Thursday 31 December 2020

Welcome to our Gaelic Brigadoon


When I was growing up in the 1970s, there was no Gaelic TV, there were no Gaelic road signs and there was no Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, but there were a lot more Gaelic speakers than now. Since then huge amounts of time, money and effort has been spent on keeping ever fewer Gaelic speakers. But the result of fifty years of effort is that the vernacular Gaelic speaking community has fallen to just 11,000 people. At what point do those responsible for all the initiatives taken and all the money spent take responsibility for this failure?

It’s all very well blaming the Statutes of Iona 1609, which required Highland chiefs to send their sons to be educated in English. Firstly, this was a long time ago, secondly it was a Scottish statute and thirdly lots of other European languages went through far greater difficulties than Scottish Gaelic.

If Polish could survive the loss of Poland plus attempts by the Prussians, the Russians and the Austrians to eradicate it, why couldn’t Scottish mothers pass on their language to their children? The Church in Poland took on the task of teaching children Polish, but the Church of Scotland preferred to preach to the Gaels with an English Bible not least because it disliked the Catholicism of the Highlands.

Even when Greece was gobbled up by the Ottoman Empire the Greeks kept teaching their children Greek. Even when no one could point to Latvia on the map and when the Soviet Union enforced the teaching of Russian, it didn’t stop Latvians from keeping their language.

The problem with Gaelic is that it’s easier to blame someone else for the failure to teach your children Gaelic than it is to accept the responsibility for doing so. Times were tough after the Jacobite Rebellion and the Church of Scotland did ban the use of Gaelic in the 1750s, but the authorities in the Russian Empire discouraged the use of Latvian, Ukrainian and Estonian, but you don’t hear these people blaming something that happened long ago for the loss of their language, because they kept it.

The Gaelic establishment in Scotland has a nice little earner. If you speak Gaelic, you have an excellent chance of getting your novel published or your TV programme made. No one cares how many books you sell or if anyone watches your programme. No one even questions if all this money spent on stopping the decline of Gaelic is doing any good or not. The only good it is doing is to those who make their living from it.

As the numbers of vernacular Gaelic speakers declines still further no one will question the failure of the Scottish Government or the Bòrd na Gàidhlig. This is Alba, the answer to every problem is to throw more of someone else’s money at it. When vernacular speakers reach 5,000, we will have still more Gaelic TV channels, still more Gaelic road signs and more people in the lowlands will send their children to Gaelic play groups and Gaelic schools. What will we do when the numbers reach 1000?

But this is the problem with throwing public money at a problem, it means that no one actually feels responsibility for teaching their children Gaelic. Who needs to speak Gaelic to an infant when it will be able to read all the road signs, watch Dòtaman on TV and go to the Gaelic play group?

The only people who are going to be able to revive Gaelic are Gaelic speakers. It’s perfectly possible to do so if enough people want it. After all the language of contemporary Israel was not the vernacular language of most Jewish people even one hundred years ago.

But while many Scottish nationalists are touchy about Gaelic and in theory are desperately concerned that Gaelic should survive, few indeed want to speak it. While some Scots will go to a Gaelic school and others will go to an evening class almost none of these people will use Gaelic daily or even weekly. The reason for this is that there is almost nowhere in Scotland apart from the Outer Hebrides where it is possible to speak it.

If Scotland became independent, I strongly suspect that the official languages of Scotland would be Gaelic and Scots. It is possible that every Scottish child would be made to learn Gaelic, but this would have almost no affect on the number of vernacular Gaelic speakers. My mother might have married her Irish cousin and I would never have been born, but for the fact that she had to have an Irish qualification to teach there, but you’ll still only hear Irish on the streets in some tiny corners of Ireland. Force feeding Irish has failed and would fail here as well, but that wouldn’t stop us trying.

So too the latest idea of Kate Forbes to have Gaelic only villages in the Highlands has something of the Brigadoon about it. While the minister in Brigadoon wanted to keep witches out of the village and asked God for a miracle that would make it wake only one day a century from its slumber, so Kate wants to keep English out of her Highland Brigadoon. The locals could be showed off to tourists rather like a Potemkin village. They might have quaint forms of dress and archaic customs. Anyone wanting to join the village (including girlfriends and boyfriends?) would first have to pass a Gaelic language test or promise to become fluent in Gaelic (in a fixed period of time?) or else be cast out into the land of the English. Tourists might feel a bit like Harrison Ford visiting the Amish, teaching them the delights of sex and popular music.

But if you have seen the film of Brigadoon its easy to see that Kate Forbes plan wouldn’t work. Harry Beaton is dissatisfied by Katie the only pretty girl in the village marrying someone else, by only getting one day a century and not being able to go beyond the confines of the village. He tries to break out, which will doom all in Brigadoon. But the alternative if anything is worse. Brigadoon will sleep until everyone else is dead.

What also of the American visitors one of whom falls in love with Katie and wants to kiss her while they gather heather on the hill. Would they too have to pass a Gaelic test to stay in Brigadoon? Would even love for K K K Katie not be enough unless he could sing the song in Gaelic. It would be almost like being in love except the Gaelic Mafia would have to check that Katie c c c continued to speak Gaelic.

Katie is a Gaelic speaker, but how often does she speak it in her work or home life? How often did she use it in her studies? Did she ever speak Gaelic on holiday? Does she speak it daily or just sometimes? I suspect I speak Polish more often than Katie speaks Gaelic.  How many children has she taught it to? Any advance on zero?

Instead of building a Gaelic Brigadoon the best thing Katie could do is to have ten children and teach each one of them Gaelic. If one hundred Katies did just that there would be a mini Gaelic revival, but instead of taking responsibility for the problem and trying to do something to solve it we will get Brigadoon and ever more Gaelic TV shows no one watches and signs directing no one to nowhere as wherever it was fades into the mist at the end of its day. 

