Friday 22 October 2021

Time is running out for Sturgeon


Nicola Sturgeon thinks time is on her side. Every year the SNP’s control of education pumps out mini nationalists who have grown up since primary school with tartan theme days and the impression that the First World War was fought only by Scottish regiments. Meanwhile the Nat reaper sweeps through the care homes cleansing Scotland of its No voters. Every day Nicola McDuck sits in her counting house totting up the profit and loss. One more independence voter is added to the pile, one more UK lover goes to his just reward.

But oddly in the years since 2014 the basic arithmetic hasn’t changed at all. We are still at 50 plus or minus 5. Sometimes independence edges ahead, sometimes it falls behind. Just as communist education did not necessarily produce communist true believers in Eastern Europe so too Scottish school children grow up to be Scottish adults, who live and work, travel and think for themselves. Some people who once thought independence was a good idea think again.  

The SNP have the best emotional argument. It is grounded in patriotism. Those Scots who have no great love of Britain and actively dislike England support Scottish independence for the same reason they support the Scottish football team. This is powerful, because it is natural. If you think of Scotland as a country just like France then it’s natural to suppose that we ought to be independent like we once were. It seems to Scottish nationalists down right unpatriotic to reject that independence.

The SNP argument is very simple. It is light on detail because it doesn’t need it to convince most of its supporters. But the SNP doesn’t have enough of these to win the day. It has to convince the rest of us.

For many centuries most Scots were perfectly content being both Scottish and British. The SNP has been a serious force in Scottish politics for less than two decades. Are we to suppose that the Scots who lived for the 300 years before that were unpatriotic? So clearly it is not straightforwardly the case that loving Scotland means supporting the SNP or desiring independence.

At the moment there is a dispute between the EU and Poland over whose laws are supreme. The problem is that the EU is ambiguous. On the one hand it is made up of independent sovereign states, which each have their own football teams, on the other it is moving gradually towards political union having already achieved (in part) borderless travel and monetary union. But is there room in such a union for Polish courts to be supreme?

Patriotic Poles universally support Polish independence, which after all was lost for some centuries as Poland was partitioned and shared between Russia Prussia and Austria. Yet those same Poles support membership of the EU by a huge margin. The EU keeps going because people in its member states hold two opposite ideas at once. They each think that their country is independent and sovereign, but they also accept that the EU is moving towards political union and unity.

While it is fine for the German Supreme Court to challenge EU law on the basis of the German Constitution. This is only because Germany pays everyone else’s wages and because Germany tacitly is the pilot of the EU ship. But if every little Tomasz, Ryszard and Henryk thinks that he is really supreme then the German ship will hit a reef.

The people in the EU member states are 90-minute patriots. They will cheer their teams and wave their flags, but they won’t complain when their referendums are overruled if they are the little people. The ability to live and work abroad was a huge benefit to Poles and they will trade it for a little sovereignty so long as it is lost gradually so as no one much need notice. First one partition then another until you become a region of Russia, Prussia, Austria and then the EU.

This is the same calculation going on in Scotland. If only we could be EU citizens again. We could work in Slovenia. We’d be as independent as Poland.  But shared citizenship in itself implies shared sovereignty. US citizens are only that because they live in a sovereign independent state with a supreme court that is really supreme. Of course, Poles think that they can be both EU citizens and Polish citizens, but in the end, this becomes an illusion unless Polish law is supreme. If it isn’t then your Polish citizenship merges into EU citizenship just as there is no such thing as Texan citizenship or Texan passports despite your fighting for independence at the Alamo.  

This all makes some of the nationalist struggles in Europe rather pointless. If Irish nationalists succeeded in uniting Ireland, they might find that Ireland was merely a region of the EU. Was it really worth so many bombs? If Catalan nationalists broke away from Spain their independence would be the distinction between Sachsen-Anhalt and Niedersachsen. Is it really worth such expenditures of patriotism for the illusion of independence?

Britain left the EU because we thought we were joining a trading group but ended up moving in a direction we didn’t want to go. We didn’t want to join the Euro and we didn’t want to join Schengen. We resented having to follow EU rules and we didn’t want the laws made in our parliament to be subordinate to unelected officials in Brussels. Oddly Remainers didn’t much like these things either.

