Saturday 30 September 2017

No-one expects the Liberal Inquisition

There must be something in human nature that means we always need to take a good thing too far. In this way far from turning it into a very good thing we instead turn it into a very bad thing. The fault, for instance, with Christianity is not what Jesus and his disciples taught, but that many centuries later when the Church had become powerful it started burning people at the stake for believing one thing about Jesus rather than another thing. It’s impossible to imagine either Jesus or his disciples thinking that this was a good idea and yet Christianity taken to the extreme did indeed lead to the opposite of Christianity. At the point at which the Church persecuted people for not believing a particular version of Christianity or for believing something else or indeed nothing at all, the Church reached the point where it no longer expressed the core of Christianity (“Love thy neighbour”, “Be thee doers of the Word”, “Turn the other cheek” etc. etc.). Rather the Church expressed the opposite of these things and had in fact become Anti-Christian.

I think the same can be said for nearly all ideas. When we read about the early socialists who attempted to create heaven on earth in the 1840s we read about something perhaps misguided, but at least benign. Some people created communal forms of living in various parts of the world. They attempted to put into practice various ideas about equality. These attempts failed, no doubt because they were contrary to human nature, but they did little harm. It was only later when the ideas of socialism were pushed further usually by means of forcing human nature to change that we got the horrors of the twentieth century.

We are now seeing this same process of extremism in contemporary liberalism. The ideas of the liberal left which started off with a plea for tolerance and an attempt to make a fairer world have arrived at the point where they are the source of intolerance and they are making the world worse.

What we have now is a position where liberals are tolerant if and only if you agree with them about everything. But this is very similar to Christianity at the time when non-believers were burned at the stake. Liberals may not actually be proposing to burn Jacob Rees Mogg at the stake, but they are just as angry with him as the Church used to be with heretics. This is not liberalism. It is the opposite of liberalism.

There are a set of views that everyone must hold and that cannot even be discussed. The creed of modern liberalism involves believing certain things about race, about equality, about women, about gender and about sex. We all know what these things are even if sometimes it is difficult to articulate quite what can be said and what cannot. We all know what sort of things might get us metaphorically burned at the stake.

Being polite to other people strikes me as perfectly reasonable. Don’t call people nasty names that they dislike. Fair enough. But it has now been turned into the unforgivable sin. Someone who fails to keep up with the latest preferred term may find that they don’t have a job anymore. Someone who disagrees with some aspect of feminism, even if there is good evidence that this aspect is questionable may too find themselves forced to recant and then repent. We have reached the stage where we must not discriminate in any way between a British citizen and a citizen of any other country. Anyone who thinks we ought to discriminate, for instance by maintaining an international border and limiting immigration, is precisely thereby a bigot, far-right or worse.

The pressure to conform to the extremes of liberalism is just as much as during the Inquisition there was pressure to conform to the teachings of the Church. This liberal/left-wing inquisition is what keeps nearly all of us silent even when we disagree. To fail to conform to the teachings of liberalism about anything risks the person being called a modern heretic. Sometimes the word you are called ends in “phobe”, homophobe, Islamophobe, transphobe etc., sometimes it ends in “ist”, sexist, racist, fascist etc. But all of these words mean heretic.

Nearly everyone will do almost anything to avoid being called any of these words. Even if this means them having to believe something they think to be false or undesirable they will still refuse to say or do anything that might lead to the charge of heresy. Why is this? Well would you have told the Inquisition that there was no such thing as the Virgin Birth? Would you have defended your beliefs and proclaimed them in the market square in Seville in the 1550s? Would you have relied on the tolerance of the Inquisition? But those days are in history. Now we have liberalism and tolerance.

The extremes of liberalism are taking us to disaster. Feminism in the United States has reached a stage where promiscuity (hook up culture) is combined with puritanism so that almost any man can be made to wear the Scarlet Letter R for Rapist. Rape is a crime of violence, but the word is being so devalued that it is being applied to drunken sex where there is no violence at all and no-one actually expresses lack of consent. It is now apparently possible to refuse consent months after the event, possibly after a break-up or a divorce and for this refusal to apply retrospectively. 

At its extremes we find feminists who think all sex is rape and a whole industry has built up that hunts for the witches in our midst. There are denunciations and there is hysteria and quite frankly there is Salem in the twenty-first century. In this way radical feminism achieves the left’s aim of attacking the fundamentals of human nature (sex, love, marriage) so that they can be reformed, it strives to create disharmony between men and women so that the solutions of the left can come to the rescue. The genius of feminism is that even to express doubt about it is to at best be a sexist at worst an apologist for rapists. No wonder hardly anyone dares say anything out of fear that they will be called a heretic.

The extremes of anti-racism have taken us far beyond the point where we were simply supposed to treat people kindly and with respect. It now means that we have to gradually, or not so gradually, allow the whole world into our continent. We have to do this not because we think it is a good idea. We have to do it even if it makes our lives more dangerous and unpleasant. We must do it because if we don’t we risk being accused of committing the unforgivable sin.

Whenever the liberal extremists seek to go one more step along their path towards heaven on earth, they frame the argument in such a way that no-one dares say anything because we are all scared to be treated as heretics. What this means is that writers on the right nearly always go to extraordinary lengths to show that they are not extremists and that they do indeed conform. This always has the effect of conceding defeat in the battle even before the battle has begun. In our desperation not to be seen as far-right extremists we cease to be conservatives at all. It won’t actually matter if we make just one more concession to liberalism. Let them tear down just one more statue. Let them destroy just one more tradition. Let them have just one more gender neutral toilet.

But we are heading towards a world where it will be impossible to tell at birth whether you just had a girl or a boy? How could you possibly tell? You’ll have to wait years before the child itself determines its identity. Soon, perhaps even now, anyone for any reason whatsoever can declare themselves to be a man or a woman or neither simply on a whim. This is extremism. It is also completely bonkers and false.

We are heading towards a world where quite soon certain European countries will in effect cease to exist or at least they will be unrecognisable from what they were fifty years ago. This is extremism. Nothing more extreme has happened to such countries in all their long history up to now.