Tuesday 29 December 2020

No Deal Nicola


Britain has already left the EU. We did so last January. The only question is whether we leave with a deal or without a deal. Last week Nicola Sturgeon pleaded with the Government to extend the transition period because of the latest mutation of Covid, but there is no need to extend it because we have a deal. Is she happy? No. Her party is going to vote against the deal.

In 2016 Sturgeon campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU, which would have meant that the current arrangement with fishing would continue. Instead we have a deal which will mean that next year British fishing boats will be able to catch 15 percent more fish. Over the next 5 years the catch will increase still further until it has increased by 25% from now. At that point Britain will be able to negotiate with the EU again. We could decide that British waters are only for British fishing boats, but that might have the consequence of the British fishing fleet having to pay tariffs to sell their catch to the EU. It will be up to a future Government to decide.

The British fishing fleet is going to get £100 million from the Government to take advantage of being able to catch more fish. Is Sturgeon happy? No, she is complaining that Scottish fishing boats won’t have exclusive rights to the fish in the North Sea. But they would not have had exclusive access if Britain had remained in the EU. They would not have had an increase at all. If the SNP had their wish and Scotland became independent, Sturgeon would intend that Scotland would once more be part of the EU. The result would be that we would go back to the Common Fisheries Policy. The increases in the catch would go back to Brussels and Scottish fishermen would catch less. 

The UK is going to pay £100 million a year so that students can study all over the world. This will be called the Turing Scheme after the computer pioneer Alan Turing who did so much to help Britain win the war by decoding the German Enigma code. Is Sturgeon happy? No, she complains that Britain will cease to take part in the EU’s Erasmus Scheme and that this is cultural vandalism. But British students will still be able to study abroad and because the Turing Scheme will be worldwide, they will not merely be able to study in Europe, but elsewhere.

Does Sturgeon object for the same reason that she objected to the Nightingale hospital in Glasgow renaming it after an obscure Scottish nurse. Is the problem with the Turing scheme that Turing was English, gay or that he helped us win the war or is it merely that he wasn’t Scottish and that the scheme should be called in Scotland the William Wallace/Robert the Bruce scheme?

Sturgeon has spent the years since 2016 complaining that Britain might have a No Deal Brexit. She has continually emphasised what a disaster this would be for Scotland. The logic of her wishing to extent the transition period was precisely to avoid No Deal, but as soon as we get a deal, she objects to that. You can’t hardly win.

Sturgeon wrote

Tory/Labour view is that all Scotland can aspire to is a ‘choice’ between a terrible deal we didn’t vote for and ‘no deal’ we didn’t vote for, and  even then our view only counts if it accords with Westminster’s. No thanks. Time to build a future based on what Scotland votes for.

But this is to suppose that Scottish MPs never have any say on what goes on in Westminster. In the previous Parliament when Theresa May was trying to get her version of Brexit through Parliament, the SNP voted against. If they had voted for the much softer Brexit Theresa May was proposing that is the deal we would have ended up with. If Sturgeon’s goal was a softer Brexit with more alignment with the EU, she could have achieved it. But no, she was determined to ignore the 2016 referendum result in the hope that Brexit would be cancelled.

Unfortunately for her if we can ignore the EU referendum result, we could logically and legally ignore an independence referendum result, which rather stuffs her strategy. If one can be merely advisory, so can the other.

We ended up with the present deal precisely because Remainers like Sturgeon refused to back Theresa May. So, if she thinks the present deal is terrible it is precisely her fault. But how is free trade with the EU and potentially the rest of the world terrible? None of us are going to even notice leaving the EU, yet we still have Remainer prophet of doom Sturgeon telling us the sky will fall in. Yet she doesn’t even address the difficulty of Scotland leaving the UK without a deal.

Sturgeon’s complaint of course is that Scotland did not vote for Brexit. But the exact same argument could be used if Scotland became independent. A part of Scotland that did not wish to rejoin the EU, would have to accept the will of the majority. But just as a part of Scotland cannot expect to veto Government policy so too a part of the United Kingdom cannot expect to veto the result of a referendum. This isn’t democracy. It’s my side must win no matter what, which is the argument of despots.

It is simply impossible to build a future on what Scotland votes for, because there are different opinions in different parts of Scotland. They cannot all get what they want. Well the same goes for the UK. Where’s the grievance?

Scottish MPs and voters have exactly the same share of democracy in the UK as everyone else. Sometimes you vote and get what you want, sometimes you don’t. This is called democracy. To suppose that Scotland must always get what it votes for is to suppose that if South Carolina voted for Trump it has a legitimate complaint because it got Biden. But this is the slaveowners argument from 1860. If it is legitimate for Scotland to secede because it voted Remain, then it is legitimate for South Carolina or indeed anywhere including parts of Scotland. The nationalist argument is mere grievance about losing in a democracy. It begs the question about the legitimate locus of democracy and becomes self-refuting because it cannot apply the logic of the argument to itself that it applies to the whole from which it is seceding. It leads either to hypocrisy or fragmentation.

When you vote for something in Parliament you must logically hope that what you vote for wins. We can predict that the EU Withdrawal Agreement will get through Parliament, but we don’t know for sure. Sufficient Labour and Conservative MPs may rebel. Sturgeon logically must hope they do. But what would be the result if the Withdrawal Agreement was voted down? We would leave the EU on January the first with a No Deal Brexit. It is this that Sturgeon wants, otherwise she logically would not be voting for it.

