Friday, 21 September 2018

All behind you Theresa


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 15 September 2018

The EU is all one way traffic



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Phony war is ending



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The possible outcomes are:

1. No deal.

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

3. A deal similar to Norway’s.

4. A deal similar to Canada’s.

5. A second referendum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Indyref; or, 'tis four years since



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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