Scotland doesn’t want to go in that direction either. Very few Scots want to join the Euro. We don’t want to be in Schengen because it would make it impossible to continue in the Common Travel Area. Scottish nationalists resent when Westminster interferes the least little bit in areas controlled by the Scottish Parliament and they think that Scotland already is sovereign, having the right to determine on matters such as an independence referendum.

But this means that Scottish public opinion in reality is opposed to nearly all of the things that would enable us to be guided by the German EU pilot to the safety of the EU port. Every single argument Nicola Sturgeon will make for independence from Britain applies to the EU. Membership of the EU would only be tolerable for Scottish nationalists if we could retain sovereignty and the supremacy of our newly independent courts. But this would just turn us into Poland.

As the EU gradually gets closer, so too Britain is gradually so to speak drifting away somewhere between the Atlantic and the Pacific. We now have trade deals with Australia and New Zealand. Soon more will be added perhaps even the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) which we have applied to join. But these trade agreements are quite different from the EU.


1.     We don’t have to pay a membership fee.

2.     Free trade does not involve subordinating our courts or parliament to someone else’s

3.     Free trade does not involve free movement of people

4.     Free trade does not mean “ever closer union”

5.     Free trade does not involve trade barriers with Northern Ireland.

6.     Free trade involves no loss of sovereignty nor sharing it with someone else

7.     Free trade does not involve giving up control of our waters.

8.     The thing that makes trade free is that you don’t pay for it.


The problem for the SNP is that as Britain gradually drifts further from the EU, the cost of independence becomes higher. To become independent Scotland would have to give up any trade agreement negotiated by the UK. In the years ahead the Scottish economy is going to benefit from these deals. Eventually Britain will hope to have an agreement with every major economy. At some point giving up these agreements will be financially impossible.

60% of Scottish trade is with the other parts of the UK, 21% with the EU and 19% with the rest of the world. But as the years pass Scotland’s trade with the UK and the rest of the world will increase, while with the EU it will fall. But this means that Nicola Sturgeon will have to argue that it makes sense financially for Scotland to give up trade deals with the rest of the world, plus free trade with the former UK in order to gain free trade with the EU with whom we will have gradually decreasing trade.

Worse the SNP will have to argue that the very things we don’t like about Westminster will be replicated almost exactly by Brussels and in fact our courts won’t be supreme and our parliament will be subordinate to the European Commission.

But once people begin to understand that free trade need not involve all the things we dislike about the EU such as giving up sovereignty, then the attraction of paying a membership fee to the EU in order to get the sort of free trade we get with Australia for free will become such that EU countries that can afford to do so may question the benefits of membership. Of course, France wants to keep Germany close to stop it misbehaving. Eastern European countries may see EU membership as insurance against Russian dominance. Spain, Italy and Greece may see it as forcing them to be more like the Germans. But the EU then becomes merely a way to prevent something worse.

The SNP will still have their emotional argument, but I would be surprised if that were ever enough, not least because if the independence of Poland eventually amounts merely to playing football, then the attractions of independence in the EU will be no more than what we have already.

We could go down the fully independent route outside the UK and outside the EU, but we would then begin life with no trade deals with anyone but dependent on former UK roads and ports to buy almost everything.

Time is running out in fact for Scrooge McNicola. She may count her baubies, but they are tarnishing and rusting fast as the nationalist paint begins to flake away. All that’s Sturgeon isn’t gold.



Monday 18 October 2021

The Scottish nationalist corpse has Salmondella


Since May everything has gone quiet. I sometimes wonder if the Scottish nationalist body is sleeping or else that it has died from lack of interest. Sturgeon is tired and irritable. She is only 51, but there is increasing speculation about her retirement. It wasn’t so much the Covid virus that did for us as her exposure to Salmondella. The strain was virulent and the strain on Sturgeon’s bowels exhausting. If Scottish independence is the promised land, then Sturgeon is Aaron to Salmond’s Moses and neither will see it.

But the Scottish nationalist corpse still twitches. Angus Robertson grabs you by the ankles as if it is the end of Nightmare on Indyref Street Part 23. The plot is very familiar by now. Perhaps Robertson is merely hamming it up for the Indy Marchers and the other fundamentalists. But no with Kenny MacAskill’s intervention we can shout out like Colin Clive’s Henry Frankenstein “It's alive! It's alive!”

