Tuesday 31 August 2021

There's more than one form of hatred in Scotland

It is peculiarly stupid for Scottish people to hate those of Irish descent or to suggest that they should go home. The word Scotland derives from the Irish tribe that settled here in the Dark Ages. So, to hate the Irish is to hate ourselves. To hate people because they are Catholic is equally stupid. Nearly all of us are descendants of Catholics, because Catholicism was the religion of Scotland up until the Reformation. It is only because we were once Catholics that we are Christians at all let alone Protestants.

Everyone who lives in Scotland rather than is here on holiday is at home. My grandfather arrived here from near Dublin in the late 19th century. But I have no home in Ireland. To suggest I go home there is as senseless as to suggest that you go home to your grandfather’s house, which may belong to someone else now, or may not even exist.

But there are various hates in Scotland and it would be well not to mix them up. Irish people and Scottish people are the same race. Modern Irish and Scottish Gaelic both descended from Middle Irish. People have been moving across the Irish sea both ways since time began. To suggest that there is a racial distinction between Scottish people and Irish people is itself racist. But white people cannot be racist about each other. If everyone in the world were the same race there would be no such thing as racism, though there might be other forms of prejudice.

Racism has become the unforgivable sin in the modern world, but this does not justify extending the term to cover all forms of hatred. People do not sing about those of Irish descent going home because they are of a different race. They are not motivated by racism, but rather by sectarianism and xenophobia.

We have different words in order to describe different things. It is just as bad to hate someone because he is a Catholic or of Irish descendent as it is to hate him because he has black skin. Hating someone for a characteristic he was born with is the worst form of prejudice because it is hating someone for something he cannot help.

The oddness of West of Scotland sectarianism is that while Catholics hate Protestants and vice versa they don’t do so if the Catholics happen to come from Poland or the Protestants come from Germany. No one is interested in what school you went to if it was in Warsaw. Sectarianism is not straightforwardly about religion then. Nor is about nationality, because nearly all of those involved have the same nationality. It is merely a tribal dispute between people who are nearly the same, kept going by a rivalry between two great football teams and the fact that too many people from this area are segregated into different schools from age five onwards.

I don’t believe that those singing about people going home seriously wish anyone to go home. Nor indeed do those singing about the IRA seriously support terrorism. Rather these songs are a way of expressing an identity distinct from its rival. Each side sets out to offend the other in order to get the reaction which maintains the difference. Each side enjoys singings songs that are forbidden, without necessarily meaning any of the words that are sung. These are the rebel songs of a conflict that no longer exists. They may be fun to sing in the pub, but it doesn’t mean anyone is going to actually do anything about it. This is a squabble about nothing. About a religion whose rituals we have forgotten and dogma we know longer know.

There is a lot of faux outrage whenever Rangers fans are caught doing something they ought not. I suspect this is one reason why some of them continue to do it. It’s the equivalent displaying two fingers. But sectarianism is also displayed when people suggest that it was somehow illegitimate for Scottish Protestants to be “planted” in Ulster. All forms of migrations are just fine except those that go from Britain to Ireland. There are frequent suggestions that British people in Northern Ireland should go home and that they are merely part of an occupation that stretches back a thousand years. But the Protestants in Northern Ireland have been there since the original settlement of North America. To suggest that Northern Ireland is not their home is just as bad as the song the Rangers fans were singing.

While Irish Republicans demand “England get out of Ireland” and some Scottish nationalists demand “England get out of Scotland”, and while banners are carried describing Tories as scum and we sing about sending English people homeward to think again, then it is quite clear that it is not just Rangers fans who sometimes make dubious statements or sing dodgy songs.

Scottish football fans were heard in London taunting the English and singing if you hate the f**ing English clap your hands. But they probably didn’t really mean it and few if any of them did anything about it. But this hatred is at least part of the motivation for the desire to separate Scotland from England.

Sectarianism and xenophobia have real world consequences beyond the singing of unpleasant songs. English people are sometimes made to feel unwelcome in Scotland, which is the equivalent of telling them to go home. People on both sides of the sectarian divide can face prejudice and sometime violence. But there is at least nothing visible or indeed audible that distinguishes between one side and the other. Dress them both in suits and you cannot tell the difference. Its only the uniform, the songs and the flags that distinguish the two sides. If I was so keen to maintain that I was at home, I wouldn’t wave the flag of a foreign land. I feel no need to do so, even if my ancestor came from there.


Sunday 29 August 2021

It is not undemocratic to say No to the SNP


The Conservative Government has a strategy for dealing with the SNP and its continual demand to have a second independence referendum. Michael Gove recently said that the SNP could have such a referendum if the settled will of the Scottish people were in favour it. Alister Jack has just defined what settled will means. He thinks such a poll could take place if opinion polling consistently shows 60% of Scottish voters want a referendum.

No doubt a lot of thought has gone into these statements. Gove and Jack probably think that just saying No would be unpopular in Scotland and might increase support for both the SNP and independence. It might also damage the prospects of the Conservative Party in Scotland. All of these things may be true. But they also show the short-termism that is at the heart of Conservative thinking about Scotland.

The United Kingdom is a country that has existed for more than three hundred years. It has existed for longer than the United States, Germany and Italy and many other European countries. The idea that its existence could be threatened by a few opinion polls when it could survive everything the Luftwaffe could throw at it displays a peculiar idea of the importance of such polls.  We don’t decide great matters of state by opinion polling, we decide them by Government elected by the voters.

The problem with setting a threshold is what do you do if the SNP reaches it. Margaret Thatcher suggested that the SNP could have independence if it ever won a majority of seats in Scotland. At the time, this looked like an impossible goal. The SNP were with the others and Labour dominated Scotland, but a few decades later the SNP won nearly all the Scottish MPs.

It looks unlikely at the moment that support for a second independence referendum will breach 60%, but no one can predict the future and what do you do if ten years from now it does. At that point you either break your promise or you go into a campaign 20% behind with the very real prospect of a three-hundred-year-old country ceasing to exist because of your clever, short-term strategy of trying to limit support for Scottish nationalism.

We mustn’t anger the Scots by saying just once and very clearly No, Never, though we have the perfect right to do so. But this strategy of granting the right in principle to a secession movement to achieve the breakup of the UK politically all but inevitably means that it will succeed in the end.

Fortunes change over the course of centuries. Scotland at the moment could not without great difficulty and sacrifice afford independence. But fifty years ago, it was a totally different story. If Scotland had achieved independence in 1970 and if it had kept the majority of North Sea oil, then not only could we have afforded independence we would if it had been prudently managed have been better off. There would have been disadvantages to independence then too, but it would have been difficult to make an economic case against it.

Who is to say that the future might not bring Scotland into a similar position? Perhaps wind and wave power or some as yet undiscovered resource might make separation look more attractive than it does at present. So just as Margaret Thatcher’s condition looks foolish when the SNP easily breach it, so too might a threshold of 60%.

The Conservative strategy amounts to delaying the inevitable. It concedes that under certain conditions Scotland may vote again on separation. But the same argument would apply after that even if the Pro UK side won. Eventually the SNP would get a third chance and then a fourth. Well, if you give your opponent enough chances, it becomes inevitable that he will win eventually.

