to prevent mass migration even though we know that a proportion of those who arrive hate us and would like to kill us. These are the assumptions of the establishment. No wonder voters rejected these assumptions. It is the rejection of the establishment that gives us hope for 2017.

Sunday 25 December 2016

Simple gifts

We know what it is like to be divided in Scotland. It is hard even to remember that time from our youths when these divisions did not exist and could not even be imagined. “O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.” Now we have gone through a year of division in the whole of our country. I never thought I would see the day in Britain where people tried to block the result of an election. But it shows how deeply they feel about the loss. So too in Scotland. It’s all too deeply felt, if not always on the surface, then bubbling below and waiting always waiting. Sometimes there cannot be a political resolution. This is the fault of politics. We expect too much from politicians. We somehow think that all will be well if my side of the debate wins, or if my party gets more votes than your party. But none of these things matter. Not really.

What has given you the most happiness in the past year? What has caused you the most grief? Think about the people that you know. Someone will have lost a wife or a husband. Someone else will have had a child. Someone got married or met someone special. Someone passed their exam or got the job that they were looking for. Someone else failed. All of the ordinary events that affect our lives have much, much more importance than the result of elections. This is not to be selfish. It is to be human. Our small circle of family and friends are what bring us the gifts that we value. But none of these gifts can be bought.

Where I used to live Christmas was more or less ignored officially. The day where everyone celebrated was New Year. The 25th of December was just another working day. New Year had been turned into Christmas except Father Frost was blue and Snegurochka was cold and found it impossible to love without melting. There were New Year trees and there were New Year presents. People had a large New Year meal and sent New Year cards to their friends and acquaintances.

I much preferred this way of doing things. Those of us who wanted to mark Christmas did so on the 7th of January (Orthodox Calendar) and this celebration was small scale. No-one made much of a fuss. No-one would be involved except close family. If there were gifts, they were simple gifts.

I wish it were that way here. When I walk to my bus I see some houses put up flashing lights from late November onwards. They put them up too early and take them down too early. They have no conception of the twelve days of Christmas, because they think that Christmas starts sometime in late autumn. Why is there a need to demonstrate that you are celebrating Christmas? I think it is because you are not celebrating Christmas at all. The more lights on the house the less thought and feeling there is about what is actually being celebrated.

The shops are now shut for one day only. Early on Boxing Day morning you will be able to go to the supermarket again. Yet people will go around the shops on Christmas Eve as if they have to survive a nuclear winter in a bunker. How many times your normal calorie intake can you actually eat without becoming ill? If you start at ten in the morning and keep drinking until midnight how big a headache can you actually create for yourself the next morning? How many people who you only see once a year can you fit into your house? Everyone feels they ought to be having the best time of the year. The duty to be merry is overwhelming. Merry Xmas. The X marks what is missing.   

How many people are there in Britain who dread the approach of Christmas? They feel the demand to spend more than they can afford on presents and on excess. How many of us sit down to the task of writing Christmas cards with pleasure. For most it is simply an obligation, a task and something of a burden. I don’t want your card and you don’t want mine, but we feel we have to waste our money on the card and the postage. For what? Who invented all these things that we must do in December? Was it a baby boy who was born some two thousand years ago? No. It most certainly was not. His message was rather different. The message of Christmas is not about eating to excess. It’s about not being able to find a place to stay. It’s not at all about spending large amounts of money, because there was in fact no money to spend. The only gift of importance that was received on the first Christmas day was the gift of life.

It isn’t something expensive that your loved ones want from you. It’s something free. They want your love and your kindness. Every child would prefer this to the latest toy. They might not realise this fact, but they would. Of course we should give gifts. But is there a need to do so to excess? We should indeed have a special meal at Christmas, but is there the need to eat quite so much. Do you even like Turkey?

Christmas today has become the antithesis of the first Christmas. Worse than that it causes suffering and causes people to forget what is important in their continual attempts to spend more, eat more and drink more. It’s a free country you can do what you like. But there is an alternative.

In O Henry’s “The gift of the Magi” a couple realise that they don’t have enough money to give each other gifts. The man sells his watch to buy his wife a hair piece, while his wife sells her hair to buy her husband a watch chain. Both end up with something that is now useless. But what they really give has a price beyond rubies. They give love.

This is the simple gift that you should try to give this Christmas. It doesn’t matter if you think that the first Christmas never happened or that it happened rather differently from the way that it is told. But let us try to at least not do anything contrary to the message of the story. Otherwise we profane it.

