Friday, 19 October 2018

Check hers

September 2014
The Yes side win a vote for Scottish independence by 53.4% to 46.6%

November 2014  

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon begin negotiations with the UK Government led by Michael Gove.

December 2014

Michael Gove announces that the UK will only support a free trade agreement with Scotland under the condition that Scotland pays an exit fee. This will be ten billion pounds. Unless Scotland agrees to pay this fee the UK will refuse to enter into negotiations regarding free trade.

 January 2015

Scottish independence supporters bitterly complain about the UK’s negotiating tactics. But everyone recognises that there is just over a year until 24th March 2016, the intended date of Scottish independence.

March 2015.

Michael Gove proposes that there should be a backstop agreement applying to those areas of Scotland that voted No. These places should not be disadvantaged in their trade relations with the UK. For this reason Scotland must agree that if a free trade deal with the UK should turn out to be impossible to negotiate, they should remain part of the UK Single Market and Customs Union.

April 2015

Scottish independence supporters continue to complain and to demonstrate their displeasure with the Salmond/Sturgeon negotiating team. Representatives of No voters try to prevent Scottish independence continuing by taking legal action.

May 2015

Scotland takes part in its final UK General Election. MPs for what are now known as Remain supporting parties win a majority of the seats. There are loud calls for a “People’s Referendum”.

June 2015

Fear of a “no deal” Scottish independence grows in Scotland forcing Salmond/Sturgeon to agree to the exit fee and the backstop.

July 2015

Salmond Sturgeon and other members of the SNP Government meet at a large country house in order to come up with a plan. The debate is between fundamentalists led by Salmond and pragmatic gradualists led by Sturgeon. Salmond loses the debate and resigns. The agreement is known as “Check hers” because on leaving Salmond says that “They wouldna read my plan, they only wanted to check hers.”

August 2015

Sturgeon goes to a meeting with Michael Gove with her “Check hers” plan. Gove rejects it. He thinks that Sturgeon is wanting to cherry pick the UK single market.  

September 2015

Salmond is shouting from the side-lines that Sturgeon should chuck “check hers”

October 2015

Michael Gove insists that there can be no free trade agreement with Scotland unless Scotland agrees that the Borders, Orkney and Shetland remain in the UK Customs Union and Single Market, which would mean that although they would have no representation at Westminster, UK MPs would still control the rules and laws applying to these parts of Scotland. Alternatively Scotland could agree that the whole of Scotland would remain in the UK Single Market and Customs Union, meaning that it would not be Edinburgh that controlled Scottish trade and customs policy, but London. In order to retain these benefits Scotland would have to pay a membership fee of five billion pounds per year on top of its ten billion pound exit fee.

November 2015

Scotland is deeply divided. Some independence supporters are determined to leave the UK come what may even if there is no deal. They reason that they would still be able to trade with the UK on WTO terms. Other Scots begin to regret their decision to leave the UK. They demand a second referendum. The SNP argue that it is undemocratic to demand a second referendum and that the result of the September 2014 referendum must be respected.

December 2015

Sturgeon continues to plead with Michael Gove to relax the terms of the backstop. She complains that it puts her on the horns of a dilemma. Either she must break up Scotland or deliver independence in name only. Gove responds that it wasn’t his choice to vote to leave the UK.

March 2016

Gove continues not to budge and as the clock ticks towards Independence Day Scotland becomes ever more divided.

Faced with a choice between leaving with “no deal” and staying in the UK, the Scottish Parliament narrowly votes to stay. Salmond calls them traitors.

April 2016

Gove accepts that the result of the September 2014 referendum has been annulled, but decides to also annul Scotland’s rebate (Barnett Formula) and abolish all of the devolved Parliaments. From now on the UK will be treated as one nation indivisible with no preferential treatment for anyone.

Friday, 12 October 2018

The 9th circle

When Theresa May returned to Britain after being humiliated in Salzburg she made a defiant speech where she maintained that she would stand up for Britain and that on certain issues she would not bend.

 She rejected outright that the UK would remain in the European Economic Area (EEA) and Customs Union.

She rejected outright that Britain would be given a free trade agreement but that Northern Ireland would be forced to remain in the Customs Union with in effect a border down the Irish Sea separating the United Kingdom.  

Like many other people I applauded the speech Theresa May made on the 21st of September. My only caveat was that I was unsure that she meant what she said.

The trouble is that since becoming Prime Minister Theresa May has said rather a lot of things and later we have learned that she didn’t mean what she said. She kept saying “Brexit means Brexit”, which must mean that Brexit will be real rather than fake.

In her Lancaster House speech of 17th January 2017 she made clear that the UK would leave both the EU’s Custom’s Union and Single Market. The reason for this is that all of the advantages of Brexit depend on us doing so. These points were reiterated in the Conservative Party Manifesto later in 2017.

But the promises Theresa May made ended up with Chequers. This amounted to promising while crossing her fingers. While under the Chequers proposal the UK would technically leave the Customs Union and Single Market we would have had to mimic both of them. Most of the potential Brexit benefits would once more be slipping through our fingers.  

My one fear was that the EU would accept Chequers, but they rejected it, or at least that was the appearance. Theresa May stood up like some latter day Boadicea and said that she wouldn’t budge.

“Here I stand”, she said, “I can do no other, God help me.”

Metaphorically she said “We will fight them on the beaches”

When leaders make speeches like that it is the duty of citizens to be moved and to rally round.

When Churchill made the speeches he made in 1940, it didn’t matter if you were a Labour supporter, a Liberal or a Tory. Here was our leader at a time of national emergency inspiring us. It was time to put aside party squabbles and come together as one. Everyone apart from a few fascists and Scottish nationalists did just that.

But what would we think of Churchill today if he had told us “We will fight them on the beaches” only to surrender a couple of weeks later?

A leader simply cannot make a speech like Theresa May did in September and then back down. It not only makes them look ridiculous it makes them look cowardly. It’s a betrayal of everyone who listened to the speech and believed her.

The trouble is that Dante is quite right to put those who commit acts of betrayal right in the innermost (9th) circle of Hell.

