Saturday 29 December 2018

Northern Ireland is no one's backstop

The treatment of Northern Ireland in the context of the negotiations between the EU and the UK has shown the inconsistency of the EU’s position with regard to nationalism.

The EU rightly condemned Crimea’s secession from Ukraine and reunification with Russia. This was not so much because the referendum that led to this secession was held under dubious circumstances. Crimean secession would have been condemned even if the vote had been completely free and fair. The reason is that Crimea is a part of a sovereign nation state called Ukraine and parts of sovereign nation states may not legally secede without permission.

This position was reiterated with regard to Catalonia. It simply did not matter whether a majority in Catalonia wanted independence or whether they didn’t. So long as Spain refuses to allow a legal referendum on independence and refuses to recognise the right of Catalonians to create a sovereign nation state, then Catalonia will remain legally a part of Spain.

There are similar examples all over the world. The right of a sovereign nation state to maintain its territorial integrity is insurmountable so long as it does not oppress or attack the people living in part of its territory. It was only because Serbia attacked the people in Kosovo that international opinion was willing to make an exception and grant the right of Kosovo to become independent.

International opinion has also favoured the right of colonies to become independent, but it is important to recognise what is and what is not a colony. Argentina was a Spanish colony. Catalonia is not a Spanish colony. If you really can’t see the difference, you might benefit from a pair of glasses. If Catalonia were to be described as a colony, then half of Europe would have a colonial relationship to the other half.  

The peculiar thing about Northern Ireland then is that the EU is unwilling to treat it in the same way as it treated Catalonia and Crimea. Northern Ireland is not a colony. Some Irish nationalists, thereby making the case for Ulster unionism, still speak of the people of Northern Ireland as settlers having been planted there. But if we treat everyone whose ancestors moved somewhere in the fifteenth century as illegitimate colonists then we are liable to end up thinking that virtually the whole population of the United States of America has no right to live where they do.

Northern Ireland is an integral part of the sovereign nation state called the United Kingdom. The Republic of Ireland has no more legitimate claim to a part of that nation state than Russia has a claim to Crimea. It simply does not matter that Crimea was once a part of Russia. Nor does it matter if the majority of the population of Crimea think of themselves as Russian, speak Russian and would like to secede from Ukraine. Crimean secession would be illegal even if all these things were true. It is for this reason that nearly the whole world continues to protest against Russia’s annexation of the territory of a neighbouring state.

But this argument obviously ought to apply equally to Northern Ireland. When the 26 counties chose to secede from the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland remained. It indeed has never left the United Kingdom. Secession doesn’t give you the right to claim someone else’s territory, otherwise the Confederacy if it had won would have had the right to claim New York. For this reason the Republic of Ireland has no more claim on the territory of the United Kingdom than does Russia with regard to the territory of Ukraine. Indeed it has less for Northern Ireland was never part of a sovereign nation state called the Republic of Ireland.

There are various treaties that exist between the UK and Ireland, which allow both the people of Northern Ireland and the people of the Republic to hold votes regarding Northern Ireland’s status, but the UK as a sovereign nation state can choose to renounce or renegotiate any treaty that it pleases. Lots of historical treaties have become obsolete, have been broken, or simply no longer apply.  The UK therefore could decide that such treaties that currently exist between itself and Ireland were obtained by coercion as a result of terrorism and were therefore inconsistent with the British Government’s longstanding policy of not appeasing terrorists.

It could also argue that the Irish Government has used the existence of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement to hinder British foreign policy (Brexit) and that the Irish Government is using this agreement to further its policy of gradually annexing Northern Ireland.

The purpose of the Irish backstop is to put Northern Ireland into the Republic’s sphere of influence and to show that while the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland is seamless the border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain may become real. Checks may be required. British goods and citizens may in effect be moving from the non-EU to the EU when they travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Could such a border exist between Catalonia and the rest of Spain? Obviously not. Spain would not accept it, because it would encourage Catalan secession. Would any other sovereign nation state in the EU accept such a regulatory border? No. This is the sort of thing that a sovereign nation state goes to war to prevent happening. If you don’t fight for your territorial integrity, what do you fight for?