We are heading to a world where Jacob Rees Mogg will be driven from public life and forced to recant and repent.  This act of penance was once called an auto-da-fé.  We are not quite there yet. But who knows. No-one expects the Liberal Inquisition.  Perhaps the only thing that might stop it  and much else besides is if we have a real conservative as a Prime Minister.

Saturday 23 September 2017

Encouraging nationalism involves a heavy responsibility

As many of us have noticed this week, Spain is trying to prevent one of its parts from holding a referendum on independence. I normally don’t pay much attention to the internal politics of European countries. I can’t even routinely name the leaders of more than a few EU countries. But I began noticing the dispute in Spain a few years ago and from time to time have paid attention. There is a reason for this. Independence movements feed off each other. Scottish nationalists wave Catalan flags and vice versa. The example of one potentially helps or hinders the other.

 In the UK there has been a longstanding political convention that we govern by consent and that this means that if a part of the UK expresses a wish to leave then it will be allowed to do so. It was for this reason, owing to the fact that the SNP gained a majority in the Scottish Parliament they were allowed to hold a referendum in 2014.

A similar principle applies to Northern Ireland. Because a majority of people in Northern Ireland wished to remain in the UK we allowed them to do so. We were willing to go to a great deal of trouble, spend a large amount of money and lose not a few lives to defend this principle. It was right for us to do so. But in order to make peace we came to an agreement that if a majority in Northern Ireland wished to leave the UK they would have the right to do so. The same principle no doubt applies to Wales.

It is important to realise however that this is a political principle. The UK like any other nation state can grant the right to any of its parts to hold a referendum on independence. But it can also withhold the right. It can change laws. It can revoke treaties. Parliament is sovereign and a majority of MPs can more or less vote as they please. Moreover, convention in UK politics changes and evolves. While we govern by consent, we have the same rights as any other nation state to defend ourselves against foes both foreign and domestic. The consent by which we rule is not without limit. For instance, London could not decide to secede from the UK even if a majority of the people living there decided they were not British. We may or may not allow a right to self-determination, but like everywhere else it is balanced by the right of a nation state to maintain its territorial integrity.

Despite what many nationalists think, there is not a universal, unilateral right to self-determination. There are various conventions and precedents and laws. There are matters that encourage other countries to recognise such a right to self-determination. These include a place being a colony, part of a tyranny or the victim of aggression. But the right to self-determination if it exists at all is still balanced by the right of a nation state to maintain its territorial integrity. For this reason a modern democracy in Europe or the United States need not grant a part the right to secede, though it may do so.

We recognised the rights of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to secede from the USSR. This was because they were parts of an undemocratic tyranny. We likewise recognised the right of the parts of the former Yugoslavia to secede because force was used to try to prevent their leaving. But there is a limit. Few indeed are the European nation states that recognise Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia or Crimea as instances where secession was or is justified. It doesn’t matter that the majority in Crimea wished to leave Ukraine (if indeed they do) because Ukraine has a right to maintain its territorial integrity. The same goes for Moldova and Georgia. Kosovo was recognised by most of the Western world, but only because of the violence done to it by Serbia. Even here, not everyone recognises Kosovan independence, seeing it as a dangerous precedent. Spain for instance thinks that the right of Serbia to maintain its territorial integrity supersedes Kosovo’s right to leave.

 Does Catalonia have a right to a referendum on independence? No. Catalonia is a part of Spain in the same way that Crimea is a part of Ukraine. It doesn’t matter if the majority wish to leave, they cannot unilaterally decide to do so. Lots of countries in the world have or have had secession movements. They do not have to allow a vote on independence. The UK is one of only a very few nation states that has or would allow such a vote. Canada is another, though perhaps not any longer. But France for instance would certainly not allow Corsica an independence vote. The United States too famously refused to allow the Confederacy to leave even though not one Southern State voted for Abraham Lincoln and unquestionably a majority of voters wished to leave. The United States was willing to fight the bloodiest war in its history to prevent independence. This did not mean that the United States ceased to be a democracy.

It doesn’t matter that Catalonia at one point was an independent country in its own right. Crimea too was once independent and is only now part of Ukraine because it was annexed by the Russian Empire and then given to Ukraine by the Khrushchev. None of these things matter, because Ukraine has the right to maintain its territorial integrity just as much as the United States has.

It likewise doesn’t matter that some people think Catalonia is a country or a nation. These words are woolly and can apply to almost anywhere. I can decide that Aberdeenshire is a nation or a country and that people living here are a people distinct from the others in Scotland, possessing our own traditions and language. Almost anywhere can claim to be a country. But as places like Crimea and Transnistria have discovered, this does not have to be recognised. The reason is that what matters is not the word “nation”, or “country” what matters is the words “sovereign nation state”. These provide a place with the right to defend its territorial integrity.

Spain then certainly has the right to defend its territorial integrity. It has the same right as every other sovereign nation state in the world. It is for this reason that Catalonia will get almost zero international support. The reason is this. While Spain is a sovereign nation state, Catalonia is not. You won’t find Catalonia listed in the members of the United Nations, nor in any other international body. It doesn’t matter that Catalonia once was a country, nor that many even most Catalans think that it is still a country or a nation. None of these things matter because it is not a sovereign nation state. You cannot infer that because you think somewhere is a country, or a nation that it ought to be a sovereign nation state, because almost anywhere, almost everywhere has once been a country or a nation and some people, especially nationalists may think that it still is. These thoughts do not give you the rights of actually being a sovereign nation state. Nationalism does not in itself give you sovereignty.

Just because the UK gave Scotland the right to hold an independence referendum, it does not follow that Spain ought to do likewise. Different countries have different traditions. Moreover they evolve. The fact that Scotland has been given a referendum and voted “No” changes the convention. That vote has to be taken into account in the evolving question of whether there should ever be another vote. The result of a referendum cannot be ignored, at least not for a while. That too would be undemocratic. While we might be willing to allow a vote on independence, we do not have to allow it continually and whenever Scottish nationalists might want it. That is neither fair, nor reasonable and ignores the UK’s right to maintain its territorial integrity.