Given long enough the conditions that make Scottish independence more attractive will come again at which point polls are likely to show an increase in support. The Conservative Government has conceded the moral case for independence if it should ever appear that there is a sufficiently large majority in favour. The strangeness of this concession is that no other Government in the world thinks in this way.

It may be that the British electorate thinks like Mark Drakeford that “the United Kingdom 'is over' and a new union should be formed to reflect a 'voluntary association of four nations'.” The Conservative Government may be merely reflecting this opinion. But a voluntary association of four nations would not have lasted for ten years let alone three hundred. Drakeford appears to want a confederation, but this didn’t even work for the United States.

If the Welsh are merely in an association with England, which they can choose to leave at any time, why should there be fiscal transfers between England and Wales? If we are not fellow countrymen, sharing the same country, why do we owe each other anything? Only a common identity formed out of a single country justifies fiscal transfers. But without these there could be no monetary union, no sense of mutual solidarity and rapidly no association.

If Drakeford and Sturgeon really believe the UK is a voluntary association of four nations, they should immediately give up the financial support they are receiving from foreigners. To accept the benefits of being a part of a single nation state while denying it is one is mere hypocrisy.

Devolution has weakened the sense that we are a single country and replaced it with the idea that we are four countries more loosely connected even than the EU. It is for this reason that Gove and Jack think it is necessary to set conditions on separation. If we are primarily four countries that happen to form an association, they are right to do so. If this is what most British people feel, then the breakup of that association is already built in.

If on the other hand we are primarily one people, one country, like Germany, France or the USA, then there is no reason to appease secessionists, because none of those places would set out conditions for the breakup of their country. Neither need we. Legally and morally, we have the same right as every other country to defend our territorial integrity.

No one thinks that it is undemocratic for Germany not to allow a referendum on secession. Germany too was once made up of independent nation states, but the unity of Germany is not something that can be broken up by a few opinion polls suggesting that Bavaria or Saxony might wish to leave. If Scotland is not the equivalent of Bavaria, then it is up to secessions to point out the difference legally, historically and morally. It is not enough to say that Scotland is a country, because this is to assume what you are trying to prove.

True statesmen rather than politicians thinking only of opinion polling and support at the next election, would be making the case that the United Kingdom is country just like those which forbid secession. Perhaps the British people don’t want this. Perhaps we are too attracted to being separate countries. But if that is really the case, there is little point setting thresholds, because we would have already conceded the argument. For as Lincoln pointed out in 1863, no such country can long endure.

Either politicians define the UK as permanent or they accept that it is temporary. Either we think Lincoln was right to defend the territorial integrity of the USA or we side with the argument of his opponents.

Friday 27 August 2021

The SNP's white privilege test


The SNP are going to encourage Scottish teachers to take a white privilege test. It will no doubt be a rather odd sort of test, because no matter what you answer it will turn out that you do indeed have white privilege. There will be no set of answers that you can give that demonstrate that you don’t. It therefore won’t be a test at all, such as an exam which it is possible to pass or fail. There will only be the option to fail, after which you will be expected to feel guilty for existing.

White privilege is the idea not so much that all white people are materially privileged. Clearly some black people are financially better off or have other advantages than some white people. Rather white privilege is the idea that even a down and out drug addict living on the street has white privilege over a black millionaire because in our society he does not face racism. He may have all sorts of disadvantages and may face all sorts of other prejudices, but it is not because of his skin colour.

White privilege therefore is inherent in being white in a society where there are black people. The SNP’s goal is to “eradicate racism in wider society”. But there is a problem here. If Scottish teachers and the Scottish public in general denied that they had white privilege, this would constitute evidence of their racism. But then if it is impossible to eliminate white privilege the goal of eradicating racism becomes impossible and self-defeating. A Scotland without racism would also be without white privilege, but if any Scot claimed not to have white privilege, he would precisely thereby demonstrate his racism.

The SNP also thinks that racism is a social construct “invented to justify the murder, exploitation and brutalisation of the peoples, lands and resources of the Global South for centuries”. If this means anything it must mean that racism in some way does not exist in reality, but rather is constructed or invented by human minds. This must mean that when white people first went to say Africa, they initially thought the people living there were just the same as us. We didn’t notice any inherent difference, but in order to murder exploit and colonise them we invented the concept of race and with it racism.

But there is a problem for the SNP not merely to do with the implausibility of this story. If racism was invented so that white people could invent a distinction that is not real between them and people living in Africa, then clearly Scottishness must have been invented too in order to create a distinction between people living here and people living in for example England. If there is no real distinction between black people and white people, then still less can there be a real distinction between English people and Scottish people. Why then does the SNP wish to make these people independent from those people when they are really the same?

If race is a social construct, then so too must the concept of one people being distinct from another people one nation being distinct from another. But this fatally undermines the whole SNP project. It would mean that there wasn’t really a Scottish nation or a Scottish people. But this would make it entirely arbitrary to set as your goal the creation of an independent country full of Scots.

But perhaps worse than this, imagine if two of the heroes of Scottish history were asked to take the white privilege test. Robert the Bruce and William Wallace would have to pass it. There were few if any black people living in Scotland at that time. If you disagree with this, we could go back further. Logically Bruce and Wallace could only have white privilege if there were black people, they could exercise their privilege over.

But this has the unfortunate consequence of making white privilege a matter of the presence or absence of black people in society. For centuries Scottish people had no white privilege or very little, until the time when black people arrived here. But this makes white privilege a consequence of black immigration. The easiest way to eradicate it would be if we did not have multiculturalism, but instead lived in a monocultural society similar to that in which Bruce and Wallace lived.

I can think of no organisation that has more white privilege than the SNP. Every leader of the SNP has been white. Every one was born in Scotland and had Scottish parents. SNP voters are overwhelmingly white as are SNP MPs and MSPs. When Scottish nationalists march all under one banner, they are all white. The SNP looks back to a time when Scotland was independent. But at that point the whole population of Scotland was white. Every important Scottish historical figure, battle or declaration involved exclusively white people. The languages that the SNP wishes to protect, Gaelic and Scottish, are spoken by white people almost exclusively. The SNP discriminates between immigrant languages such as Polish and Urdu and indigenous Scottish languages that were spoken when only white people lived here. To privilege the indigenous over the immigrant is racist. But what is Scottish nationalism other than to celebrate and attempt to recreate the sense of nationhood that historically was created by indigenous Scots. If any organisation in Scotland has white privilege it is the SNP.

I didn’t realise quite how extreme the SNP has become while pretending to be moderate and reasonable. First it wants little boys to be able to declare that they are little girls without informing their parents. Now it wants to import the whole apparatus of critical race theory, which was invented by American academics into Scotland.

The problem with this perspective on race is fundamentally its divisiveness. While maintaining that racism is social construct it creates a system where white people are guilty of racism merely because they exist. It doesn’t matter what you have done, how kind you have been to other people, every white person is guilty of murder and genocide because we were born with white skin. If we try to deny our racism, this is taken as evidence that we are indeed racists.