No-one is going to impose a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The British are not going to do it, nor are the Irish, nor are the EU. But the Irish Republic has used this non-issue to further its irredentist and quite illegitimate claim to Northern Ireland and it has done so with the backing of the EU. This alone must be grounds for the UK Government reviewing the Belfast Agreement. It is quite intolerable that, backed by terrorist threats, the Irish Government seeks to move towards a position where it can call for a referendum on Irish unification. This is no better than Russia using military force to win a referendum in order to justify its claim to Crimea.

It is time for the UK, just like Spain and Ukraine and indeed the vast majority of states in the world, to assert that our territory is indivisible. Secession and annexation is no more legitimate a foreign policy goal in Ireland than it is Ukraine. The Republic of Ireland has no more claim to the territory of another sovereign nation state than does Haiti have a claim to the Dominican Republic.  The mere fact that you share an island does not allow you to steal another person’s home.

The EU’s hypocrisy on this issue is dangerous for stability in Europe. In attempting to punish Britain by furthering the aims of Irish nationalism it will encourage such nationalism elsewhere in Europe. Why shouldn’t Russia seek to reunify what was once “All the Russias” including parts of what is now the EU such as Poland and the Baltic States. If reunification is a morally worthy goal for Ireland, why not for Austria, Russia or dare I say it, Germany. No doubt Austrian, German and Russian nationalists would be delighted to go back to their 1914 borders.

Saturday 22 December 2018

What did you learn Nicola?

I don’t want Mrs Sturgeon to click her ruby slippers together while repeating endlessly that there’s no place like Scotland. Nor is it helpful to once more hear nationalists repeat clichés like “A hard Tory Brexit makes independence inevitable.” But it might be useful to revisit Scottish independence in the light of what we have all learned since the decision to leave the EU.

1. If there were a second referendum on Scottish independence, it would not be a Yes/No question.

Scottish nationalists still think that they would have the advantage of campaigning for Yes, but this would reverse the precedent set by the Electoral Commission to make the EU referendum a Remain/Leave question. Obviously any future Scottish independence referendum with a Yes/No question would be challenged legally.   

2. In order to win Scottish independence, the SNP would have to win four times.

In order to have a legal referendum on independence, the SNP will have to gain another pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament (i).

They will then have to win a vote to Leave the UK (ii).

They will then have to win a second referendum to Leave the UK after the terms of deal negotiated with the UK become clear to the Scottish public (iii).

It has already been established both by the actions of the SNP after the 2014 independence referendum and the Remain campaign after the 2016 EU referendum that campaigning for a second referendum is legitimate.

They will then have to win a vote in the UK’s Parliament (iv), although it will never be possible for the SNP to have more than 59 seats there.

It has been shown recently that the UK Parliament may if it chooses reject the result of a legal referendum. No-one questions that it would be legal for the UK Government to decide to water down leaving the EU to such an extent that it would be Brexit in name only. It would likewise be within the power of the Government to reverse Article 50.

Therefore the UK Government could decide that Scottish voters did not understand independence or that the SNP exaggerated the benefits and minimised the costs. Perhaps the SNP would have a bus that claimed Scots would be better off by £1000 per year after independence. Perhaps they would make some other claim that turned out to be false in the period after the vote. Well this could be used by the Remain dominated Parliament in Westminster to argue that the Scottish Leave vote was illegitimate.

3. The slogan “Independence in Europe” involves a contradiction.

If the UK cannot leave the EU without surrendering to a Carthaginian peace, not leaving at all or leaving without a deal, then what sort of independence would Scotland have in the EU? If Scotland could never leave the EU once we joined, then we would have the independence of a prisoner.

Some Scottish nationalists would be quite happy to surrender their hard won sovereignty to Brussels just so long as we are not ruled by London. But this is to apply the logic of “anyone but England” to matters rather more serious than football.

4. Being in a different trade bloc to your closest economic partner makes no sense.

Even after nearly 100 years of independence the Irish economy is hugely dependent on trade with the UK. Being in a different trade bloc to the UK will damage trade between the UK and Ireland and may lead to tariffs. This would still more be the case in the event of Scotland becoming independent. The Scottish economy is closely integrated with the other parts of the UK, but this could not survive if the UK were outside the EU while Scotland chose to join. Even if Scotland didn’t join the EU there would still need to be trade negotiations between the UK and Scotland. Anyone who thinks trade negotiations are straightforward hasn’t been paying attention. After all, the UK hasn’t haven’t reached them yet with the EU. We can’t even agree on the divorce terms.  

