Saturday, 14 September 2019

Tactical voting in Scotland is poor strategy

In 2015 I campaigned for the Lib Dems in Gordon. I signed up to the tactical voting campaign that some Pro UK people support. There was a graphic showing which party we should vote for in each constituency to keep the SNP out. The whole thing was chaotic. Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative supporters disagreed about who had the best chance. Even on the day of the election there were people pleading to change the wheel of fortune. It didn’t matter. The tactical voting campaign in 2015 brought no benefit to the Pro UK cause. The SNP won nearly all the seats.

I genuinely did think that the Lib Dems had done a good job in coalition with the Conservatives, but I have never in my life been a Lib Dem. I dislike the thin gruel mush of the centre. I’ve never much liked the EU and even by 2015 I had decided that the key to defeating Scottish independence long term was to get out of the EU. But there I was campaigning for arch Remainer Lib Dems. I was a hypocrite. I was dishonest and it hadn’t worked anyway. I promised never to campaign in that way again. I would campaign for what I believed, nothing else.

One of the biggest problems in politics is the lack of sincerity. Politicians don’t believe anything. They just want power. Tactical voters don’t believe in anything positive either. They just want to keep someone else out. Paradoxically I believe this sort of negative campaign helps those who do believe in something positive. We may disagree with the SNP, but they believe in the benefits of Scottish independence. They have a clear, positive and united message. All we have is negativity. We started with the negativity of the Better Together campaign, which pretended that Scotland couldn’t become independent. We continued with the negative anti SNP tactical voting campaign. Sorry folks, but all this negativity just helps the SNP.

For a very long time now, Scottish politics has been about nothing other than independence. The SNP have been in Government for many years, but voters are completely uninterested in what they have done or failed to do. The key to defeating the SNP is to change what the debate is about. If we were arguing about spending priorities, healthcare and education we would be campaigning on issues where the SNP was weak.

Likewise, I believe the SNP has a completely incoherent position on the EU. They have a Leave argument in relation to the UK, but a Remain argument in relation to the EU. The EU is in the process of uniting just like Germany did in the 19th century. So, the SNP argument is rather like North Bavaria splitting from South Bavaria in 1860 only to subsume itself in Germany in 1871. To engage in secession nationalism while supporting unification nationalism is politically incoherent. The SNP are weak and split on Brexit. Half their supporters would prefer independence both from the UK and the EU. Here is the weak spot, where we can throw the spear into Siegfried Sturgeon’s back.  Instead unimaginative, failed and frankly rather dull thinking means many Pro UK people want to repeat the losing campaigns of 2015 and 2017.

We have been waiting for an election that isn’t about Scottish independence for years. The next election whenever it comes will be about Brexit.  Labour are weak and divided about Brexit. Labour MPs are overwhelmingly Remainers, but huge numbers of Brexiteer Labour supporters live in the Midlands and North of England. The one issue that can persuade Labour supporters to vote for someone else is Brexit. For this reason, Labour would be delighted if the election could be turned into a debate about the NHS, poverty and how Labour will solve all problems by increasing public spending. The same goes for the SNP. They are strong and undivided about independence. They are weak and divided about Brexit. 

The best Pro UK strategy therefore is to have an election that is not focused on Scottish independence, but rather is focussed on Leaving or Remaining in the EU. SNP Leave supporters of which there are many, may just be tempted to vote for a Leave Party rather than the Remainer SNP. If you want Scotland to be independent outside the EU, your first task is to get the UK as a whole outside the EU.

More importantly when an election is dominated by discussion of Scottish independence, SNP supporters are naturally keen to do their bit to achieve their goal. SNP turnout increases, whereas when an election is not about independence, like the EU referendum, SNP turnout decreases.  It is for this reason that the anti SNP anti-independence strategy keeps failing. Pro UK people need to make UK issues dominate discussion, not Scotland only issues. This should be so obvious that it doesn’t need saying.

