Monday, 10 August 2020

The exam fiasco is the fault of the SNP


The exam fiasco in Scotland was caused by the SNP’s decision to close schools on March 20th. It wasn’t the British Government that decided to close these schools as it has no say on education in Scotland.

If schools had stayed open from March until the summer every pupil in Scotland could have been taught without disruption to their education. They would then have been prepared to sit their exams and the results could have been judged fairly.

The decision to close schools was a mistake. We know this now from the statistics about Covid.


Up until 5th August 2020 only 28 people in Scotland under the age of 44 have died because of Covid.

There have been zero deaths of those under 15.

What is remarkable about Covid is that it is a disease that overwhelmingly kills people who have retired. The number of people between 45 and 64 who have died is only 348.



The risk to children from attending school is almost zero. If only those pupils with severe medical problems had been kept at home, it is likely that no Scottish pupils would have died.

There is of course a risk that pupils might have spread Covid to their parents. But even if they had, the risk to parents under 44 would have been very small indeed. The vast majority of school age parents are less than 44. Those children with parents over 44 could have stayed at home.

There would have been a slight risk that pupils would pass on Covid to teachers. But this risk would have been no more than the risk faced by supermarket workers, who come into contact with far more customers than teachers come into contact with pupils.

It would have been possible to limit this risk still further by saying that those teachers with medical problems and those over 44 could have worked from home.

If the SNP had implemented a plan like this, which they could have quite easily, then the education of Scottish pupils would not have been disrupted at all. Exam results would have been fair and the risk to the rest of the population catching Covid would have been minimal.

The key to saving lives is to protect those who have a reasonably high chance of dying. So long as school pupils had been told to avoid contact with anyone over 44, then their education could have continued without interruption. That it didn’t is the SNP’s fault. They control education in Scotland.

Given that pupils did not sit their exams it was always going to be a matter of guesswork and dubious forms of modelling that determined the result for each pupil.

Teachers were at fault for overestimating the ability of their pupils. This meant that exam results in Scotland would have been grossly inflated if they had not been manipulated downwards by modelling. Inflating exam results helps neither pupils nor anyone else it just makes their studies count for less in the real world. Exam results in schools and universities in Scotland have been inflated enough in recent years without adding a huge Covid related increase that will continue down the years. The SNP after all will not allow a massive fall in results next year or the year after.

It is clearly unjust to judge the individual based on the group. It is wrong to mark down someone because he lives in a certain town or goes to a certain school.  But it is equally unfair to allow an unrealistic “improvement” caused by overly optimistic teachers to give the same mark to someone who is only moderately able as to someone who is very able.

What is to be done? There is no fix that the SNP can make that will remedy this injustice. If they go back to the marks teachers gave, that will be unjust because it will give some pupils better marks than they deserve, if they adjust the marks down using group statistical modes that will be unjust to the individual.

One solution would be to allow every pupil to appeal, but to require them to sit a brief multiple-choice test to determine their real ability. If someone thinks they were unjustly given a B at Higher Maths rather than an A then they ought to be able to do exceptionally well in a mathematical aptitude test. There might be other ways to bring some form of objectivity into the testing process. If I had been running things, I would have required each pupil to sit an online exam in May or for those without computers places could have been found for them to sit exams in the usual way. Everyone after all sits far apart in an exam.

The SNP were always more concerned about having fewer Covid deaths in Scotland than England than the education of our pupils. The reason for this is that they are intent on using Covid to make progress in their journey to independence. For all SNP politicians independence transcends everything including healthcare and education. If you vote for nationalism don’t be surprised when you get nationalists who care more for nationalism than any devolved issue.

The present exam scandal is the result of the Scottish Government being uninterested in education until people start protesting. But let us be absolutely clear education in Scotland is the SNP’s responsibility and therefore the mess that they are in now is only the fault of the SNP.

 

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Britain must be firm but fair about migration


There has been quite a lot of attention recently to people crossing the Channel in dinghies, but the story needs to be put in perspective.

In 2019 612,000 people moved to the UK (immigration) while 385,000 left the UK (emigration). There were 34,000 asylum applications. So far this year about 4000 people have arrived by crossing the Channel. The number of people arriving by sailing in dinghies across the Channel is therefore the same as the number of people who arrive at airports over the course of one or two days. It amounts to the difference between 612,000 and 616,000.


While most people think Britain has a duty to help some people who are persecuted abroad, we clearly cannot help all of them. How many people in China are persecuted? It must be billions. How many people in the Middle East or Africa could make a case for being persecuted in some way or another? How many lead horrible lives in poverty? Likewise, it must be billions. We cannot take all of them.

The biggest problem with asylum however is that we have no way of verifying if someone genuinely is fleeing persecution or whether they would simply prefer to live in Britain. Asylum seekers frequently come from or claim to come from places where human rights law forbids us to deport them. The result is that once a migrant sets foot on a British beach or airport it is practically the case that they almost certainly will be allowed to remain.

But this situation applies not merely to asylum seekers it applies also to anyone who arrives legally with a visa and chooses to stay. It is almost impossible to find these people living illegally in Britain and even if we do find them it is almost impossible to deport them for living in Britain illegally.

If the population of Britain grows by means of immigration by more than 200,000 a year, the gap between immigration and emigration, it will mean that in ten years our population will grow by two million and in one hundred years by twenty million. It has already grown by nearly twenty million since 1945.

There is already a great deal of pressure on our small island. Public services, such as healthcare and education are already struggling, and it is difficult to find enough quality housing for those who are here already.

There are lots of safe, pleasant countries around the world that have almost no immigration and very few asylum seekers. Examples are South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Poland and Hungary. Britain has a duty to help poor people who fear persecution, but we have no more duty than any other country that could give them refuge. But the problem is not primarily to do with asylum. If the only immigration into the UK were 34,000 asylum seekers, we could manage that quite well.  The problem is the method by which asylum seekers arrive, which is dangerous to them and unfair on those people sitting in refugee camps around the world who perhaps have a still greater need of Britain’s help.

