Saturday, 17 August 2019

Only Euronationalism could make Tories vote for Corbyn

I’ve been trying to think of what would make Tory MPs bring down a Conservative Government. What would make them contemplate making Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister? Well it’s August. This is supposed to be the silly season. Perhaps alternatively Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin et al have all been out in the midday sun. Are we to see them foaming at the mouth if Britain leaves the UK without a deal? But there is unlikely to be much sun in late October.

I think part of the explanation is that the long Remainer rearguard has like many battles meant that the purpose for fighting has been lost. We’re here, because we’re here. Soldiers who have fought together will go on fighting even when the cause has been lost and when the reason for fighting in the first place has been forgotten.

All the Tory arch Remainers were willing to stand for Parliament on a manifesto that said, “no deal is better than a bad deal”. I doubt any of them could have imagined then a scenario where they would prefer Corbyn to leaving the EU. But somehow what was once grudging acceptance that the UK would leave the EU has become something else. 

The Tory Remainers started merely trying to obstruct Brexit and hoping to limit what they saw as the Brexit damage. Their aim was merely to make leaving the EU resemble as closely as possible remaining in the EU. But as the rearguard continued, they began to think that victory was in fact possible. They could overturn the result. We could stay in the EU.

This is what it is about now. No Tory would contemplate voting for Corbyn merely to water down Brexit, nor indeed to stop a “no deal” departure. The prize now is to stop Brexit completely. Since Theresa May’s deal was rejected the choice has always been no deal or no Brexit. Grieve et al would only be willing to ruin their careers for the prize of staying in the EU. They would do so for nothing else.

But why? What has stirred up all the passions in Britain about the EU? The only comparison I can think of is with the Scottish independence referendum. The long campaign. The moment when independence supporters thought they were going to win and the despair of losing created modern Scottish nationalism. It turned it from being a fringe movement of cranks and obsessives to something that was capable of destroying Scottish Labour and winning nearly all the seats at Westminster.

Something similar has happened in the UK. There was no such thing as a Remainer movement five years ago. Most people were fairly indifferent about the EU. You either thought it was a necessary evil or you hoped but didn’t expect ever to be able to leave. Few people were particularly enthusiastic about EU membership, but a good pragmatic argument could be made for staying. I didn’t expect Leave to win the EU referendum even while campaigning for us to do so. I would have met a Remain vote with a mixture of disappointment and relief.

I think it was the shock of losing that changed the Remainers. Calm indifference and pragmatism changed overnight into Euronationalism. They were absolutely certain that they had won. They planned to be conciliatory to the rather foolish Brits who had been so dull as to think Britain could ever go it alone. Then at some point in the early hours of a June night in 2016, the Remainers whole world view was shaken. They had lost and they reacted with a fury that was unfamiliar even to those of us who had gone through the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum.

There are three forms of nationalism, but the word itself is horribly misunderstood and used in very imprecise ways. Donald Trump is sometimes called an American nationalist. But this is just a way of saying that his America first message is excessively patriotic, selfish and right-wing. This is the sense in which “nationalist” means something like fascist. Unfortunately, this sense of the word is unhelpful. It’s the equivalent of saying “boo”. The other two senses of the word “nationalist” describe political goals that are perfectly respectable and help our understanding of history.

The secession form of nationalism is at the heart of Scottish nationalism, while the unification form of nationalism is seen in 19th century German history. There is nothing morally deplorable in either seeking to leave a nation state or seeking to form one from formerly independent states. Virtually every European state is made up of parts that used to be independent. Likewise, many European states at some point seceded from larger ones.

I have been reading about German unification lately, because it is the best way to understand what is going on in the EU. In 1866 blind King George V led the independent Kingdom of Hanover. His army fought the battle of Langensalza and defeated the Prussians in front of him, but it made no difference because his army was surrounded and soon after it surrendered. After that there was no more independent Kingdom of Hanover. The process of German unification was relentless and once you were on the path to “ever closer union” there was no getting off it.

Britain won an unexpected battle again EU nationalism when we won the vote in 2016. But the Euronationalists are relentless and the forces under their control are far more powerful than those available to Moltke and Bismarck. The issue now is whether having won a tactical victory we go down to a strategic defeat three years later.