Do Robertson and MacAskill compare notes even though they are now in different parties or is it merely the natural tendency of Scottish nationalism to imitate its green hooped Irish equivalent. But there is a sea separating Glasgow and Belfast and this means contrary to Robertson that the Belfast Agreement does not apply in Scotland and sets no precedents.

If we had known now how the Belfast Agreement would be used by Ireland and the EU, I’m not sure that we would have signed it. The people of Northern Ireland might have been still more reluctant to agree to it. But peace treaties are not always ideal when both sides are capable of continuing to fight. Each side then has to make concessions to the other. The British Government made a concession to the IRA that it could have a border poll if the majority of the people in Northern Ireland wanted one.

We did this to stop IRA terrorism. If there had been no terrorism, there would have been no need for the treaty. Was it worth it? That’s really for the people of Northern Ireland to decide. But it is important to realise that the Belfast Agreement was signed under duress. The implicit threat was if you don’t sign it, we will continue to bomb you. It is for this reason above all that it is distasteful for the Irish Government and the EU to try to leverage this peace treaty for their own ends. They take advantage of what the terrorists did. It is even more distasteful for Robertson to suppose that it applies to Scotland.

Nowhere else in Europe is one state allowed to claim the territory of another. It doesn’t matter that German speakers live in the South Tyrol and that it used to be part of Austria. There would be outrage if Austria had a long-term foreign policy of annexing part of Italy. There is no prospect of a border poll anywhere in Europe, no matter if a majority wants one. There is also no prospect of a part of any EU member state being allowed to secede from another, because it was a kingdom some hundreds of years ago. The boundaries of Europe are everywhere fixed except in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Scotland did not have decades of terrorism. There was no peace treaty between the Scottish Republican Army and the British Government. Alex Salmond and Ian Blackford did not go on hunger strike nor did Kenny MacAskill engage in a dirty protest. The closest Scotland came to the IRA was singing about it and pretending to be involved in the armed struggle at football matches. So contrary to Robertson the Belfast Agreement does not apply to Scotland.

MacAskill is 63. He is one of two Alba MPs. But neither were elected as Alba MPs they merely defecated due to Salmondella. Will Alba stand at the next election and split the nationalist vote? Even if it does, it is unlikely that MacAskill will retain his seat. So, he is seeing his career ending and if there isn’t an independence referendum soon MacAskill will be no better off than Aaron and Moses. There is therefore a hint of desperation in his proposal to imitate Sinn Féin in not sending MPs to Westminster.

There is an obvious problem with imitating Sinn Féin’s strategy. It hasn’t worked for Sinn Féin. The Belfast Agreement did not happen because Sinn Féin refused to send MPs to Westminster, but rather because the IRA murdered people. The only obvious change if the SNP withdrew its MPS would be that there would be a still greater chance of their being a Conservative majority. It would moreover make a mockery of SNP complaints that Scotland is losing two MPs due to boundary changes, it then went on to withdraw all of them.

MacAskill thinks that these withdrawn MPs could vote for Scotland to be independent or failing this that the Scottish Parliament could do so. But 59 MPs meeting in a pub who happen to be from Scotland does not a Parliament make and constitutional matters are outwith the control of the Scottish Parliament.

Of course, independence has sometimes in history been achieved by self-appointed groups, but if you go down the revolutionary route you had better be sure that you have the overwhelming support of the electorate behind you, otherwise you are likely to look foolish at best, end up in jail at worst.

The problem for Scottish nationalism is to achieve Scottish independence in such a way that it does not destroy the Scottish economy. Scots are going to resent anyone who leaves us massively worse off. Some of us may be persuaded to vote for independence if it leaves our life-style intact, but few are fanatical enough to live in a cave like Robert the Bruce with only spiders to eat.

Robertson and MacAskill are impatient, which sees them going down the revolutionary road. But if you succeeded in forcing the British Government to give in to your demands, or if you succeeded somehow in declaring independence in a revolutionary act, all you would do would be to achieve an independent Scotland recognised by no one and with no international agreements or cooperation. MacAskill and Robertson’s impatience would merely turn Scotland in South Ossetia, Abkhazia or Transnistria, places most of us would struggle to find on a map.