Britain should offer asylum to a few thousand asylum seekers each year, but those people should arrive here legally rather than illegally. People who arrive in Britain from a safe country like France must be immediately returned to France. Instead we should find the most deserving cases in unsafe countries and refugee camps who after interview could be flown directly to Britain.

But even if it were possible to arrange asylum in this way, it would still make only a trivial difference to the problem of over 600,000 people arriving in Britain each year. The problem here is to do with visas.

When my Russian husband moved with me to the UK, he needed a visa. It was hugely expensive, and I had to earn enough money to guarantee that he would have no need for public funds. Getting leave to remain and eventually a British passport required him to sit an English test and a “Life in the UK” test. The whole process was difficult and cost thousands of pounds. Russian tourists must demonstrate either that they have a very good job and property in Russia or that they must have a sponsor in the UK. Only the children of very rich Russians can afford to study in the UK.

But somehow the visa rules that apply to Russians do not apply to other countries round the world, if they did people from poorer countries than Russia could not possibly afford visas to visit Britain or to study here.

This then is the solution. British consulates around the world should normally only offer visas to those people with enough income and property that they won’t be tempted to extend their stay in Britain beyond the length of their visa. The requirement that you can prove that you have had extensive contact with your fiancé and that you know and love him or her should apply not merely to Russians, but to everyone.

UK immigration law is incredibly strict and expensive for those who go down the legal route, but it is incredibly lax and cheap for those who go down the illegal route. It is this that encourages illegal forms of entry.

We have a duty to other human beings, which also includes a duty not to encourage them to risk their lives in dinghies or in refrigerated lorries. Only by being firm and fair will we be able to limit immigration and keep our island a pleasant place for everyone who lives here.

 

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Knowing the terms of the divorce

 

The major problem with democracy is that we always vote on promises not on reality. No one can predict the future, nor can politicians. When we voted in the General Election in 2019, we had no idea that Covid was coming. It has made party manifestos and much of the debate meaningless.

This problem is particularly acute in Scotland, because we no longer have shared facts. In 2014 there was still a sense that a discussion between Yes and No was possible. We merely differed in our interpretation of the facts and what they meant for the future. In 2020 we have Scottish nationalists who seriously believe that Scotland subsidises the other parts of Britain, which must mean that we are running a surplus, while the rest of us point to the Scottish Government’s own figures that suggest we are running a 7% deficit. There is no possibility of debate between someone who thinks Scotland is a cash cow and that is why England refuses to let it go and someone else who sees Scottish independence as new variant mad Nicola disease. We live in different worlds.

How do you bring reality to the Scottish voter about independence and its consequences?

Some people suggest giving Scotland full fiscal autonomy in a semi federal system. All the money spent in Scotland would have to raised in Scotland. If there were a deficit it would have to be paid for by Scotland borrowing on the international markets and by Scottish taxpayers raising revenue.

This amounts to giving Scotland independence.

If there were full fiscal autonomy Scotland would have to manage. We might have to go through a decade of austerity, but we would go through it.

If you treat Scotland as being separate from the other parts of the UK, you end up with separatism. If you give ever more powers to the Scottish Parliament you are simply taking small steps towards independence. If Scotland becomes autonomous, we will manage and then we will be ready for independence. Full fiscal autonomy amounts to de facto independence. It would break the last tie binding Britain together.

The economic argument is always secondary with independence movements. The American colonists did not worry about mortgages or currency when they started their war of independence. The Lithuanians did not worry about giving up the rouble when they broke free from the Soviet Union. There is not a single independence movement in history that was stopped by an economic argument, except perhaps Scottish nationalism in 2014.

If Scotland became independent, we would manage, because we would have to. We wouldn’t go back if times were tough, for twenty, or even one hundred years. That isn’t how these things work historically. After all Ireland went through decades of poverty and partition, but the Reunification Party of Ireland still gets zero votes.

If people want independence enough, they will have it no matter what the economic consequences. Identity trumps economics. It always has. It always will.

Scottish nationalism and the SNP have appropriated the Scottish identity. It is this that enables them to distort facts, because viewing everything through the lens of identity is more powerful than the facts themselves. It gives a tartan tint to your glasses that turns a deficit into a cash cow merely because you are a patriotic Scot.  

Economic facts and figures make no difference to these glasses and anyway Scottish nationalism will invent its own figures which will be believed simply because they are more patriotic. Yours will be ignored.

But reality cannot be ignored.

I am opposed to a second independence referendum for the simple reason that if you keep offering referendums on independence you will continue to fuel Scottish nationalism to the point where you lose. The day after losing a second referendum the SNP would demand a third.

If David Cameron had simply said No when Alex Salmond asked for a referendum and carefully explained that like every other European country referendums on secession were forbidden, there would have been a lot of hurt feelings in Scotland, a lot of discussion in newspapers, but there would have been no massive rise in Scottish nationalism, nor indeed much rise in support for the SNP. That rise was caused by the referendum campaign and the possibility of independence.

The British Government can keep saying No. It would be better still to say never. But the reason we are all excited about next year’s election for the Scottish Parliament is that we fear that if there is an independence supporting majority then the British Government will give in and we will face a second independence referendum. For this reason, we need a contingency plan. It is this.

Scots need to know the reality of independence before voting for it finally. There are two ways to achieve that.

The first is to prenegotiate everything. The second is to require two referendums. One to begin negotiations for independence the second to confirm it.