There are two things that could make another Scottish independence referendum less likely in the next 5-10 years. The first is that Boris Johnson’s Conservatives win the next election. Johnson has made it clear that he will not allow the SNP to have another independence referendum. “You have not had your generation yet” can be repeated for the next fifteen years without difficulty. The second thing that makes indyref2 much less likely is Brexit.

While Brexit will anger many Remainer Scots, it will provide a very difficult dilemma for independence supporters. If Scotland were in the EU while England was not, Scotland would be put into the same position as the Republic of Ireland. The border between England and Scotland would be an EU/non-EU border and Scotland would be in a different trading bloc to its greatest trade partner. This is a nightmare scenario for Scotland. Why else do you think Sturgeon has been desperately trying to keep the whole of the UK in the EU?

Alternatively let’s imagine that in the next election the Lib Dems, Labour and the SNP together gain more seats than the Conservatives. This Remainer alliance will block Brexit. Remainer Scots will be happy, but the SNP will still want independence. Strategically we will be no better off, but we will have spiked our own guns by losing the one argument, Brexit, that can defeat the SNP forever.  

Let’s imagine in the next election as a Pro UK Scot you campaign for tactical voting for Lib Dem or Labour candidates. Let’s say that this campaign was so successful that 5 Lib Dem and 5 Labour MPs were elected in Scotland. Well what if the difference between a Conservative Government and a Remainer Government made up of Labour Lib Dem and SNP was precisely these 10 MPs. What would be the price that the SNP would ask for propping up this Remainer Government? It would obviously be indyref2. Would Labour and the Lib Dems really say no? If there was a choice between stopping Brexit and stopping a second independence referendum would either Labour or the Lib Dems really prefer Boris Johnson to succeed in getting us completely out of the EU? If Indyref2 stopped a no deal Brexit, the Remainers would make that bargain in a second. Anyway, they wouldn’t have a choice. The SNP could bring down a Lab Lib Dem coalition if it failed to do what Sturgeon wanted.

This then is the fatal flaw. Pro UK people need to understand that the key to defeating the SNP long term is to get the UK outside the EU. The only way to do that is to do everything in our power to get a Brexit supporting Conservative Government, which has the added benefit of being the only Government that would refuse to allow Indyref2 for the foreseeable future.

There is only one Pro UK party in Scotland. The Conservative Party. If you vote for the Lib Dems, or Labour you might as well be voting for the SNP.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

The UK is none of Ireland's business

The great fear in the 1970s was that the Troubles would cross over at the narrowest part of the Irish sea. Scotland and Northern Ireland are so close that they almost touch, but Glasgow was never turned into Belfast.

The Scottish Central Belt and especially the part around Glasgow is quite foreign to most Scots. While we in Aberdeenshire are shy and reluctant to talk to strangers, Glaswegians are more like Italians. While we are usually unaware of whether someone is Protestant, Catholic or nothing, because we all went to the same schools, people from the Greater Glasgow frequently define themselves by their religious origins even if they no longer go to church. While to us the 12th of July is just one more forgotten date no more known than the 14th of October (1066) and the Easter Rising took place in a far away country of which we know nothing, to them these things happened here and just now, rather like Faulkner’s southerners replaying Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg.

There is little that unites most Scots with greater Glasgow. They are either too friendly, or else too unfriendly. You may be their best friend on five minutes acquaintance, but if you went to the wrong school or follow the wrong football club, you may turn into a mortal enemy in five minutes more. This is not Scottish. It is something quite unlike the Scotland the rest of us live in.

My grandfather moved from near Dublin sometime before the First World War, but I don’t think of myself as particularly Irish. I don’t define myself by the religion that he followed, nor am I particularly obsessed by Irish history. Yet I am far more Irish than most Americans who celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day and more Irish too than many Glaswegians whose families arrived here rather earlier. Why do they wave the flag of a foreign country? Why do they sing rebel songs and sympathise at least in part with the aims of the IRA? Why do they differ from me, when we have the same Irish origin?

I think it must be a question of numbers. Most people in the UK who have Irish relatives live in places where no one cares at all about Irish politics. There just aren’t enough people in rural Aberdeenshire who want to march about things that happened in Ireland long ago. But in the area around Glasgow there are enough. There are enough also to fill separate schools and separate football grounds. Defining yourself as Irish and Catholic will be met with bemusement and indifference in most of Britain, but not in Glasgow.

