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.


Saturday 25 July 2020

The lady doth protest too much

There is minimal interest in Scotland in what goes on in the Scottish Parliament. How many MSPs can you name? In a Pointless style quiz my guess is that 99% or more Scots could name Nicola Sturgeon, one or two political anoraks could name the other party leaders and the rest would be pointless.

The same lack of knowledge applies to the Scottish Parliament’s electoral system. We all understand how General Elections work, because we all pay attention during these elections. We all understand how Westminster works. We know obscure words like “prorogue” and have opinions on bits of Erskine May and the role of the Speaker, but Holyrood is a near away country of which we know nothing.

Some people are getting just a touch over excited about next year’s Holyrood election. A few polls have shown support for Scottish independence bubbling a little higher, everyone including me begins to go into full campaign mode. But these are the most extraordinary times that any of us will live through. More importantly the full effect of Covid on the Scottish economy has not been felt yet. It’s a Phony War. The blitzkrieg on jobs and the Scottish economy comes later. Furlough makes us feel secure behind our Maginot Line like a holiday that has gone on since March. Under these circumstances polling is meaningless.

Of course, there is only one issue in Scottish politics. The SNP are a single-issue party and that is the only issue the rest of us care about too. I’m a Conservative, but if you offered me Labour Government in Britain for 100 years or Scottish independence, I would choose the former in a second.

But the conversation next year during the Scottish Parliament elections must not be exclusively about independence. In some way or another the SNP will put in their manifesto a demand for a second independence referendum. If that’s all everyone talks about during the campaign it will be easier later for them to claim that they have a mandate.

It is crucial however to point out that Scottish independence is not a devolved issue. It is a reserved issue. The SNP can no more have a mandate on a reserved issue like the constitution (i.e. independence) than they can have a mandate for annexing Berwick because it was stolen by the English.

What we should be talking about is devolved issues, such as education and healthcare. More unnecessary deaths have occurred in Scotland due to SNP mishandling of care home and long term more will occur because of the SNP’s unnecessary decision to go it alone on leaving lockdown. The SNP are only concerned about Scottish Covid deaths, but higher unnecessary cancer and heart disease deaths will in time far overtake these. The SNP will be to blame.

The more the focus is on holding the SNP to account on devolved issues the less it will be possible for them to claim the Holyrood election is proxy independence vote.

There are various moves being made by Scottish nationalists to maximise support for independence at the Scottish Parliament. 

There are 73 seats in Holyrood elected by First Past the Post (FPTP) and 56 seats elected by a system of proportional representation. Scotland is divided into 73 constituencies and 8 regions. We each have two votes one for the constituency and one for the regional list based on each party’s share of the vote. But crucially the number of seats won by a party in the FPTP constituencies is taken into account when allocating the regional list seats.

If the SNP had 45% of the vote and won nearly all of the FPTP constituencies it would not win 45% of the regional list seats. It might in fact win no regional list seats. The reason for this is that the Additional Member system is designed to give Scotland the benefit of having FPTP constituencies and proportional representation. If a party has already won 45% or more of the constituency seats on a 45% share of the vote it cannot expect to gain much from the regional list. Instead if, for example, the Conservatives won 25% of the vote, but no FPTP constituencies, the Conservatives would gain list seats so that their representation in Parliament reasonably closely matched their share of the vote.

This electoral system was designed so that no one party would win an overall majority but would have to work with other parties in coalition. It was for this reason that the Scottish Parliament doesn’t have a second chamber to act as a check and balance on the first. Coalition Government makes this unnecessary.

The problem for the Scottish nationalists is that they need an overall majority of independence supporting MSPs in order to press their claim for a second referendum, but the electoral system makes the second regional vote almost completely wasted if the SNP win most of the 73 constituency seats.

It is for this reason that certain independence supporters are planning to game the system.

They plan to create a second independence party. Let’s call it SNP2. This party would only stand in the regions not in the constituencies.

Let’s say that SNP1 won 45% of the constituency vote. This would give them most of the 73 constituencies.   SNP1 would win few if any regional list seats. But if SNP2 won 45% of the Regional Vote it could expect to win around 45% of the list seats because it would have won none of the constituencies.