You cannot win with Scottish Nationalists. It doesn’t matter what you do they will be negative, and they will complain. No Deal Nicola is a name that should stick. She is a modern Ian Paisley. Whatever you ask her she replies Scotland says No.

Saturday 26 December 2020

Rejoining the EU is impossible now


Britain has left the EU with a deal. We will continue to trade freely with the EU. There will be no tariffs or quotas. But we will not have to follow EU laws or regulations. We will not be part of the Single Market and we will not be part of the Customs Union. We will be able to trade freely with anyone else we please. So, we will have the best of both worlds free trade with the EU and free trade with anyone else we can make a deal with.

The price of the deal looks to be minimal. There will be a transition period on fishing so that EU boats will have an extra five years access to our waters. But five years from now when we have had a chance to build up our fleet, we will be catching much more fish than we do at present. There will be many more people in coastal towns employed to catch fish. EU access for a few years is a price worth paying because we lack the fleet to take advantage of completely blocking the EU from our waters in any case. The trade deal with the EU will be worth far more to British economy than the hypothetical loss of fish that we could not catch anyway.

A little over a year ago it looked as if Brexit might be turned into Brexit in name only (BRINO) or alternatively there might have been a second referendum resulting in a repentant Britain returning to the EU like the Prodigal Son. But no this is the real deal. This is as close to a complete Brexit as we could have dreamed of in May 2016 and much more than I ever expected. The Remain argument has been smashed, because now it becomes a Rejoin argument. What would Rejoin mean?

1. Britain would have to sign up to join the Euro.

2. We would have to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). Look up Black Wednesday 1992 if you are too young to remember.

3. We would have to join Schengen which would mean there would be no border controls at all between Britain and France. The people in the camps could just get on the Eurostar. Anyone who could get into the EU could get into Britain without even being checked.

4. We would have to pay the EU membership fee without the rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher.

5. We would have to renounce any trade deal we made with USA, Australia, New Zealand or anyone else.

6. We would have to sign up again to the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy, giving up control over our agriculture and fish.

7. We would have to reapply EU law and accept that EU law was supreme.

8. We would have to sign up to the EU’s Covid bailout fund and any future bailout fund to take care of those EU economies that have been wrecked in the past decade and more.

9. We would have to give back all the powers that we have received because of Brexit.

10. We would have to accept that Britain would eventually become a region in a United Europe. The EU would never allow Britain to rejoin in a half in half out fashion.

At the next election neither Labour nor the Lib Dems will campaign for Rejoin. It’s one thing to argue for Remain, but that argument is now gone. Britain could not expect to go back to where we were in 2016, just to cause trouble again. All the opt outs and dragging our feet about European integration would have to be jettisoned. We’d have to be fully on board the EU project if we wanted to rejoin. We’d have to be good Europeans rather than troublemakers. But here is where it gets interesting. So too would Scotland.

The SNP may well continue to campaign to rejoin the EU, but this will as always miss the point that Scotland never was a member state. Scotland was merely part of a member state and now that Britain has left, it would have to apply from scratch.

Only independent sovereign nation states can join the EU. Scotland would become such only after it achieved independence. Voting to leave the UK no more means you have left than voting for Brexit meant we had left the EU in 2016. Only after the divorce negotiations with the UK were completed would Scotland be able to begin to apply to join the EU. But this means that an independent Scotland would have to start life both outside the UK and outside the EU.

But in Quebec terms Scottish nationalists are sovereigntists. The whole SNP argument is about re-establishing Scottish sovereignty. It’s all about Scottish voters voting SNP or Labour and getting Tories instead and about the SNP’s desire that Scottish Parliament should decide everything rather than Westminster.

But this is the whole contradiction of the SNP argument. They are using both Leave and Remain arguments. They are both sovereigntists with regard to the UK and sovereignty sharers with regard to the EU. The SNP want to re-establish Scottish sovereignty only to almost immediately pool and share it with other EU member states. But this fundamentally doesn’t make sense. It amounts to London bad, Brussels good. But this is mere prejudice.

The EU looks suspiciously on separatist movements in the EU not merely because they would destabilise member states and potentially the EU too, but because such movements are contrary to the whole goal of the EU of ever closer union. If Catalonia cannot bear to be part of Spain how can it logically bear to be part of the EU that includes people very different from Catalans and indeed Spaniards? If living with people who are similar to Scots turns out to be impossible, how can the EU expect Scots to live with people who are dissimilar? If Scotland cannot manage to be in a union of four how could it manage to be in a union of nearly thirty? 

The SNP cannot be good Europeans, because they cannot even endure to be Brits. But this means that Scotland would begin its journey towards EU with a question mark against it. Can the Scots put aside historical grievance to be good Europeans and accept the majority will in the EU? Prima facie it would be reasonable to suppose that Scotland could not, because the reason we wanted independence was we couldn’t accept the majority will in the UK.

The SNP would therefore have to convince the EU not merely that it wants to join, but that it wants to take part fully. So, there could be no promising to join the Euro with crossed fingers nor could we seek to avoid Schengen. To suggest that we could, would be to suppose that the SNP were Brexiteers in sheep’s clothing.  The SNP would have to sign up to European federalism or go elsewhere.

The rejoin argument is so bad that Labour and the Lib Dems won’t dare to campaign for it. But the apply from scratch argument is even worse for the SNP. As it becomes clearer that decisions previously taken in Brussels will now be taken either in Westminster or the devolved parliaments it will also become clear that Scottish independence involves losing power. Worse still an independent Scotland would not have the trade deal that the UK has just negotiated with the EU, it’s the UK’s deal not Scotland’s, nor would it necessarily have a trade deal with the UK and any deal the UK negotiated with the USA or anyone else would no longer apply to an independent Scotland, because it would be the UK’s deal not Scotland’s. 