But while some Glaswegians might in the past have grown up with tales of one thousand years of British oppression, famine and Oliver Cromwell, they no more wished to import the Troubles to Glasgow than people in Dublin wanted to import it there. The traditions of Northern Ireland, the sectarian marches and painted gable ends are as foreign to Dubliners as they are to Aberdonians. So long as the bombing only happened Northern Ireland, none of us paid much attention. The news of another bomb or riot in Londonderry was of as much interest to me as a cyclone in Bangladesh. We went through the motions in our condemnation. There were set phrases and we waited for the next time.

Two things have changed the situation both in Ireland and in the West of Scotland, Irish nationalism and Scottish nationalism.

The Irish state has always wanted unification. There has always as well been a desire to right the wrongs of history and gain some sort of revenge on the Brits. Britain was invaded by Romans, then by Anglo Saxons and then by Normans. But we don’t bang on about two thousand years of occupation nor complain to people living in France, Italy or Germany about how they oppressed us.

Famines have happened all over the world owing to natural causes, human stupidity and wickedness. Most of them have been forgotten. A brief study of European history finds that each country is responsible for some good and much evil, but none of us are guilty for the things that are parents did.  To apologise for something, I didn’t do is decadent.

But while the Irish state claimed Northern Ireland it knew that it could not achieve its goal militarily. This was the same conclusion that Palestinians came to after the 1967 Six Day War. If the Arab world could not defeat Israel with tanks and fighter jets it would instead have to use hijacking, and nail bombs. Irish nationalists came to the same conclusion at just about the same time.

The goals of Irish nationalism were tacitly supported in the Republic of Ireland. Without this the IRA campaign could not have even begun. If the Republic of Ireland had stated from the start that it respected that Northern Ireland was an integral part of the UK and that it had no claim on the territory of a neighbouring state, then there would have been nothing for the IRA to fight for.

By an accident of history Ireland was partitioned, but this is no more unjust than any other international boundary in Europe. Germany has no claim on parts of Poland, because they used to be German. Neither does Russia have a legitimate claim on Crimea because it used to be Russian.  It doesn’t matter if the majority of people in parts of the Donbass want to rejoin Russia. Ukrainian sovereignty trumps pro-Russian votes.   

Claiming the territory of a neighbouring state is inherently hostile. The only reason people living in Wrocław don’t wish to be in Breslau again is that all the Germans living in Breslau were either killed or driven out at the point of a bayonet.  German nationalism is no longer a problem in Poland because there are no more Germans living there.

But even though Irish nationalism had no legitimate claim on Northern Ireland, thirty years of terrorism brought the Republic of Ireland’s chief foreign policy goal within reach. They no longer had to win a war in order to reunite Ireland, they just had to win a vote.

It is this I think that is responsible for the rise of Irish nationalism in Scotland. Irish nationalists in Scotland in the 1970s could do nothing practical to help the cause or Irish unity. They didn’t usually sympathise with Scottish nationalism. The SNP was small and while it might win a few seats claiming that North Sea oil was Scotland’s, these seats were mainly won in rural parts of Scotland. Irish nationalists did not see the connection with Scottish nationalism. This all changed with the Scottish independence referendum.

It isn’t accidental that the only parts of Scotland to vote for independence were those with historically high concentrations of Irish immigration. Both Dundee and Glasgow have Protestant and Catholic football teams. Aberdeen doesn’t, nor does most of Scotland.  

Irish nationalists in Scotland saw their chance with the Scottish independence referendum to achieve both their goals. They could inflict an historical defeat on the UK by breaking it up and at the same time make Northern Ireland’s position as part of the UK untenable. Once the bonds of the UK had been broken by Scotland’s departure, English nationalists would see little reason to keep Northern Ireland. Why keep paying for Northern Ireland when the UK was no more?

