Sunday 29 September 2019

What if a Yes vote had been blocked like Brexit?

Some independence supporting Scottish journalists and SNP politicians are attempting to portray the Scottish independence referendum as some sort of joyful, peaceful yearlong party. They contrast this with the referendum on the EU. But they are not comparing like with like. Worse there is a tendency to exaggerate on all sides.

Both Scotland and the UK in general remain peaceful. The biggest dangers facing all of us are not disagreements over politics, but rather crime, car accidents, illness and way down the list terrorism.

The likelihood of anyone of us being hurt, let alone killed by someone who disagrees with our politics over either Scottish independence or Brexit is trivial.

There have been numerous demonstrations especially by independence supporters in Scotland and Remain supporters in the UK generally, but while there might be some shouting and some passionate emotions there has been almost no violence.

Likewise, Pro UK Scots as well as Brexiteers have campaigned almost without exception peacefully. There have been strong words. Tempers have risen, but that is all.

The one exception to this was the murder of the MP Jo Cox by a mentally disturbed fascist. But the far-right remains politically tiny in the UK. There are no far-right MPS at Westminster and far-right candidates invariably lose their deposits. Decent people don’t blame ordinary Muslims for the deaths caused by terrorists acting in the name of Islam, nor do we try to use these deaths to gain a political advantage over those Muslims. The terrorists are responsible no one else.

The far-left by contrast is thriving in Britain. We have a Marxist leader of the opposition who has allowed anti-Semitism to flourish and grow in his party. For Labour MPs to continually attempt to gain political capital from an MP’s murder, while supporting a man who supported those who killed Ian Gow in 1990 and Airey Neave in 1979 is grossly hypocritical. To attempt to tar Brexiteers with the brush of murder is to use the same brush that racists use to blame ordinary British Muslims. No one’s death should be used to achieve political goals. Every person is an end in themselves. I find it distasteful to use the murder of a fellow human being for either party political ends or the achievement of any other political goal. It turns that death into a mere means and thereby demeans it, demeans death.

Let us not exaggerate. We still live in a democracy. It is highly likely that at some point soon there will be an election. We will all campaign and vote peacefully. There may be some shouting. Some people will say foolish things, but the likelihood of anyone being hurt remains very small indeed. Eight MPs have been murdered since 1812, all but two because they opposed Irish Republicanism. By contrast there were 147 workers killed in 2018/2019 with 30 in construction alone. By contrast being an MP is a very safe job.

I found the Brexit campaign difficult, because it meant I disagreed with people who I thought of as friends during the Scottish independence referendum. But the process of campaigning was nowhere near as unpleasant as during 2014.

I was the target of quite a few Cybernat Twitter mobs during and after the vote to stay in the UK. Some of these mobs were cheered on by those same Scottish journalists and SNP MPs who now pretend that indyref was joyful. Some of the foulest things imaginable were said about me. There were attempts to undermine my confidence, my identity and my right to live where I do.

I didn’t dare put a vote No poster in my window and I saw very few. There were Yes posters everywhere. I didn’t wear any visible sign of support for the UK. Not a flag, not a No. I didn’t talk about my intention to vote No to anyone I didn’t already know to be Pro UK. After we won the referendum, I didn’t talk to any stranger about the result, nor did any stranger mention it to me.

There was fear and there was intimidation in Scotland. There were Scottish nationalists marching en masse to cast their votes. Even now I avoid talking about Scottish politics in public. We live separate lives. I have no friends who vote SNP. I have never had a face to face conversation with someone who supports independence about that topic. Scotland is peaceful, but we are very, very divided and its not really getting any better.

The Indyref campaign was one of the worst experiences of my life. I genuinely believe it might have been joyful for the independence supporters. They may have been having a ceilidh all that time, but I couldn’t join. I could at best peer through the windows at the dancing while remaining out in the cold. We didn’t have a shared experience of the campaign. We barely live in a shared country anymore.