Make your gift simple this Christmas. Give something priceless. But such things are not made of gold, frankincense or any other substance that is useless to a baby. They are quite free and they are made only of love.

Saturday 24 December 2016

Game over for the SNP

To give Scotland a different EU status to any other part of the UK would in effect be to give it independence.  It might be the case that the UK would continue to exist in some odd way still technically united, but for how long could such an arrangement last? There may be examples of tiny parts of EU member states having a separate status. You can find an anomaly to cover every situation. But this is all beside the point. The SNP’s argument remains give us a status that amounts to independence or we will ask for another independence referendum. But what is in it for anyone who wants the UK to stay united? Nothing whatsoever.

No matter what you give the SNP, they will still want independence. So what has your concession bought? Nothing of substance, only a little time perhaps. Meanwhile by making the bonds of the UK ever looser you have simply made it easier for the SNP to achieve independence in the end. A Scotland that remained part of the Single Market would in time become a rather different place to those parts of the UK that were outside. Different rules would apply in Edinburgh from those in Newcastle. Would it even be workable without monitoring the flow of goods and people at the border? It isn’t even worth looking at the complexities involved as the whole thing is obviously unworkable and designed to be impossible. The SNP just like Austria-Hungary in 1914 have given an ultimatum that they know will be rejected.

We don’t know what sort of trade arrangement the UK will have with the EU after Brexit. Whatever we want will depend on the agreement of the EU. Donald Tusk has suggested that being part of the Single Market requires being a part of the EU. This may be contradicted by the example of Norway, but who is to say that the Norway option is even open to the UK. The EU may not wish as large an economy as the UK to have such an arrangement. We just don’t know.

It should be possible to trade freely with other countries without being ruled by them. Free trade is in everyone’s interest. We are asking for no more than we are willing to give, but the EU is determined to punish us because we reject their rule. But the whole flaw of the EU, that is becoming ever more apparent, is that it went beyond trade and attempted to join hugely different European countries politically.  

It should be possible for similar numbers of Europeans and Brits to live and work in each other’s countries. Again we are asking no more than we are willing to give. But the EU wants to punish us because we think it is unreasonable to give every one of five hundred million EU citizens the automatic right to live in the UK. Moreover, given that the EU has no effective border control with the rest of the world, they want us in effect to give unrestricted rights of migration to practically everyone who can get into Europe. With regard to both trade and immigration the EU wants much more from us than we want in return.

Owing to the fact that Britain wants relatively little from the EU, it should be possible to come up with a deal that is in the interests of everyone. But the EU is determined to make an example of Britain, otherwise everyone would want to leave. It is for this reason that it is folly to tell the EU that we want this or that sort of deal, because they would immediately attempt to exact a high price. The only way to get what is best for the UK is to be willing to walk away entirely. If the EU knows that we are perfectly happy not to buy German cars and Italian prosecco and that the City of London would be perfectly happy not to provide the finance necessary for the Euro to keep stumbling along, then it is just possible that we may be able to find a compromise. In this way we might be able to keep trade more or less free and allow relatively unrestricted movement of people between the UK and the EU.

The attempt to make Theresa May tell us in great detail how she will negotiate simply undermines her ability to do so. It is as if Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP are determined that a general reveals his plans to the enemy. Hardly a single battle in history would be won under those circumstances. But then these parties have become so unpatriotic that they would prefer the UK to lose.

Gaining the best deal for Britain depends on secrecy, but it also depends on the whole of the UK leaving. We cannot take back control over UK immigration policy if a part of the UK allows unrestricted immigration from the EU. We cannot bring back power to the UK Parliament if a part of the UK still remains subject to EU control. For the UK to be able to make trade deals with countries all around the world, it is necessary for the whole of the UK to leave the Single Market.  How could the UK make a trade deal with the United States if it didn’t apply to the whole of the UK? If goods were freely shipped from New York to London, how would you apply tariffs if someone wanted to put them in a lorry and drive them to Edinburgh? This is not an arrangement that is compatible with Scotland being a part of the UK. It is an arrangement that amounts to independence in all but name.

The SNP think that the Scottish electorate has the right to undermine the choice of the UK electorate as a whole. It is vital that we put a stop to this once and for all for it is becoming ever more clear that people throughout Britain are getting thoroughly sick of the SNP and with it Scotland. If we are not careful, the ties of sentiment and family feeling in the UK will be undermined by the SNP’s deliberate attempt to act in a way that is intolerable to the majority.