We must wait and see. Perhaps the EU will reject Theresa May’s plans once more. Perhaps somehow by means of Parliament or by some other means we will end up with a full complete Brexit. But the signs are not looking so good.

The Democratic Unionists are threatening to withdraw support from the Government. It is disgraceful that it has reached the point where they feel the need to do so.

The EU with the connivance of the Republic of Ireland is attempting to in effect annex a part of the United Kingdom. This is the sort of thing you go to war to prevent. Defending our territory from foreign powers is the main reason we have armed forces.

Perhaps the DUP have misunderstood, perhaps they can be bought off, but let’s hope not, there’s a special place in hell too for people who take pieces of silver.

Nothing that might happen in March if there is “no deal” can be worse for our country that betrayal.

We might have a recession if we leave the EU without a deal. It would be worth it. We might have some queues at Dover and the EU might make it a little more difficult for us to go on holiday. It would be worth it. We should be willing to accept almost anything that might happen in order to avoid our Prime Minister breaking her promise to the nation and surrendering. If that happens then Theresa May will have damaged her country more than any Prime Minister in history. She will have betrayed us. She will deserve her place in history. It will be in the innermost circle.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Separating the cows from the bulls

Since ancient times there has been a debate between those who believe that “Man is the measure of all things, of things which are, that they are, and things which are not, that they are not” and those who believe that there is such a thing as objective truth outside of human subjectivity. It is a key debate because if man really is the measure of all things then there can be no question of there being a God who transcends me, no question of there being moral rules that come from outside me and ultimately no reality that I don’t choose to judge as existing. Everything becomes a matter of taste. No-one can show that Beethoven is objectively better than BeyoncĂ©, which makes music a subject not worth studying. It is all simply a matter of preference just the same as my disliking spinach, but you wanting to eat it every day.

It is strange that this debate is still active, because there has been a word since ancient times for those who believe that all is relative and that there is no objective truth. They are called sophists. The argument always collapses into a form of solipsism, whereby the doubting sophist cannot tell for sure even whether other people exist. If I am the measure of all truth and if I determine what exists and what does not, then does it even make sense to say that you have an existence outside of me.

No-one actually could live this way. We assume in going about our daily lives that there is an objectively existing world and people in it. We assume that truth is determined by reality, not by subjective opinion. Yet despite the fact that it contradicts everything we experience, the sophist’s argument keeps reappearing.

The latest reappearance is the idea that someone’s being a man or a woman is something that they can determine by themselves rather than something that is determined by an external, objective and shared reality.

One of the key insights of the twentieth century, that ought to have finally killed off any last strains of sophism, was the idea that the language that we use is determined by a community of language users rather than by a subjective individual conversing with himself. How do I learn words like “girl” and “boy”, “man” and “woman?” When I’m a child someone points out that this person is a man and that person is a woman. Gradually I learn to make the distinction. If I make a mistake I’m corrected. The same process goes for every word I learn and also for the words that turn them into sentences. Without this process I would be mute. So it cannot be me and me alone that is the measure of the words that I speak. Without other people determining the correctness of my vocabulary I would not even be able even to utter so complex a sentence as “man is the measure of all things” let alone say it in Greek.

But how do we determine who is a boy and who is a girl. There is a simple method that has been used since time began. When a baby is born we look. After that we might ask a parent whether their baby is a boy or a girl. Subsequently we judge by appearance. This works in nearly all cases.

It is of course possible for a man to pretend to be a woman and for a woman to pretend to be a man. This occasionally happened in times of war, when a few women were desperate to take part as soldiers. Some of them might cut their hair, bind their breasts and wear male clothing. Sometimes they went for years without being caught. But there was something that could determine whether they were pretending or not pretending. There was an objective truth of the matter. Sometimes such a soldier was injured and on the operating table it became clear that here was a woman not a man. The method of determining this was much the same as when the person was born.

But what was this soldier feeling. Did the soldier feel like a woman or like a man? The mistake is to suppose that it matters what she felt like. This once more is to suppose that “man is the measure of all things.” When I see a grassy field in springtime I may say that it is green. If someone else says that it is red, I tell them that they have misunderstood the word “red”. But what if what they see is different from what I see? It doesn’t matter. So long as we all use green in the same way, to describe grass and lettuce and such like, it matters not all what we sense. So long as we each say that a post box is red it doesn’t matter if you see it as “blue” and I see it as “yellow.” The usage of the word is not determined by subjectivity, it is determined by the community of language users who do not have access to each other’s subjective inner experiences.

But this goes for all words. It is literally senseless to suppose that there is one word for how I feel, which might differ from how I am. This is a distinction without difference. To apply the same distinction across the whole of our language would mean that we couldn’t even speak to each other. Once this is understood then the debate about girls who want to be boys and boys who want to be girls, simply collapses. What we are is determined by the public community of language users, not by private feelings unavailable to that community.

No person can know what it feels to be like another person. We can imagine what it would be like to be an Ancient Greek, but we can’t know how such a person felt. Likewise I might think that I feel like a man feels, but I have no idea whatsoever how he does feel. How then can I suppose that I am correct in my judgment that I feel like a man, when I simply don’t know how he or anyone else actually does feel. 

The mistake is to suppose that the use of words like “man” and “woman” has anything to do with how people feel. This is pure sophistry. The meaning of words like “man” and “woman” is determined in exactly the same way as words like “rock”, “drop” and “floor”. Whether or not I drop the rock on the floor is verifiable by the community. To suppose that it is subjective is to suppose that these words have no meaning.

We determine that there are cows in a field by looking. If we make a mistake and they are really bulls, then this is either because we don’t understand the word “cow” or because we are not very observant. It matters not at all what the cow or the bull feels. We have no idea whether this particular cow has always wanted to be a bull and has felt that it inhabited the wrong body. Moreover we are uninterested. It is not this that determines how we use the word “cow.”

Are we to suppose then that in all of the animal kingdom we can determine these matters objectively, except in the case of human beings? At what point in our evolution did the ability to choose whether we were men or women evolve?