Euronationalism was awakened in Britain by the 2016 Remain defeat. Suddenly there were EU flags on the street and a love for the EU that had never existed before. But it is rather like that 19th century German nationalism which was expressed by people in places like Hanover and Saxony. They thought that they could express support for Pan Germanism while retaining their independence. German nationalism gave them a Zollverein or customs union, but Germany was far less unified in 1866 than the EU is today. Five years later by 1871 there was only really Germany.  Whether they wanted to or not the member states had been subsumed. Hanover had become Wessex, Saxony had become Burgundy. I doubt even Germans now know that in 1866 they both took on the might of Prussia.

What is perverse about British Euronationalism is that while Eurofederalism is a goal held by some Remainer fanatics, if you asked the British electorate whether they wanted the UK to join the Euro, Schengen and accept our place in a United States of Europe sometime in the next 5-10 years, it is obvious that the vast majority of the electorate would reject Euronationalism.
The problem we have is that the Remainer elite still want to portray British membership of the EU as simply a matter of trade and economic pragmatism. They tell us we must avoid at all costs an economically damaging “no deal”, but they would want to avoid it even if the price were a United States of Europe with the UK unable to escape ever. In fact, that is the price of the Remain rearguard succeeding.

The blind King of Hanover could not see until too late that he would be subsumed and his country forgotten. But he was of course, neither form of nationalist. He just wanted to maintain the territorial integrity of his kingdom. When we fight against either Euronationalism or Scottish nationalism this is exactly what we are doing. We want neither to be divided nor subsumed. Let us then be clear about what the next few months are about. If we lose the battle to leave the EU this time, we won’t get another chance.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

All the First Minister’s men

Imagine if sometime in mid-2014 we had discovered that Alex Salmond had been accused of committing a serious crime in 2013. What sort of effect would this have had on the independence referendum? Imagine too if between the alleged crime and the summer of 2014 the SNP Government had made an inquiry into the events, but that this inquiry was so flawed that Alex Salmond had been paid more than £500,000 pounds. Would this have made a difference to the Yes Campaign?

What if Boris Johnson a few months prior to the EU referendum had allegedly committed a serious crime. Imagine if a few days prior to the referendum we had found out that the police were investigating this crime, but that the Leave campaign had botched an internal investigation into Mr Johnson’s actions. How many percentage points would Leave have lost owing to this revelation just before polling day?

 But what if we had found out about Mr Johnson’s alleged crime only now, three years after his side had won the referendum. I wonder how Remain supporters would react. They have complained about the supposed lies that Vote Leave made. But what if Vote Leave knew way back in 2016 that Mr Johnson might have committed a crime, but somehow this information was never made public at the time. I think all of us whether we voted Leave or Remain would want to know why.

Scottish politics turns on two events. If the SNP had not won an overall majority at the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, we would not have had the independence referendum in 2014. If there had not been the long campaign for Scottish independence, leading to Yes getting to 44%, we would not have had the subsequent SNP dominance of Scottish politics. Imagine if Yes had lost by a few more percentage points. If Yes had won, for example 38% then, we would have been told that support for Remaining in the UK was overwhelming. For a very long-time support for independence was in the twenties and thirties. Imagine if in the summer of 2014 we had discovered that Alex Salmond allegedly committed a crime in 2013 and that a flawed Scottish Government investigation had cost the Scottish tax payer £500,000. How many percentage points would the Yes campaign have lost?

Amber Rudd said during the EU referendum that she would think very carefully about taking a lift home with Boris Johnson. The implication was that Johnson was something less than a gentleman. But what if Mr Johnson had been accused of a crime involving women. Would Amber Rudd have used this to suggest that he was still less to be trusted? Imagine the various debates that took place in the summer of 2014 between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling. If we had known about Salmond’s alleged crime that took place in 2013 how would these debates have gone? Would the Scottish public have trusted a leader who was due to stand trial? We all, of course, believe in the presumption of innocence, but we also tend to prefer political leaders who don’t end up in court. Donald Trump was condemned for just talking about groping women. What if the police believed they had enough evidence to convict him in a trial?