As always the Scottish electorate must be treated with care. We are delicate and we don’t like people saying “No”. This strikes me as rather infantile, but fair enough we must do what we can not to inflame Scottish public opinion. It wouldn’t do to give us another grievance we haven’t got over the poll tax yet and the closing of Ravenscraig some of us haven’t got over the execution of William Wallace and the rough wooing of Mary Queen of Scots.

But it is vital for all our sanity over the next few years that somehow SNP threats whether empty or not should be nullified.

The best thing to do with the SNP’s demand for a special EU status is to look at it carefully, put it before committees, show it around the crowned heads of Europe and promise to do our best to reconcile Scottish wishes with EU and UK needs. Meanwhile, when we actually get down to negotiations with the EU we may find that we have rather more important issues to deal with than Scotland’s wish to be turned into Greenland.

The deal with the EU is going to be a UK deal. Let’s hope that it is one that satisfies both the EU and the UK as much as possible. But it will be the only deal available. Scotland can frankly take it or leave it.  Future trade with the EU will depend on the deal that the UK makes with the EU. If Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t like it, she can try to do better by herself. But she would have to wait until and unless Scotland actually became independent.

We have nothing to gain from making concessions to Scottish nationalism and everything to lose. But let us do so quietly and without fuss. Promise to look carefully at what they suggest and then quietly find that no-one in the negotiations was much interested in the status of the regions of the UK.

What are we to do about SNP threats? I think Theresa May is doing very well here. The issue was settled in 2014. But in the end she has to be willing to say “No”. It isn’t necessary to actually say “No”, but she must tell the SNP they have to wait. There need be no definition of how long they must wait.

No country can long endure with a continual threat to its existence from within. Make no mistake, the United Kingdom would cease to exist if Scotland became independent in just the same way that the United States would have ceased to exist if the Confederacy had won the Civil War. You could hardly have called it united. The UK would be supported by the vast majority of members of the international community if Nicola Sturgeon was quietly informed, unofficially of course, that there is no point her making any more threats because they will never be listened to. She has made enough mischief in the past few months. It is undermining the UK’s unity, which is vital to our long term national interest. In the present circumstances at an important historical junction this is quite simply unacceptable. Nicola Sturgeon struggles to understand long words so a short one must be repeated until it is understood. We told her it in 2014, but it hasn't yet penetrated. I'll spell it out for you Nicola. It begins with an "N" and it ends with an "O".

The SNP cannot complain about our being undemocratic, for that would be to suppose that the foundation of Western democracy “the GettysburgAddress” is undemocratic and that there is hardly a democracy in the Western world. There is scarcely a nation state in the world that would allow itself to be dismembered from within. It is precisely the fight against secession that means “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The task for the UK Government must always be to do what the SNP least wants. We must hinder them and do that which makes their goal of achieving independence as hard as possible. The SNP wants the UK to stay in the Single Market because that makes Scottish independence possible without damaging trade between Scotland and   England.  It also guarantees an open border and a lack of customs controls. Leaving the EU’s Single Market means the SNP would have to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom’s Single Market, while at the same time at least initially being outside of the EU’s Single Market.

The UK Government should explain carefully to Nicola Sturgeon, that she will never gain independence with the permission of the UK Government and that the UK Government would do all in its power to hinder such a goal diplomatically. All of our allies would then be against the SNP and most of the rest of the world too.  Of course this message can be conveyed with nuance and with subtlety and without quite saying it. But it amounts to saying the issue has already been decided and your threats are as nothing. We will not allow another referendum. You agreed that the last one was decisive and when something is decisive it decides the issue. That's what the word "decisive" means. We do not have to play the SNP’s game. It is time to tell them that the game is over.

Saturday 17 December 2016

We have the chance to kill off Scottish nationalism

Just after the Brexit vote I came back from holiday and found a string of messages from Pro UK people. They were worried. Nicola Sturgeon was continually on the television complaining about something or other. Far from encountering systematic bias from the BBC, she was getting encouragement. At least she wasn’t one of those dreadful Brexiteers.

People were asking me where have you been. Some were angry that I had encouraged them to vote to leave the EU. Look what you’ve done. The pound will soon be worth nothing. The markets are going to crash. We’re all going to lose our jobs and we’re not going to have a Prime Minister for months. Nicola Sturgeon is going to call a second independence referendum and she’s going to win it. It’s all your fault.