I’m afraid the method by which we use the words “man” and “woman” are exactly the same as the method by which we use the words “cow” and “bull” each of these words is grounded in a reality that cannot change. It no more matters that a man thinks he is a woman than that he thinks he is a bull. The reality is that man is not the measure of these things. Reality is the measure.

You can, of course, put a man who is pretending to be a woman into a woman’s prison, but this will have much the same effect as putting a bull into a field with cows. There is a reason why sometimes it makes sense to have fields where there are only cows and where bulls are not allowed. It doesn’t matter one little bit what the bull feels. It doesn’t matter even if he mistakenly thinks that he is a cow. He is not a cow. You will get a shock if you try to milk him. No matter what you try, you simply cannot turn a bull into a cow. It doesn’t matter what you cut off or attempt to add. He won’t give you any milk or any calves. This inability is not accidental, it is not a matter of choice, it is something that was determined when we came into existence.  I can no more choose what I am than I can choose whether a stone falls when I drop it.

Saturday, 29 September 2018


There may be ways in which Britain still influences the United States, but they are as nothing compared to the influence the United States has on us.  Few of us follow in much detail political debates in France, almost nobody could name the leader of Latvia or Slovenia. A shared language makes influence far easier. For this reason the French aren’t nearly as interested in #MeToo as the Brits, while many Eastern Europeans find the norms of Western liberalism baffling even bizarre.

Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are completely misunderstood by EU, because they didn’t have the Sixties in the way that we did. Communism meant that there was no sexual revolution. They never experienced mass immigration. Lots of people still go to Mass. To be a Hungarian is to be descended from people who have lived in Hungary for centuries. The culture of these places comes largely from themselves. They are largely immune therefore to whatever comes from America.

But in Britain we will follow on soon enough. I remember laughing at the idea of safe spaces and trigger warnings two or three years ago when I first read about campus politics in the USA, but soon enough it all began to happen here. You most likely won’t find such places in Paris and in Bratislava they would mean literally a place that is not dangerous, but in Britain we are punished because we gave to the New World our language.

It frightens me to see what is happening in the United States today, because all too soon it will happen here. It already is happening here.

The United States is becoming divided in a way that it hasn’t been since the 1860s. It is divided politically, racially and sexually and it is losing the consensus that holds a nation together.

When I studied in the United States I thought the Democrats and the Republicans were more or less the same. Some Democrats were more right-wing than most Republicans and vice versa. I couldn’t quite work out what made someone one rather than the other. It seemed to be a debate about whether you liked Donkeys or Elephants. Not now.

Today there is a cultural war going on between two tribes and they hate each other. They each appear willing to do anything to win this battle. But will they have a country left to fight over when it is finished. Will there be anything to unite in the United States?

Though we share a common language I find Americans frequently hard to understand. I have never felt this more than watching the nominee for the Supreme Court being accused of sexually assaulting someone in the early 1980s.

Just as no British person could seriously stand up and put his hand on his heart while singing the national anthem, so too no British person could either accuse or defend in the way that Americans do. The sentimentality and the sobbing are alien to us.

Like everyone else I have no idea who did what to whom in the early 1980s. I don’t want to judge who gave the better performance. Each gave a better performance than I could have done and I suspect 99% of other Brits. We would have been embarrassed, tongue tied and simply incapable of even remembering what we did or didn’t do in 1982.

This has gone too far folks. This now gets very dangerous indeed. I have written about this a few times, but we keep finding new examples. At some point soon a very serious injustice is going to occur.

We cannot allow a situation to arise where there is a certain class of crimes (sexual), which uniquely among all other crimes require a lower standard of evidence. An uncorroborated witness statement is not going to be enough to convict anyone of anything be it theft, physical assault or murder. Something more has to be required otherwise anyone could denounce anyone of anything.

If it was the case that everyone told the truth, then by definition there would be no need to have trials. All we would need to do would be to ask the accused if he was guilty or not guilty and jail him or let him go according to his answer. The fact that we have trials at all is an admission that people don’t tell the truth.

Just as we cannot have a class of crimes that require a lower standard of evidence, so too we cannot have a class of witness (women) that is deemed to be more reliable than others. Men lie, women lie, people lie. We are all just people.

Someone is going to have to carefully explain to women that if they complain that they have been raped or sexually assaulted, then there has to be some evidence beyond the mere fact that they say it. If there is no evidence beyond the mere testimony then it is simply going to be impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime has occurred. This will be the case even if the supposed crime happened yesterday, let alone in 1982.

The madness that has taken over the United States is such that people’s lives are being ruined because of unsubstantiated allegations that go back decades. If we allow this to become the norm then our politics will simply become impossible.

Let’s imagine I am scared that Jeremy Corbyn might become the next Prime Minister. Well what is to stop me searching for some woman who he went to school with or who he went on demonstrations with twenty, thirty or forty years ago. Eventually I might be able to discover one who is willing to say that in 1982 he groped her, or assaulted her or raped her. If only her testimony is enough to convict Mr Corbyn then my worries about him becoming Prime Minister are over. It isn’t even necessary that he should ever have met her. It’s only necessary that she says she did and that everyone believes her. Because women never ever lie.

The philosophy of law that we gave to the United States was founded not merely on the idea that everyone was innocent until proven guilty, but more importantly that we had a standard of proof that meant it was highly unlikely that the innocent would be convicted. This is what reasonable doubt is about. We have long believed that it would be better that ninety-nine guilty people went free than that one innocent person was unjustly convicted.

It is this above all that #MeToo would like to overthrow. If the testimony of any woman in a sexual case on its own is enough to convict any man, then men will have no defence whatsoever against any woman who accuses them of sexual assault or rape. How many men out of our one hundred will be unjustly convicted? Ten? Twenty? Who knows? If women are allowed to convict on the basis of their testimony not merely about what happened yesterday, but about what happened in 1982 then no-one will be safe from accusation. Any political rival, any job rival, any ex-boyfriend or divorcing husband can be destroyed not merely on the basis of what he did yesterday, but on the basis of what he did decades ago. Feminism has long since ceased to be about equality it is female supremacism.