But worst of all Scotland could not expect to have free movement within the EU and within the former UK too, that would be ultimate form of having your cake and eating it too. The consequence of allowing free movement from the EU into Scotland would be to prevent Scots living and working in the former UK. It would be discriminatory for the former UK to treat the citizens of one member state (Scotland) in a preferential way to the citizens of any other EU member state.

There were some good arguments in favour of leaving the EU without deal. It would have made Scottish independence even harder to achieve. But the main argument against is that it would have given Sturgeon a grievance with which to persuade disappointed Scottish Remainers to vote for independence. Now she is left complaining about seed potatoes. If we can trade freely with the EU, what's the problem?

Trade with the EU will go on as normal and the price we pay for it will be minimal. It is impossible to imagine now that the UK will now Rejoin the EU, but the logic of that argument applies equally to Scotland.

Thursday 24 December 2020

The opposite of Christmas


The birth of Christ is the most important event in history. I think this is true even if you believe that Jesus was just a man. It is still more true if you believe that he was what Christians think he was. It’s hard to think of any single human being who has had more influence on subsequent history than Jesus. Christianity created the Western world far more than any other idea and it did so even if everything in the New Testament is lies and nonsense. It did so even if it could be proved that the Bible was a Medieval fake and there never was such a man as Jesus of Nazareth.

In fact, it is quite certain that Jesus did live. No serious theologian or historian doubts this. There is more evidence for the existence of the man Jesus than almost anybody else in ancient history. If you doubt that Jesus lived you might as well doubt that Julius Caesar lived.

The issue is not whether there was a man called Jesus, but whether what the Bible says about him is true.

Why do people doubt the accounts in the Gospels and the letters of Paul and others? The reason is that the Bible tells a story about miracles whereas the story of Julius Caesar does not. If the Bible had nothing about God and nothing about miracles, but instead was just the story of a kind man who taught others to love their neighbours, then it would be treated today as no less true than any other ancient text. No one would doubt what was written about Jesus. We all just doubt the God stuff and the miracles.

What I dislike about Christmas is that the most important event in human history has been falsified.

The story of Christ’s birth is about poverty. His family couldn’t even find somewhere to stay, let alone hold an enormous feast.

Christ’s birth has nothing to do with presents. The three kings arrived on Epiphany or the Twelfth day of Christmas. There were no presents on the first Christmas day, nor was there turkey, mince pies or Christmas trees.

Most people today think that the Bible story is lies and nonsense or at least it exaggerates events. There was no virgin birth. There was no resurrection. Water did not turn into wine. All of these things are false even if Jesus existed. But because we reject what made Jesus different from other human beings, he has no importance in our lives. Julius Caesar is just another figure from history. We don’t even know his birthdate let alone celebrate it. Why then celebrate something an event that we think is unimportant about a man no more special than anyone else who taught things most of think are false. We might as well celebrate the birth of Thor, the marriage of Aphrodite or any other fake thing that the superstitious invented long ago.

There is no reason to suppose that Jesus was born on the 25th of December. There is no mention of a date in the Bible. There is no clue even what season it was. It would be better for all the churches in the world to pick another date, for instance in October and use that for the religious festival. Non-believers could then continue to celebrate “Christmas” in December, which would make it wholly fake, but at least Christians would have the chance to have a festival that was genuine.

The way that Christmas is celebrated today is anti-Christian, not merely because most people simply ignore the birth of Jesus, but because the behaviour that Christmas encourages is anti-Christian.

There is nothing Christian about spending vast amounts of money on presents, food and drink. There is nothing wrong with spending money, but Christmas encourages those who cannot afford it to spend excessive amounts on presents for their children. People go into debt and suffer later in the year in order that this one day should be extra special. When Christmas does harm, it is unchristian.

I know many people dread Christmas. It’s the time of the year that they hate the most. Hundreds of Christmas cards must be written. Relations we don’t like must be visited. People we don’t want to spend time with turn up at our houses.

There is an expectation that Christmas will be the best day of the year. Some people still retain the faith that they will experience the most wonderful day of the year. But how often are those expectations fulfilled? How often does Christmas turn out to be a disappointment or worse?

The truth is that Christmas is the most joyful day in history, because it brought with it better news than another day, but that day whenever it may have occurred is ruined by the way it is celebrated.

I am a rotten Christian. My theological training left me with a faith that is half belief and half doubt. I believe that faith is contrary to reason, because it involves believing that God is man, i.e. God is God and not God and that death is death and not death. Faith cannot be explained, nor can it be justified by reason. If we are to believe we must believe contrary to reason and contrary to science. But this is the only way to touch a truth that science and indeed reason is unaware of.

The moment of Christ’s birth is the moment where our world touched eternity. We had no real conception of God until he came into the world as one of us a mere human being. God was too distant in a place beyond space and time where we could not travel. But Jesus living amongst us meant that human beings could witness God and listen to him speak and watch what happened when he died.

Only by coming down to earth on Christmas day could God properly reveal himself to his creation. This is what is unique about the Christian message. By God becoming human he becomes one of us and someone we can understand. Jesus enables us to touch eternity and provides us the key to get there.

I cannot prove these ideas even to myself and I frequently doubt them as being too fantastic. We cannot understand miracles, but without miracles there is nothing important in the Christmas story, nor indeed in life.  

If you think that a person is merely a complicated animal, with no soul and governed by the laws of physics, then you reject freedom and also morality. You become Macbeth:


for, from this instant,

There's nothing serious in mortality:

All is but toys: renown and grace is dead;

The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees

Is left this vault to brag of.


