Friday 25 May 2018

It's only the SNP that holds Scotland back.

I have long held the view that Better Together ran a terrible negative campaign that nearly cost us the referendum in 2014. For this reason my response to the SNP’s latest attempt to encourage more Scots to support independence is not going to be to explain why Scottish independence is impossible. I think everyone in Scotland should accept that Scotland could be a perfectly prosperous independent country. The issue is not and never has been could we? Rather it is should we?

There are any number of places which have become independent in recent years with various degrees of success. Since the fall of the Soviet Union many new countries have emerged in Eastern Europe helped also by the break-up of Yugoslavia.  Most of these countries have either their own currency or else they use the Euro. If these places can become independent and have their own currency then plainly Scotland could do so also. We are very much wealthier than, for example, Moldova.

In my view independent countries ought to have their own currency. The pain of the economic crisis in 2008 was greatly reduced for both the UK and Iceland because we each had our own currency. The UK avoided some of the difficulties which were faced by countries like Greece, Italy and Spain, because we had our own Central Bank and because we were able to devalue our currency.

The SNP plan as far as I understand is to continue using the UK Pound unofficially after independence for a good number of years and then if conditions should allow to move towards creating a Scottish currency.

Again this would, no doubt, be possible. I think Pro UK people should be careful not to exaggerate the costs of doing so. Iceland's population is not much more than Aberdeen's, but it managed to set up its own currency. Lots of countries have done so. It can’t be that hard.

But the SNP’s plans with regard to currency would rule out Scotland joining the EU in the near future. A condition for EU membership is that a country promises to join the Euro, but this requires that it has its own currency and Central Bank. An independent Scotland initially would have neither.

If Scotland did eventually set up its own currency there would, of course, be downsides. There would be a cost depending on whether the currency was free-floating or  pegged against either the UK Pound. Free-floating would be cheaper and in some circumstances better economically, but it would have an effect on our trade with our nearest neighbour.

The vast majority of Scottish trade is with the other parts of the UK. Having a different currency to your greatest trading partner can hardly be described as an advantage. Likewise ceasing to be a part of the UK’s Single Market which would be an inevitable consequence of Scottish independence would have an economic downside that the SNP never appear to take into account.

It is easy to point to small countries that are doing rather better than Britain. Some of these countries are wealthier than us because they have small populations controlling large natural resources. Others are wealthier because their Governments have policies which are more effective economically than ours. Still others have workers who are more productive than ours.

There isn’t a magic formula that brings prosperity, but I tend to think that free markets, low regulation, low tax economies will more likely than not bring wealth to their people. If an independent Scotland were to follow the policies of Singapore, there is little doubt that in time we would reach Singapore’s level of per capita GDP. But the same could equally well be said of the UK. Those same Singapore policies might well  increase the wealth of  pretty much every country. But that doesn't mean it is straightforward to follow these policies. If creating wealth were simply a matter of imitation and imitation was as easy as the SNP thinks, then why isn't every country as wealthy as Singapore?

What really is the point of saying if only Scotland were more like Denmark, for then we’d be as rich as the Danes. It’s like saying if only we were as hard working and efficient as the Germans, we’d all get to drive in a Mercedes.

It isn’t easy for a country to change the fundamentals of its economy. These fundamentals are a function of its historical development. You cannot suddenly live like a Dane, work like a Dane and take on aspects of the Danish economy as if it were a matter of putting on a hat with Viking horns on it.

The Scandinavians, for the most part, make a success out of high taxes and high public spending, but in my experience and I once lived in Denmark and spoke the language fluently, they have a different mentality to ours. That mentality took centuries to develop.

I think high taxes and high public spending would make an independent Scotland poorer than we are now. Many countries have tried social democracy/socialism and few have ended up like Denmark. The Danes are hardworking, innovative and good at business despite their high taxes. But it is Danish businesses and the work that ordinary Danes do that has made them wealthy, not their Governments. Above all the Danes are conformists. They follow rules and for the most part they are happy to work hard even if they could do nothing on benefits instead. They don’t generally take the Mickey out of their welfare state’s generosity. That is why their system works well enough for them, but would not necessarily work well for us. They are taught from age 0 to be good little Danes and they want to be that. Scots have nothing at all in common with this mentality and nothing much in common with Scandinavia. The places we have most in common with speak English. Funny that. 

While the Scandinavians have achieved success with high taxes and high public spending, most small countries reach prosperity by cutting bureaucracy, public spending and taxes. An independent Scotland could do the same, but once more so could the UK.

There is something foolish about pointing to other countries and saying we could be like that. Of course, anyone could. But it doesn’t mean that it would be easy or indeed that it would happen at all.

Large countries like the United States are more prosperous than present day Scotland. If we followed similar policies to the US we would no doubt improve our prosperity. But then again Shetland could be more prosperous than Scotland if it emulated the Faroe Islands and had exclusive access to the marine resources around it. If Scotland could be like Denmark, then Shetland could be like the Faroes. The argument is the same.