5. Borders are not simply lines on a map

The negotiations over the Irish backstop show that keeping open a border between a non-EU country and the EU is complex at best, impossible at worst. Technology may allow tariffs to be collected and migration to be monitored. But it is proving difficult enough when Ireland is not in Schengen. How much more difficult would it be if Scotland were forced to join Schengen. It is after all a condition of EU membership.

6. You can’t always get what you want

Scotland would have to simultaneously negotiate trade deals with both the EU and the UK. This would be the case whether or not Scotland chose to join the EU. If the UK is able in the future to make trade deals with other countries like USA, Australia and New Zealand, these deals would not automatically apply to Scotland and so would have to be negotiated too.

The key lesson we have learned in the past two years is that the EU has used the negotiation process to try to prevent the UK from leaving. We have been offered a deal that is worse than remaining. What would prevent the UK doing the same to Scotland? What would prevent the UK working together with Pro UK Scots, Remainers, to thwart Scottish independence and make the price of that independence so high that Scots would be left in the position of having to accept either Scottish independence in name only or a “No deal” with tariffs and border controls between Gretna and Berwick? If it is legitimate for the EU to act in this way why couldn’t the UK Government do likewise? No doubt there would be lots of goodwill towards Scotland, after all none of us can remember any Scots saying anything nasty about our neighbours, but what if that goodwill began to evaporate as the divorce ran into difficulty and disagreement?

So what did you learn Nicola? Up until now your answer to ever question has been independence. The Emerald City lies on the horizon and if only we could get there we would find it was in fact the Sapphire city with a Saltire flying from its highest point. In the Wizard’s bag we would each find what we needed and the Yellow Brick Road would turn out to be paved with gold. But Scottish nationalism is not going to get there if it continues to think in clichés. There are hard questions to answer and they are getting harder. The hardest of all is this.

We have learned that a referendum decides nothing whatsoever. The losers just keep on campaigning as if nothing had happened and fight to overturn the result. The logic of this though is that that there never will be another referendum in the UK. Did you learn that lesson Nicola? If so, how do you achieve independence?

Saturday 8 December 2018

Turning the key

There were always two types of empire. There were those like the British and the French that spread overseas. British and French people would move to Delhi or Saigon and pretend they were living at home only it was rather hotter. These empires were always fragile. The other type of empire spread from a small centre, but did not, for the most part, spread overseas. The Russian Empire and the Chinese Empire are still largely intact because where they spread was contiguous. The same, dare I say it, might be said for the American Empire moving from a coastal strip to embrace most of a continent by means of colonisation.

A feature of both the Russian/Soviet and the Chinese Empires under communism was that there was always a pretence that they were democratic and that their various parts were autonomous or even independent. Both the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic held seats in the UN in 1945. So too did the countries that would later make up the Warsaw Pact. But the Polish October and Hungarian Revolution in 1956 ably demonstrated that these places had neither sovereignty nor any real freedom. But this had already been made clear in 1953 when the German Democratic Republic, with the help of Soviet tanks crushing demonstrators, had shown its name to involve a contradiction.

The citizens of these empires could either pretend along with their rulers that they lived in free democratic societies, taking part in elections, campaigning for this or that or even trying themselves to become part of the ruling elite, or they could just ignore as best they could the whole thing.  Just as the various parts of the Soviet Empire pretended that they were free and democratic, so the people, for the most part, pretended to take part. This was the only sensible way to live. There was no point battering your head against a door that wouldn’t open. Rather the key to existence was to retreat into private life, say what needed to be said, play the game and keep your real thoughts to yourself.

Eventually patience was rewarded. While the Russian Empire did not completely collapse, it turned out that by some miracle it was possible for Warsaw Pact countries to once more become sovereign nation states and even more miraculously it was possible for parts of the Soviet Union to leave. It would have been utterly pointless for Latvians and Estonians to have attempted to leave the Soviet Union in 1971. To have even suggested it would have been unwise. My guess is that if the Soviet Union had been able to hold itself together until Mr Putin reached power then it would have been impossible for the Soviet Republics to have asserted their sovereignty. But there was a window of opportunity between 1991 and 2000 when the Russian Empire for the first time in its history was willing to lose territory without a fight.