Men and women need each other. We cannot live in a society where without any other evidence we can accuse each other of crimes that will send us to jail for years, prevent us from gaining a new job or which will allow us to take revenge at will. It will poison the foundation of human society by making the relationship (love) that builds nations lose all sense of trust.

The United States Supreme Court is perhaps the most respected court in the world, but if someone can be prevented from serving because of mere accusation without any other evidence then it too will lose its foundation. We base our whole way of life on judging according to evidence not denunciation. It is this that distinguishes us from tyranny. 

We moved from theocracy towards enlightenment when we decided that science required evidence and that justice was not determined by ordeal. But just as we cannot determine guilt or innocence based on whether a witch sinks or floats, so too the ability to perform before a tribunal does not by itself tell us what is truth, nor indeed does the ability to pay for an expensive, clever lawyer. If the law is not about discovering truth based on objective evidence then it has fundamentally made no progress from trial by ordeal, because this is what we are witnessing.  For this reason I accuse the law.   

If Mr Kavanaugh had been a Liberal, there would have been no accusations. There are accusations only because he is a Conservative and Liberals dislike how he may change the balance of the Supreme Court. But if the left can succeed with such tactics, then the right will use them next time in which case who will dare to stand for anything? We in Britain gave the United States it’s language and its law, but it would be better by far that we all spoke Polish than be infected further by this injustice. J'Accuse.

Friday, 21 September 2018

All behind you Theresa

There is something peculiar about the EU and its member states. They want the UK to defend them if they are threatened militarily. They want us to come to their rescue if their banks fail or their single currency gets into trouble. Yet they think they can treat our democracy with contempt by telling us to vote again and they expect us to do their bidding because they are making it hard for us to leave. They think they can humiliate our Prime Minister and we’ll love them for it.  I don’t think they have any understanding at all of the British mentality.

I have been fairly critical of Theresa May lately. I thought her Chequers plan was worse than remaining in the EU. It would have tied the UK to mimicking the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union more or less forever, which in fact would have been more beneficial to the EU than to us. After all they trade more with us than we do with them. We would have had to follow EU rules with no say whatsoever in the forming of them, which would have made it difficult, perhaps impossible to form trade deals with anyone else. For the privilege of doing this we would have to pay something close to forty billion pounds. Yet even this wasn’t enough. The EU would like to keep the security that Britain provides, but they don’t want to cooperate with us on Brexit one little bit.

We’re now at an impasse. The EU offers either a free trade deal like Canada’s, but this would not apply to Northern Ireland, which would remain in the customs union, and in effect in the EU. Alternatively the EU offers that the whole of the UK could remain in the Single Market and Customs Union, like Norway. This would make it impossible for us to limit free movement from the EU.

No nation state would allow a foreign power to impose a border between one of its parts and the others. This is the sort of thing you go to war to defend your country against. The British people likewise made it absolutely clear that we wanted to be able to control immigration.

Theresa May has said that she is unwilling to change on these issues. I hope that she means what she says. Far too often lately she has talked firmly only to later change her position. This is the main reason why so many Conservative MPs and supporters have lost confidence in her. But if she has sense she can still turn the situation around.

Now is the moment to appeal to the British people. We face an important moment in our history. The EU wants to damage Britain. They want us to be humiliated and to come creeping meekly, begging to get back into their club. If we did so we would, no doubt, have to pay more even than we do now, but far worse than that, who would ever think of us as a serious power from then on? Can you imagine the loss of confidence that would hit our country if we tried to break free from the EU, but couldn’t manage? Long term this would damage us far more than anything that might happen next March.

The crucial thing to realise is that the leaders of the countries that gathered to humiliate Theresa May in Salzburg are not our friends. They don’t want what is best for the UK. They don’t want our relationship to be mutually beneficial, rather they want the UK to be worse off.

The EU, and all the countries that make up its membership, is now a hostile power. We should have nothing against the citizens who live there, but let’s be honest about it, they wish us harm. So let us begin behaving accordingly.

Britain has to look elsewhere for our friends. We must prioritise making alliances with those countries that think like we do and speak the same language as we do. More generally we should make friends only with those who want a reciprocally beneficial relationship.

We have six months to prepare for no deal. This is not a long time. But it is a lot longer than we have had previously to prepare for far more difficult situations.

If Theresa May doesn’t get a positive response to her post Salzburg statement from the EU in a very short time she should end the uncertainty and declare negotiations have concluded. She should sack the Chancellor and appoint someone who actually believes in Brexit and is willing to do what it takes to make it succeed. The forty Billion pounds that was to have gone to the EU should instead be used to prepare for leaving the EU without a deal and for compensating any businesses that might be in danger of losing out.

The EU would respond to this with absolute fury. They would threaten us with this that and the other. This would still more clearly show that they were not our friends. Why should we defend and buy so much from those who dislike us?

The UK should turn itself away from Europe. A no deal Brexit would give us the freedom to undercut the EU in terms of business rates and in terms of efficiency. We could offer a tariff free deal with anyone who wanted it. Let us buy our cars and our wine from new friends rather than from those who hate us.

If Theresa May appeals to British patriotism and calls for unity and a common struggle in the months ahead, we will be fine. It’s time for some defiance. In a few years we will look back on these months as another example of how we have stood up to tyranny and triumphed.

I can think of few more unpopular Prime Ministers than Theresa May, but she has the chance to make history forget the mistakes that she has already made. All it would take is one rousing speech to the Conservative Party conference offering nothing but blood, sweat and tears and we’d all get behind her, because it would be worth it. There is glory to be had in making a success of Brexit, let us grasp it.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

The EU is all one way traffic

The reason why the UK works as a country and the EU doesn’t work is fundamentally linguistic. Lots of people from Scotland live and work happily in other parts of the UK. We have all likewise met people from England, Wales and Northern Ireland who have moved to Scotland without any difficulty. Most of us could do more or less the same job anywhere else in the UK. We could go to the same sort of shops and pubs. We wouldn’t find it difficult to make new friends or perhaps even find a wife or a husband. There are only small differences between the various parts of the UK. It would be easy to adapt to a move.