Prenegotiation would involve a team from the British Government and the Scottish Government with the involvement of the international community including the EU discussing what would happen if Scotland decided to become independent. This could be turned into a legal document like the Edinburgh Agreement

The key issues that the Scottish voter would need to know would be:

1. What currency would Scotland use?

2. What share of Britain’s national debt it would have?

3. Would it be able to join the EU and under what conditions and timeframe?

4. What would happen to the border between England and Scotland?

5. Would membership of Schengen be compatible with the Common Travel Area?

6. What rights if any would Scottish citizens have in the former UK.

7. Would the former UK allow joint citizenship for its former citizens in Scotland.

8. Who would pay the state pension of Scottish workers and how would it be affected by independence.

9. What would be the trade arrangements between the former UK and Scotland, and would tariffs be applied at the border?  

10. What would happen to shared British institutions such as the armed forces and the BBC.

If we knew the answers to all these questions, we would be better able to make an informed decision about independence.

The problem with prenegotiation is that it would lack the reality of Scotland having actually voted for independence. Would it be possible for both sides to negotiate in good faith if there had not been such a vote?

We have seen with the Brexit negotiations that it was only when Britain voted to leave that serious discussion got under way. This points towards an alternative.

Just as Nicola Sturgeon argued for a confirmatory referendum on Brexit, so too the British Government could require a third referendum on independence after the terms of the divorce were known. The same ten questions and more could be asked an answered during the transition period in which Scotland would remain an integral part of the United Kingdom. Only when all issues had been resolved would there be a referendum on the terms of the divorce. Scotland could accept them meaning independence would happen or decline them meaning independence would have been rejected.

This would anyway be fair and just because having lost the first referendum an SNP victory in a second would leave the score at one all.  

There is fantasy in Scotland about Scottish independence, because the SNP can say what it pleases about the future and be believed, because too many Scots view everything through those tartan tinted glasses. What we need is a dose of reality.

How would an independent Scotland with a national debt amounting to 100% of GDP be able to borrow on the international markets with no track record of paying back debt? What would this mean for taxation, mortgages, public spending and living standards in Scotland? Well let us discover the answers to all questions in the transition period between voting provisionally for independence and finally agreeing to the divorce. Let us then vote with our eyes open rather than misted by tartanry.

I don’t want to ever have to go through a second referendum on independence. I fear what it would do to Scotland. All forms of nationalism eventually become violent.  I would urge the British Government to refuse and make such referendums illegal. But if they are not going to do that, then at least provide the conditions for Scots to know exactly what we are voting for. Prenegotiation or a confirmatory referendum would each give us the chance to try before we buy and to reflect seriously on what we would gain as well as what we would lose. The issues are only partly economic. We need to point out to Scottish voters the whole reality of what they would lose if we ceased to be British.

If the case for Scottish independence is good enough the SNP have nothing to fear. If we must have a referendum give them two. 

 

Thursday, 6 August 2020

An unfair question


There is a central ambiguity at the heart of Scottish politics which the SNP exploits. It can be illustrated by the question we were asked in 2014:

Should Scotland be an independent country?

The most important feature of this question is the use of the verb “be”. If the question were asking whether Scotland should in any way change, we would expect it instead to read:

Should Scotland become an independent country?

But the SNP in 2014 were desperate to portray independence as being pretty much life as normal. They even pretended that the United Kingdom would continue to exist because at least to begin with the Queen would be Queen of Scots. This was a deliberate attempt to create ambiguity. After all the fact that the Queen is the head of state of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Britain does not mean they are all part of the United Kingdom.

The question was inherently biased for another reason. Most Scots think of Scotland as already being an independent country. We take part, after all, in international football matches. We have our own legal system. We have different banknotes to the ones used in England.

The referendum question was therefore asking people whether we should be what we already are. Naturally many of them answered with Yes.

But it is possible for someone to want Scotland to be an “independent country”, i.e. a place that plays international football and is different from England, while still wanting the United Kingdom to remain a sovereign nation state with Scotland as an integral member. Scottish people may think of Scotland as being “independent”, while not wishing to partition Britain.

It is for this reason that a different answer may be obtained to the questions:

Should Scotland be an independent country

And

Should Scotland remain a member of the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom?

If these two questions obtained differing results, then it would be clear that the wording of the question was crucial to the result. It is for this reason vital that an unbiased question is put at the heart of Scottish politics and that we all realise exactly what is involved in Scotland becoming an independent sovereign nation state for the first time in centuries. 

It is vital too that neither side has the unfair advantage of the positive Yes answer. Campaigning for No is inherently negative. Complaining about a negative campaign that they had forced to campaign for No made hypocrites of Salmond and Sturgeon. How could it fail to be negative when it was asking for negation?

There is however a crucial difference between the 2016 European Union referendum question and the situation that would obtain if Scotland were to leave the United Kingdom.

The European Union did not cease to exist when the UK left. But the United Kingdom would cease to exist if Scotland left.

The United Kingdom is not really made up of four parts. The “United” part of the United Kingdom refers to the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland uniting in 1800. Prior to that we had the Kingdom of Great Britain or Britain for short. The loss of Scotland would mean there would no longer be a Kingdom of Great Britain nor indeed would there be a United Kingdom at all. It would obviously be disunited. There would be merely England, Wales and Northern Ireland with no obvious name and no more reason to remain united. Why should English people treat those from Wales and Northern Ireland as fellow countrymen if they had ceased to be the fellow countrymen of Scots?

If Great Britain were partitioned there would be no reason to describe any of the remaining parts as British. Great Britain after all includes Scotland.  So, the departure of Scotland would not merely destroy the United Kingdom it would also mean that all of the citizens of the present United Kingdom ceased to be British. They might be described as South British & Northern Irish or some other name might be necessary, but the loss of Scotland means the loss of Britain, British and the United Kingdom.

It is this that must be made clear to all those Scots who contemplate voting for the SNP in order to obtain something that they think they already have, i.e. a country that they think of as already independent.