There is something feverish about news at the moment. It must be to do with it being on all the time. They have to fill up the time with something. When there is a plane crash there are endless interviews with experts who know absolutely nothing about what has happened. When there is a budget there are continual speculations about what will be in it. Why not just wait a few hours and find out? Well so too with the EU referendum. There was endless noise. Much of it was just people complaining about the result and signalling that they were not and never had been a Brexiteer.

Scotland didn’t vote to stay in the EU, nor did England and Wales votes to leave. None of these places are members of the EU. Try counting the members if you are unsure. Scotland is no more  a member of the EU than is Aberdeenshire or Antrim. When the Scottish Assembly was established it was on the basis that it had power over certain matters and didn’t have power over certain other matters. That is what the majority of people in Scotland voted for. Foreign affairs have never been devolved. International relations take place between independent sovereign nation states. Many people in Scotland would prefer that Scotland was such a state. But again we had a vote on this and they lost.

The endless noise from Nicola Sturgeon is based on a simple mistake. It is of course a deliberate mistake. She thinks that if she acts as if she were the leader of a sovereign independent nation state she is more likely to become one. But really Scottish nationalists ought continually to be reminded of a simple matter of logic. You cannot become what you already are. If you already are independent, why are you campaigning for it? But then Sturgeon’s grievance collapses. She is complaining about something that was never within her remit and which the electorate in Scotland has more than once decided not to give her the power to control. Until and unless Scotland becomes independent it will not be able to have foreign relations with other sovereign independent nation states.  

Most news and most comment about news is trivial. The reason for this is that most news will be forgotten a year from now. Political comment likewise is usually of no consequence. There was endless comment during the last General Election about what would happen if there were a hung Parliament. Today there is a lot of noise about Theresa May’s trousers. Nicola Sturgeon’s talking head after the Brexit vote was of no more consequence than these lederhosen. It is vital to see through the day to day noise and try to think about long term consequences. What matters is not that an argument works today, but that it works a year from now.

Nicola Sturgeon talks about all sorts of conditions that must be met or else she will call an independence referendum. This is all noise. There is only one condition. Can she win it? 

The whole narrative is ludicrous. Supposedly the UK Government has to make all sorts of concessions to the SNP or else Nicola Sturgeon will do what she wants to do more than anything else in the world, i.e. have another independence referendum. But let’s say the UK Government gave the SNP everything they could possibly dream of. Imagine if the Scottish Parliament was given even more powers, and even more money. Imagine if there was another Constitutional Convention and Gordon Brown made another vow. Imagine if the UK became a federal state. Imagine if all these things happened would it kill of the hydra of Scottish nationalism. Would the SNP cease to want independence?

All sorts of weird and wonderful schemes are dreamed up by which Scotland somehow gets to stay in the EU or the Single Market. These are then presented as the condition for the SNP not calling a second independence referendum. But what if Scotland were given this special status? Would this mean that we wouldn’t have a second referendum five years from now or ten years from now? Of course it wouldn’t. So why bother. We have to learn the lesson that there is no appeasing nationalism. There is nothing the SNP wants except independence. So no more Constitutional Conventions please, the last one has done enough damage. The UK needs more unity. We need to go in the opposite direction to the one in which the SNP wants to travel.

So cut through the noise coming from Nicola Sturgeon’s mouth. Jabber, jabber, jabber Scotland … jabber, jabber, jabber … independence. The only thing that matters is whether what she wants is what the electorate in Scotland wants.

Again it is important to look at matters from a more long term perspective. There were a few opinion polls in June and July that showed support for Scottish independence had increased. This was one of the reasons why people were writing to me in a panic. But polls go up and down and anyway they are wildly inaccurate. What matters is the fundamentals. Leaving the EU makes Scottish independence harder.

Voting for Brexit in the short term angered quite a lot of Scots who found themselves on the losing side of the argument. It angered a lot of people in the rest of the UK too. Naturally this had a short term effect on opinion polls. But just like news, these day to day emotions are trivial. This is human nature. We get angry, but then we get bored. Each of us had a huge emotional reaction to Brexit, but it was also complex. I was pleased, but scared and uncertain. Would the scare stories come true? For the first month I read everything I could about Brexit, but then I got on with my life. I stopped following every detail. Above all I stopped listening to Nicola Sturgeon.