By contrast I didn’t care that much if Britain left the EU or not.  I care more now than I did, because we voted to leave  and we ought to leave. But if we’d voted to Remain, I would have shrugged my shoulders and been pleased that we’d avoided some turmoil to my investments.

Brexiteers have been remarkably restrained in the three long years since the referendum. We have rarely gone on demonstrations. We haven’t on the whole tried to use the courts. We have been impatient and sometimes we have been angry, but we haven’t fought back as the Remainer Rearguard has attempted to thwart the wishes of 17.4 million voters.

By contrast imagine if Yes had won the vote in Scotland by 52% to 48%. Imagine if one Tommy Atkins who had arrived in Scotland as teenager from England, tried to use the Scottish and UK courts to stop Scotland from leaving the UK. Imagine if Westminster had sided with Tommy and offered Scotland a deal that would have locked us into the UK forever and given us independence in name only. Imagine if Scotland had been offered this or “no deal” and then made it legally impossible for us to even leave with that no deal. How would Scottish independence supporters be behaving right now if 5 years after voting for independence Scotland was still part of the UK with no prospect of leaving any time soon?

Would SNP supporters be as patient as Brexiteers have been. Would they now be waiting peacefully for another election, knowing that no matter how many SNP MPs they elected they would never have a majority in Westminster.

SNP voters were angry enough when they lost the 2014 referendum. They were far more angry than Brexiteers have been when we won. So, let’s not compare like with unlike. Would Scotland really have avoided violence if independence had been voted for, but blocked? 

Thursday 26 September 2019

Boris Agonistes

I never expected to win the 2016 EU referendum, in fact I was quite certain Brexit would lose. I thought the best chance was long term, that in time the contradictions involved in the EU would cause it to collapse just like the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in 1918. The EU lacks a common language and the people living in it lack a common identity. They are of course Europeans, but so are we whether we are in the EU or not.  Being European doesn’t make a country a member of the EU. I can name 22 non-EU European countries.  Only ignorance makes Remainers conflate European with EU.

The EU lacks even the conditions that held the Soviet Union together for seventy years. Soviet citizens had a common identity, they had a single currency that worked and they all could speak a language that enabled them to live and work anywhere in that state.

So long term, I believe, the EU cannot last. If so, then better to get out now, because the EU is going to fight very hard indeed to hold itself together. This is also why it is fighting so hard to prevent Britain from leaving.

My hope back in 2016 was that “Rome would perish”. It’s still my hope now. If somehow the Remainers in combination with the EU force us to Remain, let us do all in our power to make the EU regret it. Let Britain be a Trojan horse that attacks the EU from within. Let us side with all those countries who have people and parties who oppose the EU and let us subvert it. We can veto everything we are allowed to veto, refuse to pay any more money. What can they do? Kick us out? We can refuse to do what we are told, just as Poland, Hungary and others refuse. If the EU makes us extend our membership, make them regret every day they hold us hostage.

But better by far, of course, if we can get out by October 31st. Boris has promised that he will get us out with a deal if possible or without one if necessary. Let him do this if can.

It may be possible for Boris to ask the EU for an extension in such a way that they refuse his request. If he promises to do everything in his power to bring down the EU temple like blind Samson:

Eyeless in Gaza, at the mill with slaves,
Himself in bonds under Philistian yoke.

would the EU really want Britain to stay as an unwilling and obstructive partner even temporarily?

I think a clear majority of British voters want to leave the EU.  Let us make clear that we are not going to give up. We are going to be as awkward as possible and do everything we can to make the EU work as poorly as possible, unless and until they let us go.

This tactic may fail. The EU may force us to extent our membership even though our Prime Minister makes clear that he is asking for an extension only because he is compelled by law and by a Parliament that won’t allow him an election. It may therefore be that despite the will of the British people expressed in the 2016 referendum and the 2017 General Election (where both Labour and the Conservative manifestos promised we would Leave), we are forced to extend our membership into 2020.