Is it wise however for Spain to try to prevent a vote on Catalan independence? This is quite tricky. I much prefer the UK method of solving these issues. Scotland was given a vote and the SNP lost. Now that we have also voted to leave the EU, which makes Scottish independence far less attractive, it may well be that Scottish nationalism simply withers on the vine. If so, then we have both been able to maintain our territorial integrity and grant the right to self-determination. We determined to stay in the UK. The granting of the referendum may have shown that because independence was possible it wasn’t necessary. Why leave a UK which is so democratic that it even is willing to vote itself out of existence?

On the other hand if David Cameron had simply told the SNP that they could not have a referendum would that have angered ordinary Scots so much that the demand for independence would have become unanswerable. Who can tell? We reacted to Theresa May telling Nicola Sturgeon that she would have to wait with relief and proceeded to vote out as many SNP MPs as we could.

It has to be recognised however, that while giving in to SNP demands to have a referendum may have worked out, it was a close run thing. We very nearly lost in 2014 and if the vote had been held in 2015, when the SNP won nearly all the seats in Scotland, then we probably would have lost. A nation state that continually allows a vote on its own existence is liable not to last very long.

Spain has existed for many centuries and is well within its rights to say that Catalan nationalism is transient and therefore ought not to be able to destroy Spain. The problem is that if Catalonia became independent, what of Galicia? Each part of Spain has a character and sometimes a language or dialect of its own. A glimpse at Spanish history shows that it is made up of parts that once were separate kingdoms. But whatever greatness Spain achieved in its history was because of its unity rather than its disunity.

Spain has the right to maintain its unity. But while there is not a universal, unilateral right to self-determination, there is a right to revolt. The danger for Spain is that by taking away the democratic right to self-determination it leaves the Catalans with only the option to take the matter into their own hands. While there is an obvious risk to Spanish unity by allowing a vote, refusing to allow it makes revolt more likely and also more justified. After all the United States declared it had a right to revolt from British rule.

This is where things get dangerous. The United States maintains both the right to revolt and to prevent revolt. It could fight its own war of independence, but prevented the Confederacy from achieving its independence. These principles have come down to us today. Secession is both allowed and not allowed. There is a limited right to self-determination and when a people have no other means to achieve it they may revolt. But a nation state has an unlimited right to self-defence.

 So long as Spain is circumspect it will be able to maintain the unity of its country. No-one is going to recognise an illegal referendum, nor even an illegal declaration of independence. Catalonia will end up as Transnistria if it isn’t careful. No-one in the rest of the world apart from a few Scottish nationalists will either notice or care.  What Spain must avoid however, is any sort of violence. It is perfectly legitimate to enforce Spanish law in Spain, but Spain must do so in a proportionate way. The only way that Catalonia can reach recognised independence is if Spain turns it into Kosovo.  

We don’t know what is going to happen. Hopefully nothing much. Let Catalonia go back to obscurity. Let the whole thing end up in a constitutional court tied up in knots that cannot be undone. It looks as if the UK has gone through its crisis and that the threat to our unity is easing. As usual the British way of muddling through has worked out. But this is Britain. It’s not Spain. Those Scottish nationalists who encourage nationalism in a country that fought a Civil War in the 1930s should realise that the example they have set has been followed. In Catalonia there is the same division and the same hatred and the same use of words like “Quisling” and “traitor”. Only they are much more dangerous words there. Spain has only been a democracy since the 1970s. The roots are not deep. Catalonia is divided, mixed in terms of language and identity and people are passionate. If there is tragedy, the fact that Catalan nationalism was in part encouraged by Scottish nationalism and saw it as an example to be followed will leave a stain on the conscience of the SNP that might equal if not exceed their dubious record during World War Two.  

The theology of Jacob Rees-Mogg

Britain has become an extremely intolerant country. We have reached the stage where in the name of liberalism and tolerance only certain views are allowed to be expressed. This is neither liberal nor tolerant.

It should be completely uncontroversial that a Catholic or at least some Catholics follow the teaching of the Catholic Church. Yet many people now appear to think, and it looks like they are right, that even to say that you agree with these teachings is to commit some sort of unforgivable sin that disqualifies you from public office. This is not tolerance. It is intolerance.

 When Jacob Rees-Mogg calmly and rationally explained his opposition to gay marriage and abortion no-one, but no-one actually looked at his argument. His opponents did not provide counter arguments rather they simply asserted that his views were unacceptable. Do we not have freedom of religion in Britain? Yes of course we do, but some religions are more equal than other religions.

The Church of England is no longer the established Church, nor indeed is the Church of Scotland. They may be this officially but in reality the only established Church is the Liberal/Left establishment that establishes what is correct and what is incorrect. Although some people in Britain can believe what they please and will never be asked about God and the consequences that follow from actually following the teachings their religion, others must cease believing what their religion tells them to believe and follow the Church of Political Correctness. This is not freedom of religion. This is not tolerance. It is intolerance.

Rees-Mogg thinks that gay marriage is simply not possible because marriage is a sacrament and Parliament has no power over sacraments. This lack of power is self-evidently true. The difficulty with his argument is that it would logically imply that only those who believe marriage is a sacrament are actually married. This would have the consequence of dissolving the vast majority of marriages in the UK.

Strictly speaking Protestants including those in the Church of England ought to think that there are only two sacraments (baptism, and communion). Catholics and Orthodox Christians think there are seven one of which is marriage. The difficulty for Rees-Mogg’s argument then is that it would not only invalidate gay marriage it would invalidate the marriage of everyone who is neither a Catholic nor Orthodox.

Where I think he is right however is in the suggestion that marriage is at least connected with God. Until relatively recently everyone believed this. Nearly every marriage in Britain until a few generations ago would have followed the words of the Prayer Book which explained why there was such a thing as marriage.

First, It was ordained for the increase of mankind according to the will of God, and that children might be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy name.

This is why we have marriage rather than simply living together. Even people who have ceased to believe in God still maintain the traditions of marriage, just as many people who have ceased to be Christians still follow Christian morality. But why?