It was something of a leap into the dark for the Soviet Republics. They had to give up their currency (the Soviet rouble) and the trading relationship they would have with the other members of the Soviet Union including Russia was suddenly very uncertain. There were also conflicts and border disputes some of which are still continuing. These have led to the deaths of nearly 200,000 people. But countries could leave the USSR. They were allowed to.

But while the Russian Empire reached its peak in1945 and went into decline in 1991 another empire has been rising out of the ashes of its threefold defeat in 1806, 1918 and 1945. While Russia since the fall of Constantinople has been the successor to the eastern half of the Roman Empire, the EU is its successor in the West.

While Latvia was able to leave the USSR in 1991 by 2004 it was already a part of the EU. It had so to speak voluntarily entered into a prison put its own key in the lock and then chucked it out of the window.

It must have seemed to the Latvians and all the other citizens of the EU Empire that they were free and that they had free and fair elections which might really change things, but just like in the Soviet Union these were all illusions.
We face momentous events, but it is becoming boring. If it turns out that we really can’t leave the EU, then it is a subject that is no more worth studying or writing about than Marxism/Leninism.

If politics in Britain is constrained within carefully defined limits, then it rapidly becomes clear that certain debates are pointless. If Britain can’t leave the EU then self-evidently Scotland cannot properly leave the UK. If the one can be prevented, so too can the other with rather more ease. I doubt very much that a radical Labour Government would be allowed to be quite as radical as it thinks it might be. So too I don’t think a truly conservative, low tax, low public spending, free market Conservative Party would be allowed. We are left then with the mush that extends from the Labour moderates to the Conservative moderates. They each believe more or less the same. It isn’t worth arguing about.

We may still break free. Nothing we would have to face would be anything like what the former members of the Soviet Union had to go through in order to gain their freedom. A few traffic jams must be a price worth paying for the cause that we are supposed to hold higher than any other: freedom and democracy. But has this cause always just been a pretence? An opium to get the masses to enlist.

Too much already has been written about the EU. Let us await events. If it turns out that we are trapped, take comfort from the fact that there will be other chances. There is no need to wear yellow vests. Our present politics will not survive the failure completely to leave the EU in 2019, nor indeed, I suspect, will the EU. If Britain can’t leave the EU, then no-one can. EU citizens will then retreat into private life just like Soviet citizens before them, but we will wait for the moment when the walls begin to crumble. I don’t think we will wait that long.

Sunday 18 November 2018

An open letter from an 85 year old Gordon constituent to her MP Colin Clark

Dear Mr Clark,

I write to complain about what feels like treachery by our Prime Minister for allowing such a poor deal on Brexit even to be considered as acceptable to the British population.

I spent the first 5 years of my life in Jersey, daughter of a non-Jersey born clergyman. It was only by the grace of God, or maybe more accurately the decision of the Bishop of Winchester who offered my father a living near Bournemouth, which saved him from being sent to a Nazi concentration camp. 

A search light camp was established adjacent to our vicarage – later bombed. During the war we had evacuees and after the war we gave refuge to starving children from the Netherlands.

As a child I followed D Day and the liberation of France, Belgium and the Netherlands by the British Army, Navy and Airforce and lived through the years of shortage which followed. Now Theresa May is willing to accept a deal that imprisons us by the very people we liberated from the Germans. Why are the EU’s negotiators so anxious to punish us who seek freedom when we helped them in their time of need? Have they forgotten that we sent food and lost many people and suffered much damage so that they might be free?

Recently we have gone through a shared reflection on the First World War. Yet as the print on the so called “Brexit Agreement” dries, another period of domination by the EU looms large against the British. How can Theresa May be so blind and so arrogant to allow the EU to inflict this upon those of us who went through so much when we were young.

A war child now 85 years old.

Friday 16 November 2018

She betrays what they fought for

A week ago we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the ending of the First World War. Theresa May laid wreaths on the graves of those who had defended the freedom and democracy of our country while knowing that she intended to surrender both of them. For this alone she must go.

No free, democratic country that has not already been defeated in warfare would sign a legal treaty in which it agreed to obey the laws of a foreign power without any say in their formulation and that this arrangement would continue until that foreign power agreed that it would cease. It is just this that we fought to avoid in 1914 and 1939. For this reason Theresa May and those others who have been responsible for formulating this treaty have betrayed not merely those of us who voted to leave the EU in 2016, they have betrayed more importantly everyone in British history who fought to establish the democracy in which we live.