It is this that above all defines what a successful nation state is. Australians, Americans and Japanese can all likewise move about their own countries with ease. It is for this reason too that they all have a single currency that works well. If one part of Japan suffers from a natural disaster, other Japanese people are happy for their taxes to be used to help. If one part of Australia suffers from recession people can easily move to another part where there are jobs. The reason for this is that the citizens of each of these countries have a common identity that has been forged by history and by the fact that they are similar. It is this that the EU lacks.

Few of us could move to another European country with ease and do exactly the same job that we do now. A British doctor could not easily move to Italy and begin treating patients from day one. A British teacher could not get a job in a French state school and begin teaching history. The reason is obvious: language. Even if a teacher spoke perfect French, he would still have to learn the French curriculum. Even if a doctor spoke very good Italian, he’d still have to learn the Italian words for medical terms, the variants of Italian spoken by his patients and how the health service in Italy worked.

For most Brits therefore working in the EU has involved either doing a job that is at such a high level that English can be used or working at such a low level that only rudimentary foreign language skills are required. The vast majority of Brits living in the EU are doing so because they want to live somewhere warmer, not because they do a job that involves speaking a foreign language.

It is for this reason that membership of the EU has always been a bit of a one way street. Thousands of EU students come to Scotland and at the moment get free tuition. How many Scots study in Slovenia or Greece? Hundreds of thousands of French people work in London. How many Brits work in Paris? While Latvians in Britain can claim child benefit for their kids in Latvia, those few Brits who moved to Latvia would find that the Latvian state would not be nearly as generous.

Why can EU citizens easily move to Britain while it is hard for us to move to their country? The answer again is language. Is it that Europeans are better at learning foreign languages than the Brits? Perhaps they are, but it has more to do with the fact that they are all learning one foreign language, English. If we wanted to live in the whole of the EU we would have to learn 24. There is no language that a British child can learn that will be useful in more than two or three EU countries. Almost no-one speaks French in Poland. German is not well understood in Greece or Spain.

The fact that we all speak English in the UK is a benefit to each of us and to our economy, but it also has a downside. The second language of the whole world is English and this means that millions of them would love to live and work in a country that speaks English.

It is for this reason that the EU has never been a particularly good deal for the UK. In order to maintain our character of being a nation state, we need to maintain the fact that British citizens can move anywhere in the UK and still feel that they are in Britain. If any part of Britain begins to feel linguistically or culturally alien, if it were to become difficult for me to move to another British town because the people living there were not much like me, then the bonds that unite us all would begin to sever.

The EU facilitated the mass movement of EU citizens to Britain. This was largely one way traffic. There have of course been benefits to the British economy. We have needed many of these workers. But it has also meant that it has become much harder for low skilled British people to compete. Near where I live there is a fish factory. Twenty years ago the only people working there were Scots. Now the only people working there are Eastern Europeans. It would be difficult for a British person to get a job in this factory, because the common language used is Eastern European. What do the Scots who might have worked in this factory do now?

We will probably still welcome many people from the EU after Brexit. They usually integrate very well and within a generation will be indistinguishable from other Brits, but it would be far better if were able to choose who and how many could come here.

The greater one way traffic that the EU has facilitated however is from people living outside the EU. How many Brits choose to live and work in Sudan? How many decide to retire to Syria? So there is nothing reciprocal at all about the mass movement of people from the countries surrounding the Mediterranean and still less from further afield. What is peculiar also is that just as it would be relatively easy for me to move to Australia because I speak the same language, it would be far easier for people from this region to move to another country where they can easily make themselves understood. But they prefer to live in the EU. It’s impossible to live anywhere else. Moreover, they know that once they set foot in the EU, it will probably be just a matter of time before they gain either citizenship or the right to remain in the EU. Once they have this they can move anywhere they please. Naturally they would like to go somewhere where there are lots of other people like them and where they can use the English they learned in school.

So long as the UK has to follow EU law, so long as we are constrained by the rights that the EU confers on anyone entering the EU whether legally or illegally, we will be unable to decide who lives in the UK. Brexiteers realised that we were losing control of our country. Parts of Britain were becoming unrecognisable from even a few years earlier. So long as we remained in the EU there was nothing that could be done. This is why UK law must be supreme and why Parliament must be able to decide who has the right to come to Britain, and who has the right to stay.

There is so much negativity about Brexit. We must not lose sight of the benefits. Most Brits are fair minded, but we want two-way traffic and mutual benefit rather than feeling that we are being taken advantage of. The EU wants our money but doesn’t much want to cooperate. It wants us to continue to defend them, but would still like to punish us for daring to leave. We can do better.

I would far rather have a reciprocal arrangement with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and perhaps even the USA. We all speak the same language. We could all easily live and work in each other’s countries. We all have more or less the same kind of law, the same ideas about democracy and freedom. Wouldn’t it be better to deepen the relationship with those with whom we have something in common rather than those we merely live next door to? At least it wouldn’t be a one way street.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Phony war is ending

We are in something of a phony war situation at the moment. MPs have been on holiday for a while now, but soon they will have their conferences and then they will be back to work. Between now and next March something momentous is going to happen one way or the other, but it hasn’t happened yet and no-one can predict with any accuracy what will happen.

Troops of 51st Highland Division march over a drawbridge into Fort de Sainghain
on the Maginot Line 3 November 1939

 Just when you think that the Labour Party can’t sink any lower it does. I have always opposed Labour. I disagree with collectivism and I think it is disastrous both economically and morally to seek equality of outcome. Eventually it will inevitably lead to us all being less prosperous and less free. But I can recognise in history that Labour has been led by decent people that Labour supporters, while honestly disagreeing with people like me, were sincere and wanted what was best for Britain. We could in the past trust Labour to run the country for a few years without completely wrecking or shaming it. We no longer can.

What will it take for moderate Labour MPs to leave and for moderate Labour supporters to stop supporting? I honestly don’t know. If you really are content to remain in the same party as a Marxist, Anti-Semite who supports terrorism, then by all means see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil, but what does that make you?