You have not murdered Duncan, but you have murdered yourself. You will find nothing special about yourself, because there was nothing special about Jesus. You will be a mere human being and it won’t matter one little bit what you do or don’t do. The best you can hope for is pleasure, but even if you have a lifetime of pleasure it will be quite meaningless and without purpose. You may just as well have killed Duncan you would be no worse off. Enjoy the dregs.

What is miraculous is not that Jesus was born of a virgin, it would matter little if he wasn’t, but that he was born at all. God appeared in human form lived died, was buried but rose again. This is the whole message. This is the good news that has nothing to do with Christmas trees, Santa Claus or any of the tat we associate with Christmas.

What I hate about Christmas is how the most important event in human history has been debased by vulgarity and excess. Christmas ruins lives and this year will kill people because we are so obsessed with this one day that we can’t bear to give it up even for one year.

This is anti-Christian because Jesus was willing to give up his life to save every one of us. We on the other hand won’t give up our turkey and festivities even if it kills grandma. This isn’t Christmas. It is the opposite of Christmas.


Wednesday 23 December 2020

Sturgeon is a hypocrite not merely about masks


“New mutant strain of Covid in Britain, continent cut off” should have been the headline, but somehow, we have lost the defiance that we used to have when such headlines were or were not written.

The truth is that Britain is in pretty good shape compared to our “friends” and “allies”. The new mutant Covid is in fact an old mutant Covid that may have originated in Brazil eight months ago. It has been spreading all around the world ever since. Britain has been able to recognise that it exists here because we have excellent facilities to test such things, other countries have it too, but as yet pretend that they don’t. This is to our advantage rather than theirs. We are further ahead than anywhere else in vaccinating and will reach the point where the most vulnerable have been vaccinated much earlier than EU countries, at which point the pandemic will effectively be over here while it will continue there. The task is to get through the next couple of months. So, stay at home, avoid other people, buy as much food and drink as you can consume and stick it out. We’ll be fine.

All the worst things that Brexit was supposed to bring and especially a no deal Brexit have been brought anyway by Covid. Even if we had stayed in the EU we would have been blockaded, but we’ve managed, and we will manage. The most deranged Remainer fantasies in 2016 about Britain being punished if we dared to leave the EU, were not even remotely as bad as the pandemic. So, ignore such predictions. The lesson of life is that you take what it throws at you remain cheerful and battle on.

Predictably Nicola Sturgeon demanded an extension of the transition period. She has been trying to stop Brexit ever since 2016. First, she tried to use Parliament and the law courts to stop it,  now she hopes that if Britain caves in at the last moment then the transition period will continue indefinitely and will eventually lead to us not leaving the EU at all.

Why is Sturgeon so keen on Britain not leaving the EU? Why is she continually trying to stop it? If leaving the EU really made Scottish independence more likely or inevitable, she would be encouraging it.

Of course she is trying to stoke resentment in Scotland with the hope that this will lead to support for her party and her cause, but if she really thought that leaving the EU made Scottish independence easier to achieve why does she continually attempt to put obstacles in the way of Brexit?

Sturgeon is not merely a hypocrite about masks, she is also a hypocrite about transition periods.

Imagine if Sturgeon had been given her wish and there had been an independence referendum in 2018 and she had won it. There would have been a transition period. Let say it was due to end in March 2020. Scottish Independence Day would have been April the First. Would Sturgeon have really extended the transition period because of the Covid outbreak? But what if she had extended it and Scotland had continued to receive money from the Treasury? When would the transition period end? When we no longer needed the money? It’s another word for never.

While condemning the British Government for not extending the transition period with the EU due to Covid, Sturgeon is still planning an independence referendum for 2021. If we must extend the transition period because of Covid, why does she suppose it is sensible to have a referendum on breaking up Britain? We have had four years to prepare for leaving the EU. Sturgeon doesn’t even have a plan for independence that takes into account the economic damage of 2020.

Brexit is massively easier to achieve than Scottish separatism.  It doesn’t involve setting up a new state. It merely involves us returning to what we had been for centuries until the early 1970s. The EU is a trading bloc which allows free trade between its members. The price of this is that we pay a membership fee, cede control of our waters and accept that EU law and regulations are supreme over British law. Eventually if the EU succeeds in its goal, we become a region of a United Europe. Not only that we have to apply the EU’s Common External Tariff on the rest of the world. It’s a rather high price for free trade, which isn’t anyway free because we have to pay a fee to have it.

If leaving the EU means that we can trade freely with the rest of the world and if it means we can free ourselves from EU laws and red tape, then there is every chance we can become more competitive than the EU and undercut them. The EU sells much more to us than we do to them, so if they are awkward about selling us stuff, we just buy it from someone else. Who loses? I can get blueberries from Chile for next to nothing, I can certainly get wine from Australia and cars from Korea. There is nothing the EU sells that I can’t buy just as well from elsewhere. Trade no longer depends on proximity.

The biggest prize of all however is that we finally do the one thing that Sturgeon really, really does not want. We leave the EU with a clean break and with the EU having minimal control over anything. Scottish nationalists will be angry. Let them be angry. There is nothing they can do. Both Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson will hold the line. Getting over Covid and rebuilding the economy will take years. There will be no time for referendums.

Sturgeon knows there will be no independence referendum next year. She is playing to the zoo trying to tame the wilder members of her menagerie. The good ship Britannia is sailing ever further away from the EU and as the EU recedes over the horizon Sturgeon dream will recede too, because Scottish independence was only ever tenable if Britain stayed in the EU. Why else has she been fighting it for so long?


Tuesday 22 December 2020

The land of Ire


I began writing about Ireland when Britain and Ireland fell out over Brexit. Each time I did so I came to the conclusion that Ireland was well named. It is indeed the land of ire. Not only are the Irish angry about Brexit, they are angry about everything Britain has supposedly done to them for the past thousand years.