We were willing in 1914 to sacrifice the lives of a generation in order to defend Belgium neutrality.

We were willing in 1939 to go to war to defend Polish freedom.

In both cases we could have remained neutral, but we decided to fight for a principle and because it is the British way to stand up to bullies. Now once more we have to stand up to defend a principle, only this time we won’t have to fight anyone.

No-one knows for sure what exactly would happen in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit. I have read speculations that vary from it being relatively straightforward to it being relatively difficult. But in any event it would be worth it.

Markets crashed in 1914 and our trade with the rest of the world was hindered by the fact that U-boats fired torpedoes at our merchant fleet. Nothing as bad as that would happen in 2019. From 1940 onwards British trade with the continent all but ceased, but we were able to dig for victory. Nothing nearly as bad as that will happen in 2019. The worst that will happen is that we will trade with the EU in exactly the same way that we at present trade with the USA. There may be some traffic jams in Kent, there may be some short term shortages, but surely Britain can still take it.

What is to be done?

1. Get rid of Theresa May.

2. Appoint a new Tory leader quickly. Get us David Davis in a week. Give him the job for a year. Have a full blown leadership contest then.

3. Apologise to the DUP and the people of Northern Ireland. Make clear that Belfast is as British as Bognor Regis and that no UK Government will ever treat it differently.

4. Remind the EU that we have not been defeated and that we reject their deal.  Announce that we are leaving in March without a deal.

5. Sack Philip Hammond and appoint a Chancellor who is willing to spend any amount of money to ease the British economy through the transition and to deal with any economic shocks.

6. Remind Parliament that it has already agreed to Article 50 and that the Government intends to stick to the Brexit timetable come what may.

7. Inform the Republic of Ireland that we will impose no border checks, but that the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement cannot be used as a means to annex UK territory, for which reason we renounce it. Furthermore we are no longer interested in having the Republic of Ireland in the Common Travel Area or giving its citizens any more rights with regard to the UK than those from Japan. In future we will treat any Republic of Irish claims to Northern Ireland as being equivalent to Russian claims to the Crimea. It doesn’t matter how the people in Crimea vote, they are still in Ukraine. If the Irish Republic chooses once more to take advantage of terrorism to further its foreign policy aims then we will respond as we always do to terrorists and their sympathisers.

8. Inform the EU that UK armed forces will only be used to defend our territory and they will under no circumstances serve abroad.

9. Attempt to arrange a new security structure involving UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as these are our true allies and friends.

10. Make Britain the easiest and cheapest place in Europe to do business. Undercut every EU nation in corporate taxes and offer free trade deals to anyone and everyone willing to reciprocate. Get rid of EU bureaucracy in order to outcompete them. Make them regret every sentence of the deal they wanted to humiliate us with.

I will never vote for a Conservative Party that is led by Theresa May and if we leave the EU on the terms that she has put forward I may never vote again. There isn’t much point voting when you’ve lost your freedom and your democracy.

Friday 9 November 2018

Happy birthday Poland

The writer of the Polish national epic, one of the last epic poems written in Europe, was born in present day Belarus and wrote in the first line of his poem Pan Tadeusz:

Litwo, Ojczyzno moja! ty jesteś jak zdrowie; [Lithuania, my fatherland! You are like health]

From this you can deduce everything that is important about Poland history.

Adam Mickiewicz was Polish, but was not born within the boundaries of present day Poland. The countries of Central Europe expand and contract as history passes. A German Kafka could live in what is now the Czech Republic. He was not Czech. A Hungarian Liszt may not have spoken a word of Hungarian and was born in present day Austria, yet somehow Hungary claims him even if his parents were German. All is a muddle and a melting pot that did not melt difference.

Poland begins sometime around the year 960 AD and covers a territory not dissimilar to that of today.

Who were the Poles? They were the people who worked the land and tilled the fields [pola].

The Slavs who had a certain unity of language and perhaps identity, gradually separated into Rus’, Czechs, Slovaks, Bulgarians and other Southern Slavs. The greatest division perhaps was that the West Slavs looked to Rome while the East Slavs looked first to Byzantium and then when Constantinople fell to the Third Rome that became the capital of Holy Rus. It still is the capital and wants desperately to unite all the lands of Rus whether they want to be united or not.