It creates two classes of person. White people have original sin imported from their ancestors being colonisers and slavers. Black people on the other hand are born without sin, incapable of error, but victims of white oppression. This is a caricature of both races. Worse it puts a gulf between us that is impossible to overcome. We barely share the same humanity.

If racism is something that white people are born with and their white privilege something they cannot eradicate, then quite soon white people might respond to charges of racism with indifference. After all, if I cannot help my white privilege why should I be concerned about it anymore than I am concerned about the colour of my eyes. Critical race theory thus becomes an obstacle to tackling racism.

The SNP is no doubt simply ticking woke boxes, without understanding the logical consequences, but a party that depends wholly on a Scottish identity that was created exclusively by indigenous white people, needs to check the coherence of its own ideas as well as its own privilege.

Thursday 26 August 2021

Do we want to import Afghanistan here?


There are many aspects of Islam that I admire. Theologically I like the strict monotheism of Muslim thought. Allah is one. By contrast Christianity allowed God to be both one and three. Christianity of course is not polytheism, but there is a tension in Christian thought exemplified by Jesus asking “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” which depends on Jesus being both different from God and the same. The incarnation, which involves Jesus being both fully human and fully God stretches thought as does the concept that God can be eternal but live in time, mortal like the rest of us. The radicalism of Christianity is the idea that God can live among us die and rise again.

If I had lived in the Middle Ages, I would have found a more pleasant society in Baghdad or Damascus than I would have found in London. Here was squalor, intolerance and persecution. In the Middle East in those days was often to be found enlightenment, science, medicine and cleanliness. If I as a Christian had migrated to Baghdad, I would have been treated with respect so long as I accepted that I lived in a Muslim society and followed its rules.

Today I can admire that Muslims often have a stronger faith than we do in the West. While we have discarded Christianity as something incompatible with modern science and our desire to live as we please unconstrained by morals or theology, Muslims have kept their love of Allah and faith in the holy texts of Islam.

I am not therefore someone who wholly shares the negativity about Islam which is commonly met here. But this gives rise to a question:

If Islam is so wonderful why do people flee it?

In Afghanistan the Taliban want to introduce a strict form of Islam which punishes those who break Islamic law. The Taliban may have various faults, but among these faults is not devotion to Islam. They wish to be good Muslims who follow Islamic rules to the fullest extent possible. I can think of no Muslim theological principle that the Taliban break. Indeed, everything they do can be justified by something written in the Quran, Hadith and Sunnah. The Taliban are trying to create a fully Islamic society. Like all rulers they no doubt have faults, but there is little doubt that their intentions are to conform as fully as possible to what they interpret as their Islamic duty.

If we survey the Muslim world today, there are some countries that seem to us more preferable than others. I might consider going on holiday to Morocco, Jordan, Malaysia or Indonesia. In the winter I might wonder if a couple of weeks in Qatar might not be pleasant. I would not consider going to Saudi Arabia or Iran. But what I am doing when I am making such choices is to go to those places which are more liberal and avoid those places that are stricter. I can drink alcohol in Morocco, I probably don’t need to wear Islamic clothes, but in Iran or Saudi Arabia I have to follow Islamic rules. But what this means is that liberal Muslim countries are in some respects less Islamic than strict ones.

But surely the ideal of all Muslims is not to be less Muslim, but rather to be as Muslim as possible. The ideal society for a Muslim ought not to be Quatar or Indonesia, but rather Iran or Saudi Arabia. But so too Muslims ought to prefer Afghanistan under the Taliban to Afghanistan under its previous regime, because the previous regime was less Islamic. It permitted things that were contrary to the Islamic laws found in the Quran, Hadith and Sunnah.

But if Afghanistan is now more Islamic than it was previously, why are Muslims fleeing it? Perhaps they don’t wish to be Muslims any longer. But this is not the case. When they arrive in Europe the vast majority of Afghans will continue to be Muslims. Indeed, many will continue to hold beliefs which are almost identical to those in the strictest Muslim countries including Afghanistan.

Large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers coming to places like Britain are from Muslim countries. But what we discover when they have lived here for a while is that they continue to believe almost exactly what the people living in the country, they were fleeing from believe. We discover that they wish to continue to dress as they did previously. They want their families to follow a strict version of Islam. Not only this ideally, they would like everyone else to follow these strict rules too. Thus, they want people in Britain to be punished if they insult Islam or if they show cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. This means that they don’t merely want Islamic rules to apply to themselves, they want them to apply to everyone living here.

What would happen if they had their wish? If Britain were somehow turned into the ideal society for Muslims, then all of the Islamic rules would apply to everyone strictly. But this would turn Britain into Afghanistan, Iran or Saudi Arabia. But there is an obvious contradiction here. If your wish is to turn Britain into Afghanistan, why flee Afghanistan in the first place as it is already obviously your ideal society.

Clearly if migrants wish to take advantage of Britain’s liberalism, standard of living and wish to wear what they please, marry who they please and do as they please, it is understandable that they wish to flee somewhere like Afghanistan. But if the vast majority of Afghans genuinely wished to live like we do in Britain, the Taliban would not have been able to take over so quickly. Or are we to conclude that the whole Muslim world is forcing its inhabitants to be Muslims and to follow the rules of Islam. Would the people of Iran and Saudi Arabia prefer not to follow Islamic rules and only do so because they are scared to be punished? But that cannot be because surely Muslim faith is underpinned by piety rather than dread. This indeed is our experience where Muslims continue to follow their faith in Britain when they have the choice not to do so. The problem is that while having this choice they would prefer not to have it, and would prefer no one else had it too.

But the difficulty for Britain then is that a significant proportion of Muslims who arrive here from places like Afghanistan don’t merely wish freedom of religion for themselves because they continue to admire the strictest form of Islam from which they have fled and continue to wish it to become the dominant faith of Britain forcing us to live as they do. They wish therefore to bring Afghanistan with them, even though they preferred not to live there themselves.

But if Afghans no longer wish to live in Afghanistan, it is reasonable that we should not wish to live there either. We must reflect that if enough people who wish to live in a society with a strict form of Islam succeed in arriving here, then they will also succeed in recreating the society they fled from. But in that case where do we flee?

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Refusing to serve Dominic Cummings is mere bigotry


Last year Boris Johnson went on holiday to the Applecross peninsular in the West Highlands. After a few days his presence there was discovered and he and his family were forced to leave. This year we learn that Dominic Cummings went to the Ceilidh Place in Ullapool and the staff there initially refused to serve him. Cummings offered to discuss the issue with the staff so that their differences could be discussed. After this they agreed to serve him. The manager of the restaurant had correctly pointed out that “that refusal of service on the grounds of political belief is a dangerous slippery slope”, but he really ought not to have made this point. It is simply outrageous that in Scotland people such as Johnson and Cummings should be treated in this way.

Imagine if Nicola Sturgeon was working in London and staff in a restaurant refused to serve her. Imagine if when Humza Yousaf went on holiday to England with his step daughter to visit Harry Potter World he had been driven out of his accommodation because people disliked his politics. This would have caused justified offence and the people involved would have been liable to be charged with discrimination. But somehow in Scotland it is considered acceptable to deny service to people because we dislike their views.

Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings are mainstream political figures. Johnson won a large majority at the last General Election. The majority of the British electorate also voted to Leave the EU. If the majority is not mainstream, then I don’t understand what it is to be mainstream. Large numbers of tourists visiting Ullapool and perhaps going to the Ceilidh Place will share some or all of these views. The staff there may not know that they do. Perhaps if someone mentions support for Brexit or opposition to Scottish independence after they have had their starter then they might expect to be ejected before eating their main course. Perhaps the Ceilidh place could have a book where each guest signs in that that they oppose Brexit before being served.

I have never heard of an SNP politician being treated in England with anything other than respect. Yet the SNP policy of Scottish independence would mean that the United Kingdom would cease to exist. It would be divided rather than united and would go the way of the former Yugoslavia. Lots of people in England no doubt want the United Kingdom to continue to exist. After all this ultimately is what our armed forces have defended for many centuries. But nobody treats the views of the SNP politicians as illegitimate and nobody discriminates against them when they are on holiday or working.

What could have been the objection to Dominic Cummings? He was the mastermind behind the success of Leave in 2016. He helped the Conservatives to be elected in 2019. He made a trip to his parental home at the start of the Covid pandemic. What else has he done that so offended staff that they refused to serve him?

There are also Scottish Brexiteers. Some SNP supporters also are opposed to EU membership. If Jim Sillars visited Ullapool, would he be barred from the Ceilidh Place because he opposed EU membership? No of course not because he is neither English nor a Tory. Would Margaret Ferrier who travelled to London while infected with Covid visited Ullapool, would she be denied service? Of course not, because she is Scottish and supports independence. If Douglas Ross visited Ullapool, would he be refused service because he helped the Conservatives win the election in 2019? No of course not, because he is Scottish. It looks very much as if being a Tory and a Brexiteer and lockdown breacher won’t necessarily mean refusal of service in Ullapool, which leaves only one characteristic that gets you banned. Being English. There is a word for this. Prejudice.

Scotland has changed since I was a child. There was always prejudice against English people, but it used to be relatively mild. We would say things about English people that we wouldn’t dream of saying about anyone else, but English people were rarely mistreated because of their accents and I never once heard of them being denied service in a restaurant.

The rise of Scottish nationalism has brought with it a smugness about politics in Scotland. We are progressive. We are this wonderful little society that would be the promised land if only we could separate ourselves from selfish, Brexiteer voting Tory England. It has become acceptable in Scottish politics to treat Tories with a disdain that would be shameful if it were used about any other group of people. Just listen to how Nicola Sturgeon pronounces the word “Tory” as if it were something she had just found on the sole of her shoe. But there are millions of Tories in Britain. They are the majority in England. How can a progressive society have such contempt for millions of people?

In Scottish nationalist circles Tory has become something so contemptible that it is now considered justified morally to deny them the basic services that a free and fair society gives to everyone no matter their colour, creed or political beliefs. We would be horrified if a Muslim were denied service in Ullapool or a black person, but somehow it has become acceptable to kick Boris Johnson out of his holiday home and to refuse Dominic Cummings service because we dislike their politics. This is outrageous and must stop.

If I had been Dominic Cummings, I would not have debated with the bigots who refused to serve me, I would have done exactly what Humza Yousaf did when he allegedly faced discrimination over child care, I would have contacted my lawyer. Discrimination over political beliefs is the mark of not merely an intolerant society, it is a mark of a society moving towards a one-party state where only these views are acceptable and those view are forbidden.

Prejudice against English Tories is acceptable in Scotland. How dare they come to Scotland. But “whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them”. We would be outraged if any Scot no matter his views were discriminated in England. Fortunately, we only meet friendship there rather refusal of service. These incidents of hatred against English Tories enjoying their holidays must be condemned by everyone in Scotland. More than that the political climate of Scottish nationalism which has fuelled this hatred must be called out and recognised for what it is. Refusing to serve someone a meal is mere bigotry as well as being unchristian.

Sunday 22 August 2021

SNP plus Green = a rather sickly shade of yellow


The Scottish Greens will not save the world, though if given the chance they might wreck Scotland. The deal they have made with the SNP changes nothing whatsoever. It was unnecessary for Sturgeon to form a coalition with the Greens, because she knows that they always vote with the SNP anyway. We are no closer to a second independence referendum because Sturgeon now has a majority with her Green friends. She has had them in her pocket for years.  Worse still we are no closer to dealing with the world’s environmental problems.

The argument about climate change and the use of fossil fuels has been dominated by people on the extreme Left, who oppose economic growth and would prefer that we all lived a pre industrial lifestyle with no cheap flights to get away from chilly Scotland. Those of us who have been annoyed by propaganda on the BBC with David Attenborough whispering continually about doom have made the mistake of leaving these issues to the likes of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion. It is for this reason that rather odd people like the Scottish Greens can win so many seats in the Scottish Parliament. We have left the argument to them.

The debate about climate change was always tedious because it was political. The Left saw it as a chance to overcome its defeat when the Berlin Wall came down. It would use the need to for us to cease polluting the world to push through the socialism that Eastern Europe had rejected. There would be two prongs in the pincer movement. One would involve higher taxes and sterner regulations on our polluting lifestyles, the other would be controlling the language that we speak so that we could not object. But neither Woke nor Marxism will save the planet.

It is a good thing if we cease to use fossil fuels. It would have been a good thing even if there were no problem with climate change. Fossil fuels are dirty, inefficient and expensive. You do not therefore have to believe the latest climate alarmism or the latest predictions about the sea rising or storms happening, to believe that eliminating the use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible is sensible. Let the argument about climate change be left to the scientists. It should have nothing whatsoever to do with politics. There are good reasons to get rid of fossil fuels anyway.

We are absurdly parochial in Scotland. I read recently about how the island of Eigg is now self-sufficient in energy. That’s a good thing of course, both for those living there and as an example of what is possible, but it will not change the world. Neither for that matter will the fact that we all have to rummage in our rubbish sorting the various items into different coloured bins. It would not even matter if the Scottish Greens had their way and all of us used our cars as little as the people on Eigg and succeeded in living a rural idyl fuelled by wind, waves, woolly jumpers, high taxes and absurdly expensive flights. It would not matter because Scotland in world terms is as tiny as Eigg and produces very little carbon dioxide anyway.

The industrial revolution that Britain had in the nineteenth century depended on coal. But the only way for everyone else to have an industrial revolution today still depends on coal. It is for this reason that China and India continue to build coal fired power stations. They and other developing economies will still drive petrol cars, because they are cheaper to make, cheaper to drive and will go further. If Tesla cars are outside the price range of most Scots how much more will they be too expensive for people in Africa.

So, the idea at present is that we will be forced to give up cheap power, cheap cars and cheap flights so that the savings that we make will be overwhelmed by those in poorer parts of the world that naturally want to have a lifestyle similar to ours. This is not a plan. It will not save the planet.

The change from using horses to using cars happened remarkably quickly. We went from using oil lamps to using electricity at around the same time. But we did these things because electricity and cars were cheaper, more profitable and more efficient. Cars and electricity led to growth.

The Green movement supports alternatives to fossil fuels which invariably depend on subsidy. These alternatives make a loss. Our electricity bills will have to go up. Our cars will be more expensive and won’t drive far. But how do they expect such alternatives to be attractive to people in poorer countries?