Why should we think it necessary for people to marry? Why when they do marry should we think it desirable that they remain married? The Church has an answer. Marriage was created by God, firstly so that there would be children.

Secondly, It was ordained in order that the natural instincts and affections, implanted by God, should be hallowed and directed aright; that those who are called of God to this holy estate, should continue therein in pureness of living. 

The problem is that if you don’t believe in God why should you want to be a part of something ordained by God? Alternatively if you don’t think that marriage was ordained by God, but instead was created by human beings, why should you want to be part of it at all? Why not just live together?

The whole point of marriage and the reason it developed in our country as it did is to regulate our natural instincts and to make them pure. But if you think this is all lies and nonsense why get involved at all? Why follow this tradition? The fundamental problem is that marriage is above all a promise to love someone and remain with them forever. If it isn’t this, it isn’t anything. But what makes me keep this promise. For a Christian, like Jacob Rees-Mogg the answer is clear. He must remain married because he promised to do so in the sight of God. But if you don’t think God sees, why should you keep your promise?

We also, of course, have secular laws with regard to marriage. We don’t have to marry in a church at all. But we still promise. But why and what makes us keep it? The answer I’m afraid is that nothing makes us keep our promise. As soon as many of us tire of our wives or husbands, or as soon as we cease to feel the passion that we once felt, or as soon as we meet someone else, well at that point we break our promise. But this isn’t marriage. It is living together with a few legal strings attached.

It turns out then that Rees-Mogg is at least partly right. Most people in Britain marry in a conditional way, crossing their fingers when they promise. The loss of God is the loss of marriage. No law holds us to our promise, not for long anyway. No secular morality tells us that we must keep our promise. We are all free to break it when we please. But this means that we don’t promise and therefore don’t get married.

It turns out then that marriage is inherently connected with the Church. Without God the idea of marriage as traditionally conceived simply collapses. We are left with the ritual, quite an expensive one, but it has become empty and quite literally meaningless. This is what happens when you keep the tradition but lose the foundation that keeps it from standing. It falls down.

The reasons given for marriage by the Church make the very idea of gay marriage inconceivable. Gay marriage contradicts the purpose of marriage. Of course society can decide to make any civil laws it pleases. If gay people wish to live together and make certain legal promises there need be nothing to stop them. But it isn’t marriage. The way to discover what is a thing is to ask the question what is it for? The purpose of marriage is so that women can have children in safety and security and so that the natural instincts of both men and women are regulated in a way that is beneficial both for themselves and for society. We have forgotten this purpose and so marriage has become purposeless. Worse by extending marriage beyond its purpose we have ended up with a situation where only those who believe that marriage is a sacrament or at least that they promise in the sight of God actually marry. Everyone else is just taking part in a very expensive charade involving white dresses, castles and drunkenness.

When you take away the foundation of morality, you are left with mere law. Everything at this point becomes permissible so long as you can get away with it. But the logical outcome of permissiveness is to say that marriage is an outdated tradition that we should dispense with. In the end if everyone can get married, then no-one can. We have already reached the point where almost no one does.  

Rees-Mogg also got into trouble because of his views on abortion. His argument will go something like this:

Killing people is wrong,
Babies in the womb are people,
Therefore killing babies in the womb is wrong.

You really have two choices here. Either you can deny that killing people is wrong or you can deny that babies in the womb are people. The first option is unpalatable for obvious reasons. If killing some people is not wrong, where are we going to draw the line? The problem with the babies in the womb are not people argument is that it looks awfully like the slaves are not people argument that meant that in the United States they could declare that all people are created equal except slaves. Why should we discriminate against these people who happen to be situated in a womb?

If I was teaching in a school and discovered that one of the children in the class was conceived as a result of rape or incest would I be morally justified in killing it? Obviously not. But why should I be justified then in killing it because it is situated in a womb rather than a classroom?

But what about the rights of a woman to do what she wants with her body? Indeed these rights must be taken into account. But which human right gives me the right to kill another human being? Self-defence perhaps gives me that right. But babies in the womb are only rarely a threat to a woman’s safety.

The babies in the womb are not people argument is faced with the difficulty that we all accept that babies outside the womb are people. Killing babies which have been born is liable to lead to a murder charge. But then if we wish to maintain that babies in the womb are not people, we are forced to say at what point they become people.

Jacob Rees-Mogg thinks that the moment of conception is the moment at which life begins. For this reason he thinks that all abortion is wrong. This is logical rather than shocking.  But why should the moment of conception be theologically significant. I think he is mixing up science (the moment of conception is only known about because of science) with theology.

Traditionally the Church knew no more about the mechanics of conception than did anyone else. A few hundred years ago no-one knew that a sperm entered into an egg. They didn’t have microscopes that were powerful enough. When did the Church think life began? It thought that it began with quickening or the moment when the woman first feels the baby in the womb. The Church traditionally treated this moment as the moment when the baby gains a soul.

And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.

Elisabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, is filled with the Holy Spirit at the point when she first feels her baby moving. The baby gains a soul at this point not before.

For this reason it is not necessary to believe as Rees-Mogg does that all abortion is wrong from the moment of conception. It is perfectly possible to say we have an actual person when it gains a soul but prior to that we only have a potential person. But two people who first meet and think about marrying have in them any number of potential persons. Their failure to marry and have sex may prevent one of these potential persons from becoming an actual person. But there is clearly nothing wrong in this. If there were, a man could demand sex on the grounds that it makes a potential person actual.

From this we need not be quite as strict as Rees-Mogg. There is a window of opportunity where it is possible to abort babies without doing anything seriously wrong. Quickening occurs between 15-20 weeks after conception. Rape victims and victims of incest ought to be able to have an abortion prior to that. Other women too who elect to have early abortions need not feel that they are doing anything particularly wrong. A cluster of cells that is neither conscious nor self-conscious may or may not become a human being, but it is not a human being yet. A potential thing is not the thing it might become. An acorn is not an oak and therefore while chopping down an oak may be wrong throwing an acorn on the fire is morally unproblematic.