Whenever I raise the least bit of criticism about Ireland and specifically about Ireland’s hostility to Britain my timeline on Twitter is flooded with people with Irish names full of diacritics and equally full of ire. The substance of these people’s anger is usually Irish history and the blame for everything in that history falls on the British. The Irish are like the worst sort of Scottish nationalist on steroids. The grievance of the average SNP voter is mild compared to the grievance of the average Irishman. The storm clouds and thunderstorms of ire that drift across the Irish sea would make anyone suspect that the British were by far the worst people in Europe and indeed the world. But is this just?

My Irish friends routinely refer to Britain occupying Ireland for a thousand years, but in fact the processes that turned Ireland from being an exclusively Celtic speaking country to being a mainly English speaking country are nearly identical to the ones that turned Britain from being a Celtic speaking country to an English speaking country.

Celtic speaking Ancient Britons were invaded and settled by Romans, then Angles and Saxons and then Vikings and Normans. Celtic speaking Ireland was invaded and settled in almost exactly the same way.

British people don’t complain about two thousand years of Roman occupation that destroyed the language and culture of Boadicea, nor do we complain that Angles and Saxons pushed the Ancient Britons to the west into Cornwall, Wales and Brittany. I have yet to meet a British person who complains that we no longer speak Common Brittonic, nor have I met one who complains that we no longer speak Anglo-Saxon. No one complains that the English language we speak today was the result of migration and no one blames the migrants.

This is because the average Briton is a mixture of the Celtic, the Roman, the Anglo, Saxon and the Norman. What we are is the sum of the peoples who migrated here. To complain about these migrations is to complain that I exist, because I am the result of them.

Similar peoples and linguistic influences migrated to Ireland too. Without these migrants the modern Irish people and the modern Irish culture would not exist either. To regret that Angles Saxons Normans and later British people moved to Ireland is to regret the existence of Ireland as it is today.

Most Irish people today will have had ancestors who were Celts, Angles, Saxons and British. Many British people including me have Irish ancestry. This is not least because Irish people have been settling in Britain for centuries. The name Scotland comes from the Scoti, who came from Ireland. I have never once met a person from Scotland who complains that the Irish Scoti conquered Scotland and wiped out the indigenous Picts. No one calls this the plantation of Scotland.

So, an Irish person who regrets that Ireland was settled by people who brought with them languages that eventually became English is the equivalent of a British person regretting that the Anglo-Saxons came to Britain and were then superseded by the Normans. But such an Irish person is really saying I wish I had never been born. If Ireland today had been invaded by no one and was still a pristine Emerald Isle that had never been contaminated by English speakers, then almost every single Irish citizen would not exist, because every Irish citizen has a Norman, an Anglo-Saxon and a Brit in his family tree. It is for this reason above all that most Irish people have English as their first language. We learn language from our parents after all.

During medieval times Kings and Queens tried to expand their dynasties through diplomacy, intrigue marriage and war. If you look at the boundaries of modern Europe, you will notice that peoples were united into kingdoms in this way. They didn’t have much choice. No one asked a peasant from Aragon if he wanted to join with Castile when Isabella married Ferdinand. Border changes did not happen for democratic reasons. Rather there was a continual ebb and flow of dynastic boundaries in Europe due to the success or failure of authoritarian rulers. It was for this reason that Ireland became part of the British Crown. The process was no different from why Burgundy became of France and much later Saxony became part of Germany.

Did anything particularly unusual happen to Ireland while it was “occupied” by the British?

Ireland was involved in wars. For example, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (1639-1651) (the British Civil War) battles were fought all over the British Isles and also in Ireland. Lots of people died some of them in Ireland some of them in Britain. People were also persecuted. This was a war about religion. Which form of Christianity should be dominant in Britain?

But such wars also happened in Europe. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) in central Europe killed between 4.5 Million and 8 Million people. But I have never met a modern-day inhabitant of central Europe who blames anyone else for what happened in the 17th century. There was famine in parts of Germany during this period, plus persecution and mass murder, but no one in modern day central Europe talks of Wallenstein or Tilly in the way that Irish people talk about Cromwell.

Famine has been a feature of European life for centuries. Famine in France in 1709 killed 600,000 people. Famine in East Prussia in 1709-1711 killed 250,000 or 41% of the population. Few people in these places has any knowledge of these famines and they certainly don’t blame anyone living today for them.

If I asked the average Highland Scot if he had ever heard of the Highland Potato famine (1845-1857) I would be met with blank looks. Only specialist historians would know anything about it. So too with virtually ever other famine that happened from time to time in Europe.  

But the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1845) is remembered like no other famine in history, not because it was the worst, but because it can be blamed on the British.

The British of course did not want there to be a famine in Ireland. It wasn’t the British who made the potatoes go bad. If there had been no potato blight, there would have been no famine and no one to blame.

The British authorities like the authorities during every other European famine in history could have done more to save lives. They were incompetent, indifferent and worse. The ruling classes protected their own interest rather than look after their fellow citizens. But this was the same everywhere in Europe. There were revolutions in most of Europe in 1848 because the authorities did not care about how their citizens lived.

All over Europe including in Britain the poorest people faced hunger, poor working conditions and low wages. Soon after the Irish Potato Famine there were famines in Finland (1866-1868) and Sweden (1867-1868). I have yet to meet a Finn or a Swede who blames anyone for these famines. I doubt most Finns and Swedes are even aware of them.

Irish people were treated no worse than anyone else in Europe while being ruled by the British Crown and considerably better than many people in Europe. Russia only abolished slavery (serfdom) in 1861. At this time in Ireland many Irish people had the vote and would later use that vote to campaign for Home Rule.