The Scottish Greens are opposed to economic growth, because they are opposed to capitalism. But the switch over from using fossil fuels to using cleaner and better alternatives will take vast amounts of money. If this is not achieved by economic growth it can only be achieved by a decline in our living standards. They didn’t tell you about that bit.

The solution to the problem of climate change can only occur through economic growth that funds research that discovers technologies that make our lives better and less reliant on fossil fuels. We need to find ways of extracting hydrogen more cheaply. We need to develop fission reactors that are safe because they use alternatives uranium. Ultimately, we need to make fusion power work, because that would give us both unlimited fuel and no pollution.

It is right that we attempt to burn less fossil fuel now as we await these technologies, but we must balance this with the need to keep our economy growing and to maintain our lifestyles. The public will not vote for Green initiatives if they mean that we cannot go on holiday and cannot afford to drive a car.

Only with economic growth will we be able to afford to fund the science that in time will enable us to produce cheap clean energy. At that time the Chinese, the Indians and everyone else will adopt it not because of a summit where everyone agrees to initiatives which they then ignore, but because it is cheaper and more efficient to do so, just like they once adopted the internal combustion engine and the light bulb.

If the Scottish Greens and the SNP had their way, we would have independence while running a massive deficit, which would lead to cuts. How then could we fund the drive to cleaner energy? They would turn us into the island of Eigg without a ferry. This would do absolutely nothing to help either Scotland’s environment nor would it contribute anything to solving the problems of climate change. It amounts to fiddling with pronouns while forests burn.

It is time for those who care about the environment to ditch the Scottish Greens and time for other politicians to come up with solutions that might actually change climate.  

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Saintly Sturgeon has bankrupted Scotland


Scotland has a nominal deficit of 22.4%. The UK as a whole has real deficit of 14.2%. This is no cause for celebration either in Scotland or the UK generally. We are all spending more than we earn and we will all have to contribute to get these deficits back to manageable levels. That will mean spending less and taxing more. The reason these deficits are so high is due to the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic. At no time in history prior to this were so many British citizens kept locked up at home unable to live and work normally. It cost us a fortune to do this.

Covid has been a wartime situation without our being at war. Fortunately, the markets are still willing to allow the UK to borrow at historically low rates of interest. They trust that we will pay it back. We always have. For this reason, while the economic situation is concerning it is not really serious. Over time the UK deficit will be reduced just as it was reduced after the First and Second World Wars. There is no danger of the UK going bust because we borrow in our own currency and our own central bank can print money. There may be inflationary dangers ahead, but we can deal with these also because we control interest rates.

Nicola Sturgeon and Kate Forbes argue that Scotland’s deficit is not a barrier to independence. They point out that lots of countries have deficits. This is true. But it would be quite impossible to establish a new independent country with a 22.4% deficit. It simply would not be able to afford to borrow even if anyone were willing to lend to it.

We will go through the usual tedious arguments from Scottish nationalists which purport to prove either that the Scottish Government’s own economic figures are somehow false, or that independence would immediately and miraculously turn a 22.4% deficit into an equally large surplus. We will also hear from SNP supporters that the fact that Scotland is doing so badly economically shows that the UK doesn’t work or somehow damages Scotland. But all of these arguments are either in denial or else fail to take responsibility for the SNP’s mismanagement of the Scottish economy. Scotland is paying the price for the uncertainty caused by the fact that we are continually threatened with a referendum and independence that would have devastating consequences for Scotland’s prosperity and jobs. Economic uncertainty does not prosperity make.

Scotland’s deficit will come down as we recover from the pandemic, but it is not going to happen quickly. The SNP’s last plan for independence was that it would use the pound unilaterally. But this is completely incompatible with a deficit as large as Scotland has at present. A Scottish Government under these circumstances would not be able to control monetary policy including interest rates. We would have no lender of last resort and we would be unable to print our own currency. But it is just these abilities that the UK will use to manage its own deficit. For the SNP to propose that Scotland becomes independent while using the pound unilaterally is economically illiterate. It would be like going into a fist fight with your hands tied behind your back.

All of the SNP’s previous calculations about the costs of independence and the economic plans that it made are now obsolete. Yet Sturgeon is still suggesting that we have a second referendum in perhaps two years. Will she make new plans, or will she go into the campaign without one? Like setting sail without a tiller and a compass.

Sturgeon might like Scotland to join the EU, but the EU requires new member states to have a deficit of just 3%. We are more than 19% short. How does the SNP intend to reduce our deficit? Will it raise taxes, cut spending or discover a range of gold mines in the Highlands? It has already said that it no longer wants to drill for North Sea oil and has partnered itself with the Scottish Greens who are opposed to economic growth in principle. It’s not at all obvious how Sturgeon proposes that Scotland earns enough to be able to actually afford independence.

Scotland’s deficit is entirely nominal. Whereas EU member states which are struggling economically might receive help from the EU, this usually takes the form of a loan with strings attached. It’s only when the UK borrows that it actually has to pay the money back. Scotland can live beyond its means without anyone telling Sturgeon to pay up and the Chancellor of the Exchequer sets no conditions whatsoever. Of course, Scots pay taxes just like everyone else in the UK, but the UK Government pays us more than we raise. If that were not the case, we would not have a deficit.

In order for Scotland to become independent tomorrow we would have to find a way to raise nearly a quarter of our income. If we couldn’t do that immediately we would have to borrow. But how could independence on its own make Scotland nearly 25% wealthier? Would we all work 25% harder, sell 25% more abroad, or would we instead have to cut spending by 25%?

At the moment because we are all British citizens, wealth is transferred freely from the UK as a whole to those parts that have a nominal deficit. It is this and this alone that enables us to enjoy the standard of living that we do. The SNP want to turn off this tap by having Scotland leave the UK, but it has no obvious way of replacing the wealth that we would lose. Worse it would have Scotland start life in a straightjacket borrowing in someone else’s currency and in a different trading bloc to our largest trade partner.

If we had voted for independence in 2014 the pandemic would have left us bankrupt. The billions we have received from the Treasury could only have come either from the EU as loan or from the IMF. But the circumstances today are much worse than in 2014. The deficit is higher and we would end up with a hard border and tariffs with the former UK if we decided to join the EU.

It is time for the SNP to admit that however much they would like independence, it is simply unmanageable until the deficit is reduced to around 3-5%. This will take many years. Removing the threat of another referendum, would enable all Scots together to concentrate on making our country more prosperous. The truth is whatever the SNP says there isn’t going to be another referendum until the economic conditions massively improve. Why not at least be honest about it?

To even think about independence when your solvency depends on being a part of the UK is folly. It would be like volunteering for a 25% pay cut. The Scottish economy would crash if it were even attempted.

But of course, quite soon we will have endless Jacobites marching under one banner and the SNP will try to stir us all up again with talk of independence being only a year or two away. None of us will be remotely grateful for the furlough money and the vaccines that were given to us from over the border. Instead, we will give credit to Sturgeon and blame Tories while ignoring the fact that we keep choosing to re-elect a party that would have already bankrupted Scotland if it wasn’t for the free money it was given by those same wicked Tories.