But Poland was never Rus. From the beginning what made someone a Pole was that he was not Rus. Later the distinction was because a Pole was Catholic while a Rus was Orthodox. Later still the difference perhaps was because the Pole looked westwards to Rome and beyond Rome to everything that was of the West, while the Rus never quite managed to be part of Europe even if he tried hard.

But where is Poland? At various historical periods Poland has extended as far North as present day Estonia, as far East as Ukraine and certain parts of Russia and as far South as the Black Sea.

So what is it to be Pole? Is it someone from Smolensk, Riga, Vilnius or from the Black Sea Coast? All of these place were once at least in some way part of Poland. Then again at another time there was no nation state called Poland. It looks rather like a part of Eastern Europe that is both everywhere and nowhere.

The Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth came about because of a marriage. Jogaila Grand Duke of Lithuania (1377–1434) married Jadwiga of Poland (ca 1373-1399). The best university in Poland “Jagiellonian” is still named after the dynasty that resulted from their “love”.

This was an Empire to rival that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but contained the same weaknesses that were to eventually bring about the latter’s destruction in 1918. Austria-Hungary was partitioned because it contained far more than merely Austrians and Hungarians, but at least Austria and Hungary remained and survived the destruction of their Empire. Neither Poland, nor Lithuania would survive the fact that their commonwealth contained too many people who were neither Polish, nor Lithuanian.

How many different peoples made up the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth? Besides Poles and Lithuanians, there were Germans, Jews, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Romanians and Ruthenians (i.e. East Slavic speakers who spoke the languages which became modern Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian). The Commonwealth was more tolerant than the average realm at the time. It was known as paradisus judaeorum. While other European countries expelled Jews, Poland welcomed them and treated them better than anywhere else. But this tolerance saved neither the Poles nor the Jews.

The weakness of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth ultimately can be traced to the fact that it was Polish and Lithuanian. A Lithuanian can marry a Pole, but unless they learn each other’s language they can’t understand each other. The distance between Polish and Lithuanian may not be as much as between German and Hungarian. There was a proto Balto-Slavic language which the ancestors of both Poles and Lithuanians spoke, but they had diverged to such an extent that this language family would only be apparent to linguists.

The Commonwealth never really achieved unity. It was split down the middle into a Polish part and a Lithuanian part. Different customs and laws applied. Different identities were maintained. It is this that led to the partitions. Lithuanians and all of the other identities never really had any loyalty to Poland, nor did Poles really have any loyalty to them. A Pole did not much mind a partition that sold Lithuania down the Volga, nor did a Lithuanian mind if Poland was sold down the Rhine or the Danube. This is why both Poles, Lithuanians and the others who made up their Commonwealth were willing to betray each other and give up their Empire for temporary gain. No-one quite had a homeland because their ultimate loyalty was to the language that they spoke and the people who they were rather than to a dynasty that didn’t really represent any of them.

The three partitions of Poland that took place in the eighteenth century could well have been terminal for both Poland and Lithuania. If history had turned out only slightly differently Poles may well have been the equivalent of Kurds, a people without a land. The problem is that when you are divided between Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, you need to fight all of them to unite to form a Kurdish nation and how can you do that if Kurds are mixed up with everyone else.

So too Poles lived in the Austro Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire and eventually the German Empire. No matter how much they might revolt in the nineteenth century it must have looked simply impossible to create a land which would unite all the Poles. How are people without a state to defeat three empires?

The process of uniting Poland began with the end of the First World War. This was what Poles had been waiting more than a century for. This was the condition for the possibility of there being a Poland. If Russia had remained undefeated and allied with the Entente then Poland as we know it would not have been created. Who would have rewarded Russian sacrifice with the loss of its Polish territory? At best some Polish lands may have been taken from Germany and Austria Hungary, but it would have lacked the heart of Poland.

But the Poland that was created after the First World War repeated many of the mistakes of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth. In trying to gather in all that had once been Polish it overreached itself and ended up containing far too much that was not.

By extending the boundaries of Poland Eastwards into the lands of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth, post First World War Poland gathered in most of the Poles, except those still living in Germany, but it also gathered in huge numbers of non-Polish speakers and people who had little or no loyalty to Poland.