The combination of Irish nationalism and Scottish nationalism gave Irish nationalists the chance they had been waiting for to bash the Brits twice over. They could partition Britain and unite Ireland with one vote for Scottish independence. It is this above all that explains the recent growth in expressions of Irish nationalism in Greater Glasgow.

The Irish Republic could, as it always could, undermine Irish nationalism, by making it clear that it had no interest in uniting Ireland any time soon. But instead, they have a Taoiseach who perhaps hates Britain because of both his parents rather than only one.

The UK is a sovereign nation state. We have a perfect right to leave the EU. It is simply not the business of the Irish Republic even if Brexit has the unfortunate consequence of damaging Irish trade with the UK.

Varadkar has damaged UK Irish relations, which once more has blown oxygen on the embers of for Irish nationalism both in Northern Ireland and in Scotland. Brexit has nothing whatsoever to do with Irish nationalism. It should be possible for Britain to leave the EU without changing the border situation in Ireland. But people in Ireland must accept that there is an international border on their island. It’s there because Ireland choice to leave the UK. Brexit will turn it into a border between the EU and the non-EU, but it need be no more a problem than the boundary between friendly countries like Sweden and Norway.

But this is the problem, Irish nationalists are not friendly. They wish to do harm to the UK, but they always do just as much harm to themselves. This is the folly. Irish nationalism gave Ireland civil war, partition, mass emigration, poverty and thirty years of terrorism. It gives rocket fuel to West of Scotland sectarianism, by giving it the Scottish nationalist stick with which it can bash the Brits heads in. But the combination of Scottish and Irish nationalism is unlikely to end well either for Glasgow or Belfast.

British people on the whole love Ireland, especially the Republic. Most countries where Irish people have settled, are loved in return by the people who remained in Ireland. The exception is the UK. It is this that has poisoned our relations. They will remain poisoned until Irish people cease hating the Brits for perceived wrongs from long ago. The French no longer hate Germans, nor do the Poles. Why in Ireland alone is it just fine to hate someone because of where he is from? 

Friday, 6 September 2019

Dying in a ditch

Parliament has passed a bill which forbids the Prime Minister from leaving the EU without a deal. If he is unable to come to an agreement with the EU, or if that deal is not agreed by Parliament then he has to ask the EU for an extension. What happens if he disobeys?

Is it permissible for a Prime Minister to break the law? Of course, any Prime Minister just like any other person can steal or commit fraud. If convicted the Prime Minister would be punished just like the rest of us. But the law we are talking about in this case is rather different and rather unusual.

We live in a representative democracy. We may say that sovereignty rests with the Crown and of course it does, but the Queen has little real power. The power to hire and fire Governments lies with the electorate. Ultimately this makes the people sovereign, because the people have taken over the role that at one point was assigned to a monarch. We choose who rules.

But although it would technically be possible for each individual to vote each night on a computer, we have decided that it is better to live in a representative democracy where the people choose to exercise our sovereignty only during elections. Between elections power rests with the Government.

The Government of course does not have absolute power like a medieval monarch. A Government requires a majority in Parliament to be formed at all. But once it has been formed the Government rules. Parliament can decide that it has no confidence in a Government, but Parliament does not itself rule.

What has happened in the past week has been unconstitutional. Parliament has attempted to seize power from the Government. But this is the equivalent of the people attempting to seize power from our representatives. That would require a revolution. Well, Parliament attempting to seize power from the Government is likewise a form of revolution.

If Parliament has seized power unjustly this makes any law, it passes after this seizure of power also unjust. Do we have a duty to obey unjust laws?
We have a constitution that is unwritten but is based on precedent and procedure. If precedent has been followed this week, then Parliament would not have had a chance to put forward a bill at all. It was only because the Speaker, who has also broken with the precedent to be impartial, allowed Parliament to put forward a bill, that under normal precedent would not have been permitted by the Government, that the Government finds itself apparently boxed in legally.

But if Parliament breaks with precedent and acts unconstitutionally facilitated by a Speaker who has ceased to be an impartial umpire and instead has become a co-worker with Parliament, ought the Government to obey Parliament?