It is a mistake to refer to what would remain after Scottish independence as the rest of the UK (rUK). It plays into the SNP narrative that Scotland’s leaving wouldn’t change much. When the various parts of Yugoslavia began leaving it eventually became impossible to maintain the fiction that there was any more a union of southern Slavs. Once the process of dissolution began it quickly ended up with the present seven independent countries where previously there had been one. There is no Yugoslavia now and no Yugoslavian identity. This may or may not be a good thing, but by analogy if the United Kingdom were decapitated by the loss of Scotland there would just be England, Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland and no British identity uniting and unifying us.

Many Scottish nationalists argue that this is already the case. They deny that the United Kingdom is a country and they maintain that they are not British. But if the United Kingdom is not a country and its citizens are not British it must follow that we are already independent and so is Wales, England and Northern Ireland. This once more demonstrates that the 2014 referendum was unfairly asking whether Scotland should be what it already is. It is the equivalent of having a referendum question about whether bachelors should be unmarried.

Strangely it is quite common for our identity in the UK to come from the team we support in international football matches rather than our British passport or citizenship. We think of ourselves as being independent from each other already because we commonly think we are from separate countries. It is for this reason that we have a problem with secessionists and nationalism, because these are grounded in our separate identities rather than our common sovereign nation state.

But there is an attachment to the British identity, not least because few Scots wish to be treated as foreigners in other parts of Britain. There are aspects of being British, a shared language, history and culture that most Scots embrace. This is why the SNP were so concerned in 2014 to emphasise continuity and that a “social union” would continue to exist and we would all remain best friends.

Examples of this common bond and shared solidarity are the Treasury Furlough scheme and the protection and the British Armed forces building hospitals and ferrying sick patients with helicopters.  We accept these things as our due rather than the gift of a foreign power. But Londoners would have no more obligation to help Scots if Scotland became independent than they have to help Lebanese blown up in Beirut. No doubt they would, but they would have no obligation to do so.

It is for this reason that any question about Scottish independence must include the idea that it would involve the destruction of  the United Kingdom, that it would involve the loss of the shared British identity that enables us to be treated as fellow countrymen anywhere in the United Kingdom rather than as a foreigner and that it would involve the destruction of these things not merely for Scots, but for every other British citizen.

It is for this reason that the SNP is the greatest threat to Britain since 1707 and should be treated accordingly. The foundation of modern Scottish politics is an ambiguous question that deliberately hides the truth not merely from Scots but from all British people.


Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Alliance for Unity


When I first discovered that George Galloway was coming back into Scottish politics my immediate reaction was delight. I’m a Conservative Brexiteer, but the reason I started writing about Scottish politics was to keep Britain united. I am willing to work with people who have different views from mine. I did this before in the years running up to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. At this point working together was called Better Together. Now it is called Alliance for Unity. I prefer this title.

Do I agree with George Galloway or the other people involved in Alliance for Unity about everything? No, of course not. The aim is to attract people from across the political spectrum. It doesn’t matter if you are from the Left, the Right or the Centre. It doesn’t matter if you supported Leave or Remain. It only matters that you support Britain and oppose the SNP.


Over the past few months, it is with something like despair that I have been looking at the opposition in Scotland. To illustrate let’s look at the Twitter followers of politicians in Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon has 1.2 Million followers on Twitter

Douglas Ross has 17.9 thousand

Richard Leonard has 21.2 thousand

Willie Rennie has 24.8 thousand

George Galloway has 356 thousand.

Politics is about popularity and getting a message across. I have more followers than the Scottish Labour leader and the next Scottish Conservative leader. I have a little less than Willie Rennie. I’m no one. I have no party. I’m never in the papers. All I have is a website that costs me £20 pounds a year. If the Scottish opposition cannot do better than me there is something wrong.

George Galloway is a household name. He can compete with Sturgeon. He is a better debater and has a more interesting intellect. Sure, there might be aspects of his politics we disagree with, but on the issue that matters, keeping Britain united he will do a better job against Sturgeon than the present opposition and better also than anyone else I can think of.

Scotland used to have lots of first-rate politicians on the Left. There were people with Government experience, Prime Ministers, but these red flowers of the forest are all a' wede [withered] away. They are doing other things. They have retired or they have joined the SNP. 

The leader of any Alliance for Unity in Scottish politics has to come from the Left. We are attempting to attract former Labour voters back to where they belong.

Nationalism is always a fundamentally right-wing ideology, because it is opposed to the solidarity of the British people that has existed for centuries. Internationalism is not achieved by separation, it is achieved by sovereign nation states working together for the good of all. The SNP is best summed up by its former slogan “It’s Scotland’s oil”. It is an ideology grounded in selfishness. It is therefore an ideologically right-wing party dressed up in left-wing clothing. It betrays these origins today in its authoritarianism and its desire to criminalise dissenting viewpoints.

The Alliance for Unity is not going to stand in the constituency seats at the next Scottish Parliament election in May 2020. People who support the Alliance for Unity will be free to vote for their own party at the constituency level. It might be a good idea however to vote for the Pro UK party that has the best chance of winning where you live. Our task is to maximise the number of Pro UK MSPs in Holyrood to prevent the SNP having an overall majority which they could use to demand a second independence referendum.

The Alliance for Unity is only going to stand in the regional list seats. The way the Holyrood voting system works means that the more the Scottish Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems win constituency seats the less chance they have of winning regional list seats. It therefore makes sense to have two different efforts. The first is to maximise the constituency vote for Labour, Conservatives and Libs Dems. The second is to maximise the Alliance for Unity vote in the regions.

The regional list seats are delivered according to the proportion of the vote each party gets in a region. For this reason, while the Alliance for Unity may cost the Scottish opposition parties seats in the regional list, it won’t lower the number of Pro UK MSPs, but could instead increase it significantly.