If we had known what we do now in 2014 it is likely that Mr Salmond would have had to resign both as First Minister and as head of the Yes Campaign. Who would have taken over? It is obvious that Nicola Sturgeon would have been in charge. But the Yes Campaign would still have been fatally damaged. The problem with Watergate was not so much the initial crime, but the cover up that followed it. In the summer of 2014, everyone would have been asking Sturgeon what she had known about Mr Salmond. After all, the SNP in 2014 was a team made up of people who had known each other for years. Had there really been no whispers at all. Had the various witnesses and victims not told anyone in the SNP and had those people really not told Nicola Sturgeon?

The revelations about Mr Salmond’s alleged crime and the subsequent flawed investigation by the SNP Government, would have finished the Yes Campaign in 2014. If we had known, then what we know now Yes would not have come close to 44%. The Pro UK side was not robbed of victory, but we were robbed of the overwhelming victory which would have killed off independence.

As I have argued elsewhere, I don’t see how you can prove one way or the other what did or didn’t happen in private six years ago. A botched investigation whether by the police or anyone else leading to large sums of money being paid to a defendant would appear to make conviction still less likely. But in the course of proving guilt or innocence beyond a reasonable doubt at some point we are all going to have to find out who knew what and when. Is it really possible that the SNP First Minister and head of the Scottish Government knew nothing from 2013 to 2018? When we first heard about Mr Salmond’s alleged crimes, was it a complete surprise to Sturgeon. But if Sturgeon did know, when did she first know? How did she find out? Was there an attempt like Nixon’s to cover up?  The SNP might have been decapitated in 2013 or 2014. If Salmond feels the need to bring down more than himself, the SNP could be leaderless again. Who then would take them to the promised land?

Saturday, 10 August 2019

The Brexit strategy

If there wasn’t enough excitement over Brexit, we’ve had an opinion poll suggesting that support for Scottish independence has increased and that a Labour Government would allow a second poll on Scottish independence.

It baffles me frankly why anyone pays any attention at all to opinion polls any more. I understand that opinion pollsters telephone what they hope to be a representative sample of the population.  They don’t just present the data they get, but rather adjust it and manipulate it to make it more accurately representative. If 520 out of 1000 Scots say they want Scottish independence then the SNP get to say that they have a 2% lead, but there might in fact have been only 480 saying they want independence only the polling company thought it necessary to adjust the data. We might as well use chicken entrails as a method of judging what is going to happen in future elections. Everyone got the result of the 2016 EU election wrong. Remainers thought they had won right up until the moment they lost. Better by far to simply ignore all polls whether you find them to be favourable or unfavourable. Use reason and experience instead.

The whole Brexit strategy against the SNP, is the realisation that Scottish nationalism depends on the UK as a whole remaining a member of the EU. It isn’t love for the EU that makes the SNP angry about Brexit. It’s the fact that Brexit fatally undermines their “independence in Europe” strategy. Independence movements across the EU have grasped that, for example, if only Catalonia and Spain can both remain in the EU then Catalan independence will not hinder the trade relationship between Spain and Catalonia, Catalans will have exactly the same rights as they do at present and the border will remain just as it is. It is the prospect of continued EU membership after independence that guarantees that life will go on more or less the same. It is for this reason that the EU has become the condition for the possibility of sub-nation nationalism. Outside the EU, no-one in their right mind would argue for the independence of Flanders, Veneto, Catalonia or indeed Scotland. Once you grasp this simple fact, then the argument for leaving the EU as a means of thwarting Scottish independence becomes obvious.

But the Brexit strategy recognises that in the short term it will make Scottish nationalists very angry. We saw this in 2016. Various polls suggested support for independence had increased. Some people blamed me for my strategy, but a few months later we found that anger had subsided, the reality of Scottish independence after Brexit had been realised and during the 2017 General Election the SNP lost seats.