So be it. It doesn’t matter very much if we leave now, or in a few months. What matters is that we do indeed leave and leave completely. 

At some point there is going to be a General Election. The Remainers might form a temporary government before this. They have the numbers. They may elect a caretaker Prime Minister. They could in theory keep the whole thing going until the term of this Parliament runs out in 2022. They may revoke Article 50. 

None of these things matter in the long run.

Unless the Remainers with the backing of the Remainer Supreme Court abolish our democracy completely, we will have a General Election eventually. At that point it will be necessary for Leave voters to unite, think strategically and vote as one.

It won’t be Boris’s fault if he is forced to acquiesce in the extension of our EU membership. He had a plan to get us out, that was the only plan that might have worked. Only by saying we will Leave without a deal is it possible to improve the deal the EU is offering.

Boris may still find a way to get us out, but it’s hard to see how, not least because the Remainers in Parliament are conspiring with the EU. When was the last time MPs conspired with a foreign power to thwart the wishes of the electorate expressed in two elections?

I don’t see how anyone could have done more than Boris to get us out. The Remainers have the numbers in Parliament, the Supreme Court and the Remainer Speaker have overturned the principle that the Government governs. So, if we have to stay in the EU beyond October let us be clear where the blame lies. It lies with the Remainers who care more about staying in the EU than maintaining our constitutional and democratic traditions.  

It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world  ... but for the EU, Mr Bercow?

What the Remainers want more desperately than anything else is to split the Leave vote. They know that if Leavers all vote for the Conservatives, Boris will get a majority, perhaps a landslide.

What they hope is that if they can make Boris break his promise to leave by October 31st, by metaphorically putting a gun to his head. They hope that Leave voters will desert him and vote for the Brexit Party. If that happens, the Brexit Party will not form the next Government, nor will the Conservatives. Instead we will get a Remainer Alliance of Labour, Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid et al. They will keep us in the EU, but the price will be that Irish and Scottish nationalists will get the chance to break up our country. 

The Leave campaign very nearly lost the 2016 referendum because it was split between Boris’s team and Farage’s team. Vote Leave, with Cummings as campaign adviser  and Boris leading, was hindered by Farage’s Leave.EU. Farage was popular with those who had already decided to vote Leave but he put off those who were undecided. Farage cost Leave votes.

Without UKIP we probably would never have had a referendum in the first place. Without the success of the Brexit Party in the 2019 European Elections, we probably would still be stuck with Theresa May, but let’s be absolutely clear, if the Leave vote goes into a General Election divided, we will lose.

I don’t think that an electoral pact is sensible. Boris cannot formally unite with Farage, because it would cost him votes. The British electorate is moderate. This is why UKIP hardly won a seat in Westminster. The Brexit Party will do no better. A party simply cannot go from zero seats to 326 in one go. So, if you vote for the Brexit Party, in effect you are voting for Remain. You are preventing the one Party that could get us out of the EU, the Conservatives, from gaining a majority.

It is time to get serious. If the Conservatives with Boris as Prime Minister don’t win a majority at the next election, then Leave voters will have lost. Then we will have to go back to relying on the long-term collapse of the EU. We will have a Remain Government and won’t get another chance for years. I believe the British electorate is going to react with calm, cold fury to the Remainer Rearguard, but our fury must be directed and above all else it must not be split. The best contribution Mr Farage can make now is to step aside and tell his Brexit Party not to stand. If that happens, we will definitely leave the EU and just maybe bring down the whole temple with us. Then Boris really would be the champion [Μπόρις ἀγωνιστής or Boris Agonistes].  

Tuesday 24 September 2019

The Remainer rearguard

Prior to the 2016 European Union Referendum I had certain assumptions about Britain, our laws and our politics. It was inconceivable to me that we would have an election and the result not be implemented. I couldn’t imagine Labour winning an election and somehow being prevented from forming a Government. Equally I couldn’t imagine the result of a referendum not being honoured.

