Friday 19 October 2018

Check hers

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

November 2014  

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

December 2014

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

 January 2015

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

March 2015.

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

April 2015

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

May 2015

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

June 2015

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

July 2015

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

August 2015

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

September 2015

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

October 2015

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

November 2015

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

December 2015

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

March 2016

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

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

April 2016

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

Friday 12 October 2018

The 9th circle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 6 October 2018

Separating the cows from the bulls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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