But all through the centuries when Ireland was ruled by Britain the people who most directly ruled Ireland were the Irish gentry. The average ordinary British person had no influence whatsoever over how ordinary Irish people were treated. It was more often Irish gentry who ill treated other Irish people rather than Kings and Queens, not least because Kings and Queens would frequently be quite unaware of such things. The Tsar in Russia after all was quite unaware of every peasant who was whipped.

From the Middle Ages to the twentieth century it was landowners who ruled both in Britain and in Ireland. I have yet to meet a Russian who blames another Russian because his ancestor was a slave. Nor have I met a modern-day Brit who complains that someone else’s ancestor made his ancestor work in a factory or as a poor farmer.

Yet whenever I discuss Ireland the immediate response of Irish people is as if I personally am responsible for the Famine, Cromwell and one thousand years of occupation.

But I am not. Some of my ancestors lived near Dublin and they were as likely to have starved, been killed or persecuted as any other Irish citizen. What’s more the person who persecuted my ancestor was more likely to be another Irish person (a landowner) than a Brit. I don’t hate the people who persecuted my Irish ancestor, so why should Irish people hate me for the supposed wrongs that the British did to them? All of the perpetrators and all of the victims have died so why are we still blaming?

Irish people and British people are more closely related than anyone else in Europe apart from perhaps Germans and Austrians. We speak the same language, watch the same TV programmes, support the same football teams and if we can get over our differences about history usually get on well.

But there is poison in the relationship between Britain and Ireland. Perhaps it the way Irish children are taught in school, perhaps it is what they learn on their mother’s knee but scratch the surface of an Irish person and it is very common indeed to find hostility towards Britain and the British.

But a friendly relationship cannot survive such hostility.

No one alive today is responsible for any historical harm done to Ireland and a reasonable interpretation of history is that Irish people were treated similarly to people all over Europe while part of the British Crown. Ireland largely lost its native Celtic language and culture, but so did Britain and for the same reason. People migrated, just as they have always migrated and are migrating still. The Celts too migrated. They came from somewhere towards Asia. We are all the children of migrations whether we live today in Britain or in Ireland. Neither one of us is wholly innocent nor wholly guilty. If we dare, we might just forgive each other.

It is time to put aside historical grievance and build a future based on mutual respect and friendship.  Our shared past need not poison our shared future.

Saturday 19 December 2020

The SNP hall of shame. Part 4



I did not expect to be coming back to this list quite so quickly, but the SNP scandals keep on coming and show no sign of stopping.

 151. Ian Blackford accused photographer Ollie Taylor of having no business being in Scotland although Taylor lives here. The grounds for the accusation were apparently that Mr Taylor is English.

152. SNP MP Drew Hendry is kicked out of the House of Commons for refusing to sit down and attempting to take an object (the mace) out of the chamber which did not belong to him. 

153. SNP MP David Linden spent taxpayers’ money sending birthday cards to children when they turned eighteen. 

154. SNP spent £60,000 on a fake café for an advert. The owner of the café was fake too. 

155. Andrew Wilson’s firm Charlotte Street Partners worked for consortium IHSL which gets £1.4 million per month to run Edinburgh sick kids hospital which wasn’t even open.

156. SNP councillor Graham Campbell spent £5000 of public money on mobile phone roaming charges while on a visit to the Gambia. This was about 100 times more than his colleagues. 

157. SNP MSP Kenny Gibson was accused of bullying female party members, but Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon allegedly did nothing about it. There couldn’t be a pattern emerging here?

158. Forget me not care and counselling received £55,000 from the Scottish Government but only spent £10,000 on counselling. The Scottish Government admitted it had not carried out background checks on SNP activist Linsay Bonar, who said the charity was not open because she had lost the key. 

159. Angus Robertson promised to donate the profits from his taxpayer funded second home to charity, but apparently failed to do so. 

160.  Joanna Cherry criticised Emily Thornberry for missing a vote when Thornberry was at a hospital with one of her children and her absence was authorised. Cherry declined to apologise.

161. Pete Wishart claimed the cost of renting his flat twice for expenses due to a mistake in paperwork.

162. SNP MP Dr Philippa Whitford falsely claimed that privatisation is forcing the cancellation of gullet cancer operations in a Gateshead hospital that never did offer them. 

163. SNP MP Owen Thompson was exposed in 2013 for his involvement with front organisation Labour for independence. He was pictured with two other SNP members pretending to be Labour voters.

164. SNP candidate Neil Hay compared No voters to Nazi collaborators, but Sturgeon refused to sack him.

165. Nicola Sturgeon receives emails from Brian Smith comparing her to a Nazi and Mrs Thatcher and he is arrested. Unfortunately Mr Smith wasn't an SNP MP.

166. SNP MP Alyn Smith apologised and paid legal costs after branding the Brexit party a money laundering front. 

167. SNP MP Tommy Sheppard chaired an “open” meeting which barred Jewish activists, and which had a speaker who made anti-Semitic remarks.

168. SNP tried to cover-up the story of Derek Mackay grooming a teenager. Mr Mackay’s inappropriate behaviour towards young men was common knowledge in the SNP, but nothing was done about it. Again, a pattern is emerging.

169. SNP MP John Nicolson did not know what seat he was standing for at the General Election telling the crowd at a husting in Ochil and South Perthshire that only he could win in East Dunbartonshire.

170. SNP MSP John Mason compared Celtic Boys Club abuse with Rangers dodging taxes.

171. SNP MP George Kerevan claimed that Hilary Benn’s father would be turning in his grave when he disagreed with him about a vote at Westminster.