It never crossed my mind in 2014 that if Yes won the Scottish independence referendum that Scotland wouldn’t get to Leave the UK. I thought the SNP’s claims about the Scottish independence were exaggerated at best dishonest at worst. But we all had had the chance to contest the political claims of the Yes campaign. If they had won, I would have accepted the result. It never would have crossed my mind not to do so.

I did not expect to be given a second chance if my side had lost. This is why both sides put everything they had into the campaign. But something happened on that September night five years ago. For one moment, Scottish nationalists thought they had won and if Yes had come out ahead by the smallest percentage point they would have demanded that everyone in Scotland respect the result. But it was not to be. Perhaps the disappointment even the shock was too much. The Yes side didn’t accept its defeat for one moment and immediately campaigned to overturn the result.

Something similar happened in 2016. The polls told the Remainers that they had won. They had Obama, Merkel, the Bank of England all three main UK parties campaigning for Remain. The Conservative Government used the full powers of the state to persuade us that if we dared to vote to Leave the EU poverty, recession, unemployment and the end of the UK would follow.

The Remainer consensus embraces nearly everyone who works at a university.  Doctors, lawyers, teachers, the sort of people who are used to telling the rest of us what to do were quite certain that Remain had won. But we didn’t do what we were told.

The liberal consensus, that embraces the BBC, the Tory Wets, Lib Lab Dems, the Arts and people like Richard Branson, is used to being obeyed. They reacted with shock to that June night in 2016, this developed into fury and finally a determination that they would be obeyed.

It didn’t take long for the Remainer rearguard to get organized. They all said that they respected the result of the referendum. But they were all lying.

Theresa May began by saying that “No deal was better than a bad deal”, but she didn’t mean it. She said that “Brexit means, Brexit” but she meant “Brexit, means Remain”.

Until 2016 it was universally accepted that Government would implement the result of a referendum. It would have been considered outrageous if Parliament had tried to prevent the establishment of a Scottish Parliament after the Scottish electorate had voted for one. But convention was overturned by the courts. Parliament had to vote on whatever deal Theresa May brought back from Brussels.

Up until 2016 it was Governments that conducted international relations. Governments have declared war and made peace without Parliament being asked to vote. But all of this was overthrown by the Remainer rearguard.

If the British people and Parliament had all accepted the 2016 referendum result, united we could perhaps have obtained a fair deal from the EU. But in part because the EU wanted to punish Britain and in part because the Remainer rearguard conspired with the EU, Theresa May brought back a deal that was perhaps the worst treaty in British history.

Given the choice between Theresa May’s deal and Remaining I would have chosen to Remain.

Both Brexiteers and Remainers agreed that the deal was unacceptable and voted it down three times.

All this time the Remainer rearguard was fighting to overturn the 2016 referendum result. First, they argued for a second referendum, but as their confidence grew, they argued to simply revoke Article 50 and annul the result. They were determined to be obeyed.

The Conservative Party came close to extinction in May. Theresa May had broken her promise to get Britain out of the EU by March 31st and Conservatives in their millions deserted for the Brexit Party.

It was this and this alone that prised the limpet like Theresa May away from Downing Street.

Boris was elected overwhelmingly to be Conservative leader. What was he supposed to do? He knew that presenting Theresa May’s dreadful deal one more time would not succeed and if it did it would destroy the Conservative Party. He therefore came up with the only sensible Brexit strategy that existed. He proposed to negotiate with the EU with the proviso that if the negotiations failed, we would leave anyway.

Would this have succeeded? Perhaps. The EU just might have been willing to set a time limit to the Irish backstop. They might just have modified the deal slightly or allowed the UK Parliament a future say on whether we wished to be bound by the treaty. They might have given us an exit clause.

But this strategy, which was the only way to improve the deal, was sabotaged by Parliament.