No one can predict how campaigns go. But we already knew that the Scottish opposition was going nowhere.

In my view the main benefit of Alliance for Unity is that it will put a rocket up the backsides of the opposition in Scotland.

Too many MSPs have nice cosy jobs in Holyrood, which require minimal work and minimal ability. What we are saying is you must improve. There is now competition.

The regional list system allows people to be become MSPs simply because they have served their time and done what they have been told. These people’s jobs are now under threat.

The departure of Jackson Carlaw, who was a major disappointment, may well have been due to the pressure that George Galloway and Alliance for Unity is putting on the political establishment. If so, that is a major result.

Scottish opposition parties can no longer take our votes for granted. I will still support the Conservative Party, but my support is not unconditional. I want a massive improvement in performance over the next year. The Scottish Conservatives must do much better or I will advise everyone to vote for Alliance for Unity with their second regional list vote.

I hope there will never be a second independence referendum. Our best chance of stopping it is to maximise the Pro UK vote next May. But if it became necessary to fight a second campaign to prevent the partition of Britain we would need to work together just as we did in 2014. We would then already have the basis for a united campaign with Alliance for Unity. It would not have to be started from scratch.

For these two reasons I would like to ask everyone to follow @Alliance4Unity

This is the beginning of a grass roots movement that is intended to shake up Scottish politics. Get involved. Add your voice to the debate. If you have concerns raise them. But let us accept that we cannot keep going as we have for the past few years.

The Scottish opposition at the moment is Cowdenbeath against Sturgeon’s Barcelona separatists. At least George Galloway and Alliance for Unity can compete.


Monday, 3 August 2020

Please support the Majority


I have long thought that the Pro UK argument has suffered from the lack of a website/newspaper where British Scots could put their point of view. There are Pro UK journalists, but there is no longer a Pro UK newspaper in Scotland. The demonstrations that Scottish nationalists made against the BBC in 2014 succeeded. There are no demonstrations anymore because the BBC bizarrely given that Scottish independence would destroy Britain and therefore British have lost all impartiality. They barely criticise the SNP’s record or put forward arguments against independence at all.  How can it be impartial when the number of hours devoted to the Sturgeon exceed those devoted to any other Scottish politician by hundreds if not thousands.

The UK media as a whole give Nicola Sturgeon a free ride. The grilling that Dominic Cummings received in May would never be directed at Sturgeon. The level of analysis and critique that is directed at the Conservative Government is never directed at the SNP and its record.


The London media like Sturgeon. She is vaguely left-wing like they are. She is a Remainer like they are. She can be relied upon to agree with The Guardian and the BBC on most issues. The London media would see Scottish independence as a just response to Brexit because they dislike Britain almost as much as the SNP do. They can’t bear the idea that Britain might do better than their beloved European Union. They see Britain as a country in decline and wish it to decline still further.

We need to counter this narrative and now we have the chance. There is a new site where Pro UK views and a positive narrative about Britain’s future is bringing together new Pro UK views. It is called The Majority.

 

https://themajority.scot

 

I was not involved in setting up this site. In fact, I knew nothing about it until I saw it on Twitter. I have little knowledge of the media, but Mark Devlin the founder of The Majority does.

The aim is to build a large following on Twitter and other social media sites. It would be massively helpful to the Pro UK cause if we had an online presence equal to or surpassing The National, the SNP newspaper.

If there were a Pro UK online newspaper with a large following, which people like you and me could read every day, we would be able to bypass the BBC and those negative Scottish journalists who hinder the Pro UK argument.

The Majority has its own editorial line. You don’t have to agree with all of it, but if you believe in Britain you ought to support it.

Here’s what you should do.

 

First follow @themajorityscot

 

Next retweet articles that are on The Majority that you agree with. Make comments on Twitter or other sites about these articles. Share them. Tell your friends and your family.

If we could get the number of Scots following @themajorityscot to massively increase The Majority would be able to play an important role in the debate in the coming year and would be able to influence the next Scottish Parliament election in May 2021 decisively.

I will of course continue writing, but we need as many voices as possible. I am very impressed by The Majority and endorse it without reservation.

Some Scottish nationalists may claim that we are not a majority. But this is simply disinformation. We won the only vote that mattered in a once in a lifetime vote that the SNP accepted would be a “decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect”. Decisive means that this vote decided the issue. Of course, the SNP did not respect the result. They immediately set about overturning it, but that doesn’t change what they promised, it just shows them to be what they are.

A few opinion polls do not make a majority. Even Sturgeon has admitted that the SNP would need more than 60% support for Scottish independence to have a good chance of winning a vote. This is not least the case because they would never again have the advantage of Yes, the EU referendum set the precedent that Yes/No referendums are unfair. Furthermore the status quo always has an inbuild advantage because people favour what they know rather than risk the unknown.

The fact that the SNP wins the majority of seats on a minority of the votes at Westminster is because the opposition in Scotland is divided. It does not mean that most Scots support the SNP. They don’t.

We are the silent majority that is not represented in the media. That has now changed. You can help massively by supporting The Majority in any way you can, but above all by following @themajorityscot read some articles and share them. You will help hugely if you do.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Give Douglas Ross a chance


There is a new Conservative strategy about Scotland. It is for this reason that we will soon have Douglas Ross as Scottish Conservative leader. It is also the reason why Conservatives will attempt to turn the conversation in Scotland away from independence towards the SNP’s domestic record.

Ross first came to my attention in 2017 when he was able to overturn Angus Robertson’s 9000 majority in Moray. I don’t follow football, but somehow, I was vaguely aware that Ross refereed Scottish football matches. If he can handle Old Firm games, then surely, he can take on Nicola Sturgeon. I also was impressed by how Ross debated with Alyn Smith in the Commons over claims that there was a Westminster power grab.