The last six months hasn’t been a disaster for the UK. Perhaps next year will be. Lots of people seem desperate for leaving the EU to go as badly as possible. It’s a peculiar sort of masochism. Above all it’s peculiar if you want the UK to remain intact.

Most Scots just got on with their lives in the past few months. Whichever way we voted in the EU referendum we got on with daily life. We put the debate behind us. It is for this reason that support for Scottish independence has not increased and instead has fallen. I didn’t take part in the SNP’s national survey. But then I don’t know anyone else who did. Apparently SNP activists were going to ask all their friends. That seems an excellent method of coming up with an unbiased sample. I’d love to know what the results were, but the SNP won’t tell me. But then again I don’t need them to tell me. Imagine if two million Scots had told the SNP that they were desperate for another independence referendum. Would the results be secret under those circumstances?

Some disappointed Remainers will continue to try to prevent Brexit or to turn it into leaving in name only. They will fail. But they might help the SNP. 2016 was a year of revolutions and the momentum from this is liable to continue into 2017. The UK electorate is sick of an establishment that has ignored its legitimate concerns for decades. That is the fundamental thing that happened this year. That is the thing that will remain news a year from now. In time it may even topple the Scottish establishment. Who are they? Well they have been in power for quite a long time now.

The EU apparently wants to be as nasty to Britain as it can be. Again some Remainers will cheer them on. They will be delighted that the EU wants to make leaving as unpleasant as possible that it considers those who attempt to escape as deserving severe punishment. I get the impression some Remainers think that the EU is really called Stalag Luft III and that Brexiteers deserve to be shot by machine guns in order to discourage the others. But this too won’t work. Once you have turned your beloved EU into a prison, you have lost the argument. What’s more the revolution is contagious.

We have seen off worse than the EU and we have also been isolated before with the whole of Europe against us. This just helps British unity.

The SNP thinks that Scots prefer the EU to the UK but they are mistaken. We all want free trade and we all want to be able to live and work in Europe. But few indeed of us want more than this from the EU. When did you last watch a debate in the EU Parliament? Some of us vaguely think of ourselves as internationalists. But Scots who want to create a border between England and Scotland are a peculiar sort of internationalist.

What we want from the EU is no more than we are willing to give them in return. If they allow us to live in their country, then we will allow a similar number to live in ours. If they trade freely with us, we will trade freely with them. That is the essence of the matter. The rest is noise. You should not have to be ruled by someone in order to trade freely with them. Moreover you shouldn’t have to pay to do so. Paying for free trade means that it is not free.

Brexit makes the choice for Scottish nationalists particularly delightful. Do you want to live in a Britain that is not ruled by the EU or do you prefer to be an “independent” Scotland subject to ever closer union more and more ruled by Brussels and ultimately by Berlin? Do you want to end up in a different trading bloc to your closest trade partner? Do you think a place with five million people will get a better deal from our European neighbours than a place with sixty five million people? Do you think that the UK leaving the EU makes it more or less likely that they would share a currency with Scotland? If Scotland were in the Single Market, but England was not would there have to be customs at Gretna? Do you know that the EU countries that want to discourage secession will even allow Scotland to join in the short term? How sure are you that the EU will even exist in ten years? The Visegrád Group don’t seem very keen on being bossed around and Italy has become the new Greece.

Brexit forces Scottish nationalists to choose. It makes the disadvantages of Scottish independence more acute. It makes any split from the other parts of the UK more fundamental and deeper. If we can make Brexit work, if we can show that prosperity awaits the UK outside the EU, we have the chance to kill off Scottish nationalism. So all Pro UK people should work together to get the best Brexit deal possible. The Scottish nationalists would love it if Brexit were to fail. They have the excuse that they hate Britain. Do you?

Saturday 10 December 2016

The SNP have reached the end of their day

Something rather interesting just happened to Scottish politics, but I’m not sure anyone noticed. There is so much comment and speculation about day to day political events that there is a tendency to miss the essential. The complexity gets in the way of our ability to see the simplicity.  The SNP just did something very foolish indeed. The odd thing is that they apparently are not aware of this fact.

I began this blog when it became apparent that there was going to be a referendum on Scottish independence. At that point almost no-one in Scotland was much interested. It took a very long time indeed for me to build an audience. Mostly I was writing for myself and those few on either side who could see that the debate was building into something much larger. It was good practice. If you want to improve your writing just write more often.