Tuesday 17 August 2021

Afghanistan keep out

The Afghans succeed in destroying the British Army which invaded in 1839 and causing the British Empire no end of trouble until we decided to finally leave it alone. They succeeded in defeating the Soviet Union after the invasion of 1979 and have now defeated the coalition led by the Americans. After defeating three of the greatest empires in history and the three powers most responsible for winning the Second World War, it is now time to create an historical rule. Don’t invade Afghanistan. No good can come of it.

Afghanistan’s neighbours appear to have learned this lesson. The invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent war involved countries that were far away from it either in Europe, North America or Australasia. Countries like China, India or Iran which actually border Afghanistan did not join the American led coalition. If Afghanistan’s neighbours are happy to leave it alone, why did we feel the need to travel all the way from Britain to invade it?

The remnants of an army, Jellalabad, January 13, 1842 by Elizabeth Thompson

Afghanistan as a country is no threat to Britain whatsoever. An Afghan Army would have to travel all the way from Central Asia in order to invade us. It would get minimal help from the Afghani Navy as Afghanistan is rather far from the sea. The threat from Afghanistan was solely due to the terrorists who lived there. But so long as terrorists live in Afghanistan and don’t come here, there is minimal damage that they can do. If the resources spent over twenty years fighting in Afghanistan had been spent instead on defending ourselves from terrorism and keeping terrorists out of our country, we would all have been a great deal safer.

I would not give ten pence for the whole of Afghanistan. If you offered me a mine with minerals worth millions, I would not take it even if you tried to give it away, because it would not be worth the risk going there. Let the Afghans live as they please so long as they don’t cause trouble elsewhere.

We describe our armed forces as defence, but unfortunately all too frequently lately we have not used them to defend our island. Instead, we have sent them on futile missions to Iraq, Syria, Libya and other places none of us would ever want to visit. This is not defence. It is attack.

We must focus instead on only ever attacking those countries that attack us first. We must tell the world if you leave us alone, we will leave you alone. It is not our business what goes on in the whole region stretching from North Africa to Central Asia where there is constant instability, oppression and war. If Afghans don’t like living under the Taliban let them fight to get rid of it. If Iranians don’t want to live in a theocracy let them revolt. If Syrians want to fight a civil war let them fight it out amongst themselves, just as we once did, without the involvement of anyone else. When they get tired of killing each other let them stop.

We should have no involvement whatsoever in places which cannot invade us militarily. But the condition for the possibility of leaving them alone is that they leave us alone.

When Britain invaded Afghanistan in 1839, the threat of terrorism from those living in Afghanistan was approximately zero against both Britain and the United States. There was no danger whatsoever of people from Afghanistan or similar blowing themselves up or causing any other forms of trouble in the West because none of them lived here. Terrorism from this region can only occur in Britain or the United States if we allow terrorists to travel here. The people who blew up the Twin Towers in 2001 were not born in the United States. They had been allowed to travel there and to train to fly aeroplanes. There would have been no need to defeat Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the first place if Al Qaeda had been kept out of America.

The wars that Britain has been involved in for the past thirty years have wasted our money and our lives and have achieved nothing. They have not made us safer, because we are unwilling to do what is necessary to keep terrorists from arriving here. Let the Taliban live and rule in Afghanistan. They can do us no harm whatsoever so long as they stay there. Just keep them and those who have an ideology similar to theirs from coming here and we will be safer just by leaving them alone.

Of course, the Taliban and their friends may continue to try to influence people already living in Britain. The problem is that these people don’t want to leave us alone. It will be easier to defend ourselves if we do everything in our power to prevent anyone else arriving here who has sympathies with terrorism. But instead, we allow people to arrive illegally and unchecked. We allow people who have previously supported terrorist regimes abroad to return. We allow a steady stream of people from regions where terrorism and oppression are commonplace to arrive here and are then surprised when some of them bring with them the values, they have learned from living there.

Instead of fighting foreign wars we must use our armed forces exclusively to defend our territory. We must tell our enemies if you don’t attack us, we will leave you alone. We must focus our attention instead on identifying those people who are a threat to us whether they live here already or wish to do so. We must do what is necessary to prevent this threat from developing and eliminating it when it does.

I am delighted that our armed forces have left Afghanistan. I wish they had never gone near it in the first place. But our safety depends on preventing Afghanistan coming here for the simple reason that we cannot tell whether someone is a supporter of the Taliban by looking at him. We cannot allow these people to use values that they do not share and our unwillingness to do what is necessary to protect ourself to infiltrate our society.

It is only because the Taliban and its supporters were already in Britain and the USA that we felt the need to fight them at all.  Focus on solving this and the Taliban can be left alone along with all other sympathisers with its ideology. Focus on neutralising the threat from those who wish to attack us from within. If they had not been here, we would have not wasted twenty years fighting a war history shows we could never win.


Sunday 15 August 2021

The worst thing the SNP can do to you


What’s the worst thing the SNP could do to you personally? Many Pro UK people would assume that it would be if Sturgeon achieved her goal of Scottish independence. But this is not true. Whatever we might think about the economic consequences of the breakup of the UK these would not necessarily affect us personally. We would still have choices. We could at the very least move elsewhere. Whatever the emotional consequences of the destruction of the British identity and the unity of our three-hundred-year-old country we would survive as others have survived the loss of historical nations. While the SNP could damage us severely economically and emotionally these are not the worst things it could do.

Politics is important, but it is nothing compared to family. The loss of a child, a husband, a house or a job are far more important to each of us individually than the result of any election. It is here that the SNP can do the most damage.

The SNP recently published a document “Supporting transgender young people in schools: guidance for Scottish schools.” This can do far more damage than independence ever could.

Imagine you are a young mother with a little boy. He is just about to start school although he is still four years old. If he had been born when I was born, he would almost certainly never have met a boy who wanted to be a girl. I certainly didn’t. It just never occurred to me nor anyone I ever met that it was possible to change sex or gender. Throughout my studies I never once came across an example from history or literature prior to the past few decades of someone who genuinely thought it was literally possible for a man to become a woman. There were women who pretended to be men, such as Portia in the Merchant of Venice, but she knew that she really was a woman. But now my little four-year-old is presented with a choice that previously was not open to him. He can go where no man has gone before.

Prior to the mid-1950s no one thought there was a distinction between sex and gender. Sex was considered to be something unchangeable determined at birth and gender if it was used at all was a matter of grammar or of referring to biological sex in a general way. It is the invention of the distinction between sex and gender such that they can be different that is the root of the choice that is presented to my little boy.

There is no experimental evidence whatsoever for there being a distinction between sex and gender. If there were such a distinction in nature, we would expect it to be present in animals. But no bull has been shown to think that it is really a cow and for that thought to be true. Only human beings are presented with the idea that it is possible to be a little boy, but really be a little girl. Only human beings are told that while their sex may be objective their gender is subjective and a matter of choice. But once you introduce this choice do not be surprised when some children take it.