We desperately need an opposition worthy of the name, because at some point fairly soon the Conservative Party are going to be kicked out by the voters. There has to be a viable alternative. If a new moderate centre left party is to be created, better to do it soon. It could be called for instance “New Labour” and all the moderate Labour MPs could join with the Lib Dems. They would then be the opposition. Their leader would stand at the dispatch box every week. It just might be that the Corbynistas would be deserted and could go back to selling their Socialist Worker newspapers on street corners. We would then at least be safe from the threat of left-wing extremism.

If the Conservatives fail in their mission to deliver Brexit, I’m not at all sure there will be a Conservative Party. Chequers has been overwhelmingly rejected by Conservative supporters. We want a clean Brexit. We don’t want to be half in and half out. Now is the moment to decide if we can get a clean break. There is no point whatsoever parking Britain in the EEA even if that were possible. All this does is postpone the decision for a few years and perhaps forever. The benefits of Brexit require that we leave completely. Either we grasp them now, or we don’t.

The problem of course is that the Conservatives have a leader whose only obvious quality is stubbornness, a cabinet that is divided and with a significant rump of MPs who are willing to vote against the Conservative manifesto. Parliament as a whole does not reflect the electorate as a considerable majority of MPs voted to Remain.

The possible outcomes are:

1. No deal.

2. Chequers (perhaps with more concessions to the EU).

3. A deal similar to Norway’s.

4. A deal similar to Canada’s.

5. A second referendum.

6. Extending the Article 50 time limit perhaps to infinity.

There are supporters for all of these options, but which of them can get through Parliament? Not only this, which of them would be acceptable to the EU?

Chequers would destroy the Conservative Party even as it is. If still further concessions were made to the EU it would destroy the Conservative Party even more. It is pointless anyway as it wouldn’t last. Either a future Pro EU Government would turn it into full EU membership or a future Pro Leave Government would turn it into leaving completely. So once more it is just putting off the evil day.

Furthermore it is not in the EU’s interest to forever have a Britain half in and half out. They are not going to be able to reach their goal of ever closer union if Britain continually tries to thwart that goal. Pro EU people in the UK are going to have to accept that Remaining entails accepting European integration. That means joining the Euro and Schengen. If you want to Remain, then help the EU achieve a united Europe. If you don’t want to help, then don’t hinder them and the best way not to hinder them is to leave. The Norway option and EEA are for countries preparing to join the EU, not for countries leaving. We are going to have to weather a storm no matter what we do. There is no point staying in port when the task is to cross an ocean to the rest of the world.

A trade deal like Canada’s would be fine except for the fact that according to the EU it would require Northern Ireland to remain in the Custom’s Union while the UK the other parts of the UK were out. This is a purely manufactured problem. It is obvious that the EU just doesn’t want us to have this option.    They don’t want it, because it would work well and wouldn’t sufficiently punish Britain and thereby discourage others from leaving the EU. No-one seriously thinks that anyone is going to erect fences in Ireland no matter what happens. Even If there is “no deal”, there won’t be a manned border, simply because no-one wants or will man it. We are then in the absurd situation of this border preventing us reaching a mutually beneficial deal, even though if we fail to make a deal it won’t be a problem. If the EU changes on this issue then a Canada style deal is still possible, if it doesn’t it isn’t.

We are pretty much left with “no deal” a second referendum or extending Article 50, which amounts to remaining in the EU without having to win a second referendum.

At the moment there isn’t a majority for “no deal”, but does there need to be?  Only time will tell. If Parliament is deadlocked do we just leave the EU with no deal anyway in March 2019?

Is there a majority to pass a bill authorising a second referendum? But which party has a mandate for such a referendum? Both the Government and Opposition promised in their last manifestos to deliver Brexit. How would a bill for such a referendum get through Parliament if the Government refuses to initiate it? Anyway there just isn’t time to have a second referendum between now and March.

If I were a Scottish nationalist I would be very careful about voting a for a second referendum on the EU. The precedent would be clear that if ever there were a close vote for independence, then Pro UK people would be allowed to complain that we didn’t like the vote and that we wanted a “people’s vote” either to reject independence or to reject the terms of the divorce agreement with the UK. This would mean that Scottish nationalists would have to win two referendums before they could claim to have won at all.

So what is going to happen? My guess is that we are going to get a last minute Canada style deal or else we are going to get no deal at all. The Remainers will continue their bitter rearguard, but there are very few ideologically Pro EU people in Britain. The majority of Remain support is pragmatic. The number of British people who favour a United States of Europe where the UK used the Euro and was part of Schengen, must be tiny. Eventually we are all going to have to accept that this is the choice. Either be Eurofederalist or else leave the EU. That finally is the choice that the EU will offer Britain. For this reason the EU wants to punish us, but they also want us to leave or else remain on Eurofederalist terms.

There isn’t a natural majority for Eurofederalism in the UK. Even if Remainers succeeded in delaying Article 50 and even if they won a second referendum on remaining, it would simply delay the point at which the British people realised that remaining in a EU intent on becoming a single united nation state was untenable. For this reason Britain’s only long term option is to leave the EU. Better to do it now completely or else we will just have to go through the same process a few years from now.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Indyref; or, 'tis four years since

It’s nearly four years ago since we had the Scottish independence referendum. Some of us are still fighting it, but most of us have moved on. Four years is rather a long time. The First World War only lasted a little longer than four years. A baby learns to speak and walk and changes more in its first four years than all the rest of its life put together. Yet some of us are still stuck in 2014.

 I don’t write that much about Scottish politics anymore. If you dig into a mine deep enough and long enough there will be no more gold nuggets to find and you’ll end up digging up only mud. Better by far to look for other topics to write about.

I happened to write about Alex Salmond last week, but I wasn’t really writing about Scottish politics. It just happened that he was the latest person to be caught up in the post-Jimmy Savile/Harvey Weinstein hysteria which convicts people on the basis of unverifiable testimony. I hope history will look back on this period as a modern day Salem, but I fear we will gain a taste for burning witches.