Scottish nationalism to succeed depends on friendly relations with the former UK and an amicable divorce. Without that Scotland has zero chance of joining the EU. There is no right to an independence referendum no matter what Scottish nationalists think. So, you cannot batter on the door by pretending that the Belfast Agreement applies. Nor can you suggest that Scottish MPs or the Scottish Parliament can take matters into their own hand to repeal the Act of Union. The UK is a sovereign nation state. It is not a union of independent states, equal or not. It is not a union at all. It was a union in 1707. But to think that it is still is, is to suppose that a child is the same as its mother and father. The UK is not a union. It is the result of a union.

The only route forward for the Scottish nationalist corpse is patience. If when we get back to where we were prior to the pandemic, there comes a point when it becomes clear that the overwhelming majority in Scotland want independence then it may happen because I very much doubt that the British electorate would want Scotland to stay under those circumstances. The same applies to Northern Ireland.  

Rather than plotting rebellion it would make more sense if MacAskill and Robertson applied themselves to making Scotland wealthier, more efficient and productive. If in the future this made us less dependent on Westminster money, we might actually be able to afford independence, which might see support for it increase.

Unfortunately for MacAskill if he succeeded in withdrawing Scottish nationalist MPs, the British Government might decide to withdraw the block grant to Scotland as well as those MPs salaries, which might leave them like members of the tartan army in London who having blown all their money on booze are sleeping off their hangover on a London street smelling of last nights drink. The smell would be still worse if they had caught Salmondella.  

Saturday 16 October 2021

Only the terrorist is guilty


Whenever there is a terrorist attack in somewhere like Israel, we are told by the BBC that it carried out by militants. It gives the impression that the far left from the 1980s stopped handing out newspapers to blow himself up. Only when a terrorist attack happens here in Britain will the BBC allow itself to describe it as such. IRA militants after all did not try to blow up Margaret Thatcher. If a word is useful then we must use it consistently. If something is terrorism call it terrorism, otherwise you are lying in which case how can you be trusted on anything.

But how do we respond to an incident of terrorism where an MP is stabbed by a British citizen who has been described as a Muslim from Somalia. Firstly, we must think about David Amess and his family and friends. Like every other victim of murder, he didn’t deserve to die. Whatever the motive of the murderer, it did not justify this loss of life.

A short while ago I wrote about how men in general were being condemned for the death of Sarah Everard. The slogan “End male violence” was being used to turn the particular actions of Wayne Couzens into an argument about how men in general were culpable. I argued that this was unjustified. Innocent men who had done nothing to harm anyone were no more to blame than anyone else. Well, the same logic applies in the present case.

It would be equally wrong to have a slogan “End Muslim violence”. Just as only a tiny proportion of men commit murder, so too a tiny proportion of Muslims or people from Somalia commit murder or are involved in terrorism. Muslims or Somalis who have never hurt anyone are no more to blame than anyone else. It is only individuals who commit acts of violence and only they who are guilty. Condemning the group for the actions of the individual is morally wrong.

British citizens must all be treated equally. We are all individuals with our own ideas about everything. There will be British Muslims whose family came from Somalia who are making great contributions to society with their work. They will hold a variety of political opinions and almost all of them will be living lives that harm no one else. We cannot make generalisations about them from the actions of one person.

But one hundred years ago, in Britain there was no problem whatsoever from individuals who were Islamic extremists. Again, let use words that describe a thing rather than hide behind words like “Islamist”. At the beginning of the First World War, you would have struggled to find someone living in Britain who favoured Jihad. Indeed, few British people would even have known what the word meant.

The BBC routinely condemns places like Poland for being less than welcoming to refugees. But the reason is that the Poles have seen what Britain is like and they prefer to keep their country like it was one hundred years ago. That way there is zero chance that a Polish MP will be killed by someone involved in Jihad.

The least that we in Britain can do is to control immigration in such a way that we have the best chance of not letting people come here who hate us, our way of life and are sympathetic to terrorism. The vast majority of migrants will be glad to be here. They will become British citizens who are proud to be British and who value and like our country, because it is their country too. But we can only find those who don’t share these views if we control who can come here rather than it being simply a matter of who can pay the trafficker to get them onto a rubber dinghy.