We ought to be living in a free society which is tolerant of the views of everybody whether religious or not. The law about things like marriage and abortion must take into account the wishes and beliefs of everyone. It cannot be that religious views dictate who can or cannot form a life-long partnership. But I must be free to say that I don’t think that it is possible for gay people to marry. I believe it contradicts the meaning of the words “man”, “woman” and “marry”. They on the other hand are free to call what they are doing what they please. But they are not free to compel anyone else to go along with the way they use or misuse language. Likewise religious views ought not to determine at what point abortion is legal or illegal. We do not, thank God, live in a theocracy. But I am free to think that early abortion is morally and theologically unproblematic while also maintaining that late abortion is a form of legalised murder. Rees Mogg should be free to believe what he believes. It should not disqualify him from high office, nor lead to him being described as a bigot. He is not the bigot. It is those who describe him as such who are bigots. Only when we allow everyone to believe what they believe without fear of prejudice will we find that we are living in a tolerant country. We are not living in it today.    

Saturday 16 September 2017

It’s not bad enough yet

 I was going to write about something else this week. I had something almost ready about Jacob Rees-Mogg’s views on theology. But then I saw that he had ruled himself out from being leader, no doubt because of his views on theology. Maybe at a later date I will discuss those views. I think there is an interesting rational argument to be had about the subject. But why stick your neck out. It’s not bad enough yet.

 Every other day now North Korea either has a new test for a new sort of nuclear weapon or else it sends a rocket over Japan. Kim Jong-un is the Little Engine that Could. He’s little and a little round and he can. Everybody gets very angry about this and makes all sorts of threats. But nothing is going to happen until and unless he does. If any sort of nuclear weapon actually lands on American territory or the territory of an ally then there will be a nuclear response. But until and unless that happens Mr Kim knows that he can pretty much do as he pleases. The Chinese don’t want to see a unified Korea, so they will do nothing. The Russian’s chief foreign policy goal is to do the opposite of what the Americans want and so they will do nothing. Mr Kim wants attention and perhaps needs it and so he will throw his rockets out of his pram, but the game requires that he doesn’t go too far. The only problem is if he miscalculates. What if one of his rockets accidentally lands in Japan? Is there a response then? But fundamentally until the situation gets bad enough the Americans will do nothing. It’s not bad enough yet. I think it has to get very bad indeed before any sort of military action is taken against North Korea. So Mr Trump’s threats are probably empty, just as Mr Kim’s rockets are empty. The game is very dangerous indeed, but for the moment that’s all it is.

The same logic applies to our domestic security situation and the situation of every other Western European Country and indeed the United States. Here we face a situation that is much more dangerous than North Korea, but here too it isn’t bad enough yet.

Every now and again for the last while we turn on the news to find there has been another terrorist incident somewhere in Europe or the United States. We’ve had big ones (9/11) and small ones (Parson’s Green) and medium ones (e.g. Nice).  But none of these are bad enough. What we always get afterwards is the same meaningless words from politicians and the same meaningless gestures. The Eiffel Tower is lit up with the colours of another country’s flag. Scared people tell other scared people that they are not scared. We promise that we won’t give in to terrorism while trying to modify what we say and do in order not to provoke it. None of these things do any good whatsoever. We’ve even ceased to listen to what the politicians say as we already know what they said last time and what they will say next time.

The problem is this. Just as Jacob Rees-Mogg has to rule himself out of being Tory leader for telling the truth about his views, so all of us have to rule ourselves out of membership of polite society if we tell the truth about the nature of the problem and provide solutions that might actually solve it. It’s not bad enough for us to do this and so we say nothing.

There is an unforgivable sin in the modern western world. Because of this unforgivable sin most people go to great lengths to prove that they are not sinners. The unforgivable sin is so awful that I dare not even name it. I can blaspheme against the Holy Spirit with impunity, but we all know that certain words and certain truths may not be said in modern Britain. The reason they may not be said is that it isn’t bad enough yet.

Since Scottish politics became a dead issue not worth writing about I have spent the whole summer trying to explore the fundamentals of politics. Our problem is that we have turned equality into a God that must be worshipped at all costs. It means that whenever we face a situation that requires discrimination we fail to discriminate. We may start off with the best of intentions, after all we all want to be treated fairly, but we end up ignoring real difference. There is a real difference, for instance, between men and women. We are all of us who are not blind and unable to touch fully aware of it. But the logic of the equality lobby leads to children of six being told that this difference is not real and that girls and boys are interchangeable at will. The truth remains the truth and reality remains reality. The foundation of human society is the real difference between men and women. Throw away that foundation at your peril. Men and women want different things and to an extent we think differently and are often good at different things. Treat us fairly by all means but don’t ignore the reality of our difference.

There is likewise a difference between the duty I owe to my family, my fellow citizens and the duty I owe to people in general. These are real differences. I do not have a duty to ruin my own country in order to save the people of another. We are not equal.

When we turn equality into the thing to be worshipped at all costs, the cost in the end is Parsons’s Green. Discriminate has become a bad word. Not the worst of words of course, but bad enough. But really it means to recognise a distinction. People are different. Of course there are fundamental characteristics that we share with people the world over. But anyone who has travelled realises that there is a distinction between my society and your society, my culture and your culture. This is a real distinction. The attempt to erase this distinction because of equality is leading the West to disaster. Many people on the Left because of their belief in equality are trying in effect to create a world without borders. The result will be very bad indeed. It already is pretty bad as you may have noticed in the last five years or so. It may get much worse.

Can anything be done? Possibly. The most important step is to leave the EU. This makes Parliament sovereign and gives us the power to elect politicians who will do what it takes to make our country safe. It also gives us the power, if we choose to exercise it, to act in the interests of our own citizens rather than the citizens of the whole world. We must have no foreign court telling us what to do. The problem is that whenever a country attempts to do what is necessary to make itself safe (e.g. Poland, Hungary etc.) other countries condemn them for failing to share in our common danger. Each of our European countries ought, after all, to be equally dangerous otherwise we sin against the God of Equality.