I think I surprised quite a lot of independence supporters by writing in defence of Mr Salmond. But in pointing out that Mr Salmond should be treated as innocent until he has been convicted of something and in arguing that there should be the same quality of evidence as for any other crime before he is convicted, I was merely making a general point about justice rather than politics.

People who want the UK to remain together differ from Scottish independence supporters in our political views, but we are all Scots, nearly all of us are British citizens and anyway we are human beings who owe each other kindness. We ought to be good neighbours even if we disagree. We owe each other justice and we ought to be fair.

I have moved on from the views that I held in 2014. Some of the arguments I made in the months leading up to the independence referendum I wouldn’t make now. Sometimes this is because I think these arguments are ineffective, but sometimes it’s because I think they are wrong.

I think it was counterproductive to argue as if it were impossible or disastrous for Scotland to become independent. Lots of countries have become independent in the past decades. Some have done better than others. How they do really depends on how they are run after independence. But fundamentally we all have to accept that if a country like Latvia can become independent, then so can Scotland. There would, no doubt, be difficulties to overcome and there would be challenges, but none of them are intrinsically insurmountable.

For this reason I find the strand of Pro UK thinking that goes on and on about the economic disadvantages of independence to be counterproductive. I don’t think this sort of thinking persuades one Scot to be Pro UK and it doesn’t dissuade one Scot from wanting independence.

If Scotland were to become independent, it may well be the case that public spending would have to be cut. It may be that we would all have to work harder and find that our living standards had got worse. But no-one can know what the future would bring for an independent Scotland. It could be run well like Switzerland and be wealthy or run badly and be Greece. There is no point at all arguing that Scotland would definitely be wealthy nor is there any point arguing that it would definitely be poor. It could be either, or something in between.

I think there are advantages to remaining in the UK and some of these may be economic, but it is not because of these that I am Pro UK. I am Pro UK because I am British and because I wish my fellow citizens in Wales, England and Northern Ireland to remain my fellow citizens. I want this for exactly the same reason that someone from Florida wants someone from California to remain his fellow countryman. Even if I thought Scotland was going to be wealthier after independence, I would still vote against independence, partly because I would want to share this wealth with other Brits, but more because I don’t think the argument has anything to do with economics.

The argument is about sovereignty and where it should lie. Over the last few years we have all had to learn about each other’s arguments. Pro UK Brexiteers have had to make Leave arguments and Remain arguments. Europhile Scottish independence supporters have praised one union (the EU), while wishing to leave another (the UK). This is not inconsistent. It is about where you think sovereignty should be.

I believe that the nation state should ultimately be sovereign. If the EU were to become a nation state like the USA, I might have been persuaded to support it. But I came to the conclusion that it was impossible to create a viable, democratic nation state out of the various very different European states. I came to this conclusion because these European nation states lack a common identity and lack a common language. Because the EU cannot become a democratic nation state, it is forcing integration undemocratically. If it succeeds in creating a United States of Europe, this nation state will not be like the USA. Power in the EU will not be divided between an elected House, Senate and President, for which reason the EU will be more like an Empire than a democratic state. Once I came to this conclusion, it became obvious that we had to leave.

Once more it is not about the economics. We ought to be willing to go through some economic difficulty in order to avoid the fate of being trapped in a European Empire. Moreover, it will be worth it because we will fully bring power and sovereignty back to Parliament. No unelected bureaucrat will be able to tell us what to do.

The difference between me and the Scottish independence supporter is simply that we disagree about where to locate sovereignty. He wants to locate it Scotland while I want to locate it in the UK.

But my reasoning for wishing to leave the EU that it will in time become an undemocratic Empire, obviously does not apply to the UK. We all take part in elections. We send members to parliaments in Edinburgh and London. This means that each individual Scot has more representation than any individual person from England. UK democracy is not perfect, but then neither is Scottish democracy. No voting system is ideal.

The debate in Scotland is really about identity and citizenship. At present the majority of Scots feel both Scottish and British and wish to remain British citizens. A minority of Scots feel exclusively Scottish and wish to cease being British citizens in order to become Scottish citizens. Quite a lot of Scots don’t think much about the issue at all because they’ve moved on.

Because the debate in its essence is about identity and citizenship, it changes very slowly indeed. If we ever got to the stage where the vast majority of Scots felt no particularly kinship with people from other parts of the UK and rejected their British citizenship, then independence would follow as a matter of course whatever the economics. But this is not going to happen because a few thousand independence supporters go on marches. The Pro UK side likewise will not be helped by a few hundred people dressed in Union Jacks shouting at them.

I disagree with independence supporters, but I don’t think their argument is unreasonable. Good, clever people can differ on this, just as we disagree about other issues. But I do find it peculiar that some independence supporters want to leave the UK in order to subsume their newly won sovereignty in the EU. It’s an awful lot of struggle for very little gain. It would also involve giving up quite a lot of powers that the Scottish Parliament is going to gain post-Brexit.

Brexit will clarify this issue. A close relationship with our fellow English speakers in the UK ultimately is going to depend on remaining a part of the UK. In order to become independent after Brexit, Scotland will need to leave the UK and then apply to join the EU from scratch or decide not to join the EU at all.  Neither of these options looks particularly palatable.

The Republic of Ireland neatly shows the dilemma. Ireland is closely aligned with the UK in terms of trade and culture, but is liable to end up in a different trading bloc (the EU) to its greatest trade partner (the UK). Ireland therefore has a choice. Either it stays in the EU and gradually grows closer to the EU and further apart from the UK, or it leaves the EU and gradually becomes closer to the UK and further apart from the EU. But if the latter then Ireland will converge with the UK into a “United States of the British Isles”, an ever closer union of English speakers, for which reason the decision the Irish made in the years following 1916 looks very like a long term strategic error. But this, of course is impossible to admit.

The same logic applies to Scotland. Either we become independent and subsume our newly won sovereignty into the EU and gradually distance ourselves from the other parts of the UK, or we remain closely aligned with the UK, in which case independence ceases to have any point. We too would end up in reality in a “United States of the British Isles” and the same logic of ever closer union would apply. Why should it only apply to the EU?