But the point to realise is that none of these possible models for future prosperity require Scotland to be independent. Scotland right now could raise taxes to Danish levels and could consequently increase public spending. We could also cut income tax and reduce the regulations that inhibit Scottish business.

I believe the UK as a whole could become much more competitive if we lowered public spending, lowered taxes and promised not to impose trade tariffs on any imports no matter what.

What hinders us from doing this? Well mainly the Lib Dems, Labour and the SNP.

I oppose Scottish independence, not because I think it is impossible, nor because I think Scotland would necessarily be poorer. Our future prosperity would depend mainly on creating a small government that interfered as little as possible in the economy. Our economy would then depend on the efforts of ordinary Scots to study hard, create businesses, products and services that people actually wanted to buy.

None of these things are impossible, but then again none of them are impossible in Scotland right now. Prosperity is not impossible in an independent Scotland, but nor does it require independence.

However, everything I seen about the SNP over the past few years tells me that the likelihood of them creating an independent prosperous Scotland is small. The SNP gained power by promising free this and free that, even though none of these things are actually free, but rather paid for by taxation. The SNP always wishes to centralise power rather so that it rests with themselves rather than allowing individuals to make their own choices. This suggests that an independent Scotland would be hindered because too many Scots would wait for independence to bring them prosperity rather than by using their own efforts to create that prosperity.

The SNP themselves at least in the short term would cause independence to be a disappointment.

But anyway I oppose Scottish independence, not for this reason, but because I am British and have and want to have a shared identity and citizenship with everyone who lives in the UK. I want all of the UK to be prosperous, not just Scotland. I think the UK is a great country with a marvellous past that has made us the way we are, but perhaps an even better future now that after Brexit we will be more in control of the path that we choose to take. We can use the full sovereignty we will regain to create a low tax, free enterprise, free trade hub off the coast of Europe. We can do much better than we are doing now. We can all be much more prosperous.

There isn’t an optimum size for a country. Singapore is tiny. The United States is huge. It’s not independence in itself that brings with it prosperity, it’s sensible economic policies, living within your means and creating successful businesses. There is nothing about being a part of the UK that hinders or prevents Scotland following policies that might increase our chances of creating wealth. Quite the reverse, the kind of free market, small government policies that tend to lead to increased wealth are more often than not opposed by the SNP. They then blame someone else for their own failure at running our economy.

What hinders Scotland the most however is that the SNP go on and on about independence. Business hates uncertainty. The prospect of having to go through yet another SNP attempt to drum up support for independence makes huge numbers of us weary. The prospect of ever having to go through the division and acrimony of an independence campaign fills millions of Scots simply with dread. These sort of feelings do not a successful economy make. 

If the SNP put a fraction of the effort its puts into its never-ending push for independence into actually trying to make Scotland a wealthier more pleasant, happier place to live, it might find that in time we would quite soon approach Danish living standards. But I strongly suspect the SNP would rather we were poor and independent, than even a much more prosperous part of the UK. There's nothing wrong with Scotland nor with our prospects. It's only the SNP that holds us back. 

Friday 18 May 2018

Pommes frites à l'écossaise

Apparently the Scottish Parliament has just refused to consent to Brexit. The Lib Dems, Labour, Greens and SNP all joined together to thwart the plans of those wicked Tories to undermine the powers of the Scottish Parliament. There is a peculiar logic going on here. There are various issues that are at present controlled by EU bureaucrats in Brussels. Many of these are also issues that are devolved in the UK and controlled by the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Parliaments. The UK Government proposes that the vast majority of these powers should be given to the devolved Parliaments while some are temporarily controlled by London. So it’s fine for Brussels to run everything, but if Westminster even temporarily controls anything this is enough for Scotland’s Left and Centre to start gathering the clans for the great 2018 Rebellion.

Of course, this has nothing much to do with Brexit or various powers to do with agriculture and fishing. Why is it just fine that unelected Brussels officials can run Scottish matters, but elected British MPs can’t? The SNP and their Lib Lab Greenie friends were more than happy for someone else to control these issues just so long as no-one from England got to tell them what labels to put on tins of food and how to plough a straight furrow. This is all just the usual playing to the lowest common denominator in Scotland. Westminster is a word that actually begins with E and ends with Land. It is this above all that makes it wicked. It’s worth remembering however next time you get the chance to put a cross on a ballot paper that Scottish Labour and the Lib Dems are part of the “Anyone but England camp” and are opposed to even minimal, temporary measures to make sure that everywhere in the UK has more or less the same sort of coordinated policies with regard to devolved powers.  The Welsh saw the sense in this and agreed to the arrangement. But it's never difficult to distinguish between the Scottish Parliament with a grievance and a ray of sunshine. 

Scottish nationalism is going nowhere at the moment. This is why it needs the grievance and the cooperation of its fellow travellers, helpers and hanger ons. 

Scotland is nearly perfect in every respect. In the springtime and early summer the beaches, the lochs, the rivers and the mountains are more or less empty and it can be hard to imagine that there is anywhere prettier or indeed better to live. But just as our countryside can be spoiled by the dark clouds and the sudden rain that obscures the view, so too our character is spoiled by our sense that someone else must always be to blame for whatever goes wrong and that person invariably lives south of the border.