MPs have a difficult job that is statistically fairly dangerous. Politics is frequently passionate. Often, we massively dislike the views of our political opponents. Scottish independence would be a disaster for me. It would see my country break up. I can think of nothing worse that could happen politically. But I have nothing against Scottish nationalists personally. I don’t want anything bad to happen to any of them. They are my neighbours and people who I interact with in the shops and on the street. I hope Nicola Sturgeon fails politically, but I do not hope anything bad happens to her or her family. I don’t know her personally. Our disagreement is political. It is not personal.

We all have sometimes said things in anger about political opponents that are overly scornful and insulting. I believe in polite reasoned argument, but each of us on Twitter or in an article has said something that might personally wound an opponent. When an MP has just died for doing his job, it is worth reflecting that he was not scum. He was a human being, with a family, who was motivated by what he believed. You may disagree with his views, but don’t try to turn the person into something less than human.

If you believe that Tories are scum or vermin, then you must also think that the world would be a better place if there were none of them. If you don’t mean this then you are merely exaggerating. But if you insist that you really did mean that Tories are scum, then your expressions of regret at the death of a human being look rather insincere.

Tory is used by too many opponents as the worst insult possible. The implication is that Tories are immoral, evil and less virtuous than those of us who oppose them. This is to dehumanise political opponents in a way that is now dangerous.

We don’t know the full story, nor the motivations for the terrorist incident that killed David Amess. But if a future Jo Cox or David Amess is saved just once because we all cease to use language that suggests murder is a matter of pest control, then it would be worth us making the effort to do so.

So too I hope not one Muslim or person of Somali origin feels guilty because of language that suggests he is guilty for something that he didn’t do.

Saturday 9 October 2021

No independence at any time


Lorna Slater, coleader of the Scottish Greens thinks that Scottish independence is inevitable and if there were a referendum tomorrow Yes would win. What Slater appears to be unaware of is that if there were ever to be a second referendum on independence the question would obviously not have a Yes/No answer. The precedent of the EU referendum makes that clear. While support for independence is around 50% on the 2014 question it falls considerably if the question is reworded as “Should Scotland leave the UK or remain part of the UK”. Would the SNP/Greens win a referendum on that question tomorrow? That would be much less likely.

But we are not going to have a referendum tomorrow. We would only have a referendum after a reasonably long campaign that explored all of the issues involved. The questions that the SNP was unable to answer in 2014 still await a convincing solution. Even so it was much easier to come up with an argument for independence with both the UK and Scotland in the EU. Brexit has changed everything and neither the SNP nor the Greens have an answer to the issue of a hard regulatory border between Scotland and England, nor to Scottish goods having to pay tariffs to enter the English market. Whatever power Scotland generates by wind, unfortunately has to go through England if it is to be sold to anyone else.

We learned in 2014 that a lot of Scots may desire independence with their hearts, but that a majority of us won’t vote for it if we conclude with our heads that it will make us poorer. Everything that has happened since, from the decline in oil, to our dependence on the Treasury to fund furlough, tells us that independence would at least initially make us poorer. The nominal deficit that Scotland runs, would immediately become real if we left the UK.

If Slater and Sturgeon believe that Scotland does not need Treasury money allocated each year according to the Barnett formula, why don’t they give it up and raise all Scottish revenue by means of Scottish taxes? If Scotland can’t give up this money now, how could it sensibly give it up when leaving the UK. The idea that Scotland is merely getting back what we pay in, doesn’t fit with the Scottish Government’s own figures. If you are a GERS denier, you might as well be a climate change denier too.

It may be that Scottish hearts would win over Scottish minds in a referendum campaign. Nationalism appeals to the emotions such that it can cause some people to lose contact with reason. But that was not our experience in 2014. Since then, some older No voters to the delight of the SNP have died, while the SNP has succeeded with its “Curriculum for independence” in turning quite a lot of school children into nationalists. This leads both Sturgeon and Slater to conclude that time is on their side. We’d win tomorrow thinks Slater, but we’d win with even more certainty years from now.

But each of us evolves politically as we grow older, apart that is from Sturgeon who believes exactly what she believed when she was 16. When we start working and having to pay bills, mortgages and bring up children, our ideas change. It doesn’t seem quite such a good idea if the SNP want to increase public spending without limit. We realise that the free things we are supposedly given come from our taxes. We begin to worry that our little boy might come home from school one day as a little girl. Flag waving and separation from our neighbours begins to look less desirable, especially if it would make us poorer.