Will anything be done? Probably not, at least not yet. I think it probably needs a plane to fly into the Houses of Parliament and for that plane to be packed with radioactive material or else some form of chemical or biological weaponry. Such a plane could easily have been flown on September 11th 2001 in which case it might have killed 100,000 people rather than 2996. That would probably have been bad enough. In that case our politicians would not have gone on about what this had nothing to do with. Rather they would have solved the problem. We wouldn’t have had any choice. But this won’t happen, not yet anyway, because it’s not bad enough.  

Saturday 9 September 2017

Indyref; or, 'tis three years since

It’s a pity Walter Scott is so little read nowadays. Waverley (or 'tis sixty years since) is not merely a station in Edinburgh it is the key to understanding everything in Scottish history and if you understand the past you understand the present, for history is not about what was, it’s about what is, it’s not about then, it’s about now.

I resolved earlier this summer to not write about Scottish nationalism, the SNP or even Scottish politics. For the most part I have stuck to this resolution. For the moment there isn’t really anything to write. But as we approach the three year anniversary of the independence referendum I’ve decided to make an exception. But this time I’m not really trying to persuade those who are sympathetic to Scottish nationalism. Rather I think it is for us Pro UK people to learn a lesson.

I have gradually been building towards the conclusion that we were very lucky indeed in 2014. Part of the reason for this is what happened a year ago during the referendum about leaving the EU. Scotland might well have voted to leave the UK and for exactly the same reason that the UK voted to leave the EU. On both occasions the “Remain” campaign was dreadful and achieved the opposite of what it intended.

I have long thought that “Better Together” could hardly have been a worse slogan and strategy. This came to me gradually. For a very long time indeed I went along with it, writing articles about all the disadvantages of leaving the UK and all the advantages of remaining. None of these did any good. All of them missed the point.

“Better Together” implicitly concedes defeat by acknowledging the possibility of being apart. No-one, but no-one, would argue that it is better for Kansas to be together with North Carolina. To suggest that Brittany is better of being together with Normandy would be met with bemusement in France. The reason for this is that both French people and Americans think that they are one nation indivisible. Therefore it is unthinkable that they should split.

“Better Together” acknowledged separation while attempting to argue that we should not separate. It should instead have said that the UK is one nation indivisible and therefore separation is senseless. But this is the problem at the heart of our thinking about the UK. For centuries we have acted as if we were similar to the EU. We have played “international” football with each other and have allowed separate identities to develop. Our Pro UK politicians concede the nationalist argument by continually acknowledging the separateness of the parts of the UK and then use a combination of bribery and threats to try to hold the whole thing together.

The key to defeating an opponent is to deny what he asserts and refute what he assumes. “Better Together” went into battle by accepting what the SNP assumes, i.e. that Scotland is a country in the same way that France is. The only difference between the SNP argument and the Pro UK argument was over the advantages and disadvantages of remaining and leaving. But if you share the SNP assumption then quite logically you must share their conclusion. If Scotland is a country in the same way as France is, then it ought to be independent. Why should Scotland alone out of all the hundreds of countries be the only one that can’t manage to be an independent sovereign nation state? Why indeed? If I thought Scotland was a country in the same way that France is, I would vote for the SNP.

Because “Better Together” agreed with SNP assumptions it was left with mere calculation. Let's tot up all the economic advantages of staying in the UK and point out all of the economic disadvantages of leaving. Also let’s make leaving the UK seem as scary as possible. The worst thing about this is that it is all mere contingency. What if at some point Scotland had an economic surplus? Should we then all vote for independence? The "Better Together" strategy amounts to praying for Scotland to remain poor and dependent. God forbid that Scotland should ever have policies that meant we made a profit! But wishing in this way is not to wish for us to be better, it is to wish for us to be worse. This is obviously not a strategy at all. 

The exact same strategy was repeated in 2016 with regard to the EU, but this time it lost. It very nearly lost in 2014 too. The reason it lost is that it is a terrible strategy. This is not because of economics. We can debate endlessly about economics. Some people believe one thing about economics and vote Labour, others believe something else and vote Tory. It’s not about the economy stupid.

Imagine a young couple who have just got married, but they can’t afford to buy their own house. They decide to remain living with the elderly mother of one of them. There is a lot to be said for the arrangement. The mother is getting old and needs help in the house. She’s lonely and welcomes the company. It’s perfectly possible to imagine this arrangement working well and benefitting everyone. Imagine however that the mother kept going on and on about how she paid more than the young couple. What if she said I pay more of the bills than you do? I pay more for food. I have more money than you do and therefore subsidise you. How do you suppose this arrangement would work out? My guess is that after a short while the young couple would move out. They would do this even if moving out meant a struggle and even if it left them worse off. It’s not about the economy stupid, it’s about the psychology.

Every country that ever became independent went through difficulties. The United States fought a war of independence, so did many other countries. If a country really wants to be independent a few years of economic difficulty are not going to deter it. Why would they? If some countries have thought it worth fighting a war to achieve independence why would a paltry thing like changing currency deter them?

There is a reason why support for the SNP increased and increased so much that they very nearly won the independence referendum. There is a reason too that this support has fallen. “Better Together” caused the increase, the demise of “Better Together” caused the fall.

Every time someone told Scots about what a disaster it would be if we voted for independence one more Scot decided to “leave the house”.
Since the independence referendum fewer and fewer people have been telling Scots that it would be an economic disaster if we voted to leave the UK. It is far better just to let the economic situation speak for itself. We don’t need to bang on and on about it.

Scots are not stupid. We know that the price of oil has fallen. We also know that we get a pretty good deal from the UK Government. But let’s just leave it at that. Don’t rub our noses in it. Families don’t count the cost.

Every year there are the so called GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland) figures. These are, no doubt, of interest to economists and the bureaucrats who run Scotland, but discussion about these should be left to the financial pages. Scotland is not an independent country and luckily we don’t need to worry too much about whether we are running a surplus or a deficit. If Scotland ever became an independent country our long term economic prospects would depend on the choices, the resources and the decisions of a Scottish Government. Nothing in these GERS figures shows either that Scotland ought or ought not to become an independent country. So let’s just ignore them.

During the independence campaign the SNP made some rather optimistic economic claims. Sometimes they still do. It is perfectly reasonable to point out where they make errors. But generally it is better to let the economic situation of Scotland speak for itself without any glee.