The result would be that SNP1 would win the constituency vote and SNP2 would win the regional vote. This would give independence supporting MPs perhaps 75% of the seats on a 45% vote.

Independence supporters can call their regional party anything they please, but it would in truth be SNP2. It would not differ in any significant respect from SNP1. It would formally or informally vote according to the instructions of Nicola Sturgeon. It could turn Scotland into a one-party state on a minority share of the vote. Someone else, of course, did this in the year before the SNP were founded.  

There has been some discussion as to whether the SNP are behind this scheme. Sturgeon publicly opposes it. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

There is some doubt as to whether it would work. It might confuse voters, or voters may resent being gamed.

But let’s be clear. This is an undemocratic attempt to abuse the Scottish electoral system by creating a new party that is not really any different from an old party.

What Scottish independence supporters don’t realise is that this sort of electoral abuse would make it less likely that the British Government would give them a second independence referendum. It would be easy for the Conservative Government to dismiss any demands from a Scottish Government elected in an obviously unfair manner.

This would leave independence supporters with the same dilemma they face now. Do we go down the illegal route, which if the British Government stands firm leads to diplomatic isolation and jail or do, we go down the legal route? But the legal route depends on legitimacy and this legitimacy would have been squandered by an attempt to fix the result of an election.

So, bring it on dear Scottish nationalists. Even if you win all the seats in the Scottish Parliament with SNP1, SNP2, SNP3 etc. it will not merely fail to bring you one step nearer to your goal, it will make it recede still further into the distance  

Thursday 23 July 2020

I thought Scots were supposed to be canny.

The difference between the United Kingdom and the European Union has been shown perfectly by the EU’s €750bn (£680bn) Recovery Fund. Whereas Rishi Sunak’s Treasury Furlough Scheme and various other forms of bailout were agreed almost immediately and have been added to when necessary, the EU has struggled to do something similar.

The reason for this is that Britain is a sovereign nation state, while the EU is not, at least yet, a state at all. It is perhaps a confederation of sovereign nation states moving gradually towards a federation, but it is not there yet. For this reason, the EU’s Recovery fund has required difficult negotiations between politicians from all of its member states.

 The EU may now have an embryonic Treasury, but it has not reached fiscal union, nor debt mutualisation. Those EU member states led by the Netherlands who are net contributors to the Recovery Fund are worried about fiscal transfers from the wealthier north to the poorer south.

There are all sorts of strings attached the money anyway. If Italy for instance wishes to get money from the Recover Fund, it must submit to whatever the European Commission asks it to do. This amounts to a restoration of the Troika which at times has had supremacy over elected politicians in places like Ireland, Greece and Spain. You only get the money if you agree to implement whatever reforms, spending cuts and tax rises the EU demands.

Any EU member state can pull an emergency brake if it dislikes how the Recovery Fund is working so as to force a review.

The EU may have a form of citizenship, but it not like British citizenship. It is extremely difficult to lose British citizenship. Even people fighting for Islamic State can argue that they should be allowed to keep their British passport. But British EU citizens lost their citizenship when the majority voted to Leave the EU whether we wanted to lose it or not. This is the equivalent of stripping British citizenship from all Scots if Scotland voted for independence.

More importantly although people living in EU member states share a common EU citizenship, they do not view each other as fellow countrymen. It is for this reason that the Dutch do not want to share Dutch money with Italians. The Netherlands and Italy are two independent sovereign states. For this reason, Dutch people do not think they owe Italians anything.

There have been no negotiations in Britain about the Treasury bailout. There has been no long meeting between the various parts of Britain as to who would contribute what to the bailout and how it would be distributed. The reason for this is that Britain is a unitary sovereign nation state and we have a monetary, political and fiscal union with debt mutualisation. We don’t need to have any negotiations because we elected a British Government last December and this gives it the authority to borrow money and spend it wherever there is need in Britain.

Scottish nationalists claim that if Scotland were independent then we could have done the same as Rishi Sunak did or perhaps even more. Whether this is true would depend on Scotland’s financial situation if there were ever to be a repeat of Covid or a similar disease.

But it is worth remembering that many famous European nation states have found it necessary to ask for help from the EU. While Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and others could have managed on their own, places with long and proud histories such as Italy and Spain need help.