I wrote all those articles however, because I thought that the Scottish independence referendum would be decisive and that it would end the discussion once and for all. It was for this reason only that I wanted to win. It seems impossibly naïve now as if I was taking part in an egg and spoon race. I had thought that if you don’t cross the line first or if the egg falls off the spoon, then you lose.

Since September 2014 I have put away childish things. I have learned that defeat in elections does not mean that you lose. I have learned that in Scotland time flows so quickly that a generation lasts only a day. It is as if we really did live in Brigadoon. I rather expect Nicola Charisse to burst into song and dance with a dodgy accent and for Gene Salmond to endlessly go on about the heather on the hill. But what they both are unaware of is that it really is the end of their day.

In London there has been a court case where someone who did not like the Brexit result has been arguing that the UK Government does not have the right to leave the EU without asking Parliament first. A number of very important judges, every single one of whom also did not like the Brexit result, have been deliberating impartially. Studying law means that you can rise above all prejudices in such a way that you are able to decide matters with pure reason. In this way you rise above the ordinary masses in a manner that they just cannot quite grasp not having had the benefit of studying law.

The SNP have also been involved in this court case. They have been arguing that because leaving the EU will have an impact on Scotland then the Scottish Parliament should also have a vote. Apparently this court case is momentous.  We are supposed to wait for the judgement as if it was being given by Solomon himself. But no-one seems to have noticed that someone has run off with the baby. There is no case, because there is no baby. The SNP will no longer be able to play divide and rule. They will not be able to cut Britain in half, because they have just made the means by which they wish to do so obsolete.

The other day the UK Parliament had its say about Brexit. It wasn’t the final vote. There will be other votes. There will be more complexity. But in essence we can be more or less sure that by the end of March the UK will tell the EU that we are leaving. Apparently they don’t know yet.

The UK Government will have to give Parliament a plan. But in negotiations a plan is never much more than a wish list. Remember how the SNP had a plan prior to the independence referendum of keeping all the things that they liked about the UK while at the same time becoming independent. The trouble with such plans is that they depend on the agreement of the other side. We just don’t know what sort of a relationship the EU will allow the UK once we negotiate our withdrawal. We may say we want to keep these nice things, but they may say that nice things depend on membership of the EU. No-doubt we will come to some sort of compromise, but that will emerge only behind closed doors during the negotiations.

The end result should be quite simple.  We ought to ask the EU for no more than they give us. If they give us free trade we give them free trade in return.  The number of EU citizens living and working in the UK should be comparable to the number of UK citizens living and working in the EU. Negotiation is about giving and receiving. We have things that we want. The EU has things that it wants. If we are to remain friends then we can come to a friendly arrangement. If the EU wants to be unfriendly then it should not expect friendly help in the future.

So some sort of wish list about getting the best possible deal for Britain will satisfy Parliament. Labour is not going to vote down triggering Article 50. Thank goodness we have a party in opposition that actually believes in democracy. I rather think also Labour don’t fancy a General Election just yet and don’t want to annoy all those voters in the North of England who voted Leave.

The court case in London looks rather irrelevant now as does the fact that the SNP voted against triggering Article 50. But a precedent has been set and it has consequences that are quite interesting for Scottish politics.

We had a legal referendum last June, but since then we have had continual attempts by those who were disappointed by the result to prevent the UK from leaving the EU. Now let’s imagine that at some time in the future the SNP wanted to hold another referendum on Scottish independence. Let’s imagine also that they won such a vote. No doubt they would expect all of us who voted to Remain in the UK to meekly agree with them and not kick up any sort of fuss. We would then all get behind the SNP and work together to create this new independent Scotland. This was indeed my intention back in 2014 if the vote had gone against me. But I have grown up since then.

What if a wealthy Scottish woman who was disappointed that Scotland had voted to leave the UK took the case to the High Court. It’s hard to imagine that such a case could not be heard. What about the precedent? Moreover, the SNP could hardly complain, because they had already taken part in a similar case. What if the devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland also wanted to get involved? They might argue that Scottish independence would have a detrimental effect on them. After all Scottish independence would involve the destruction of the United Kingdom. People all over the UK might argue that they didn’t want their country destroyed. I imagine Ulster might say No if given the chance.

What have we learned in the past few months? We have essentially discovered that all referendums are advisory and depend on the will of Parliament. The SNP have just confirmed that it is legitimate for the UK Parliament to block the result of a legal, democratic referendum. They themselves voted to do so. But then it would equally be legitimate for the UK Parliament to block the result of a referendum on Scottish independence. Alternatively the UK Parliament could argue that there ought to be a second referendum on the terms of the divorce should Scotland ever vote to Leave. Perhaps this referendum ought to be UK wide given that the result would affect everyone. 