I disagreed with the way Ross resigned last May, but this was the last spasm of the Remain corpse so let us move on.

If Ross wins the leadership of the Scottish Conservatives, he will have my support. I urge you to support him too. At the very least let’s give him a chance to show what he can do. Let’s have an open mind about the possibility of Conservative success in Scotland. Let’s cease being so gloomy and pessimistic.

It is right from time to time to discuss Scottish independence. It is the most important issue in Scottish politics. At times it appears to be the only issue. It is the defining issue that determines how someone votes.

For this reason, I regularly put forward the reasons why I oppose Scottish independence. I put forward the disadvantages and the logical inconsistencies of the SNP argument.

My argument is essentially this. Scotland of course could become independent and could in time if a Scottish Government made sensible choices become prosperous but setting up a new state would not be easy and would involve a decade or more of tax rises and spending cuts. This is usually called “Tory austerity”. The result would be that Scotland would become a region of the European Union with less power and rather less independence than we have at present. Scottish nationalists would be able to wave flags and feel pride in re-establishing Scotland as an “independent” nation state, but it is unlikely in the short term that we would come close to the prosperity of Norway or Denmark.

But we would have destroyed the United Kingdom, partitioned Britain and put some sort of regulatory border between England and Scotland. Worse than these things we might light the fires of English nationalism smouldering since the time of Queen Anne sowing discord not merely in England but in Wales and Northern Ireland too. For this we would rightly never be forgiven.

 But it is better strategically to treat Scottish independence as a dead issue. Every time there is a slight increase in various, possibly dubious, opinion polls we all start debating the issue as if it is 2014 again. Why don’t we instead say that was decided decisively six years ago and move on to talk of other things.

The SNP have power without responsibility. They have a lot of power. We have come to realise in the past few months just how much power they have. They can decide where you can go on holiday. They can tell you to stay at home for as long as they want to. They can decide whether you can go to a restaurant or a pub and they can decide when your child goes to school. All of these things they can decide even though the British Government has a different policy.

On most areas of ordinary Scottish life, it is the Scottish Government that is responsible. What’s more a Scottish MP has the power to influence life in the UK as a whole and England in particular. We saw this last year when the Government lacked a working majority. The idea that SNP MPs have no power is preposterous. They very nearly were able to stop Britain leaving the EU or else leaving in name only. It was a strategic failure of SNP MPs that they did not achieve this result. It was down to their mistakes, no one else’s




But despite SNP MPs and MSPs having a great deal of power they are never held to account for their mistakes. Whatever good things happen in Scotland are due to the SNP. Whatever bad things happen are blamed on Westminster. The Conservative Government has received almost zero credit for the Furlough Scheme and the increases in spending that has helped keep Scots in work and our businesses from going bust. Scottish nationalists just take the money that we get because we are British citizens and fellow countrymen and sneer about selfish Tories while planning to walk away without paying our debts. But if we had been independent, we would have received no such grants without strings from the EU nor from any other country. Instead we would have had full on SNP austerity for decades.

It is a critical failure of Scottish politics and journalism that those areas that the SNP are responsible for are not clearly distinguished from those which they are not. If a hospital is not built, it is the SNP’s fault. If more old people die in care homes in Scotland than in Denmark it is the SNP’s fault. If more Scots die of Covid in Scotland in percentage terms than in France, then it is the SNP’s fault.

It is no good comparing ourselves to England all the time. This is merely a symptom of our ingrained Anglophobia. On devolved issues Scotland already is as independent as any EU member state. We already have the powers to raise taxes. If we choose not to do so, then it is the SNP’s fault.

On every single devolved issue Scotland must be measured not against what England does but against what each European country does. It’s no use saying if we were independent, we would have all the money we needed to do this or that. Scotland already has higher public spending per capita than most of Europe. If Scottish outcomes on health and education are worse than a European country with similar levels of public spending, it is the SNP’s fault. There is no one else to blame. It is a sign of deep-seated prejudice and insecurity that we blame Westminster for something that is our fault.

If Douglas Ross becomes Scottish Conservative leader, I hope that he will relentlessly criticise SNP performance on devolved issues while explaining how Conservatives would run Scotland so that all Scots got better services. A Scottish Conservative Government by working with Westminster rather than continually and automatically opposing everything that Boris Johnson decides because he is English, posh and a Tory, would achieve a far better outcome for Scotland. Give Douglas Ross a chance to do this.


Saturday, 1 August 2020

Can you speak English?


One of my Polish friends became unemployed recently and started the process of signing on. She speaks good English. I would judge it to be intermediate to upper intermediate. The sort of level that a foreign student might have when beginning university. But she asked me for help with dealing with the benefits office.

I wondered what the problem could be, but soon discovered it. We put the call on the speaker phone so that we could both hear it. The first call had her speaking to someone from Yorkshire. I could understand it no bother at all, but Dorota could hardly understand a word. We went through a sort of pantomime where I gave a series of nods or shakes of the head to help her answer the questions.


It wasn’t that the person from Yorkshire had a particularly strong accent. It was simply that every sound she made was different from the standard form of English that is taught to foreigners. British people know all the accents of Britain and the varieties that are spoken around the world, but foreigners don’t.

On our next call we got a man from Liverpool. Again, Dorota understood almost nothing and the fact that she couldn’t understand made her panic, get flummoxed and speak worse than she usually does. Her confidence was shaken. The final call involved speaking to someone from Aberdeen. Dorota understood hardly a word even though she has been living in the area for a few years.

I was astonished that members of staff at various benefit offices could not in any way modify their accents to make it easier for a foreigner to understand, when it was clear that she could not. But then I began to realise that most British people cannot do this.

I speak a few foreign languages and realise that there is a difference between the standard form of the language and the various dialects and accents that are typically spoken in a country. I have never met a Russian who is unable to speak standard Russian with a neutral accent. The same goes for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. People may speak a regional variant of German, but they can universally speak standard German too.