Would Scotland have been a net contributor to the EU’s Recovery Fund if we had voted for independence in 2014? Well given that we are not at present a net contributor to the British Treasury it would appear unlikely.

Nine hundred thousand Scots have benefited in one way or another from the Treasury Furlough Scheme. We have also benefitted from other forms of Government funding and the experts from all over Britain. If a vaccine is discovered in Oxford, we will get it as quickly as any other British citizen.

Has anyone asked a furloughed worker to pay back the money that has been given to him? No, the money from the Furlough Scheme will not be paid back by individuals, but rather over the course of future generations the debt will gradually be repaid by British taxpayers.

Has anyone told the Scottish Government that it has to cut spending, raise taxes or do anything else to receive money from the British Treasury? Quite the reverse. The Scottish Government has been allowed to do what it pleases within the scope of its devolved powers. There have been no conditions set for the receipt of Treasury money.

This is not an argument against the EU, which is doing its best under difficult circumstances to deal with Covid. Time will tell if the Recovery Fund needs to be adjusted or increased. But it is obvious that Scottish people are getting a better deal from the UK than Italian people are getting from the EU.

Scottish people have received money from the Treasury freely and without conditions. Richer parts of Britain such as London and Aberdeen have not complained about sharing our money with poorer parts such as Glasgow, Middlesbrough or Llanelli. There has been no discrimination against anyone in Britain because we are all British citizens together.

What is peculiar is that under these circumstances a large number of Scots many of whom would have no money whatsoever if they lived in Italy or Spain would prefer to exchange their British citizenship which gives us lots of benefits for EU citizenship which would see Dutch and German citizens treating them as foreigners. No EU member state would owe Scotland anything at all.

If Scotland were independent right now, we would be relying exclusively on the Scottish taxpayer and whatever we could borrow on the money markets to pay our wages. If that wasn’t enough, we would have to submit an application to the EU which might help out so long as it took control of the Scottish economy. It’s a funny sort of freedom.

It is simply bizarre that so many of the nine hundred thousand furloughed Scots would prefer to ditch British taxpayer’s money given by people who treat us as family in favour of far less generosity from EU citizens who would treat us as foreigners.  We’d do all this just because we like to wave blue and white flags,  hate Tories and can’t forgive them for the Poll Tax? The SNP would trick us out of our birthright for a mess of nationalism. 

I thought Scots were supposed to be canny.

Monday 20 July 2020

How to stop Scottish nationalism

The British Government has already ruled out a second Scottish independence referendum during the course of the next Parliament. It was in the Conservative Party manifesto and the Conservative Party won a large majority. That should be the end of the matter. Constitutional matters are reserved. The Scottish Parliament should be getting on with devolved issues and using the increased powers it will be gaining as a result of Brexit. Instead we have headlines about the Union facing its greatest crisis. Why?

The reason is that apparently Pro UK journalists and politicians talk up next year’s election to the Scottish Parliament. They argue that if the SNP or the SNP combined with whatever other Pro Independence group emerges with a majority on a manifesto commitment asking for a second independence referendum then the British Government will be under great pressure to agree.

Would there be any pressure on the German Government to agree if the Saxony National Party (SNP) demanded a referendum on the independence it lost in the 19th century. No. There would be none. The reason is that Germany forbids referendums and does not allow secession. Would there be any pressure on the United States Government if the South Carolina National Party demanded a referendum on independence. Likewise, the United States Government would say no. Such referendums are forbidden in the United States and the United States fought a war in the 19th century to prevent secession and burned Columbia, the South Carolina capital to the ground.

Why do Pro UK journalists think that Scotland must be granted a referendum each time the SNP asks for it? The reason is that they share the SNP’s assumption about Scotland. They agree with the SNP that Scotland is a country that Britain is made up of four nations and that each one has the right to pack up and leave if it pleases. But this is to concede the argument.

The nationalist argument that countries ought to be independent is unassailable. The only counter argument that we are “better together” depends on threats and bribery. If you once concede that Scotland is a country, then there is no answer to the question why should Scotland out of all the countries in the world not be independent. Why indeed? Does Scotland lack a quality that Montenegro has? Obviously not, but then again neither does Bavaria, Burgundy and Berwickshire. Almost everywhere could potentially be an independent country in a world where there are successful micro states like Singapore.