Bullers of Buchan Aberdeenshire

Blaming someone or something else is far easier than taking responsibility for your own actions. It makes a person passive and this passivity is the reason for his failure rather than anything anyone else did. Give someone a reason to fail and he will grasp it. Take away any reasons for failure and the person just might reach success. It is those Scots who are most dissatisfied with their lives who find the source of their lack of happiness not with themselves, but with someone else. It is they who blame Westminster or Britain or the fact that Scotland isn’t independent for their own failure. If only Scotland were independent, all would be perfect. I would be happy and fulfilled and whatever is wrong with my life would be made right. But the source of a person's failure does not come from without, it comes from within.

Independence supporters invariably wait for independence or Nicola Sturgeon or someone else to give them more money, a better job, more benefits and whatever else is lacking in their lives. They expect someone else to do the hard work and want someone else to bring them success. This is why they fail. This is why all that is left is for them is to go on endless rather pointless marches, dressing up like parody participants on the White Heather Club. But independence would not bring with it helicopter money and Irn Bru restored to its full sugar strength and it wouldn’t solve the grievance.

The Republic of Ireland has been independent for decades, but scratch the surface (as I occasionally do) and you very rapidly find that exactly the same grievance remains today as it did long ago. The Brits are responsible for everything bad that ever happened to Ireland and everything bad that ever will happen in Ireland.

Socialism/social democracy is about grievance. It’s the rich man’s fault that I am poor. So rather than work hard to earn more myself I will vote for parties to take away the rich man’s money. No wonder the Lib Lab Greenies side with SNP. They all have a grievance about something. The fault lies always and above all with Tories and who is it who is most likely in the UK to vote for Tories?

We are where we are in Scotland because Labour and the Lib Dems decided that it was unfair if Scotland voted for the Left, but England voted for the Conservatives. If it had not been for that original grievance we might not have had to endure pointless Scottish Parliament debates about nothing at all. The Scottish Parliament does not have anything to do with foreign affairs. It is not its business. Whenever the Scottish Parliament debates foreign affairs, it is really just talking to itself about a matter that is outwith its remit.

Brexit is a UK matter. No consent is necessary from Scotland. If it is wrong for Westminster to encroach on devolved powers, it is equally wrong for the devolved Parliaments to encroach on reserved powers. But, of course, the SNP hope that they can get people in Scotland to feel aggrieved about the Scottish Parliament being ignored. Labour and the Lib Dems are happy to help.

Luckily however the details about Brexit are becoming ever more tiresome for everyone in Britain. The idea that Scots are going to man the barricades over whether this or that devolved power will immediately be returned from Brussels to Scotland or whether we might have to wait a while would appear to be unlikely. Some Nats will no doubt dress up as Jacobites, but they don’t really need the excuse of Westminster supposedly acting without Scottish consent as an excuse for wearing such clothes. I suspect some of them sleep in them just as small children especially little bhoys have been known to refuse to take off their Celtic strips.

We are all having to wait interminably for Brexit. Why should someone who didn’t want the powers returned at all (a Remainer) get upset that there is a delay in returning powers he didn’t in fact want returned in the first place.

But devolution can only work in a UK context if it does not lead to great differences between the various parts of the UK. If the EU needs harmonisation, so too do we, only more so, as one of the main benefits of living in the UK is that we can live and work anywhere we please with a lot more ease and familiarity than if we chose to move to Slovenia or Italy. There is a reason why some powers are centralised in Brussels. It is because they want the same rules and regulations with regard to these matters to apply everywhere in the EU. But if the same rules are necessary across the EU, then it is likely that they will require a degree of coordination in the UK too. It is for this reason that it makes sense that Westminster has a role in coordinating how Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland use the powers they will gain from the EU. The reason is that Westminster is the only elected UK Parliament where people from every part of the UK meet as a matter of course.

However in principle it would be better if the vast majority of powers were transferred from Brussels to the devolved UK Parliaments as soon as possible. The reason for this is it will put parties like the SNP in a very nice sort of dilemma.

The key to Brexit is to get out. We may or may not leave in an ideal way. We may have to make compromises. We may even have to stay in some sort of customs union for a while. It doesn’t matter. The UK Government has a very small majority. Some things may not be possible. I would have walked away in 2016. But there isn’t a majority for that now. There probably wasn't even then. I would have responded to Mr Varadkar, by first erecting a fence between Northern Ireland and the Republic and then by digging a moat, but I have a tendency to get frustrated with such people and rather wish we had a big enough gun boat with which we could blockade Dublin so as to encourage their diplomatic efforts. But this no doubt is to be intemperate. Cooler heads than mine will wisely counsel that instead we must be patient.

Let us focus on getting out. After that there will be future elections and the chance to vote for things to be different. If a customs union doesn’t work and constrains us in a way that is intolerable, it won’t last. We will be able later to vote to get out of it. It doesn’t much matter when this happens now or a few years from now. Take a long view.