Parliament has the right to say that it has no confidence in the Conservative Government, but it doesn’t have the right to tell the Government how to govern. That is not our system. Parliament has usurped its role, just as it did when it chopped off Charles the First’s head. Whichever law it passed to chop off that head was unconstitutional and therefore unjust.

Boris Johnson has expressed that he would prefer to die in a ditch than ask the EU for an extension. I hope he means what he says. We have too often heard politicians make grandiose statements that they didn’t mean. Theresa May was the prime example of this.

Civil disobedience is morally justified when a law has been made by people who have usurped power. It is also justified to break the law simply because the law is morally wrong. There are many examples of civil disobedience which history judges favourably. Sometimes it is our duty to disobey unjust laws, so long as we are willing to accept the civil consequences of doing so.
Boris Johnson will not have to die in a ditch, the ditch is metaphorical. But he will have to make a stand.

The people while voting have power. We have the power to elect Members of Parliament. We also during referendums have the power to decide Yes or No, Leave or Remain. For Parliament to disobey the result of a legal referendum is morally as unjustified as if it disobeyed the result of a General Election.
I disagree with Scottish independence, but if in 2014 Yes had won the referendum, Parliament would have had the task to fulfil the wishes of the electorate. If Parliament had failed to do it would have usurped the sovereignty that the people expressed when they voted on that day.

The same thing obviously applies to the referendum that took place in 2016. Parliament’s task was simply to fulfil the wishes of the electorate to Leave the EU. Parliament has now rejected three times the deal that Theresa May negotiated with the EU. It has completely undermined Boris Johnson’s strategy for obtaining a better deal. A strategy by the way that might just have succeeded. It now says that we can’t leave without a deal. Well if Parliament won’t vote for a deal and won’t allow us to leave without one, then it is clear that Parliament has no intention of fulfilling the wishes of the electorate expressed not only in the 2016 referendum, but in the 2017 General Election, where both Labour and Conservative manifestos promised to honour the 2016 referendum result. Parliament therefore is acting as a usurper.

 If Scottish voters in a legal referendum had voted for independence and had been stopped by Parliament it would have been morally justified for Scots to have disobeyed any laws that prevented us from forming a new independent nation state.

So too it is morally justified for Boris Johnson to find that his duty lies in fulfilling the wishes of the electorate expressed both in 2016 and 2017 rather than a Parliament that has used unconstitutional means to thwart him from doing so.

He may have to face the consequences if he breaks the law. But all of us have the right to peacefully and calmly protest that Parliament is acting as a tyrant.  We look to our Prime Minister to lead “for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge” Mr Johnson won’t face the consequences alone. His metaphorical ditch will be shared by seventeen million of us.

The Government can no longer govern. It’s role in governing has been taken over by a Parliament that will neither dismiss the Government, appoint a new Government nor allow the people to decide the issue. It has done this by breaking with precedent, using a bent umpire and abandoning the rules by which Parliament is regulated. If Boris Johnson sides with the people and refuses to ask for an extension, he will be acting justly and in accordance with the precedent of our constitution. He will find that his ditch is rather crowed and noisy with British cheers.  Even if he were to be the shortest serving Prime Minister ever, he would be remembered forever as one of the best.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Conservatives in Scotland need something different

There are only two issues of consequence in Scottish politics, Brexit and independence. I don’t follow what happens from day to day in the Scottish Parliament. In this, I strongly suspect, I am identical to the vast majority of Scots. Most Scots may want the Scottish Parliament but they are uninterested in what happens there, the rest of us don’t want it and are still less interested. The Scottish Parliament is like the European Parliament. We may or may not wish to Leave the EU, but none of us can name our MEP and none of us follow what happens in Brussels.

The defining issues that are going to determine how people vote in Scotland then are Brexit and independence. But what has been forgotten is that 38% of Scots voted for Brexit. At the moment these people are completely unrepresented by mainstream Scottish Parties. It’s hard to name an obvious Brexiteer in frontline Scottish politics. The SNP I suspect have some hidden Brexiteers in Holyrood. The Conservatives may have some too. But Scottish politicians put forward a more or less united front opposing Brexit.