There isn’t going to be an independence referendum anytime soon, because no-one can possibly make a sensible judgement until we discover how Brexit works out. Even then sensible Scottish independence supporters would be better advised concentrating on making Scotland more prosperous and gradually persuading the Pro UK majority that Scottish independence is the way forward. They can do that best by being reasonable, friendly and kind. The same goes for Pro UK people. We must make our arguments to our friends and neighbours, not by shouting at them or telling them that they are stupid, but by persuading them that the UK is a great country and that together we can all enjoy the great future that Brexit will bring. It will give us all more sovereignty and that after all is what the argument ultimately is about.

Friday, 24 August 2018

We must also defend opponents from injustice

Yesterday I was informed that in 2013 I physically assaulted two people at my work. When I asked what I was supposed to have done and to whom, I was told that this was confidential. When I asked whether there was any physical evidence that I had assaulted these people, I was told that there was none. There were no photographs. Neither of the complainants had gone to a doctor. In fact there was no evidence at all that I had done anything wrong apart from their witness statements. When I asked whether there was more than one witness to each of the supposed assaults, I was told that there was only one. In each case someone has accused me of physically assaulting them at some point in 2013, but there was no more evidence than that. How am I to defend myself?

 The problem is that I can only very generally remember 2013. I couldn’t tell you for certain what I was doing on any day in that year. I simply don’t remember. I might be able to look up diaries or check other sources of information, but otherwise if you asked me what I was doing on November 15th 2013 I wouldn’t have a clue. I couldn’t even tell you with certainty that I was in the UK. I might have been on holiday.

So if I don’t know who has accused me and I don’t know what it is I am supposed to have done or when, I have no way of saying I didn’t do that, because I don’t even know what that refers to. I might remember generally that I have never physically assaulting anyone, but I can’t specifically defend myself against an accusation unless I know what it is.

My guess is that if someone accused me of physically assaulting them five years ago, but with no more evidence than their witness statement, no-one would even bother to investigate. Likewise if I said that my house was broken into five years ago, but I have no evidence for this apart from my witness statement, the police are not going to waste any time trying to discover the supposed criminals. If I say that I witnessed a murder, but there is no evidence even that the supposed victim is dead let alone that I saw it, my witness statement will not be taken seriously. I will likely be accused of wasting police time.

I disagree with Alex Salmond politically, but justice ought to transcend political difference. We have rules about evidence for burglary, for murder, for physical assault and for fraud etc. that depend on objectively verifiable facts. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty and in order to be proven guilty there has to evidence that proves that guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. I am in no danger of going to jail for burglary unless witnesses can establish that I broke into the house, my fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime, the stolen goods were found in my house or unless I make a confession. No judge is going to send me to prison because of a single witness statement about a burglary that happened five years ago for which there is no other evidence.

But somehow we have established a class of crimes, which must be investigated even if there is only a single witness who states something happened years ago and there is no other evidence at all. This single witness statement which would not be enough to convict someone of burglary, murder, physical assault or fraud, is taken seriously in only one type of case. These cases always involve sex.

Why should there be a special class of crime for which the normal rules of evidence are suspended? Would you feel safe if a single witness could convict you of burglary, murder, physical assault or fraud, even if there was no other evidence? I wouln’t. So why should that single witness be enough to convict someone in a case involving sex?

There is something deeply unjust going on in the world at the moment. People’s reputations are ruined because someone makes a claim, which may or may not be true, but for which there cannot possibly be any other evidence.

Imagine there was a ceilidh in Aberdeen in 2013 and I went to it. Imagine if now in 2018 a man complains that I put my hand up his kilt and sexually assaulted him. How am I supposed to prove whether I did or I didn’t? The only witnesses are me and the man. Who are you supposed to believe? There may be all sorts of reasons why this man wants to ruin my reputation. On the other hand I may have assaulted him. But it is simply impossible for us to find out now.  He should have complained there and then during the ceilidh in 2013. Perhaps then it might have been possible to determine what happened. But there is no point whatsoever waiting five years and then making claims that cannot be verified either way.

I have no idea what Alex Salmond did or didn’t do. But I dislike intensely how people’s reputations are being ruined because of accusations that cannot justly be proved one way or the other. We have already seen how Cliff Richard’s life was shattered by accusations that turned out to be false. Leon Britton died while being accused of abusing children based on evidence that later turned out to be discredited. Other people’s lives have likewise been ruined because of accusations about things that supposedly happened decades ago.

Sexual crimes are as serious as any other crime and people who commit them deserve to be punished severely, but the evidence that convicts must be just as strong as in the case of burglary, murder, physical assault and fraud. This is not least because sexual crimes are so serious, are rightly severely punished and have a more damaging effect on someone’s reputation than most other crimes.

I think Metoo has become a very dangerous witch-hunt, which is leading to great injustice. For this reason it is deeply immoral. The only way to stop it is this. People who make claims of any form of sexual assault must be told that they have to make the claim immediately and provide evidence which corroborates their claim to having been assaulted. Making a statement that you were sexually assaulted five years ago without any other evidence should have no more likelihood of convicting anyone than making such a claim about a physical assault or a burglary.

There is not a special class of witness whose evidence ought automatically to be believed. We do not in Britain think that the witness statement of one man is worth that of two women. It would be equally contrary to justice to suppose that when a woman accuses a man of sexual assault that she ought automatically to be believed.

Women’s lives are being ruined by sexual assault and to make it easier for them to convict those they accuse they are routinely given anonymity. But the lives and reputations of those who are accused are often ruined too. Cliff Richard, I suspect, is at least as damaged because of the false accusations made against him than many victims of sexual assault. For this reason only those actually convicted of sexual assault should have their names revealed in the papers.

Whether innocent or guilty the name of Alex Salmond is liable forever to be associated with whispers about sexual assault. If it turns out that he is innocent, this will be very unjust indeed. It would be far better if none of us knew about this case until and unless Mr Salmond is convicted. But for the sake of justice let him also know what he is accused of, let him have a chance to defend himself and if he is convicted of anything let it require more than just his word against that of someone he perhaps hardly even remembers.