Once we are out of the EU there will be no getting back in. To get back into the EU we would have to follow the rules for joining. One of these is accepting that we must join the Euro. Likewise we would find that whatever concessions the UK had been given during our years of membership, such as our rebate and our not being a part of Schengen would not be on offer anymore.

Most importantly of all re-joining the EU would mean that the powers that the Scottish Parliament is up in arms about this week would have to be given back to Brussels. This is the dilemma for the SNP. Any future independence campaign would either involve promising to join the EU, or it would involve promising not to be part of the EU. But membership of the EU would involve the Scottish Parliament losing powers that it is up in arms about at present and agreeing to both join the Euro and Schengen while in time becoming part of what the EU intends to become a United States of Europe. This is a funny sort of independence. An independent Scottish Parliament in the EU in all practical respects would be less independent than the present devolved Parliament in the UK.

If Scotland on the other hand chose to be independent outside of the EU, then whatever trade deal will apply between the UK and the EU after Brexit would not apply to Scotland. We would have to negotiate our own trade deal both with the EU and with the other parts of the UK. 

Just as the UK may, depending on negotiations, loose some of the benefits of EU membership, Scotland might find leaving the UK involved the loss of certain benefits that are contingent on being a part of the UK. After all, we could no longer fall back on both the UK and Scotland being part of the EU, because we no longer would be. Brexit takes away the guarantee that everything will be more or less the same after independence. There is no guarantee about that at all now.

We have moreover learned in the past couple of years that the border between independent nation states is not simply a trivial line that is marked on a map. The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has caused endless discussion and at present it looks as if keeping it open will constrain the UK’s actions for some time to come.

No doubt everyone would want to keep the border between Scotland and England open in the event of Scottish independence. But this would all depend on matters that are simply impossible to guess at present. Would Scotland be part of Schengen, would Scotland be part of the EU’s Single Market or customs union? Might an independent Scotland try to be like Norway, France, Vatican City, Northern Cyprus or Belarus? Who can tell? There are any number of ways to be independent and any number of border arrangements in Europe.

But I strongly suspect that if in a few years Nicola Sturgeon the First President of Scotland came to London asking for help in keeping the border open although this would admittedly involve some constraints on the UK's ability to trade freely with whomsoever it pleased, the UK's Prime Minister might just decide to send her homeward to think again. It would be reasonable to point out that Scotland had chosen to leave and should face the consequences and take its grievances elsewhere.  If President Sturgeon were to continue on both shoulders to exhibit post-independence pommes frites à l'écossaise the temptation to resurrect and repair an ancient wall and then to dig a moat, just to make sure, might at some point prove overwhelming.   

Saturday 12 May 2018

Suicide is wrong

There’s been a lot of suicide this week. Many students are killing themselves. A musician killed himself. A very old man killed himself.

The key to understanding suicide today is to look at the story of a 104 year old man who travelled to Switzerland to kill himself in a clinic. This man considered that he had the right to choose the means and the time of his death. Lots of other people in Britain and elsewhere have gone to the courts in order to fight for the same right. These cases are usually viewed sympathetically. Someone with a terminal illness wants to avoid suffering. Few of us would dare say “no” you must continue to suffer. But every time someone goes to a clinic to commit suicide it chips away at the taboo surrounding suicide. Why should we be surprised then, when there are a lot of suicides?

Until relatively recently in history suicide almost universally was considered to be perhaps the greatest sin. The problem is that the view that suicide is wrong depends on theology. Without theology it is very easy to argue for the right to commit suicide. David Hume’s argument is as good as any other. But then how are we to discourage suicide in an age when Christianity is in decline? It becomes rather difficult.

Suicides sometimes happen because someone genuinely is in a position that is impossible. A soldier about to be captured and facing torture and ultimately death may prefer to kill himself. Another soldier may choose death in order to save his comrades. But these sorts of situation are rare in ordinary life.

The two main categories of suicide today are where someone wishes to kill himself because of a physical illness and where someone wishes to kill himself because of a mental illness.

The crucial thing to realise however is that while the situation may appear hopeless to the suicide it isn’t.

Someone who is terminally ill need not commit suicide because there are ways of alleviating pain such that suffering can be minimised, even eliminated. If my pain becomes so great that I require a dose of morphine that ultimately will have the side effect of killing me, I am not committing suicide. All I am doing is trying to avoid pain. The care that dying people receive in hospices means that travelling abroad to die is quite unnecessary.

It is particularly unnecessary when a man is 104, not terminally ill and is merely looking forward to death. So long as he is not in any physical pain and has every material need fulfilled, then his position is better than the vast majority of people in the world. In the natural course of events his wish to die will be fulfilled, probably quite quickly.

The greatest pity is when someone suffering from depression believes that his situation is hopeless and that the only alternative is to die. The reason for this is that the person’s situation is not hopeless.