My little boy will enter into a school where he is gradually introduced to an ideology that was never presented to me nor anyone else in Scotland until the last few years. He will be told that there are lots of genders. He can be a boy. He can be a girl or he can be non-binary or indeed any one of any other gender that he might choose to make up. If he is unhappy, or if he prefers for whatever reason to play with the girls or dress up as a girl, then he will be told that he has a choice that was not open to me. Perhaps you really are a girl. Did you know that being a boy is not fixed? All you have to do is say that you are a girl and you can change your name and your pronouns and everyone will have to treat you as a girl.

Let’s say my little boy, influenced by some of the things he learns in primary school tells his teacher that he wants to be a little girl. This teacher has been told by the SNP that I need not be informed, indeed that it might be better if I am not informed. At that point my little boy might take on a new name at school. He might be called she. He would then go to the girls’ toilets if he wanted to. If there were a school trip, he might share a room a tent or a shower with the girls.

The parents of these girls would not be allowed to object that there was a boy in a changing room. They would not even know. If a little girl objected to the sight of a male body in her tent or shower, she would be told that this male body belonged to a girl just like her. If her parents objected, they would be told that what mattered was the gender identity of the person with the male body and if they objected further, they might find themselves admonished for being transphobic, which might get them into trouble with Scotland’s hate crime laws. Meanwhile I might know nothing about any of this because I would not have been informed.

This is the greatest damage the SNP could do to any one of us. It can turn boys into girls and if I object convict me of a hate crime, while making clear if I continue to object, I would be an unfit parent. The SNP could take my child away from me because on a whim and influenced by teaching materials that have no scientific basis, he decided that he was really a girl.

Not only might I lose my child, he would be put on a path where he would be encouraged to believe that he really was a girl. No one would say “Don’t be silly you are a little boy”. No one would point out the life changing consequences of his decision. He might in time be given pills, medical treatment and eventually surgery. He might be unable to have children. I would not be allowed to persuade him of his folly, because the authorities would insist that it was not folly and anyway, I would not be told.

The consequences of putting people with male bodies in single sex spaces are not merely about the embarrassment for those with female bodies. We don’t care about the gender identity of the person with the male body we care only about that body and what it has the potential to do.

People with genuine gender dysphoria must be treated kindly and with respect, but the initial stage of treatment must be to try to persuade them from going down this path at all. In the past someone with gender dysphoria would have been told by friends and family that it was not possible for boys to become girls. This meant that only a very few people who insisted despite all of this opposition reached adulthood maintaining they were really women despite being men. These few were a non-issue when I was a child. It was a medical matter rather than a whole ideology.

But now my little boy would face no opposition, instead the SNP would encourage him to be a girl if he just once suggested that he liked wearing dresses. If you think Scottish independence would be disastrous for your family imagine the distress of your little boy coming home as a little girl, knowing what the future held for him if he continued with this view. Imagine being unable to persuade him otherwise out of fear that he would be taken away. Imagine not even being told.


Saturday 7 August 2021

Boris is at least honest about Thatcher and the miners


Boris Johnson’s remark about coal mining and Margaret Thatcher is entirely truthful. The statement

Thanks to Margaret Thatcher, who closed so many coal mines across the country, we had a big early start and we're now moving rapidly away from coal altogether.

has been condemned by Nicola Sturgeon Keir Starmer and polite opinion in Scotland, but what part of it is false? If it had not been for Margaret Thatcher and her victory in the Miner’s Strike Britain would have continued to dig coal at the previous rate, we would have used that coal for longer in our power stations and we would have made less progress towards not using fossil fuels than we otherwise would have.

Was Margaret Thatcher motivated by the desire for Britain to have greener energy? Not entirely. She recognised that coal mining had become uneconomic in Britain and this was her primary motivation for taking on the National Union of Miners. But the recognition that coal was uneconomic implied that other forms of energy would be needed in the future. Thatcher was also one of the first serious politicians in Britain to realise that the use of fossil fuels was problematic because it damaged the environment.

The recognition that digging coal and heavy industry generally was both uneconomic caused a great deal of job losses in the 1980s and damaged communities dependent on this industry. But what if Margaret Thatcher had not been elected? In the 1980s we could have had as an alternative Government either Old Labour or else some sort of Tory Wet Government managing decline. Labour would have continued digging coal and using it to fuel power stations and would have tried to prop up this industry with subsidy. A weak Tory Government like Edward Heath’s unwilling to take on the unions and to recognise that subsidising failure just made Britain poorer would have done nothing to prepare Britain for a modern competitive world.

Jobs in heavy industry would have been saved if there had been no Margaret Thatcher, but they would not have been saved for ever. Heavy industry would still have been uneconomic. We were simply unable and unwilling to follow the practices in Germany that could make a profit from such industry.

The SNP and Labour both wish to eliminate the use of fossil fuels. So, when would they have closed down the mines? They would not have done so in the 1980s and condemned Thatcher for doing so, but in order to reach Net Zero they would have had to close down the mines at some point. This would have had exactly the same consequences for people’s jobs. So, while condemning wicket Tories for closing mines Sturgeon must accept that logically if she had been in charge, she would have had to do just the same. But clearly if fossil fuels damage the environment, it is better to close them earlier rather than later.

In the 1980s and indeed all the way up to 2014 the SNP believed that the economy of an independent Scotland depended on heavy industry and North Sea Oil. But clearly if Net Zero is desirable today, it would have been better if we had left North Sea Oil under the sea. The SNP argument until very recently indeed depended on fossil fuels. Now like everyone the SNP wants to eliminate them. But how does it suppose that Scotland could move from an economy heavily dependent on fossil fuels to one that doesn’t use them at all without job losses?

Margaret Thatcher was willing to make hard choices for the sake of the economy. We are much more prosperous today than in the 1970s because she eliminated nationalised industry, curbed union power and made clear that loss making industry would not be subsidised. This was painful but led to better employment and profitable jobs today. Our standard of living is entirely due to those tough choices.

But does anyone suppose that transforming Britain now into a Net Zero economy will be without pain? People will have to pay higher prices for energy. It soon won’t be possible to drive a car fuelled by petrol. Certain industries will no longer be economic if they cannot burn fossil fuel. But Sturgeon and Starmer say nothing about job losses. They just present the ideal of Net Zero without even mentioning the negative consequences of moving towards it.

If Scotland today was still stuck with a 1980s model of heavy industry dependent on fossil fuels and Sturgeon had achieved her dream of independence, she would be responsible for doing what Margaret Thatcher already did, otherwise how could she form a coalition with the Scottish Greens. But neither the SNP nor the Greens would actually be willing to do what is necessary to achieve an economy free from fossil fuels. The SNP after all thinks that it can achieve its goal of independence while spending British Treasury money without limit. I can remember no instance where either Labour, the SNP or Greens have honestly told the electorate that its policy goals would involve either cuts in public spending or job losses.

You cannot logically complain about Margaret Thatcher closing coal mines, when you yourself aim for a Net Zero economy. If she had not closed them, someone else would have had to. The failure to recognise this is simply childish. Tough choices will have to be made if we are to eliminate fossil fuels, because it will be far harder than what Margaret Thatcher did in the 1980s. But politicians who cannot recognise the necessity of Thatcher’s policies in the 1980s even though they had unpleasant consequences will be unable to be adult enough to treat the electorate honestly.