Why did they do this? Was it because they wanted to vote for Theresa May’s deal? No. The Remainer majority would vote down that deal again. Did they want to find some other way of negotiating with the EU to improve the deal. No. They don’t want to improve it. They want to annul it. They want to Remain.

Boris Johnson did not attempt to shut down Parliament. He merely asked the Queen to prorogue Parliament as has been done on numerous occasions before. He did not of course lie to the Queen, because he was simply doing what any number of his predecessors had done. If that had not been the case the Privy Council would not have gone along with the prorogation. I am not a liar if I say theft is illegal, only for the courts to rule that thieves should be commended.

So, Parliament is going to sit again. What is it going to do? It has wrecked Johnson’s chance of improving the deal with the EU, and it has ruled that leaving without a deal is illegal. What does Parliament propose? An extension? But for what purpose. Parliament will neither vote for Theresa May’s deal, nor try to improve the deal, nor allow us to leave without a deal. Let them at least be honest and clear about what they want the extension to achieve. They want it to enable us to Remain.

Boris Johnson has proposed that we have an election as soon as possible. But the Remainers have blocked this. Why? Because they fear that he would win by a landslide. Instead they hope that by forcing him to break his promise to get us out of the EU come what may by October 31st they will somehow split the Leave vote between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party.

Everything of consequences has already been said in Parliament. Johnson’s prorogation didn’t stop Parliament voting him down in a vote of no confidence, nor did it stop them wrecking his chance of getting a better deal. But the “supreme” court which of course is not supreme at all because it is subordinate to EU law has decided to overturn the longstanding and commonplace principle that a Prime Minister can ask the Queen to end a parliamentary session. It has come close to overturning the foundations of British Government that it is the Government that governs and not Parliament.

This no longer has anything to do with the EU. This is about whether we have to obey the liberal establishment and whether we live in a fully functional democracy or instead in a place where you have to keep voting until you give the right answer. This would be more Supreme Soviet than Parliament.

If there had been a court case ten years ago as to whether the Prime Minister had the right to prorogue Parliament the “supreme” court would have thrown it out instantly. But the Remainer Rearguard has grown and extended its reach as it has built on its success and as it has become ever more confident. It now senses that it can indeed overturn Brexit. It probably can. It quite possibly will.

Just because someone is called a judge it doesn’t make him impartial. There have been any number of judges in history who have allowed their judgement to be swayed by their politics. How many of these “supreme” court judges voted to Leave the EU? How many were shocked and dismayed by the result? How many found their expectation that they would be obeyed undermined by our Brexit rebellion. How may have joined the Remainer rearguard?

Given the choice between being ruled by unelected judges and unelected colonels I would choose the latter. The colonels would at least be more honest about their subversion of democracy.

Watch Z (1969) by Costa Gavras. Otherwise we too might be banned from using the letter Z [i.e. ζει he lives].

Sunday 22 September 2019

Is a shared future possible in Scotland?

I can’t really see how there can be another referendum on anything in the UK. What would be the point? But the problem with holding referendums has been demonstrated lately not merely by losers trying to block the result in Parliament and through the courts, but perhaps more importantly by it becoming ever clearer that the nature of the question asked dramatically changes the answer given.

If Scots are asked “Should Scotland be an independent country?” we get one result. If they are asked should Scotland remain in the UK or leave the UK, we get another. It’s quite clear that campaigning for Yes gives independence supporters an advantage. It is for this reason that the Electoral Commission did not allow a Yes/No question for the referendum on Brexit. The precedent is clear. But why should asking what on the surface are similar questions result in widely differing results? After all the result would be the same if Scotland left the UK as if we became an independent country.

There is however confusion in the minds of many independence supporters. When they are asked “Should Scotland be an independent country?” many of them think we already are. The use of “be” in the question rather than “become” plays on this.