Someone may be devastated by an event, failing an exam, losing a loved one, but each of us who has ever experienced suffering for these reasons knows that the experience of suffering changes, passes and that new forms of happiness are possible even after great loss. From the perspective of twenty years later, failing an exam can seem trivial. The key is to wait and to be patient. This too shall pass.

Depression may occur because of a tangible reason or may strike from nowhere. The situation can seem hopeless to the depressed person. But it isn’t hopeless. It isn’t like the soldier who has no way out. Depression for the most part can be cured or at least eased. People who have been depressed frequently go on to live lives where there is the usual mixture of happiness and sadness, disappointment and fulfilment. Once more the key is to wait and to be patient.

One of the reasons why in the past depressed people were able to wait and be patient is that they were taught that suicide is wrong. The problem today is because no-one is willing to say that suicide is wrong, there is precious little to deter the person who is contemplating suicide. If a man of 104 is tired of life and kills himself and everyone looks at the story sympathetically, is it any surprise when a musician who is tired of life also decides to kill himself. He will get glowing tributes afterwards and no-one will say that what he did was wrong. Is it any surprise then when we get the next suicide?  

The immorality of suicide consists not merely in its rejection of the gift of life, but more importantly in the selfishness of contributing to the climate which sees suicide as something normal and life as not really being the most precious of gifts. Better by far not to encourage suicide with your sympathy.

Friday 11 May 2018

White is the new black

I have come to the conclusion that like Judas it would be better if certain subjects had never been born. At least Judas played a necessary part in the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus. But it is hard to see what benefit arises from the existence of sociology. If Judas is placed in the innermost circle of hell despite the benefit that arose from his life, where do we place the sociology department that not only gives us no benefit, but more importantly does much harm?

A white raven : it's hard being different, among the gray masses

A serious subject is one that allows a variety of opposing views. The debate between these views is determined by reason or else by experience. The theory about the world being flat is falsified by our being able to sail around it, while the theory that bachelors can be married is falsified by our reason and our understanding of simple words like “bachelor” and “married”.

Sociology on the other hand is about taking ordinary words and changing their meaning so that they mean something other than they did previously. The crucial point to realise however is that just because a sociologist at some point invented some theory, it doesn’t follow that this theory is true. This is especially the case when this theory is both contrary to reason and contrary to experience.

Sociologists invented the supposed distinction between gender and sex. Until this point there had been no distinction. Throughout human history the sex of a child was in almost all cases a completely straightforward matter that was determined at the moment of the child’s birth. This was the basic building block of humanity.

But as soon as a distinction is invented between gender and sex all sorts of possibilities arise to subvert how people understand themselves and those around them. All becomes unclear. Is your baby a boy? I’ve no idea. We’re going to have to wait until he/she/ze/it tells us in a few years.

Who proved that there was a distinction between gender and sex? Was it proved by experience? Did someone see this distinction? Was it proven by means of reason? No. All that happened is that someone at some point decided that two words “gender” and “sex” which until that point had been synonymous like “bachelor” and “unmarried” in fact were different in meaning.  If this sort of reasoning is allowed, we can easily prove that some bachelors are married. But if we can prove this, then we can frankly prove anything. If words mean what I want them to mean I am through the looking glass where anything can happen. But this isn’t to use reason it is to subvert it.

Until relatively recently it would have been considered ludicrous to suppose that a man could literally become a woman or indeed that a man could marry a man. But by inventing or annulling distinctions the Left with the help of sociology professors chips away at our understanding until we reach a point where we must affirm what once was considered to be impossible or else be charged with a hate crime. The Left at this point has succeeded in remaking us so that we are willing to do what we are told. At this point socialism/sociology becomes possible, because humanity has been reborn in the Left’s image. We then will actually be able to see that 2+2 = 5 just as we can see that a man can be a woman. Black quite literally becomes white.

It sometimes takes decades of chipping away before we reach the point where something that was considered an objective fact that can’t be changed becomes first possible and then obligatory.

A while ago many of will have come across the story of Rachel Dolezal (apparently now calling herself Nkechi Amare Diallo) a woman who had for a long time portrayed herself as being black while in fact her parents were white. She was teaching African studies at a university in Washington State, but was subsequently dismissed from this position.

Most people responded to this story with bemusement because we assume that race, just like sex is something fixed and objective, caused by where we are from and who are parents are. But I strongly suspect that a few years from now Dolezal will be seen as a martyr for her cause. The reason for this is that sociologists don’t think that race is something objective. It is a social construct.

How can this be? We are still in the bemused state. But we were in that state with regard to sex just a few years ago. Until recently if a little boy thought that he was in fact a girl you we would have laughed and told him not to be silly. If you do that nowadays social services are liable to take “her” away.

In a few years anyone will be able to say that they are whatever race they choose to be. A person with blond hair and blue eyes and the palest skin imaginable will be able to claim that they are Black or Asian or a Native American. They will be able to do this even though it will be possible objectively to prove that they are none of these things.

I came across a story recently about an Aboriginal Australian cricket tour. The idea is to follow in the footsteps of some Aboriginal cricketers who came to Britain 150 years ago.