A “no deal” Brexit will likewise cause some anger in Scotland. But we still need to think strategically. A soft Brexit like Theresa May’s deal or no Brexit at all, which is what the Remainers in Parliament really want, will appease the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon will be very happy indeed that the UK has either left in name only or not left at all. But she will still want independence. A little down the line she will find another reason to ask for a second independence referendum. At this point there would probably be a Labour Government in some sort of deal with the SNP. We now know that this Labour Government would say “Go ahead have your referendum”. Strategically what would remaining have achieved? It would have stopped Scottish anger in the short term, but we would have lost the best argument and the best strategy.

Something odd has happened to Britain. Many English commentators are willing to concede defeat because of one poll suggesting Scottish independence might have increased. They want to give Scotland federalism, or more money or pretty much whatever Nicola Sturgeon wants when she wants it. Some English nationalists would happily give up Scotland, Northern Ireland and perhaps even Wales, just because they find the whole debate tiresome. Which other nation state in the world is so blithe about losing territory? Everyone else would go to war to protect an uninhabited island from being lost.

We have lost the ability to think long term. Doing the right thing strategically and doing what is necessary to keep our country intact may in the past have required effort, struggle and sacrifice over the course of decades. This is something that all of us understood throughout our long history. Compared to the struggles of the past leaving the EU even without a deal is as nothing. All we are doing is reverting to how we were prior to 1972. We are becoming a country like Australia or New Zealand. Prior generations would not even have been able to see anything scary about a “no deal” Brexit. Yet our snowflakes melt at the prospect of their prosecco getting a little more expensive.

There has been an opinion poll. So, what. Just ignore it. But don’t ignore that Labour has ceased to be a Pro UK party. The Hard Left’s hatred of Britain knows no bounds. It would delight in giving the IRA victory by uniting Ireland and partitioning Britain. Now is the time for patriotic British citizens to get behind Britain. Brexit will bring us unity and will defeat a Scottish and Irish nationalism that has become one and the same threat.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

The danger of not leaving

It’s not accidental that truly democratic government is rare. Most of us don’t like to lose and democracy always involves the risk of losing. The acceptance of loss and the ability to change who rules us is what distinguishes democracy from autocracy.

If we are very lucky indeed Britain will finally leave the EU in October and the result of the 2016 referendum will be implemented. There are some hopeful signs, but it still may be that the Remainer Establishment will find a way to block us.

There is an almost complete lack of understanding between the two sides of this debate.  It’s as if we have become foreigners to each other speaking a language neither can understand.

This is the difficulty really because democracy requires the common identity that accepts that while we may disagree about politics, we are all still fellow countrymen with the best of intentions.

This is what is changing not just in Britain, but in other places too. The divide between Republicans and Democrats has not been so great since the election of Lincoln in 1860. It is a debate now about identity. It is not merely about what it is to be an American, but more importantly about whether Americans have a shared morality any more. If they don’t it’s unclear how they can have a shared country.

The divide in the UK is likewise about whether we still have the shared identity that makes our democracy possible or did we lose it somewhere along the way.
I find the hostility I frequently meet from Remainers to be remarkably similar to that which I used to meet from Scottish nationalists. It is grounded in the same failure to accept loss. It ruptures the shared identity on which our democracy depends.

Democracy in the UK like everywhere else depends on a single identity. If you think that the majority are foreigners, then you will never accept the will of that majority. But in the UK, we not only have four countries, which frequently play against each other in “international” sport, we now also have citizens of Remainerland and Brexiteerland.

Failure to accept the result of an election is to say our fellow citizens are in fact foreigners. This in essence is what happened in 1860. Those states that didn’t vote for Lincoln decided that Republican states were in fact foreign.

Scotland has been playing this game for a long time. Whenever Scotland voted Labour and England voted Conservative, the result was somehow illegitimate. It was foreigners who voted Tory not us.

We now have Scotland being dragged out of the EU against our will. Even supposedly Pro UK commentators accept this story. It is of course deadly for UK democracy. It simply does not matter which way the various parts of the UK vote in UK wide elections. If we care about UK democracy, we shouldn’t even count. We either accept the will of the UK majority, which means we are all fellow countrymen, or we treat that majority as foreign. Anyone who goes down the route of Scotland or Northern Ireland didn’t vote to Leave has already conceded the argument to the nationalists.