When I point out to independence supporters that Scotland is to the UK as Saxony is to Germany I am met with incomprehension and frequently fury. I sometimes wonder if this is because independence supporters are unaware that Saxony was independent as recently as 1866. Are they equally unaware that nearly all European nation states are made up of parts which formerly were independent as indeed were the various parts of Scotland? Historically Scotland’s position as part of the UK is no different to Burgundy’s being a part of France, so why should pointing out something that is self-evidently true lead to such fury?

The difference is that people living in places that used to be independent in Italy, Germany or France do not generally think of themselves as living in a different country from their fellow citizens. It is correct to call Scotland a country, but it is anomalous. How many non-independent countries can you name?

Scotland has many of the things that typically go along with being an independent nation state. We have our own bank notes. France doesn’t. We frequently play international sport.  We think that people from England live in a different country to us and that there is a border between us. No wonder many Scots answer the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” by replying, of course, because we already are.

For the past centuries Scotland has maintained an independent identity, but many Scots also have been happy for us to be a part of the UK. What they want therefore is for Scotland to be both independent and to remain part of the UK.  This is why when I point out to a Scottish nationalist that Scotland isn’t really independent, but is rather similar to Saxony, I am met with fury. Yet perversely this same person wants Scotland to become independent. You cannot logically become what you already are.

But none of us is entirely rational.  We do live in a different country to others in the UK, but neither England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland are sovereign nation states, though they are frequently called nations. The UK like Germany, France and nearly all the other countries in the world is part of the UN, it is a member of NATO and a contributor to the IMF. Scotland isn’t. The UK has diplomatic relations with other countries, Scotland doesn’t. The UK is a country in every language of the world except that spoken by some Scots. Most languages and most countries use a different word for their non-independent parts. But we don’t.

There is an ambiguity about Scotland that has allowed us in some ways to think of ourselves as separate even independent, but in other ways to think of ourselves as part of a whole. This is why different questions get different answers.

A similar ambiguity applies to the EU. Can member states both be in the EU and maintain their independence? The issue here is what will happen to the EU as “ever closer union” reaches its τέλος [telos, or goal]. Will the EU become a sovereign nation state like the USA or indeed the UK. Will the parts of the EU while still being called countries really become the equivalent of Saxony or dare, I say Scotland? Some EU supporters try to argue that a United States of Europe could never happen. But it already has many of the characteristics of an independent country. It has its own currency. Its own president. Soon it will have its own army. The EU now is much more united than the United States was in 1859, and arguably more united than the Second Reich was between 1871 and 1918.

Scottish nationalists who want to remain in the EU obviously think that independence is compatible with EU membership, why then do they think that it is incompatible with UK membership? EU law would supersede the laws of an independent Scotland and what an independent Scottish Parliament wanted would depend in part on the agreement of the EU. But if you are happy with that, why are you not happy with a similar arrangement with the UK?

If the EU were modelled on the USA, I would have been happy to remain a member state. I think the USA has the advantage of a common language and identity, but perhaps the EU could develop these over time. It’s the lack of genuine democracy in the EU that makes leaving essential.

But in what respect does Scotland’s membership of the UK lack democracy? We vote for MPs who have just the same power as every other MP. Not only that we vote for MSPs who have the power to control huge areas of Scottish life. We cannot of course veto what the majority in the UK want, but we would have to go along with the majority in most cases as part of the EU. In any democracy including an independent Scotland the parts may be outvoted by the whole, but this is not a fault in democracy, it is rather the main feature of any democracy. But anyway, why should Scots be happy to accept the majority view in EU wide elections, but unhappy to do so in UK wide elections? This makes no sense as we have far more in common with other people in the UK than we do with almost anyone in the EU.

Independence supporters had the advantage of campaigning for Yes, but they also had the advantage of campaigning for something that most of us think of in a positive way. When a child leaves school and goes to university he becomes an adult. He gains his independence. The same is the case when someone gets his first job or goes on holiday without his parents for the first time. Independence in all our lives is a positive concept. It is dreadful when an older person loses his independence. 