 The BBC describes this nineteenth century tour as unheralded, but I am far from being a cricket follower, but I had read about it long ago.

But it immediately becomes obvious when we compare the tour that took place 150 years ago with the one that is to take place this year that there is something rather different.

 The captain of both the women’s team and the men’s team are no doubt descended from aboriginals but if they wandered around Helsinki they might find the locals expecting them to be able to speak Finnish.

Can anyone be an aboriginal? Isn’t it something that can be determined objectively by genetic testing? Apparently not. I came across a site which tried to explain the issue.

Proposals of genetic testing as a means of proving one’s Aboriginality have been dismissed on the grounds that ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ are social, cultural and political constructs   which cannot be tested objectively.

The site continues to explain that “It should be emphasised that Aboriginal identity no longer has anything to do with the colour of the skin.”

Aboriginals in Australia have suffered great prejudice and are frequently poorer than other Australians. The Australian Government has been trying to make up for this. There are grants and various programmes open to aboriginals, but not to anyone else.

I’m not on the whole a great fan of what the Americans call “affirmative action”. Letting someone into Harvard with worse grades than someone else because they have different colour skin is just as much a form of racism as saying you can’t sit on this bench because you are black. I would prefer that we could work towards the day when we didn’t give a damn about race rather than viewing everything through the lens of skin colour. But clearly if there is to be positive discrimination there have to be objective ways of determining who is and who is not to gain from it.  If anyone can get into Harvard without the required grades just by stating that they are black the whole concept of “affirmative action” will rapidly collapse.

But if you don’t use genetics and you don’t use appearance how can it be determined whether someone is an Aboriginal?

According to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, “Your Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage is something that is personal to you. You do not need a letter of confirmation to identify as an Indigenous person.”

But then can just anyone gain the advantages of being an aboriginal just by saying that they are one?

It becomes a little more complex. There are three criteria:

Being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent
Identifying as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person
Being accepted as such by the community in which you live, or formerly lived.

But how is someone to show that these criteria apply in a particular case. The Institute explains.

“Doing your family history may help you obtain proof of your heritage. You might find a birth, death or marriage record that traces your family to a particular Aboriginal station or reserve. Or you might have oral history stories that can connect you to a particular area or person or photograph.”

The key then is to be accepted by other aboriginals and to find either an aboriginal ancestor or some sort of oral history that suggests there was such an ancestor.  
It would appear that even one aboriginal ancestor no matter how long ago is enough to make someone an aboriginal. But this is rather similar to the idea that used to apply in the Southern States of the USA that even one drop of black blood made a person black.

Ava Gardner plays Julie Laverne in Showboat (1951). It only takes one drop
But why depend on oral history when it is possible to use DNA samples to objectively show a person’s ancestry? The problem is that if we analyse the DNA of a white person from Britain we will probably find that we are each descended from people from all over the world. I have not done such a test, but it is probable that I have an ancestor who came from Africa. If there are four generations per century, there are forty between now and William the Conqueror. That means I have a 1099511627776 grandparents since 1066, which is more than the population of the world today. The absurdity of genealogy is that each of us in fact is related to everyone else. You are related to Napoleon. Everyone is. So it is entirely possible that I have an ancestor who was an aboriginal from Australia. Does that mean that if I can prove that I have such ancestry I can go to Australia and claim various grants? Would not my DNA be enough to make up for my lack of oral history?

This is all going to become very silly very quickly. If Rachel Dolezal can find a black ancestor, then she can legitimately claim that she is black. If she used DNA testing then she almost certainly could find a gene that comes from Africa. Moreover if her identification as being black is simply a personal matter, then it is outrageous that she was dismissed from her job. She was black simply because she said it. Moreover she had been accepted into the black community and she quite possibly could have found people from that community who could orally confirm her black descent. But anyway if race is just a social construct then it needs no more objective proof than I need to claim that I am a man despite my DNA saying that I am a woman. If I can ignore DNA with regard to sex, why on earth can I not ignore it with regard to race?

The Left suggests that because I am white it is “cultural appropriation” for me to wear a Mexican hat or a Chinese dress. But very soon I will simply respond, “But I am Mexican, I am Chinese.” The Left wants women’s only shortlists to increase women’s representation into Parliament and complains when women cricketers don’t earn the same as men. But the men’s team can say that we are in fact women, just as John Humphreys can say he is really Joanna meaning that it is in fact men who are paid less for presenting the Today Programme.

At some point in the near future we will have to accept that a white man is in fact a black woman soon after that we will all have to believe that a square has three sides. Alternatively we can accept that someone who looks white is white even if one ancestor hundreds of years ago was black and that objective qualities like race and sex are fixed rather than matters of choice and subjectivity. Only at this point will we come back from the land beyond the looking glass where words mean what I want them to mean and anyone can be anything. At this point too we might cease to be quite so obsessed with issues of race and sex and that what really matters about a person is “the content of their character.”

Friday 4 May 2018

What have the Brits ever done for us?