We can point out the disadvantages of Scottish independence. We can point out why it is a bad idea right now. We can truthfully say that the process of becoming independent would be difficult. It would. But if a Scottish nationalist says that decades of austerity would be worth it so long as Scotland became independent there is no answer. If South Sudan can become independent Scotland surely can.

It is for this reason that granting the first independence referendum was a mistake. There was no great desire for Scottish independence when I was a child. There wasn’t much when by mere chance the SNP gained a majority in the Scottish Parliament. The mere possibility of independence created modern nationalism in Scotland and turned it from being a fringe movement to being a mass movement that could win elections.

Nationalism is by the far the strongest and the best political card you can play. Historically it has been used to justify almost anything. After all people are willing to go to war for the independence of their country.

By conceding an independence referendum David Cameron conceded that Scotland was a country which had the right to independence. He might as well have given in right then.

The first referendum enflamed national feeling in Scotland to an extent that was unimaginable beforehand. A second referendum would enflame it still more.

We have a Scottish education system with its “Curriculum for independence” that is designed to churn out Scottish nationalists rather than educated Scots. We have a Scottish media and opposition that dare not criticise Nicola Sturgeon or the SNP.  We have a core of Scottish nationalists who do not care if Scotland was made worse off for decades by Scottish independence so long it was independent. They have used the fact that nationalism clouds minds and clear thinking to convince SNP voters that merely putting a cross in a box takes them to the promised land of equality and plenty. It is no longer politics. It is religion.

There is only one way to stop this.

Some English journalists suggest at the end of a piece on the SNP that just one more concession would do the trick. They sometimes call it one thing; they sometimes call it another. Why not try federalism?

There is nothing wrong with federalism. It works in Germany and the USA, but it doesn’t work against nationalism.

If nationalism plus devolution is toxic, then federalism plus nationalism would be equally toxic.

The only reason federalism works in the USA and Germany is that the parts do not think of themselves as countries. They do not think this because since the 19th century they have been told repeatedly by journalists, politicians and academics that they are not countries.

They did not always think this way. Each of the thirteen colonies had independence prior to forming the United States as did Vermont and Texas. The parts of Germany were likewise independent sovereign nation states long after Scotland had ceased to be one.

But whereas Germans and Americans think of their country as one nation indivisible we in Britain insist on thinking of the UK as something like the EU. But this is a category mistake. The Union was the marriage of England and Scotland. What resulted Great Britain is the child. The child is the result of the Union it is not itself a union. There are therefore logically no unionists, because there is no Union.

The UK is a unitary nation state. It for this reason we have devolution rather than federalism, but no one thinks of us as unitary.

Journalists and politicians insist on treating Scotland as separate. It is for this reason that there is the fiction that Scotland voted to stay in the EU. It didn’t. No one in the United States thinks its illegitimate that a state votes for Trump but gets Biden. No one thinks it is undemocratic if Saxony votes for the Social Democrats but ends up with Merkel.

Once you go down that route, you have already lost.

The task of the British Government is to explain carefully so that all journalists and politicians believe them that there will never be a second independence referendum and Scotland will never become independent. That we will use all our power and influence to prevent this happening.  

Far from being undemocratic this is the only way democracy can work. If Scotland can secede because it doesn’t like the result of a UK vote, then logically Aberdeenshire can secede if it doesn’t like the result of a vote in Scotland. It’s no use saying that Aberdeenshire is not a country, neither was South Sudan until it became one and neither for that matter was the USA. Everywhere can potentially be independent, but if any part of a democracy can secede when it loses to the majority then democracy becomes impossible. This was the point Lincoln made in November 1863 at Gettysburg. It is the foundation principle of Western democracy. 

Accepting the will of the majority when you lose is the essence of being democratic. This was the lesson that the United States learned in the 19th century. It didn’t matter if the South didn’t vote for Lincoln the United States can use all means to protect its territorial integrity.

Spain stopped Catalan nationalism in its tracks because it had learned the same lesson. Spain endured a few unpleasant headlines, but Spain will stay united forever. If Spain had followed the British approach it would already be split.