Imagine if my young couple were going through difficulties. The husband was very optimistic about his future, but instead lost his job. Would it be a good idea if the mother every moment told him about how his hopes had been dashed and how now he was dependent on her? Would this make it more or less likely that the young couple stayed in the house? Is it becoming clear yet that Project Fear and Project dash Scotland’s hopes is a stupid strategy?

The Pro UK task is to be positive about the UK and attempt to make people feel unity rather than disunity. We do this by treating everyone in the UK as part of our family. Being nasty about the various parts of the UK, telling these parts that they are useless or dependent or hopeless economically does nothing at all, for our sense of being one family with ties of affection that hold us together.

It doesn’t matter if what “Better Together” said about the economic situation is true or untrue. It doesn’t matter if Project Fear was accurate or inaccurate. It was psychologically obtuse. Tell a teenager how he couldn’t manage on his own and you will invite him to flounce off saying “I’ll show you”. Moreover he will show you.

Support for independence is falling because of what we don’t say rather than what we do say. We don’t every day get some “Pro UK” politician on the news who thinks that insulting Scots is a good way to get us to stay in the UK. It doesn’t matter that the insult is true. If I’m thin and you call me “fatty” I won’t take it as an insult. I’m only ever insulted by things that are true. It doesn’t therefore matter that what certain commentators say about the Scottish economy are true. It doesn’t matter that Scotland would be worse off if we voted for independence. What matters is that we don’t bang on and on about it.  Continually reminding Scots that we are dependent and that we run a "deficit" doesn't help the Pro UK cause, it hurts it. These arguments persuade no-one to join us, but rather persuade many to leave us.  The logical reaction of telling someone continually that they can’t afford independence is for them to try it anyway. This may or may not be stupid economically, but it is the human reaction. It is how we are. 

If Remain had campaigned relentlessly about the merits of the EU and had said nothing whatsoever that was negative about Britain, they would have won. Instead they insulted Britain. They said that the sky would fall in if you vote to leave the EU. They said that Britain couldn’t possibly manage outside the “EU house” and in effect that the EU itself as opposed to the Eurozone was a burning building without any exits. All of the relentless negativity from Remain amounted to an insult. In the end it sounded unpatriotic and it made us seem weak and pathetic. It is for this reason above all that we voted to leave.

'Tis three years since. The genius of Walter Scott is that he portrayed the attractions of Jacobites while at the same time showing that this was something in the past that was not to be revisited. He was in this way able to find reconciliation between the Stuarts and the Hanoverians and for this reason even George IV when he visited Edinburgh could celebrate the 45 Rebellion. In time people in the southern states of America could both celebrate their heroes and their ancestors who fought in the Civil War while being glad that the United States remained intact. This was the key to reconciliation. So too Scott could celebrate the cause of Charles Edward Stuart while recognising the stability and prosperity that came with the Hanoverians.

The key to reconciliation today in Scotland is to acknowledge that those Scots who voted for independence were not stupid economic illiterates. Rather in part they were responding to a misguided “Better Together” campaign that was the equivalent of the Duke of Cumberland bayonetting the wounded. We are one UK family. Let us not count the cost and let us not go on about it. In this way perhaps sometime before we arrive at the sixtieth anniversary of the independence referendum we will find reconciliation just as we did once before. 

Saturday 2 September 2017

If there is hope, it lies in the Poles

There has been endless complaint since the UK voted to leave the EU a little over a year ago. Not from voters mind you. The vast majority of Remain voters have simply got on with their lives and accepted that they lost the argument. Owing to the fact that the Remain prediction of immediate catastrophe for the UK simply did not occur, many former Remain voters have come to the conclusion that they were duped. But this has not stopped the rearguard action from some politicians and some influential people in the papers. There are still attempts to stop Brexit or to so water it down that it would amount to staying in the EU. Even if the doom and gloom about Britain’s immediate future has been shown by events to be ludicrously pessimistic, we are still supposed to believe these pessimists. It’s as if a weather forecaster kept telling us there would be a hurricane and when day after day it kept failing to appear he kept on expecting us to believe that he could predict the speed of wind. It’s time to realise that that the establishment of political experts in Britain are wrong. What’s more they have been wrong about everything for the past fifty years. It is for this reason that some of the newer EU members such as the Poles are beginning to question whether the whole thing is worth it. The reason is simple. They can watch and they can think.

The whole EU project is based on deception. If only it all happens gradually we can create a United States of Europe without anyone noticing. I don’t think in the end that forming a new nation state called Europe is a good idea. I can though respect those who disagree with me. If it were modelled on the United States of America, with just as much freedom and democracy and with similar rights for the constituent parts, then there could be advantages. But the EU is not remotely like the USA. The people of the USA elect their president and their upper and lower houses of parliament. The powerful people in the EU are appointed. The most important decisions are made behind closed doors. The democratic will of member states (Greece, Republic of Ireland, France, the Netherlands) has recently been overturned. There has been a concerted effort to do the same with the UK. But it looks like it will fail.  There is likewise at the moment an attempt to make Poland bend to the will of its EU masters. Hopefully that will fail too.

If you want to be part of something called the United States of Europe, then it indeed makes sense to support Remain. But few indeed are the Brits who do. This is where the whole project becomes dishonest. I don’t think many French or Italian people want France or Italy to be merely a region of Europe. But after sixty years of EU propaganda and mission creep there is a tendency to think that there is no alternative. A tiny proportion of Remain supporters really believed in European federalism yet that is what they voted for. There is a sort of self-deception that the EU won’t ever quite reach the point of being a United States of Europe. But watch how it has gradually moved more and more towards its goal. There is a single currency. There is border free travel such that in parts of the EU you barely even notice international borders. There is a president. Soon there will be an army. If you don’t think European federalism is happening you frankly are not paying attention.