172.  An unknown SNP MP farted so violently in the House of Commons that SNP MP Patricia Gibson was forced to recoil in horror and waft the stench away with her hand.

173. SNP MSP Roseanna Cunningham had a meltdown when a debate about independence in the Scottish Parliament was suspended because of a terror attack at Westminster.

174.  SNP member Denise Findlay who worked on an SNP conduct committee investigating SNP MP Neale Hanvey’s anti-Semitism described Israel as a Nazi state. 

175. SNP MP Douglas Chapman said on the eve of Remembrance Day said that Winston Churchill had deliberately sacrificed the 51st Highland Division in World War 2. 

176. SNP MP Steven Bonnar crosses his fingers when he pledges allegiance to the Queen. Do we really want MPs to be liars?

177. SNP MSP candidate Fulton MacGregor accused of professional misconduct for improperly accessing confidential files to help a political ally.

178. SNP MPs failed to respect the traditions of the House of Commons by clapping, but refused to follow convention by applauding Theresa May when she stepped down as Prime Minister.

179. SNP MPs started a childish battle to claim Dennis Skinner’s seat, but lost.

180. SNP MPs are described as goons by Gerald Kaufman for their infantile behaviour in Parliament.

181. Pete Wishart made vile online slurs including that “parties that back Scotland remaining in the UK were w*****” 

182. Brian Smith convenor of the SNP's Skye and Lochalsh branch resigns after calling Charles Kennedy a drunken slob" and "quisling-in-chief".

183. Angus MacNeil claimed thousands of pounds in expenses so that he could learn Icelandic despite their being rather few Icelandic speakers in Scotland all of whom speak English better than Mr Macneil.

184. Alex Salmond had the worst voting record as an MP but claimed the highest travelling expenses of £48,471 per year. 

185. Alex Salmond gave a 17 year old student a rather suggestive lick of his lollipop. 

186 Joe FitzPatrick SNP MSP and Public Health Minister resigns after Scottish drug deaths are the worst in Europe doubling since 2014. 

187. Nicola Sturgeon tried to block Prince William and his wife Kate from travelling to Scotland, forgetting that people are allowed to cross the border for work purposes. William and Kate were working. 

188. Hayley Matthew SNP conference host endorsed Covid conspiracy theories and described the vaccine as sh*te.

189. SNP Government has been accused of hoarding £1 billion of cash given by Westminster instead of giving it to the Scots who need it.

190. Jeanne Freeman continues to allow elderly people to be sent from hospitals to care homes without having negative tests for Covid. This is despite around half of all Scottish Covid deaths taking place in care homes.

191. James Wolffe Scotland’s most senior law officer admitted that the SNP Government had made embarrassing and incorrect promises to Scotland’s highest court over documents relating to its investigation of Alex Salmond.

192. Nicola Sturgeon has claimed that her Covid strategy has been better than Westminster has been undermined by England having 40 deaths per million while Scotland has 50 deaths per million.

193. Jeane Freeman wanted to suspend freedom of information requests during the pandemic not that the SNP is secretive or has anything to hide.

194. Nicola Sturgeon made the Scottish Government’s harassment policy apply to former ministers like Alex Salmond hours after one of his accusers made a disclosure to her. Not that she was out to get him of course. 

195. Covidiot in chief Margaret Ferrier lost the party whip, but has not been expelled from the SNP party.

196. SNP MP Paul Monaghan described the Union Flag as a “Butcher’s apron”.

197. £180k Holyrood handouts linked to firms connected with Ian Blackford.

198. As Covid cases increased in Scotland Kate Higgins showed SNP priorities by complaining about a Union Flag on some beef. This is like someone complaining about a French flag on a bottle of Burgundy and demanding the Burgundian flag in its place. 

199. Nicola Sturgeon’s claim that Alex Salmond was angry with her because she refused to collude with him is contradicted by her previous testimony in Parliament.

200. Peter Murrell is accused of misleading the Alex Salmond Inquiry.


I don’t remember the last time I watched All the president’s men (1976), but it was long enough ago that I’d forgotten most of the details. I watched it again because Scotland in 2020 reminds me of America in 1972. The biggest scandal in Scottish political history is waiting to be revealed. It won’t go away and it’s getting closer and closer to the President. What we lack in Scotland is reporters who are willing to investigate, interrogate and tell the truth fearlessly. We lack the newspapers that can fund such reporting, because anyway the whole era of newspapers that existed in 1972 has been destroyed by satellite news and the Internet. Which newspaper today depending on a paywall or advertising could fund Woodward and Bernstein?

The difference also is that Republicans in 1972 were willing to testify about the inner workings of their party and Republican Woodward was willing to bring down Nixon because he was a crook and had subverted democracy in America. Scottish nationalists on the other hand think that the goal of independence justifies anything and as yet no major source from within the inner circle of the SNP has been willing to testify about the workings and secrets at the centre of the party.

But SNP supporters who are crowing about the high level of support their party and their independence cause has at the moment, must surely be aware that such support depends on nothing seriously damaging to Sturgeon coming out of the present Salmond Inquiry. It depends most of all on Salmond himself not contradicting Sturgeon’s story. If he made it clear that Sturgeon knew about the allegations against him years earlier, and especially during the independence campaign, then Sturgeon would be finished, and the independence cause and SNP prospects set back. Perhaps Salmond thinks he is young enough to take over from Sturgeon and win the referendum he lost in 2014. But can a man accused by ten women ever be entirely trusted? Could the SNP survive the loss of Sturgeon who is more popular with more people than Salmond ever was and a better politician too? Meanwhile, the list of SNP scandals continues to grow.

Opposition politicians have one task. Make Sturgeon resign. She is the SNP’s first and last line of defence. There is nothing else.