Never give anything to nationalism. Appeasement simply fuels it. The only way to get Scotland back to normality is for Scots to believe that independence is not going to happen not now not ever and that all their marching and agitation is going nowhere. At that point the SNP might just begin to use its devolved powers rather than continually fight for reserved powers.

There is only one way to stop Scottish nationalism. You say No and mean it. Everything else is the British disease of managing decline. 

Saturday 18 July 2020

Do the wee three want to lose to the SNP?

The strategic problem with Scottish politics is that there are three small armies against one large army. The overall numbers are roughly equal, but the SNP can defeat Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in detail because the opposition is divided.

This problem can be overcome in a number of ways. If either of the Pro UK armies were able to defeat the other two decisively, it would become the only credible Pro UK opposition to Scottish nationalism. But if this were going to happen, it would have happened already. Anyway, even if, for example, Labour and the Liberal Democrats were annihilated, it is at least as likely that their former voters would choose the SNP as the Conservatives.

Scottish Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative voters have differing views on who should form the British Government, whether Brexit was a good idea and all the other issues that divide opinion in Britain.

The SNP by contrast is essentially a single-issue party. It has a left-wing façade because it wants to attract left-wing former Labour voters. It has a Pro EU façade because it wants to attract Remainers and Liberal Democrats. But if the SNP thought right wing economic policies would bring independence closer it would adopt them. If it thought leaving the European Union helped the cause of independence it would adopt this as its policy too. It is a grievance party.

It is never difficult to distinguish between a Sturgeon with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.

The goal of Scottish independence supporters is to get to the first General Election for an independent Scotland. Some think that this would bring socialism. Others think that it would bring social democracy. A few think it would bring free market capitalism. 

More SNP voters voted for Brexit than members of any other party in Scotland. Without their votes it is likely that Remain would have won. Some were voting expediently to hasten independence, but others genuinely believe in independence not merely from Britain, but from the EU too.

SNP voters do not care about devolved issues such as health and education. It does not matter to them how well or how badly the SNP run Scotland, because they are voting on the single issue of independence. It is this that turned Labour voters into SNP voters. They believe that Britain made them poor and independence would make them rich because English Tories stole Scotland’s oil and closed down Ravenscraig.

The SNP’s interest in wider British politics is solely to use it to further the aim of Scottish independence.

England votes Tory because English voters do not want a Labour SNP coalition, which would still further exploit England’s lack of devolution. The SNP which caused this situation by destroying Labour in Scotland uses it by exploiting Scotland’s sectarian hatred of Tories.

Hatred of Tories is no longer about Conservative Government policies such as bailing out Scottish businesses and paying our wages. We take the money, but without gratitude or even acknowledgement. The visceral hatred of Tories that sometimes makes Sturgeon demented is based on events of the 1980s that have now entered into folk memory.

SNP voters too young to remember it bang on about Thatcher and the poll tax. But you have to be in your fifties to remember these things first-hand. They happened thirty or forty years ago. It’s like someone in the 1970s saying “Yes, you did. You invaded Poland.”

Don't mention the Tory. 

Scottish Conservatives have a strategic interest in obtaining a Conservative Government, because we don’t trust Labour or the Liberal Democrats to not do a deal with the SNP. Scottish Labour and Liberal Democrat voters dislike Conservatives because they are Tories and because they dislike Boris Johnson and usually oppose Brexit. It is for this reason that tactical voting fails to make much difference in Scotland. A few activists will lend their vote, but not enough to change anything decisively. There is no discussion of the issue on the news and most voters don’t even know about it. The SNP still win nearly all the seats.

Some people have suggested starting a new Pro UK party. This won’t work. Look what happened to Change UK. It has ceased to exist even though it had MPs and massive media attention.

The Brexit Party won a European election that most British people didn’t care a damn about and then went on to win zero seats at the General Election.

If Scottish Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives agreed to merge and if they were given massive amounts of money and press coverage, there might be a possibility of changing things. But they won’t.