I have been learning Polish since lockdown started as I wanted to achieve something during the pandemic and thought a new language would give me a new challenge. Polish is notoriously difficult. The spelling and some of the sounds are tricky, but a Russian speaker quickly discovers similarities. I have been making reasonable progress and can now take part in simple conversations.

But I can only understand standard Polish. If someone speaks with a regional accent or uses one of Poland’s dialects I am lost. But no one would speak to me like that. As soon as they heard that I was a foreigner speaking Polish they would do their best to make themselves understood. They would speak standard Polish.

Something has gone wrong with British education. I grew up speaking Doric, the local form of Scots spoken in Aberdeenshire. But even as a child I knew that this language would be incomprehensible to most other Scots, let alone to people from England. I therefore was taught to speak both Doric and standard English.

There was a time when all educated people in Britain learned to speak both standard English and whatever local variety of English that was spoken where they live, but this is something we have gradually lost.

Dorota spent learnt English in school and has lived and worked here for a few years. She has absolutely no trouble understanding me, and we can have a conversation on a good level. It follows then that she speaks English. Those people who she completely cannot understand, must therefore not be speaking English.

It is extraordinary to reflect then that vast numbers of British people do not speak English. They are simply unable to communicate in such a way that foreigner who has studied English to a fairly high level can understand.

One of the major advantages we have in being born in Britain is that we speak a language that the rest of the world learns and understands. How peculiar then that we insist on speaking it in such a way that they cannot understand it.

When Nicola Sturgeon gives her television briefings large numbers of foreigners will struggle to understand her. The sounds she makes are simply not those that are taught in standard English classes and at times are quite dissimilar. But Sturgeon speaks better English than most people in Britain. 

It is of course arbitrary to pick standard English as the correct form of English, but it is equally arbitrary to pick standard German, Italian, Russian or Polish. The fact that the Tuscan dialect was arbitrarily picked as standard Italian does lessen the usefulness of all Italians learning and being able to speak a language that each of them can understand and which foreign learners of Italian can understand also.

In Britain we gave up the idea that we should all be able to speak standard English because we mistook the idea that picking one standard dialect was arbitrary for the idea that all dialects of English ought to be treated as equal and that there should therefore be no standard at all. It is one further reason why we lack the unity of Poland. We lack a common language.

But when we read a newspaper, we do not see the words spelled as if they were spoken with a Scottish, Yorkshire or Welsh accent. We have standard written English with rules about spelling and grammar. But why should we have a standard written language, while we lack a standard spoken language. The spelling and the grammar after all follow the spoken language, not the other way around.

Just as it would be considered uneducated to write a job application in dialect, so too it should be a requirement for anyone working in a job that requires an education that the person can speak English well enough so that a foreigner with a good level of English can understand easily.

In Ireland primary school teachers must have an Irish language qualification, though it is unlikely they will ever speak Irish to anyone. In Britain on the other hand a vast proportion of the population cannot speak English even though they meet English speakers every day of their lives.


Thursday, 30 July 2020

The last cult of personality in Europe


Few people in Scotland probably know very much about Belarus, a small landlocked country of 9 million to the east of Poland. But then again, few people in Belarus know much more about Scotland than that men wear skirts, play bagpipes and imitate Scrooge McDuck. People in Belarus are frequently blissfully unaware of the parts of the United Kingdom. They describe the whole thing as Англія [Angliia, i.e. England]. But then we were frequently unaware before the breakup of the Soviet Union that it had parts, which like Belarus became newly independent nation states in 1991. We called the whole thing Russia.

Independence hasn’t been able to kill all known germs in Belarus. While it is ruled from Minsk rather than Moscow, it has also had the same leader in Alexander Lukashenko since 1994. Belarus is often described as the last Soviet style dictatorship in Europe. It is the only place in Europe with the death penalty. You get a pistol shot to the back of your head.

Belarus is not especially prosperous even compared to its neighbours. It has neither democracy, nor free markets, nor the rule of law. Independence from the Soviet Union has made it neither better nor worse. People who think that independence automatically improves the lives of people living in a certain territory have clearly neither studied history nor geography.

But there is one thing that Belarus has that Scotland lacks. It has an opposition.

There have from time to time been demonstrations against Lukashenko for many years. But the people demonstrating have been risking at best a bash on the head from the local police and at worst a stay at Mr Lukashenko’s pleasure in one of Belarus’s rather scary prisons.

Most people have been content enough to get on with their lives in the typically stoical way that people have had to adopt in Eastern Europe. They might grumble but they rarely do more, not least because political change appears to be impossible.

But this time things may have changed. Lukashenko was one of those world leaders who treated Covid as being not much worse than flu. The main treatment he suggested was vodka and a visit to a banya [sauna]. While we in Britain went into lockdown, life carried on pretty much as usual in Belarus. Football matches continued to be played, people went to work and socialised normally.


But vodka turned out to be an inadequate form of medicine for treating the worst pandemic in a century and steam did little to cure it.

Suddenly ordinary people in Belarus realised that having a former collective farm director as a president and being unable to get rid of him ever, might be bad for their health. It is this that has brought them onto the streets in Belarus in 2020. It also means that this time just might be different.

There is a presidential election on August 9th. Lukashenko main electoral tactic is to arrest opposition candidates or so intimidate them that they flee abroad. But Belarussians suffered more than anyone else in World War Two, fighting a desperate partisan battle behind the lines, losing a quarter of their population. So, they have experience in fighting against tyranny and the bravery necessary to do so effectively.

The wife of one of the candidates put in prison Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has taken over his candidacy and is putting up a fight. It is too early to say whether there is a chance that Lukashenko might be overthrown, but this is the way such revolutions begin.