The problem with not accepting loss is that it infects not only your own side, but also your opponent and then everyone else. We all learn from each other and the precedents we set.

The SNP have given us the example of campaigning for a second independence referendum immediately after the first. They have followed this up with campaigning for a second EU referendum immediately after the first. They have used their seats in Westminster to vote against implementing the 2016 Leave result and would be delighted to revoke Article 50 if only they can find a majority of MPs to go along with them.

The problem for the SNP is that they have destroyed their only route to independence. The Scottish Parliament cannot rule on constitutional matters, because it is outwith its remit. An illegal independence referendum would be boycotted. But even a second legal referendum on independence would immediately be followed by calls for third one no matter who won. Any decision to repeal the Act of Union, which is the only way Scotland can become independent, could be overturned by a majority of Westminster MPs just like the SNP think such a majority could revoke Article 50. How would the SNP stop this? It’s not as if they will ever have a Westminster majority.

This is the danger of not accepting that you lost. Scotland has become much more divided than it used to be. Imagine if Pro UK Scots prevented Scottish independence by using a Westminster majority to block it. Imagine if the decision to leave the UK was held up by endless court cases and arcane pieces of parliamentary procedure. Would this improve or harm the atmosphere in Scotland? Would we even have a shared country or would we be still more foreign to each other?

Still worse there are calls by Sinn Féin for a referendum in Northern Ireland. Let’s imagine that 51.89% of voters chose to Leave the UK. Let’s imagine too that the Unionist Parties immediately campaigned for a second referendum and used their seats in Westminster to block the departure of Northern Ireland from the UK. How do you suppose Sinn Féin would react? What happens when the ballot box fails?

Our democracy depends on our unity and our acceptance of the result even when we don’t like it and even when we think our opponents were stupid, tricked and lied to. This is why it is absolutely crucial that the UK does in fact leave the EU in October. If you so love the EU, then campaign to re-join and put it to the electorate. Otherwise, why should any of us accept the results of any elections. If a Labour campaign contains any lies or promises that won’t be fulfilled why should Conservatives accept that Labour won? If Corbyn would be more disastrous than a “no deal” Brexit, why should he be allowed to rule? This all gets very dangerous very quickly.  

Many people in Scotland think that the will of the majority in a UK election is illegitimate if it is different from how we voted. But what if people in England took the same view. This would mean that any Labour Government dependent on votes from Scotland could be rejected by the people of England, especially as unlike the other parts of the UK they don’t have their own parliament. Worse still for Scottish nationalists, what if they so divide Scotland that we cease to view ourselves as having a common identity. If you think that is impossible you haven’t been paying attention lately.

Better by far if we all accept that we lost when we lose and that the majority covers every citizen of the UK not just some of them. The alternative is chaos, partition or worse.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

The EU must pay the price for punishing Britain

When Britain voted to leave the EU, we hoped that the split would be friendly and mutually beneficial, but the EU set out to punish Britain. All we ever really wanted was free trade. We have that at present. We already conform to all EU standards. It would be easy to simply say that this would continue. The EU would win because it sells more to us than we do to them. The UK would win because there would be a bare minimum of disruption. Trade would continue just as at present. No-one would even notice leaving.

A reciprocal trade agreement between the EU and the UK would solve the problem of the Irish border. Trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic would continue as before. There would be no need for a backstop, because nothing would be stopped or checked.

Unfortunately, the EU was never interested in arranging a simple, reciprocal trade deal, indeed the withdrawal agreement that the EU negotiated with Theresa May hasn’t even reached the stage of trade. All it does is provide the conditions for a transition period during which trade negotiations would begin.

The conditions notoriously involve the UK having to pay billions of pounds to the EU and sign up to the Irish backstop. This would mean that Northern Ireland would have to remain in the EU’s Custom’s Union until cross border arrangements could be settled. The UK could only leave the Custom’s Union if it were willing to put a regulatory border down the Irish Sea. In effect the EU would have trapped Britain.

Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement would mean that we would gain none of the advantages of leaving the EU, such as making free trade agreements with countries like the USA or Australia. We would continue to be governed by the European Court of Justice and the EU would have all of the advantages in any future trade negotiations. We would beg for free trade and they could ask for anything in return. Spain might want Gibraltar, France might want unrestricted access to the North Sea. Greece might want the Elgin Marbles and Germany might want compensation because we bombed its cities.

We would have already given them our billions and having signed the Withdrawal Agreement into international law we could not change it without the EU’s permission. It is the most one sided, biased and disadvantageous treaty Britain has ever been asked to sign.

The British people may not have understood all of the details of Theresa May’s deal, but we know when someone is trying to punish us, and we understand the concept of fair-play. It is for this reason that so many Brits support Boris Johnson’s willingness to walk away rather than submit to the EU. It would be an act of national pride, which would have an incalculable benefit for our sense of self-worth as a country. The long-term cost of national humiliation is something Remainers never take into account in their economic calculations.  

For decades Britain paid more into the EU than we took out. Why should we alone pay for a mutually beneficially trade deal? Doesn’t divorce usually mean dividing shared assets? Which EU country would accept a regulatory border between its various parts? Why should we still be subject to EU rules when the whole point of leaving was to get free from them.

It is very late in the day. The idea that the EU will suddenly change from trying to punish Britain to working with us for mutual benefit is hard to believe. If they really believed that we would walk away, then there is just a chance that they might offer something right at the last minute. But I rather doubt even that. They would prefer to damage their own trade with Britain if that meant making an example of us. The EU is a prison that depends on shooting escaping prisoners from the watchtowers. How else can you keep the inmates inside?

The EU has shown its true nature in the past three years. We have been told that the price for Brexit would be Northern Ireland. Can you imagine how France would react if a foreign power tried to take away Corsica? The EU would delight in breaking up the UK. It threatens to undermine our international credit rating, wants to take our jobs and would be pleased if Brexit led to recession, and poverty. It has become a hostile power. Friends do not behave in this way.

What do you do when someone wants to punish you? Do you just bend over like Theresa May and take it? No, you get away from the gang dishing out the punishment beatings as quickly as you can.  You also provide a downside for your opponent.

The greatest failure of Theresa May’s method of negotiating is that she did not make it absolutely clear that the EU’s punishment style of negotiating would have consequences. This is what the UK should do now. We should still offer the hand of friendship, but we should make clear that if the UK leaves the EU with no deal it will change everything about our future relationship.

We will need to save money after Brexit, so we should inform the EU that we will not have enough to spend any of it on defending them. We fought two world wars, when we didn’t actually have to be involved at all and liberated most of the EU. Why do so again? Instead the UK should focus its diplomatic efforts on coming to a new security and economic arrangement with the English-speaking countries with whom we are closest. We should defend our island, share our intelligence only with friends and let the EU pay the defence costs that it has been shirking for years.

Having left the EU without a deal, the UK should seek to undercut the EU in every possible respect. We should create an economy that has lower corporation tax than any in the EU and we should get rid of all EU regulations that restrict business growth. Again, we will need to do all of these things because of the EU’s attempt to punish us, fortunately they will soon mean that whatever difficulties a “no deal” Brexit brings will be short lived.

We should make clear to the EU that we will have a completely independent foreign policy and will use our seat on the Security Council to thwart them if and when we see fit. We will set out to provide an example to the inmates trapped in the EU and will offer whatever help might be required to anyone who wants to escape. A free trade deal will be on offer immediately to any country that gets out of the EU. There will be no charge, because no one who truly believes in free trade charges for it. To charge for something that is supposed to be free is dishonest.

Brexiteers are not anti-Europe. There are fifty countries in Europe. Only a little more than half of these are in the EU. It is therefore both ignorant and offensive to conflate the EU with Europe. We have nothing at all against anyone in Europe. But we have seen the EU for what it is. It is anti-Britain and wishes us harm. It could still change its mind and we should offer it friendship right up until the point of leaving without a deal. After that however we should go our own way and follow our own path and make the EU realise that there is a cost for them too of losing Britain’s friendship.