How would a single Scottish Pro UK Party supported by people from across the political spectrum vote in Westminster. Would it work with the Conservatives or with Labour? If it worked with Boris Johnson it would immediately be called Tory, but if it formed a coalition with Labour and the SNP, Conservative Scots wouldn’t vote for it again. This isn’t going to work.

What might work is for Pro UK parties in Scotland to work together. If only one Pro UK party stood in each constituency whether for the Scottish Parliament or for Westminster and if they agreed to cooperate with regard to List seats so as to maximise the number of Pro UK MSPs then it might be possible to have the best of both worlds.  Detailed polling could give an accurate unbiased assessment of which party had the best chances where. 

This is at least worth exploring. But it will go nowhere unless the main Pro UK parties agree. New parties and new political organisations rarely get more than a handful of votes. 

Scottish Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives could still have their own policies and the seats they won could still be used to further their own party interests, but by agreeing a joint strategy they could begin to rebuild the unity that we had during the 2014 referendum. If we were willing to work together then, why not now?

Friday 17 July 2020

How £21 million = £800 million in Scotland

Almost everything that is wrong about Britain today can be attributed to the Labour election victory of 1997 and Tony Blair. After 18 years of Tory Government Scottish Labour and the Lib Dems were determined that at least they would rule Scotland come what may. It is this that gave us the muddle that is devolution.

While England is ruled by Westminster on everything apart from those matters that are controlled by a few mayors, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have various degrees of devolution and various combinations of tax raising powers and Central Government funding.

 One of the major problems is that the whole thing is so complex that even financial experts struggle to understand who pays what, who gets what and how much.

This is why we have unedifying disputes and no consensus at all about the fundamentals of Scottish politics. Some Scottish nationalists still maintain that Scotland is a cash cow that subsidises that rest of Britain. They think that this is why England is so desperate to hold on to Scotland because if Scotland were independent the cash cow would be slaughtered, and England would starve.

On the other side of the argument are those who think that Scotland is running a 7% deficit and that we receive more from the British Government than we raise through taxes and that therefore Scottish independence would involve years of tax rises and spending cuts so that it could be afforded.

Some Scottish nationalists think that this austerity would be worth it, while others think that Scottish independence would immediately lead to an increase in revenue for Scotland as our cash cow would only be giving milk to us.

The points of view on Scotland’s financial situation are so divergent even amongst supporters of Scottish independence that it is impossible to even have a rational debate because there are no longer any agreed facts in Scotland.

It is in this context that £21 million can equal £800-900 billion.

Last week there was a mini budget by Rishi Sunak. The SNP Finance Minister Kate Forbes immediately complained that the Scottish Government would only get £21 million. But this is to miss the point.

Earlier this year when Rishi Sunak bailed out the British economy and provided support for jobs and businesses in Scotland, it was discovered with disappointment that the Scottish Government was squirrelling away the money and not using it to actually support Scottish businesses and jobs.

It is for this reason that Sunak’s budget was designed to bypass the Scottish Government as much as possible so as to directly inject finance into Scotland without Kate Forbes or rather her big sister being able to use it for her own purposes.

This is why the report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies says

Add that to the £21 million and you get the £800 million the UK government says the Scottish Government received as a result of all the spending confirmed last week. Although, as with the Scottish Government’s figures, it is worth noting that this excludes the additional funding as a result of the stamp duty holiday, which mean the final overall figure will probably be nearer £900 million. 

So, Scotland will get nearly £900 million as a consequence of Rishi Sunak’s budget but only a small fraction of it will be controlled by the SNP. This isn’t a fault; it is a feature.

It is unedifying that trust has so broken down in British politics that Sturgeon is at times excluded from meetings because she previously leaked the results and that Kate Forbes complains about the supposed pennies thrown to her on the floor when she is getting free board and lodgings that she refuses to acknowledge.

BBC Scotland could provide a service to Scottish politics if it commissioned a series on Scotland’s finances made by people who were obviously impartial and from abroad so that we could all have shared facts about our true financial situation.

I don’t think that finance is the whole argument. I don’t even think it is the most important argument. But it is part of the argument. Finance is complex, but good writers can make it easier for us all to understand.

At the moment in Scottish politics 21 = 800 and a cash cow = a 7% deficit. There is not even shared truth in Scotland let alone shared opinion. It is this that divides more even than Scottish nationalism.