What would happen if Lukashenko were to cease to rule Belarus? His replacement might be just another clone, but if Belarus genuinely attempted to embrace democracy there could be difficulties ahead not merely for Belarus, but also for its neighbours.

Vladimir Putin views Belarus like Ukraine as within his sphere of influence. Any attempt to take Belarus down the democracy/EU/NATO/ membership route would see Putin exerting influence if not force.

The population of Belarus is less divided than Ukraine. Everyone in Belarus speaks Russian many exclusively so, but this also gives Putin his claim. Belarus is not merely linked to Russia historically, in most respects it is indistinguishable.

Belarus would clearly be more prosperous if it became a free market democracy like Poland and the Baltic states, but Belarus is strategically vital for Russia.

The Suwalki gap separating the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad with Belarus is sixty miles. By closing this gap Russian tanks could in a couple of hours cut off Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from the rest of the Europe.

It is for this reason that events in Minsk are of importance even if you would struggle to find it on a map.

Belarus also reminds people particularly in Scotland that opposition is crucial in a democracy and that if we go down the uncritical route too far, we may end up with something unpleasantly tyrannical to go along with independence.

Sturgeon has not suggested that whisky is a cure for Covid and has certainly performed better than Lukashenko, but she being a human being has made mistakes as have all politicians in Britain. It is crucial that we maintain a free press that is willing to criticise the SNP and its leader. We need opposition politicians to scrutinise her record and to hold her to account for those devolved policies like health and education that are her responsibility.

Above all we need the Scottish public to realise that if you are too devoted to your leader and if you view everything through the lens of nationalism you won’t necessarily end up with a free and prosperous democracy when you get your cherished independence. It might be democracy in name only with only one leader capable of winning until she dies. If you think that couldn’t possibly happen here in Scotland, then you are suffering from the same sort of complacency that viewed vodka and saunas as a treatment for Covid.


Tuesday, 28 July 2020

As slippery as a Sturgeon


Nicola Sturgeon at some point expressed a wish that the SNP had a different name and that it did not contain the word “National”. Like all nationalists she dislikes the fact that nationalism has negative connotations. But it is not the word “national” that makes her a nationalist it is her desire for Scottish independence. The political goal of creating a new nation state either through secession or unification is the meaning of nationalism.

But nationalism is expressed not merely through Sturgeon’s political goals, it is also expressed in the way in which Scottish people perceive everything bad that happens to Scotland as due to Westminster while everything that is good is due to Sturgeon.

The national struggle for independence subsumes all critical thinking and morality itself is distorted so that good becomes that which will help us achieve our goal of independence while bad is what hinders us.

 It is in this context that we must view not merely Sturgeon’s performance during the Covid crisis, but also the future parliamentary inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints about Alex Salmond.  

 To suppose that Nicola Sturgeon will be seriously criticised or even seriously investigated is to suppose that we don’t live in in a Scotland gripped by nationalism.

 Nine MSPs will make up the panel. Four will be SNP, two Conservatives and one each from Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. The chair will be the Deputy Presiding Officer Linda Fabiani from the SNP.

 So not only will the SNP have twice as many MSPs as any other party it will also have an independence supporting majority and the chair too.

 What two things could most damage the case for Scottish independence. The first thing would be if the leader of the Yes campaign in 2014 had been convicted of serious sexual offences. The second would be that the person Scottish nationalists hope will lead the next campaign for Scottish independence were discovered to have known about those allegations in 2013 or 2014 and decided to ignore them.

 If it could be shown that Sturgeon had been told during the Yes Campaign that there were serious allegations against Salmond, but that the she decided to keep these allegations secret in case it damaged the Yes Campaign, then Sturgeon would suffer serious reputational damage. She would be shown to be someone who cared more about achieving independence than promptly investigating assaults on women alleged to have taken place in buildings which she frequently visited.

Salmond was not convicted. We must assume either that no assaults took place, or that there was not enough evidence that they took place.  But we do know that there were allegations and that women complained about Mr Salmond’s behaviour during the Yes campaign.

 Sturgeon claims that she knew nothing about these allegations until April 2nd, 2018. If the inquiry finds that this is true, then Sturgeon’s reputation will not be damaged.

 Alex Salmond claimed during his trial that there had been a politically motivated conspiracy against him. Sturgeon denies it.

 Now this is where the case gets interesting. Alex Salmond must know that the best chance of Scotland gaining independence is for Nicola Sturgeon to lead the campaign and remain First Minister. There is no one else who could do the job. No one else in the SNP has anything close to Sturgeon’s fame, popularity and ability. The whole campaign for independence depends on her.

 Salmond may or may not know things that would be damaging to Sturgeon’s reputation. We don’t know. He could say that he discussed the allegations of sexual assault with her in 2014 but was able to convince her that they were without substance. He might be able to produce emails or phone records, or he might say under oath what he remembered saying to her. We don’t know what happened, nor do we know who knew what.

 But will Alex Salmond destroy the best chance of achieving Scottish independence just because he has fallen out with Sturgeon?

 This is our problem with nationalism. It justifies anything. When achieving Scottish independence is more important even than morality then it is reasonable to expect the probe into Sturgeon’s conduct to be as gentle as the questions, she gets at her press conferences.

 If Sturgeon had chosen to be a Labour politician, she might be Prime Minister now. But if a previous Labour Prime Minister who she served under had been on trial for sexual offences the media, the judiciary and the police in London would have turned it into the biggest story in decades. There would not have been an inquiry packed with Labour MPs and lead by a Labour chairman. It would have been properly independent, and it would have probed until the truth was discovered.

But this being Scotland none of these things will occur. All scandals will slip off Sturgeon as if she had scales instead of skin. Nothing will get in the way of the sacred cause of separation. If you want to understand what nationalism is, it is precisely this.