It is not infrequent for a party to win a General Election if it wins 38% of the vote. If the Scottish Conservatives won that sort of percentage it would win far more seats in a General Election than it has at present and it would win more seats at Holyrood too. The Scottish Conservatives therefore have an opportunity to become the only mainstream Scottish Party that is both Pro UK and Pro Brexit.

If a complete Brexit doesn’t happen very soon indeed, there will be no Conservative Party. It will therefore not matter one little bit who leads it either in the UK or in Scotland. We have been given one last chance. Brexit supporters are willing to vote for Boris on the assumption that he really will get us out and get us out completely. If he fails, in any subsequent General Election, the Conservatives will go the way of the Lib Dems in 2015. That was the message of the European Election in May. You either get this or you don’t.

If the UK leaves the EU completely, are the Scottish Conservatives still going to be led by a Remainer who thinks that Brexit was a terrible mistake that will help the SNP to independence. If so, it would be far, far better if the Scottish Conservatives ceased to exist, because this stuff just helps the SNP.

The key to persuading voters is to offer them something different from the other parties. Ruth Davidson did very well in reviving the fortunes of the Scottish Conservatives, but her main failing was that she could have fit in equally well in any of the other Scottish Parties. She agreed with the SNP and the Greens about pretty much everything except independence. She held just about the same views as Tony Blair, Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Theresa May. Like them she was mired in the centre ground mush.

But the centre offers no distinction and no real choice. It is the default of both the Scottish and the British establishments. It is the Remainer rearguard that is most of all offended that the British people by voting for Brexit rejected its advice, its rule and its nannying.

The key to defeating the SNP is to cease appeasing them. Don’t agree with them about anything. Don’t make any concessions, don’t grant them any more powers.

Some Scottish Conservatives think it is a good idea to separate the Scottish Conservatives from the UK Conservatives. Perhaps the party in Scotland will get a new name and a new branding. If you think that separation is the key and you want to appeal to separatists, then you really ought to join the SNP.

What we need instead is a Scottish Conservative Party that wants to unite Scotland still more with the UK. We have reached the ludicrous stage where nearly every product in the supermarket is called Scottish and has Scottish flags all over it. They don’t do this in France. They don’t do this anywhere else, but in Scotland. The EU thinks the solution to every problem is more Europe. If you think the solution to every problem is more Scotland, then once more you are in the wrong party.

If a complete Brexit happens, then the majority of Scottish parties will hope that it fails. The SNP, Lib Dems, Labour etc are hoping for chaos, recession and poverty so that they can tell us we told you so. The pity is that some people’s pessimism will actually be used to make the UK worse off. Some “Pro UK” Scottish Remainers would be delighted if Brexit broke up our country.

But pessimism is not a good campaign strategy and will quite soon turn out to be a vote loser. Returning to the EU will not be an option once we are out. So Scottish Conservatives have a choice. We either embrace Britain’s Brexit future and make it work or we join the pessimists and defeatists in defeat.

As I have argued for years, Brexit will give us some very good arguments to use against the SNP. The pity is that Ruth Davidson was either unaware of them or unwilling to use them. She preferred to agree with Sturgeon about everything except independence.

Brexit will give the UK a chance to fulfil the Thatcherite revolution, by turning us into a low tax, pro-business free trade hub. It will make all of us richer. Conservatism in Scotland needs to oppose independence with every means available including making it clear to the SNP that post-Brexit UK will be one nation and we will be indivisible.

The Scottish establishment is united across party lines that Scotland needs more public spending, more subsidy, more free this and free that and above all more Scotland. It has appeased Scottish nationalism and is defeatist about the UK. We need a new Conservative Party that thinks the UK should be more united not less. We need Scottish Conservatives who are genuinely Conservative. Who believe in free markets, living within our means and a small state. Brexit is about bringing sovereignty back to Britain. It can unite us and unify us and make Scottish independence impossible, but we need a Conservative leader in Scotland who believes in all these things. We need a new way of thinking post Brexit, not the same old appeasement and centre ground mush.