Sturgeon thinks that she can achieve a Net Zero independent Scotland with ever higher public spending, no job losses and indeed nothing bad happening at all. She has never once told the Scottish electorate that her goals might involve sacrifice. She therefore lacks the ability to make the difficult choices that would be necessary and is merely using flag waving to con the electorate into thinking it would all be easy. At least Boris spoke the truth about Thatcher and was honest about it. No one else in Scotland is.


Wednesday 4 August 2021

We must respect Neil Oliver's freedom to choose or else lose our own


The other day Neil Oliver made a point about freedom and Covid. I know Neil very slightly. He has sent a few kind messages, but I know him no more than that. I have watched his TV programmes regularly. We happen to agree about the constitutional debate in Scotland, but we disagree about other things. I think we disagree about the Covid vaccine. But we absolutely agree about freedom.

I am strongly in favour of the Covid vaccine. I have been vaccinated twice and will immediately take any vaccine that is offered in the future. But I respect the right of other people to disagree about this. Reasonable people can disagree about issues like this and it is crucial that they are allowed to do so. The right to disagree is what makes us a free society.

While I was keen, indeed eager to be vaccinated for Covid, my husband remained sceptical. We discussed this. Each put forward arguments. But it came down to a basic feeling due to our different backgrounds and beliefs. We agreed to differ, but also to respect our choices.

My husband was born in the Soviet Union. As a child he found that he had minimal freedom of choice regarding medical treatment. He was vaccinated for all sorts of things including for diseases he was unlikely to be exposed to. The state said you must be vaccinated and along with the rest of his school class he had to accept whatever was injected into him. He resented it then and resents it now. He wants to be in control of what goes into his body. He wants the right to say No. I believe he ought to have that right even if I disagree with him. This is the difference between living in Britain and the Soviet Union.

One of the key principles of modern medicine is consent. As adults we have the right to refuse medical treatment even if doctors and experts disagree with us. For instance, Jehovah’s Witnesses frequently refuse blood transfusions for religious reasons. They do so even when as a consequence they will die. So too someone might decide that cancer treatment is not worth it. Some elderly people choose not to be resuscitated if they get ill. There are other instances where someone chooses to have a medical operation, that I might consider to be unnecessary. I find it baffling, for instance that someone might want to amputate a healthy leg, but there are examples of this. But each of us must have the freedom to choose medical treatment or else avoid it. This is fundamental to living in a free society.

But while refusing to accept cancer treatment might kill me, it is unlikely to have any effect on anyone else. One of the arguments for vaccination is that it affects other people too.

Take the example of measles vaccination. In order to prevent outbreaks of measles it is necessary that a certain proportion of the population is vaccinated. If I refuse to have my child vaccinated, there is the possibility that it will catch measles and infect someone else. The same goes for Covid.

What we do or refrain from doing has consequences for ourselves, but also for other people. But to limit our freedom of choice because it has consequences for others is dubious because everything, we do might have a consequence for someone else.

When I drive a car, everyone else depends on me driving without making a mistake. Let’s say I don’t sleep particularly well one night. This might make it slightly more risky that I have a car accident. But to suggest that I morally ought not to drive because of this slight extra risk would be an unjustified infringement on my freedom to go to work. As we age, our reactions slow, which might mean we are gradually less likely to stop in time if a child walks in front of our car, but it would be an appalling loss of freedom to say that only those with perfect reactions should be allowed to drive.

Each of us in our daily lives can infect other people, with colds or flu, but we do not require everyone with flu symptoms to be locked down at home. Only certain very dangerous infectious diseases like typhus and typhoid have traditionally required us to remain isolated.

It is reasonable morally to require someone with pneumonic plague to lose his freedom, because the consequence to other people is very likely to be deadly. But I do not believe that this should be extended to relatively mild diseases. Covid 19 is a notifiable disease, but we must be very careful in extending loss of freedom to such diseases.

Covid kills between 0.5 and 1% of those who catch it. While the risk of dying for those over 70 is relatively high, the risk for everyone else is much lower to the point where children are at a very small risk of dying. But other ordinary infectious diseases also kill. If I have flu and infect an elderly person he might well die. Historical flu pandemics have had similar risks to Covid. Spanish flu in 1918-1919 was far more deadly. Do we really want to limit our rights to move freely amongst the population because of an infectious disease that just might kill someone else? There is clearly a balance. While I would be happy to have my freedom limited if I had typhus, I would be unhappy if every time I had a cough, a cold, or a temperature I was forced by law to stay at home.

The freedom to live a risky lifestyle, smoking, obesity, excessive drinking, has consequences for other people, because the lifestyle of everybody has consequences for how likely it is for us to require medical treatment. Each of us pays taxes for healthcare, we do not say that obese people should pay more or be denied treatment for illnesses that are a consequence of their obesity. Nor do we restrict the freedom of people to climb mountains or play Rugby because they are more likely to be injured. Our freedom requires us to be able to choose to do things that are risky, even if it has consequences for other people.

People who choose not to be vaccinated for Covid may just be opposed to this vaccination for a variety of reasons, but they may also be balancing risk versus reward. The Government decided not to give the AstraZeneca vaccine to under 40s, because it deemed that the risk reward calculation made it unjustified. So too the Government has decided that under 18s will usually not be vaccinated at present.

The reason was children are very unlikely to die. But clearly unvaccinated children can infect other people. But we must balance the likelihood of a child infecting someone else with the risk to the child from taking the vaccine. But if this calculation works for children, it must also be open to adults. If the rights of children require us to refrain from vaccinating them, then the right to freedom of choice with regard to vaccines must be extended to adults. If it is not wrong for children to infect others because of lack of vaccination, it cannot be wrong for adults to infect someone because of lack of vaccination. If the Government is allowed to make a risk reward calculation for children, each of us ought to be allowed to make a similar risk reward calculation about ourselves.

A twenty-year-old adult is very unlikely to die from Covid he may therefore reasonably conclude that it is not worth the slight risk from being vaccinated. I might disagree with that decision. I do. But I would not wish to deprive him of the choice to make it.

Neil Oliver is therefore not being selfish if he decides to not be vaccinated. The decision is not different in principle from choosing or refusing a flu vaccine. We are fortunate I believe that large numbers of people in Britain have chosen to be vaccinated. The consequence of those relatively few sceptical people refusing is unlikely to kill anyone who has been vaccinated. The risk if there is one is therefore mainly to Neil himself. Even if he catches Covid and infects someone else there will be only ever a small chance the other person would die. But that is morally no different and no more selfish than going on the bus while coughing and spluttering, which too might kill someone. Which of us has not done this or something similar?

Freedom of choice is something we have fought wars to maintain. It was worth losing hundreds of thousands in both World Wars. We have lost sight of this as our freedom has been eroded since the pandemic began. We have duty to others and we ought not to act recklessly, but each of us has a duty too to balance our desire for safety with the right of others to exercise their freedom. If we don’t, we will quickly find that our right to drink, smoke, be fat or engage in risky activities will be curtailed by a government intent on protecting us from ourselves. We are already moving in that direction, for which reason I defend Neil Oliver’s right to freedom over his own body. Without it none of us will have any freedom worth having at all.