There is therefore an intrinsic bias in asking people if they want independence. But let’s look further at the case of someone going to university. That person wants independence, but does he also want to lose his family? If independence meant destroying his family would he take it, or rather would he do everything to protect and defend his family.

If Scotland left the UK, the UK would cease to exist. It could hardly be called united when it was in fact disunited. But does one member of a family have the right to destroy the whole, without that whole also having a say. We each as individuals want to be able to live independent lives, but we take into account the wishes of our family.

I believe that many Scots want us to be both independent and part of the UK. We need therefore to clearly define what is compatible with this and what is not. Only in this way would it be possible to ask a fair question and perhaps come up with a solution that satisfies those Scots who voted Yes and those who voted No.

It is necessary to recognise the sovereignty of each part of the UK and indeed each part of Scotland. Each voter is sovereign. But we all share this sovereignty.  As individuals we should be as independent as possible but recognise that there are limits to our independence. A family depends on a husband and a wife promising to be faithful. They have a responsibility to look after their children. The children have duty to their family even when they become independent adults and create their own family.

The UK needs stability. No family can survive constant threats that the husband or wife will depart. We don’t need anybody else’s model or constitution. But we do need to find a way to reflect the reality of what living here means.

Scottish international rugby players may belt out flower of Scotland and are clearly willing to fight for Scotland, but many if not most voted for Scotland to remain a part of the UK.  Andy Murray plays his heart out for Britain but voted to leave. Each of these people have a mixture of feelings about Scotland and the UK. They both want Scotland to be independent and part of the UK. We want to remain part of the family while being able to metaphorically go to university and get a job. We want to be grown up.

Somehow Pro UK Scots and independence supporters need to work together. If we satisfy only one half of our country in a winner takes all battle, we will always be divided. The referendum of 2014 did not bring unity, just more division. It would be no different if there were to be a second referendum. Whatever the result, the loser would try to annul it. Better by far if we could find what would satisfy some of the wishes of both sides. Better for both sides to gain something than to lose everything. Don’t we want somehow to be both independent and a part of the UK? Like the Trinity this is not easily comprehensible. One God in three persons or in our case four. It may even involve a contradiction, but unity in diversity is the only way to bring harmony back to Scotland. 

Saturday 21 September 2019

The Pro UK argument has to learn from Brexit

The main lesson to take from the EU referendum in 2016 is that a positive, hopeful, patriotic argument beats a negative, pessimistic anti-British argument. The Remainers were unable or unwilling to make a positive case for the EU. They rarely told us of the benefits that the EU brings. There are, of course, many benefits to being in the EU. Some of these British people may well miss. But rather than make a positive argument the Remainers chose to go down the Project Fear II route. This is why they lost and it is also why they will lose any future General Election based on the same arguments. The British electorate is not going to vote for people who think Britain is so hopeless we can’t even manage to leave the EU. We are not going to vote for people who want Britain to fail and we are not going to vote for people who conspire with the EU to make it harder for us to leave. Remainers waving their EU flags and siding with the EU on everything look downright unpatriotic. It’s not a vote winner.

In Scotland we must learn this lesson too. Project Fear I, otherwise known as the Better Together Campaign, cost the Pro UK argument 20-30% of the vote. The paradox is that telling independence supporters all the awful things that will happen if they dared to vote to Leave the UK makes them want to leave all the more. Worse it converts some formerly Pro UK people or those who were neutral.

It is for this reason above all that I wish there were no Gers figures released each year. Hardly any Scots read them in any detail. We just read a few stories in the papers that are negative about Scotland. There is an annual argument where the “Pro UK” side pretends that these figures make Scottish independence impossible, which persuades not one single independence supporter to change his mind, but rather persuades some waverers to embrace the independence message as an antidote to all the negativity.