Thursday 16 July 2020

The SNP's claim of a power grab is mere prejudice

Nicola Sturgeon may not have an anti-English bone in her body, but her party is certainly anti-British. This has never been more clearly illustrated than in the SNP’s reaction to Brexit delivering new powers to the Scottish Parliament. Holyrood is to receive one hundred and eleven new powers. It is to lose zero powers that it has at present. Yet this is described by the SNP as a power grab.

Because Britain is leaving the European Union powers that previously were reserved to Brussels over which people throughout Britain had minimal democrat control are now going to be controlled by the British Parliament and the devolved parliaments. Where previously the European Commission would decide an issue now it is will be British voters and their parliamentary representatives.

 If the SNP got its wish and Scotland became independent within the European Union, every one of these new powers would go back to Brussels. Scottish law would once more be subordinate to European Union law and Scotland would put itself on a pathway to “ever closer union” with other EU member states and at the same time make a promise, which perhaps it would not intend to keep, of establishing a Scottish currency and joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism II as did Bulgaria and Croatia last week.

But what are the SNP complaining about. What is this supposed power grab that grabs no powers?

They are complaining because the British Government has in a White Paper issued on 16th July 2020 legislated to protect the UK’s Internal Market to allow trade to take place within the UK without any barriers.

The SNP was a big fan of the EU’s Single Market. But the Single Market required rules and regulations from Brussels in order that goods and services had the same standards across the EU. This makes perfect sense. Without these laws the Single Market would not work.

The British Government is doing exactly the same thing with regard to our Internal Market which is far more vital to Scotland than the Single Market because we trade much more with the other parts of Britain than we do with the European Union.

The SNP are complaining because they think this breaches one of the principles of devolution that devolved matters are not normally decided by the British Government.

When the Scottish Parliament receives the powers that used to be reserved to Brussels and which kept the Single Market running smoothly, it could decide to have different standards from the rest of Britain with regard to any devolved power. These include agriculture, fisheries and food, transport and the environment.

The UK Government instead is legislating for mutual recognition and non-discrimination across Britain so as to maintain the integrity of Britain’s Internal Market and prevent trade barriers within Britain that have never previously existed since 1707.  

In order for Britain to develop trade deals with other countries we need to be able to negotiate as one. It will simply be impossible to negotiate if each part of Britain has different standards and each part can reject a trade deal if they dislike one sentence or indeed one comma.

We have seen recently how Nicola Sturgeon delights in not being a rubber stamp. She and her party would choose to differ on everything they could just for the sake of it.

But if differing standards applied in Scotland than in the other parts of Britain, then there would have to be an internal border that administered this difference. Perhaps Cornish pasties wouldn’t meet Sturgeon’s standards. She could organise a Corish pasty party and throw them into a Scottish harbour.

To support the right of the European Union to coordinate the Single Market, which Sturgeon thinks is vital for Scotland, but deny the right of the British Government to coordinate the UK’s Internal market is to show that while Sturgeon may not be anti-English, she is anti-British.

Why is it just fine for decisions in Brussels to be made without any democratic accountability from Scotland, but a power grab if similar decisions are made in Westminster where Scottish people have exactly the same degree of representation as everyone else in Britain?

This amounts to Brussels good, Westminster bad. But why is this if it isn’t because the SNP are anti-Britain and anti-British people, most of whom of course are English.

The Scottish Parliament is going to lose not one single power that it uses at present. Instead it is gaining more than a hundred new powers. Already the SNP encroaches on reserved powers such as foreign affairs and the constitution by attempting to negotiate directly with the EU and threatening to unilaterally assert power over independence.

The British Parliament is sovereign and can amend conventions on devolution as it pleases. No one could foresee when the Scottish Parliament was set up that Britain would leave the EU. Whether we are for leaving or against this we cannot allow the redistribution of EU powers to create a situation where devolved parliaments can leverage their powers to create internal borders and disrupt trade both within the UK and without by hindering our ability to make deals with others.

It is simply illogical for the SNP to support measures that the EU makes to maintain the integrity of the EU Single Market while opposing the British Government doing exactly the same. It is mere prejudice.