There is something dispiritingly similar about Irish nationalism and Scottish nationalism. This is no doubt because the one frequently supports the other. Most Scottish nationalists would cheer if Irish nationalism achieved its goal of uniting Ireland, while I strongly suspect quite a lot of Irish people would delight in seeing Britain partitioned. It is rather contradictory to think that uniting one island is good while partitioning another is also good, but then again if your main goal is getting even with the Brits you just don’t much care if it happens by means of uniting or dividing.

Cú Chulainn brings peace and democracy to ancient Ulster by means of rustling cattle

The Republic of Ireland has a long term goal of uniting Ireland. I think it would be better if they left this up to the people actually living in Northern Ireland. Personally I regret that Ireland was ever partitioned, but it was a direct consequence of Ireland seeking independence from the UK. If the Irish had decided to remain in the UK, their island would not have been partitioned. This is self-evidently true, but stating it immediately leads to hostility from both Irish and Scottish nationalists.

It might or might not have been possible to force what became Northern Ireland to leave the UK along with the South. But the majority of people living in Northern Ireland at the time did not want to leave the UK. The British army could perhaps have forced them to join the South, but then again it could equally have forced the South to remain in the UK. Partition was not an ideal solution. It led to decades of terrorism. But would forced Irish unity have led to peace?

Anyway we are where we are. I would have no objection at all if the majority of people in Northern Ireland ever chose to join the Republic, but let’s leave it up to them rather than try to force the issue by turning the border in Ireland into a way of loosening the ties between Northern Ireland and the other parts of the UK.

The Irish PM has been pushing his luck lately. The Republic of Ireland has a national interest in trying to maintain a close trading relation with the UK. We would like the same. But there may come a time when ordinary British people lose patience with the Irish. We have, on the whole, remained friendly towards you. We have been happy to buy your beef, your butter and your beer. But we don’t have to do so. We have a national interest too. We are trying to leave the EU in such a way that we can maintain an open border in Ireland, maintain more or less free trade with all EU members, while regaining our sovereignty and the right to make trade deals with the rest of the world. If the Irish are seen to be trying to damage the UK national interest, there may well come a point when ordinary Brits cease being quite so friendly and may discover that we can buy what we need from elsewhere.

The essence of the problem between Ireland and the UK is that while the Brits tend to look kindly on Ireland, the Irish tend to view Britain with hostility. It is this that is fundamentally behind the diplomatic difficulties at the moment. If there were good will, the border would not cause much of a problem, but there is very little good will at all coming from the Republic.

The reason for this was very ably illustrated to me the other day, when I pointed out on Twitter that if it had not been for the Brits, the Irish today would be speaking a language (Irish), that could be understood nowhere outside of Ireland apart from perhaps in the Outer Hebrides. This was met with fury, even though it is self-evidently true. Irish people overwhelmingly speak English as natives, because for many centuries they were ruled from London. If you don’t think it’s an advantage to speak English as a native speaker, then by all means cease doing so. It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if the whole population of Ireland spoke Irish and only Irish, but it might hinder your trade rather more than Brexit.

No doubt great wrongs were done in Ireland. But frankly great wrongs were done in Britain too and throughout Europe. The nobles conquered and the peasants suffered. Kingdoms expanded and contracted. Wars were fought.  But you weren’t the only victims. It wasn’t Irish people alone in Europe who suffered from famine. The ordinary Brit had no more say in who ruled him than the ordinary Irish person. Each could die for a stupid reason or because it was the whim of someone more powerful. We are not at a fault for every bad thing that ever happened in Ireland. Get over it. No-one now was alive when the New Model Army crushed you.  We don't even blame present day Germans for the sins of their grandparents, but you would blame us for what happened between 1649 and 1653 as if it happened yesterday. 

Lots of Brits moved to Ireland during the period when we were joined together. But then again in prehistoric times Brits were the first settlers in Ireland, and you repaid us the compliment by first sending the Scoti to settle in Scotland and then during the nineteenth century moving here en masse. Many Scots moved to Ulster in the seventeenth century and their descendants still form a majority there. But if Scottish Protestants were planted in Ulster, is it equally correct to say that Irish Catholics were planted in Glasgow or Boston? We have been moving between our two islands since history began. When do we have plantation and when do we have the benefits of migration?

The failure of Irish nationalism is that it could never take with it the whole of Ireland. The reason for this is that it has zero appeal for Ulster Protestants, for the simple reason that they are still treated as if their presence is unwelcome. They are still settlers more than three hundred years after they settled. The Irish treat unionists as if they arrived on the Windrush fifty years ago and should jolly well go home. Until the Irish cease to hate the Brits they will have no chance whatsoever of having a united peaceful Ireland because those Brits live in Northern Ireland and why would they want to be part of a state where they are hated?

What have the Brits ever done for us? Well out of all of the most notable Irish people I can think of the vast majority were descendants of the British. That is what we did for you, even though you hate us for doing it.

St. Patrick (5th cent.) came to Ireland from Roman Britain. He was therefore a Brit. He gave you Christianity and you celebrate his doing so every March 17th forgetting that the man who got rid of your snakes was not actually Irish.

Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1783) the great idealist philosopher was from Ireland, but he wasn’t just from Ireland, he was Anglo-Irish. What this means is that he was a Protestant and was a descendant of people who were planted in Ireland.

Robert Boyle (1627-1691), the first modern chemist gave us Boyle's law, but the law equally well expressed the fact that eminence in Ireland invariably was a consequence of being both Anglo and Irish. 

The greatest general in Irish history Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852) was born in Ireland, but reckoning that if a man was born in a stable it didn’t make him a horse declined to consider himself Irish. Still he was at least as Irish as the vast majority of great Irish people, far more so than any number of American Presidents who find it convenient to discover, or else make up, some Irishness in their family tree. 

If you go through a list of the greatest Irish writers, beginning with Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), continuing with Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900), George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950), W.B. Yeats (1865-1939), C.S. Lewis ( 1898 – 1963), Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), Iris Murdoch (1919 – 1999) etc. etc., you will find that nearly all of them are Anglo Irish. In fact the only significant Irish literature that is not Anglo-Irish literature is either written in a language that almost no-one can understand, (e.g. Táin Bó Cúailnge), or is written by James Joyce in a language that quite literally no-one understands (e.g. Finnegan’s Wake).

Modern roads in Ireland were designed by the British, so too were the railways.  We gave you the games that the world now plays (Football, Rugby Cricket), otherwise you would have been left merely playing with yourselves (Hurling, Gaelic Football). The most famous Irish products such as Guinness were created by the Anglo-Irish. Even those Irish politicians who campaigned most effectively for Irish independence such as Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891) were doing so precisely because they were Anglo-Irish and had been brought up in the British political tradition.

Prior to Irish independence in fact it is hard to find anyone of consequence from Ireland who was not at least partly British. These people for the most part thought of themselves as being British. They saw no particular difference between themselves and those living in Britain. There, in fact, wasn't much of a difference apart from an accent and the separation of the Irish sea.  We gave up hating people because they were Protestant or Catholic sometime in the eighteenth century. Unfortunately you didn't, for which reason we received sectarianism as your gift. It's the thing that most distinguishes those who have Irish descent from those who don't.

None of the great Anglo-Irish people would have existed, at least they would not have existed in Ireland, unless British people had moved there because it was part of Britain. Hating Britain amounts therefore to hating the best that you produced.

Perhaps this is why you hate us. It must be tough to take when you find out that almost no-one of exclusively Irish descent was of any consequence whatsoever in the long course of Irish history. You all speak English, yet you hate us for teaching you to do so. We built your cities, brewed your beer and allowed you to come here to work when there was no more work in Ireland, but still you blame us for everything.

Not only this, Ireland in the 1920s had free markets, the rule of law and a functioning democracy with a civil service that was more or less free from corruption. It had these things only because it had been part of the political development of the British Isles that gave us all these traditions. None of these things existed in Ireland prior to British involvement. You didn’t have any sort of democracy before the arrival of the Brits, you had no free markets  and no freedom. You had only despotism and barbarousness. Irish civilisation happened because of Irish history, which includes the fact that for many centuries we were united. Even in Europe today let alone the rest of the world there are few places that are as prosperous, free and democratic as Ireland and the UK. None of this was automatic. It happened because of our shared political traditions, which were spread from Britain to all of the Anglosphere.

My family were from Ireland. Some of them are still there. My grandfather was Anglo-Irish and he found it rather tough to remain in the land of his birth because of the prejudice he encountered at the time of Irish independence. But he didn’t blame Ireland for anything, rather he always loved it. He made a successful life here in Britain. You see, when you spend your whole life blaming someone else it give you a wonderful excuse for failure.  If you give someone a reason to fail by always blaming someone else, do not be surprised when they grasp at failure and embrace it. It is this above all else that hinders Ireland.  

Britain remained friendly towards Ireland even when you bombed us, even when you blame us and even when you hate us. Blaming us for everything damages you, not us. We moved on a long time ago. We find your hatred rather baffling, but we are used to it and quite indifferent to it. Most Brits no longer even notice you (did they really elect Dame Edna to be their Prime Minister? we shrug quite unaware of whether Fine this or Fine that or indeed Fine Fair is the party that you chose). 

But your hatred of Britain damages not merely your relations with the UK. It means that you can’t quite join the Anglosphere. The “five eyes” of Canada, UK, USA, NZ and Australia, have a trust and friendship that means we cooperate in security. But Irish hatred of Britain means we could never quite trust you. To whom would you divulge a shared secret just to get back at the land that gave birth to Cromwell? It's you that loses from this, not us. 

Accept who you are. Every Irish person is to a lesser or greater extent a mix of the British and the Irish. Hating the British is simply a rather odd way of hating yourself.

The chippiness on the Irish shoulder has damaged relations between our islands for too long. Most Brits have Irish ancestors, most Irish have Brits in their family tree. We are the most closely related countries in Europe. Let us work together and accept that for all our faults we are what we are because of each other. If we could overcome the hostility we might just find a mutually beneficial way of living together.