I have lost count of the number of new nation states that have been formed since around 1990. The breakup of the Soviet Union created 15. The breakup of Yugoslavia created 6. The breakup of Czechoslovakia created 2. Every single one of them managed. Some of them have done better than others. But the idea that Scotland could not manage outside the UK is as preposterous as the idea that Croatia could not manage outside Yugoslavia or indeed that Britain can’t manage outside the EU.

Leaving the EU will bring with it challenges that have to be overcome. But they will be far fewer than the ones that Estonia faced when leaving the USSR. The UK has been a fully functioning independent nation state for centuries. What’s more we know what it is like to live outside the EU, because we did so for all but forty of those years. The UK won’t have to set up the things that make being a nation state possible, like a currency, armed forces and a civil service. We have those things already. All we will have to do is set up trade relations and revert to doing ourselves what the EU at present does for us.

Scotland right now is much more prosperous any Eastern European country. We also have a higher standard of living than most Southern European countries. We have good universities, wonderful scenery and lots of empty spaces. The best thing about living here is that our roads are less busy than elsewhere and our towns less cramped. Our beaches may be chilly, but we share them with few others.

If history had been otherwise, Scotland might right now be a successful independent nation state, but then so too could the parts of most European countries. If history had turned out differently, we might have an independent Saxony, an independent Burgundy and Portugal might have ended up part of Spain. It no more follows from the fact that Scotland could be independent that it ought to be than it follows for Bavaria or Flanders. Each of these places once was independent and no doubt could be again.

Would Bavaria be more prosperous if it wasn’t part of Germany? Who knows? Is Slovakia more prosperous because it ceased to be part of Czechoslovakia? The prosperity of both parts today is similar.

Independence would be a challenge. It certainly would involve a great deal more change for Scotland to leave the UK than for the UK to leave the EU. But after a few years these challenges would be overcome. Every other newly independent nation state managed. Why couldn’t Scotland? But after all that overcoming it probably wouldn’t change the standard of living here very much.

The Irish economy is closely connected with the UK economy even though Ireland hasn’t been part of the UK for nearly 100 years. The north-south divide in the UK which was caused by the industrial revolution is still with us. The south of Italy is much less prosperous than the north. But if the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies had remained independent the people living there would doubtless still be less prosperous than those living in Turin and Milan. If Italy broke up and its parts became independent again, they would be no better off, for independence doesn’t change the economic fundamentals.

The nature of the Scottish economy today is a function of our climate, our land and our history. The industrialised parts of Scotland brought us wealth in the nineteenth century but became our rust belt in the twentieth.  The challenge is the same for Glasgow as it is for Belfast, Newcastle and Swansea. Independence wouldn’t change that challenge and wouldn’t make it easier. People in Detroit and Pittsburgh might think that independence for Pennsylvania and Michigan would bring them wealth, but the question of what to do with old inefficient industry and how to revive once prosperous cities would be just the same and no easier to answer.

The UK is going to go through a major change if and when we leave the EU. Scotland would have to go through still greater change on top of this in order to leave the UK. If you think a “no deal” Brexit is scary and will involve disruption, then you will have to be aware that an independent Scotland would have to go through the process of setting up a new nation state while at least initially being both outside the UK and the EU.  

No doubt we would manage, but I rather think independence supporters would be disappointed.  Their socialist expectations would no more improve their standard of living than they have in any other country that has tried this experiment. They might find that low tax, free market post Brexit Britain was doing rather better.  I strongly suspect that within ten years there would be Tories running an independent Scotland and we would have reverted to type. We would go back to being the careful, frugal Scots of history and the economics of an independent Scotland would be more Adam Smith than Common Weal, for that would be the only way to bring more wealth to our nation.  

Prosperity requires the traditionally Scottish virtues of living within your means, hard work and carefulness with money. None of these require independence, which is a get rich quick scheme promising wealth without effort and if we just spend enough of someone else’s money we’ll all be rich. Scots have known for centuries that the opposite is true.

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.