Tuesday 14 July 2020

Make masks voluntary

I do not think I have broken a single lockdown law nor piece of advice since it began in March. I am fortunate that I can work from home. I frankly prefer it. I save time, because I don’t have to take the bus into my office. I get as much work done as before and have extra time to write articles.

I am not remotely sceptical about Covid. I have been worried about it since I read the first accounts coming out of China. It is by far the most serious pandemic respiratory disease since 1918.   

Catching Covid for older people is more dangerous than playing Russian Roulette. I live with such a person and therefore I must not catch Covid and above all else I must not pass it on.

I have been very careful indeed since March. I view my house as virus free and therefore it can only be brought in from outside. I therefore go out as little as possible and have as little contact as possible with other people who don’t live in my house. Whenever I come in from outside or touch a package from outside, I wash my hands.

But while I have agreed with most of the advice and laws that have been made by Government, I oppose making face masks compulsory.

I will obey the law. I have a scarf in my bag. I tie it round my face when I go into a shop. After that I put it back in my bag. I don’t wash it after each use. In fact, I don’t wash it at all. I will follow the letter of the law but do no more.

I will continue to shop at my local Tesco because I have no choice. But I will go to no other shops while I am compelled to wear a face mask. If I need something, I will buy it online.

I will not go to the cinema while I am compelled to wear a facemask, nor will I go to a pub or a restaurant. If I want to watch a film, I will buy a DVD or else use a streaming service. If I want a drink, I will buy a bottle of wine at the supermarket and have a whole bottle for the price of a glass in a pub. Instead of paying over the odds to sit uncomfortably in a restaurant I will buy the ingredients and cook the food myself. Cooking is as easy as reading instructions.

I will not take part in any leisure activity that requires me to wear a mask. I will either do it at home or not do it at all. There are millions of people like me in Britain. Some will flout the law, but most like me won’t. We will obey with reluctance and then quietly refuse to take part.

Why do I oppose the compulsory use of face masks? In part it is because I loathe wearing them. As soon as I put one on, I can’t wait to get it off. I cannot enjoy any activity while wearing one.

Covid has never been particularly bad in rural Aberdeenshire, but if I could get through March and April without wearing a mask I can certainly get through July and August when cases here have dwindled to almost zero.

While there is some science that suggests that wearing masks may be marginally useful, there is also science that points out that wearing them can be harmful.

When wearing my scarf, I constantly adjust it, because it makes my glasses steam up. The scarf slips down and I pull it up. It loosens and I have to tighten it.

I had discipled myself since March to not touch my face. But suddenly with compulsory masks that disciple was lost. Now I may touch a door handle have Covid on my hands and later adjust my scarf and catch it. I feel less safe.

I am less aware of my surroundings because I can’t see through my misted glasses. I don’t pay attention to following my own rules that have kept me and my family safe since March, because all of my attention is on the mask that I am forced to wear.

There are different attitudes to face masks. Some people support them others oppose them. Let it therefore be a matter of choice that people can freely disagree on.

We are not going to get the economy back to normal if we are all going to remain two metres away dressed up as if we are auditioning for Silence of the Lambs.

Until I can relax in a restaurant, I am not going to go at all. Until I can go on holiday without having to follow endless rules and regulations I am going to stay at home.

Far from encouraging people to go shopping and go back to pubs restaurants and cinemas, masks instead will prevent these from being places anyone wants to go.

The British public will instead have drinks with friends where there are no masks. We will go on dates with strangers we have met on the Internet and exchange saliva and other fluids with them. We will watch sports and movies in large groups on large televisions without masks. We will do all these things because Nanny Nicola and now Nanny Boris won’t be able to see us.

If Covid is going to rise again it will do so whether we wear masks or not.

Like everyone else I could find a justification for not wearing a mask. I could say I have trouble breathing when wearing a mask. I do. I could say the mask makes me anxious. It does. But I don’t want to walk round a shop waiting for the next dirty look and the next comment. So, I endure, and I do what I’m told. I obey the law, because I believe it is right to obey laws even when I disagree with them.

But I promise I will go nowhere that requires me to wear a mask unless I must. I will boycott anywhere that requires a mask except the supermarket and will do so until masks are made voluntary.