Brexit may involve some tough choices and it may even involve some hard times. But if we don’t want to be part of a federal nation state called the EU, and the vast majority of us don’t, then leaving is the only option. You either get this, or you don’t. I don’t think you need to be ruled by someone else in order to trade freely with them. But here’s the deal. I would prefer not to trade with them at all than be forced to do bend to the will of the EU. I don’t think Brexit will be nearly as tough economically as some people predict, it may even be such that we barely notice. But again even if it were going to be tough, it would be eminently worth it. Unless you are one of the tiny band of EU federalists you have to agree with me. If you don’t want the UK to be the equivalent of Vermont, then you have to think that it’s better to leave the EU now rather than continue towards the federalist EU destiny.

It is this point that has recently become clear to Poland. Most of us pay little attention to Polish politics. All those consonant clusters can make it difficult to follow. But something important is happening and it is worth paying attention.  There is a now a fundamental dispute between Poland and the EU. The Poles elected a party called Prawo i Sprawiedliwość [Law and Justice].  This party has some fairly traditional Polish Catholic views, but for all that it is currently the largest party in the Polish Parliament. The dispute with the EU may in part be because of this traditional Polish Catholicism, which means that the Polish Government sins in a variety of ways against EU Orthodoxy. But it is in two ways in particular that the EU most disagrees with Poland. The first is that the Polish Government wanted to appoint judges to its Supreme Court. There have been some protests about this in Poland. Fair enough. In every country there are political disagreements. But the EU has told Poland that it may not appoint its judges in this way. Why ever not? The USA appoints judges to its Supreme Court by means of a political process. The EU doesn’t complain about this. Why should it complain about how Poland decides to do these things? What has it to do with the EU? At any rate some rather important people in the EU are appointed and a large number of decisions are made in a less than transparent way. Why threaten to remove Poland’s voting rights in the EU over something as arcane as how they appoint their judges?

The reason perhaps is that Poland has sinned in a more fundamental way. When Angela Merkel responded to the refugee crisis in 2015 by in effect saying all of them were welcome in Germany, what she really meant was that all of them were welcome in the EU. She might have been generous unilaterally, but she expected the consequence of her decision to be shared multilaterally. Poland has refused its share. This is the root of the dispute about judges.

Poland along with other members of the Visegrád Group (Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia) has shown great reluctance to accept any of the people Mrs Merkel let into the EU. Why ever should these countries be so reluctant? After all aren’t we continually told how beneficial immigration has been to Britain, France, Germany, Sweden etc.? Why would anyone want to avoid something that was so clearly of benefit to them?

This is the crux of the matter. The Poles et al have benefited from the EU. They are net recipients and get a large amount of money from the richer EU states. Not only this, but they have also benefited from free movement of people. Many Polish people have been able to live and work in Western Europe. But this has also given them an experience of life in the West. What they have seen is how the Pro EU establishment has managed things for the past decades.

Take Britain where the majority of Polish people have come to live. The UK is wealthier than Poland in part because we didn’t have to live under communism for fifty years. But communism also isolated Poland from much of what has happened to a country like Britain since the 1950s. I think the Poles who have been living in places like Britain have seen where Western values and the EU establishment Orthodoxy lead. They don’t like what they see.

I recently went to a Polish Church service in a cathedral. It was packed with people of all ages who quite obviously were sincere and believed with enthusiasm. My guess is that the equivalent English language service would have been sparsely attended with a few elderly ladies who probably were not quite sure what they ought or ought not to believe. This is the difference. The UK has gone through a revolution since the 1950s. Belief in Christianity has collapsed. Traditional ideas about morality are no longer believed and we have little idea about what we believe about anything. We know what we must not say at least in public. But what is it to be British in Britain today? Few of us have a clue. What values do we have except those vague values that are shared by everyone in the West in general? But then these are not our values. They are the values of everybody. This really means we don’t have our own values.

The Poles have been happy to live and work here. We too have benefited from them coming here. But my guess is that when some have them have returned to Poland they have come with a message. Be careful. If you follow the path of Britain you will turn Poland into the same thing. You see the Poles know exactly what it means for someone to be a Pole and they are absolutely clear about what their values are. What they believe is what they have always believed. They like believing these things and want to maintain their country more or less as it is.

The British political establishment from the 1950s onward has made one hell of a mess. We have debts that we can’t pay, but which instead we must attempt to gradually inflate away. We have destroyed the foundation of our morality (Christianity) without having been able to put something else in its place. This means that large numbers of our citizens do exactly what they please so long as it is within the law or they can avoid getting caught. We have strange combination of “anything goes” while at the same time we peer through the lace curtains to make sure no-one sins against the latest diktat of political correctness. We have completely lost control of our borders and have absolutely no idea of what to do about it. Meanwhile many of our cities have been changed beyond all recognition, such that pictures from the 1940s look as if they are pictures of another country. They are.

It was this that we rebelled against when we voted to leave the EU. We were saying to the British political establishment that we rejected them and everything that they stood for. It is for this reason too that the establishment and its supporters reacted with such fury. It is for this reason too that they have been fighting such a bitter rearguard action.

We should support the Poles. We went to war to defend Poland in 1939, but in the end failed to do so. We probably couldn’t have done otherwise. We lacked the will, perhaps the strength to fight the Soviet Union in 1945. Nevertheless our failure to defend Eastern Europe in those days led to decades of tyranny.  We must not allow Poland to be bullied because it wishes to protect its sovereignty and way of life. We must allow them to learn the lesson of the past decades.

Western cities are now under continual threat. We are told that we must live with this and that nothing can be done. This is no doubt true. But it is not true about Warsaw, Budapest, Prague or Bratislava. Let these cities at least avoid having to say that this fear is normal. We need a new way of thinking, because the old ways have led to what Poland and its neighbours are desperate to avoid. Brexit may be a step in the right direction. If Poland leaves too then we should offer them friendship, help and free trade. Poles have been through tough times to defend their freedom and sovereignty. No doubt they will consider it to be worth it. Perhaps their example may encourage others. The EU and the Western political establishment that created it is part of the problem. We are seeing the consequences of the decisions that were made for the past decades every day throughout Western Europe. It is for this reason that the Poles reject these decisions. They can see where they lead. They are right to reject them.

If there is hope,’ wrote Winston, ‘it lies in the Poles.’