But referendums have become essentially gigantic, expensive opinion polls. The UK Parliament has the right to say No, sorry we don’t like the result. This frankly makes having such referendums pointless. Why have this step of holding a referendum if the UK Parliament decides the matter anyway? 

The SNP by its attempts to prevent Brexit has essentially removed the only means it has to take Scotland out of the UK. At some point the UK Government ought to make clear that in response to the events after the EU referendum it has become obvious that referendums themselves are pointless and contrary to the practice of British democracy. Well done SNP.  You have not stopped Brexit, but you have rendered yourself obsolete.

Saturday 3 December 2016

To see ourselves as others see us

There is a stuffy consensus in Scotland. There always has been. Perhaps it has to do with the Presbyterian idea of the elect. We are exceptional. We are different. Wha’s like us. It makes our newspapers exceptionally dull, because almost no-one questions the assumptions which are shared even by political opponents. Ruth Davidson, Nicola Sturgeon, Kezia Dugdale and the Liberal who no-one now remembers may shout at each other and sometimes even pretend to be rude, but they are best friends really. It’s like a cosy little student union debate. They disagree of course, but they all share each other’s assumptions.

I have always preferred heresy. Some of the most interesting ideas are heretical. With a different turn of events they may have become orthodoxy. It’s always worth questioning everything. In this way you just might arrive at the truth.

It is a truth universally acknowledged in Scotland that Robert Burns is our greatest writer. I think Walter Scott is incomparably more important. But Scott was a Tory and could write about both Scotland and England with sensitivity, understanding, love and truth. Without Scott the history of the novel is quite different, because others throughout the world first imitated him and then reacted against that legacy.

One of the biggest problems in Scotland is our lack of understanding of both our own history and the history of other places. Waverley is now no more than a train station and so we have lost touch with the complexity of the reaction of Scott’s readers.  They could both support Charles Edward Stuart’s adventure while being pleased that he failed. Now our history is more cartoon like and single dimensional. We have given up reading and prefer to get our history from films where people paint their faces blue. Some of us even imitate this practice.

But although I prefer Walter Scott, Robert Burns has some moments of brilliance:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion

We are so stuck in our cosy little consensus in Scotland that we are not even aware of how others see the situation.

Language is not a solitary thing. What was learned from Ludwig Wittgenstein is that a solipsistic idea of language is not really even conceivable. For instance the word “red” is learned by my describing things like post boxes as red. My mother and other people correct me if I describe grass as red. They do this correcting without being able to get inside my mind. What is going on in my mind is irrelevant and drops out of the equation. What matters is how I use the word “red” and that I use it in a way that is consistent with other people. Language is social, because that is how it is learned.

But what have we learned in the few months since June? We have learned that in Scotland we use certain words in way that is peculiar to us. It is as if we maintain that grass is red.

Nicola Sturgeon’s grievance was that Scotland didn’t vote for Brexit. Well so what? In any democracy parts vote differently to the whole. But that is not really her grievance. Her complaint is that Scotland is a country and we didn’t vote for Brexit. This is the essence of her argument. She thinks that Scotland ought to be independent because in the European Union referendum we didn’t get what we voted for. But if there were to be a referendum on Scottish independence she would not think that every region of Scotland ought to vote for independence in order for this independence to be achieved. If Aberdeenshire were to vote to remain in the UK, Nicola Sturgeon would argue that Aberdeenshire should be dragged out of the UK against our will. But what is the difference between Aberdeenshire and Scotland? The difference according to Sturgeon is that Scotland is a country while Aberdeenshire is not a country. If Scotland were not a country, then Nicola Sturgeon would have no more reason for a grievance than Aberdeenshire.

But what has happened in the past few months as Nicola Sturgeon and her fellow travellers have gone around Europe with their grievance. People have been nice to her. Some people have tried to use her complaints to undermine the UK Government. But will anyone officially negotiate with Sturgeon? The answer is No. They do not recognise her as the leader the leader of a country.

In international relations you are either a country or a region. In order to be a country you have to be a sovereign independent nation state. This in fact is the normal usage of the word "country". Belgium is a country because since 1830 it has been a sovereign, independent nation state, which has had international relations with other such states. Up until this point in time it had been a region of the Netherlands and before that both a region of France and Austria.  It is the fact that Belgium has had international relations that makes Belgium a country. The Treaty of London (1839) may have been described as a scrap of paper, but it may well also have caused the UK to take part in the First World War.