The newly formed Polish Army by virtue of the Miracle on the Vistula was able to defeat the Soviets, but led Poland into a temptation. It took advantage of temporary Russian weakness to extend its boundaries eastwards into the lands of the Rus. But Russia would not always be weak. The victory was temporary and led directly to the fourth partition of Poland.

Once more Poland effectively ceased to exist. Even when the Second World War ended and Poland was as it were shifted westwards, it didn’t really have independence. The entire Eastern bloc was really just part of an extended Russian Empire renamed the Soviet Union. Poland was on the map, but it was a Russian vassal.

The results of the Fourth Partition of Poland remain. The territory lost to the Soviet Union is still lost and forms parts of modern Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. The territory gained had been German for centuries, but brought Poland back to its beginning with the Piast dynasty.

But in history it is always necessary to take the long view. Poland won the Second World War. It gained a Polish nation state for almost the first time in history whose population was overwhelmingly Polish. 97.7 % of the Polish population are Poles.

Prior to the Second World War there was a significant German population in Poland who wished to citizens of Germany. There were also significant populations of Lithuanians and East Slavic speakers. Where did the loyalty of these people lie? Some of them no doubt were loyal to Poland, but not all. Some would have looked north towards Lithuania, others East towards Minsk, Kiev and beyond.

Tragedy followed for the population of Poland in the war years. Jews were murdered to the extent that there are now few Jews in the land that had been their main home for centuries. Ukrainians killed Poles living in what they thought was Ukrainian land and punished Poland for its resurrection and its extent. Lithuanians were grateful that the Fourth Partition of Poland gave them back Vilnius, just as Ukrainians were grateful that it gave them Lvov. Each complained about Soviet rule but kept the results of that rule. No-one quite noticed the hypocrisy.

Many of those Poles who had lived in the Kresy Wschodnie ended up living in places in Western Poland that had been German for centuries. Ordinary Germans were driven out just as ordinary Poles were driven out from the East. But for all the tragedy that occurred it is necessary to recognise that Poland won the Second World War.

The Soviets tried to decapitate Poland in a forest near Smolensk and by standing by as Warsaw rose and was then raised to the ground. It must have seemed to many Poles who had fought in the Battle of Britain at Monte Cassino at Arnhem and elsewhere that their sacrifices had been futile. Britain and France went to war to liberate Poland, but Poland was not free. Worse the land lost due to the Fourth Partition had not been restored and never would be.

But Polish history teaches us one thing. Be patient. The tradition of rebellion against the Russian Empire continued in Gdansk and although they were crushed in the short term, this time it only took a few years before they succeeded.

Poland after 1989 was free and united in a way that perhaps it never had been before. This was the victory that was gained over those who wanted to wipe Poland from the map again.

Poland was decapitated again in 2010. The president of Poland Lech Kaczyński and many others died in an air crash that had strange echoes of that which killed Władysław Sikorski in 1943. But this time Poland was fortunate for Kaczyński had a twin.

How many hundreds of years did it take to arrive at 1989 and a free united Poland. Yet only a few years later there are those Poles, reminiscent of those who cooperated in the first three partitions of Poland who would like to collaborate in a fifth.

By good fortune and through tragedy the Polish population is both united and Polish, but the European Union would prefer that it ceased to be quite so Polish and ceased to be quite so free.

Western Europe has chosen to imitate the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth by becoming so tolerant that it allows anyone from anywhere to live in its territory. It can’t bear that Poland having experienced throughout its history the consequences of a divided population and seeing the results of the experiment in places like London and Paris, chooses not to take part.

The solution proposed by the European Union is absorption into an ever closer union. To achieve this end it is willing to bribe. It pays money to Poland and threatens to cut it off if Poland doesn’t do as it is told.

It may for a time be possible for Poland to maintain its identity and its freedom while accepting the bribes given by the European Union, but it won’t be possible for ever.

The bribes and the threats are the same ones that have threatened Poland’s existence since the Partitions began. You either get this, or you don’t. Kaczyński gets it, for which reason it is most fortunate that just as we can survive the loss of one eye and still see, we can survive the loss of one twin and still see Donald Tusk’s cooperation in betraying everything that Poles have been fighting for since the eighteenth century. If Poles partition Poland once again for 30 pieces of silver it is hardly likely that they will be forgiven.

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 Beyoncé, 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.