Other countries do not recognise regions as countries and they do not have international relations with such regions. There is a very good reason for this. In huge numbers of countries around the world there are separatist movements. For example in Belgium there are some people in the region of Flanders who want Flemish independence. There are also, no doubt, some people in Wallonia who want Walloon independence. But the Belgium Government would be very angry indeed if the UK or Germany began negotiating with a region of Belgium. They would justly see this as interfering with their internal affairs. In many instances this would be considered to be a hostile act. 

But all around Europe there are regions that have as good or better claim to be sovereign, independent, nation states as Scotland does. The people in Flanders speak Dutch, while their Walloon neighbours speak French. The people in Catalonia speak a language that is quite different from Spanish. The Basques speak a language which isn’t even Indo-European. The Republic of Venice was one of the great European nation states until it was taken over by Napoleon’s troops and eventually incorporated into Italy. Sometimes the regions of today’s Europe became part of their present day countries due to war, sometimes there was a treaty or an act of parliament. This is all ancient history and irrelevant.

It doesn’t matter how Veneto came to be part of Italy. It may have been just or unjust, by war or by treaty, but it is not a country today because it is a part of Italy. This situation is so commonplace in Europe as to be mundane. It is for this reason that when Nicola Sturgeon goes on her extensive travels she is continually reminded that European countries will only have international relations with other European countries. Moreover Nicola Sturgeon’s demands are incompatible with Scotland’s real status as a region of the UK. Scotland did not join the EU, because Scotland is not a country. The UK joined the EU by an act of the UK Parliament in 1972. Scotland had no more to do with this than Aberdeenshire, Gwent or Antrim. For this reason also Scotland cannot remain in the EU when the UK leaves and Scotland cannot have a different EU status to any other region of the UK. The reason for this is that Scotland cannot enter into international relations at all. The clue is in the word “international”.

But then really in linguistic terms Nicola Sturgeon is being told continually by representatives of various EU member states that you have a rather odd usage of the word “country” and “nation”. We don’t use these words in the way that you do, just as we don’t say that grass is red. Once this is understood then Nicola Sturgeon’s whole argument collapses. Her grievance about the UK leaving the EU is no more valid than Aberdeenshire’s grievance about leaving the UK. If the one is valid then so is the other. But then the whole SNP argument that Scotland votes differently from other parts of the UK is no more valid than Aberdeenshire complaining that it votes differently from the rest of Scotland.  Scotland is no different from any other formerly independent region in Europe and it is commonplace in any democracy for regions to sometimes not get the government they voted for.

The problem is the cosy Scottish consensus. We all think we are special. We think we are so special indeed that most of us think that although we are neither, sovereign, independent nor a nation state we are nevertheless a country in the same way that Belgium is a country. This assumption is so universal and accepted by all Scottish politicians and newspapers and both sides of the argument that when I question it I always get howls of horror.

Scotland has become a grumpy toddler who is indulged, but no matter how much you indulge it wants more. Yes you are a grown up girl. What a big girl you are. Have some more sweets, but please stop flailing around on the floor of the supermarket. Yes you are a nation, yes you are a country. After all you play “international” football matches just like the grownups do. It’s embarrassing. It’s time to break the cosy consensus or the toddler will never grow up. Once it is realised that Scotland has exactly the same international status as Saxony, Burgundy or Flanders, it immediately becomes obvious that Scotland has no more reason to seek independence than they do. It is a pity that so many apparently pro UK politicians just don’t get this and instead prefer to indulge the toddler. One more bag of sweets and dear little Nicola will stop wailing. How’s that working out for you?

Scotland is frequently called a country, but then again I can call something anything I please, words can mean what I want them to mean. But the meaning of the word “island” in the end is determined by the ability to sail round it. For this reason while I may refer to the “Black Isle” I will find in reality it is a peninsular. Nicola Sturgeon may go on and on about Scotland being a country, but she has just fallen off her wall. No-one else in Europe thinks she is the leader of a country, because Scotland lacks the qualities that internationally define places as being countries. Scotland is not an independent, sovereign, nation state. There is no use pretending that it is something that it is not.  It is for this reason that her negotiations are going nowhere. Regions cannot have international relations.  Words don't mean what I want them to mean.