Most importantly for those concerned about climate change and the world moving away from using fossil fuels, it isn’t at all obvious that Scottish independence would help.

Climate knows no boundaries. It matters very little indeed even if Scotland burned no fossil fuels whatsoever. If the UK burns 1% of the world’s fossil fuels, then Scotland must be burning rather less than 0.1%. Slater says she wants independence to do all the things the UK prevents her from doing. But it is hardly going to make much difference even if she could turn Scotland into a pre industrial society living in crannogs. So long as India and China keep burning coal it will not help if we paint ourselves blue and chew on raw carrots because we have given up cookers.

The only way giving up fossil fuels will make a difference is if everyone in the world does so. But this will require international agreement. Scotland would have very little influence on the world stage after independence. It wouldn’t increase as Slater thinks. We might be one among 28 in the EU with no more say than other small countries like Slovakia. The EU would have a common policy on the environment and Scotland would be expected to agree to it.

Glasgow is going to hold the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference shortly, but it is only being held in Scotland because the UK is a member of the UN and has a fairly important voice internationally. If Scotland had voted Yes in 2014, there is zero chance that COP26 would be taking place here. So how would independence have increased our influence?

Ceasing to use fossil fuels is going to take a vast amount of political energy and money. But if Scotland voted for independence both Scotland and the former UK would need for years to devote most of their political energy to the divorce. Scotland after independence would need to devote its political energy to joining the EU and to finding a way to reduce our deficit. But this would make us less able to afford the very expensive changes such as increasing insulation for homes and building a network suitable for electric cars. People concerned about climate change should vote for anyone but the Scottish Greens or the SNP.

If preserving the environment required secession, we should expect every European Green party to be in favour of breaking up their own country. But German Greens don’t want independence for Saxony and French Greens don’t want independence for Burgundy. So clearly it is not necessary. If Lorna Slater was so in favour of independence movements it is a wonder she did not move to Quebec and campaign for the breakup of Canada. I find it distasteful that she chose to move here in order to break up my country.

No country in the world would allow immigration of people who wished to destroy it. If immigrants from the United States to Canada were trying to make Canada a part of the USA, the Canadians would no doubt stop them coming at all. Well likewise if Canadians typically came to UK to break it up, the Government would reasonably stop them doing so.

Lorna Slater came to Scotland when she was 25 and no doubt liked how it was. If she hadn’t liked it, she could have stayed at home or gone elsewhere. At some point she must have chosen to live here.  She would have been granted leave to remain by the UK. She may even have made pledged her loyalty to the UK. But at any rate she took advantage of the hospitality the UK gives to people who move here. Obviously, everything she has done politically since then is legal. She has the right to do it. But I personally find it rather ungrateful behaviour.

If I had moved to Canada when I was 25 and spent my life campaigning to destroy it, I could imagine Canadians looking at my actions and wondering whether it would not have been better if I had been prevented from coming there. To campaign to break up someone else’s country while leaving your own intact, is the behaviour of a hypocrite. Even if it is legal, it is morally indefensible.

If she loves the EU so much, why didn’t she campaign for the North American Union ruled from Washington? But no one in North America would accept that, would they? Not even Slater.

There won’t be an independence referendum tomorrow. We have just discovered that neither the Greens nor the SNP have a mandate for one, in which case there may never be one. Those people who campaigned for Quebec to be independent must have thought it was inevitable when they came so close in 1995. I wonder which way Slater voted. Someone should ask her. But now there is nothing inevitable about it all about Quebec’s independence. Indeed, it is unlikely.

So too with Scottish independence. Support for it increases and falls, but until and unless people like Slater come up with convincing arguments which address the real problems of separation, then we must be forced to conclude that they are mere opportunists who got on a bandwagon because it pays well, but are making no more contribution to dealing with climate change than a green Canadian moose.

Thursday 7 October 2021

The SNP have just been badly defeated


Things haven’t been going terribly well for Nicola Sturgeon in recent weeks. Her one-time Covid elimination strategy looks still more foolish now when even New Zealand has had to abandon it. If the saintly Jacinda Arden cannot manage to keep Covid from spreading in a country two and half thousand miles from anywhere else how was Sturgeon supposed to emulate her heroine with Scotland joined to England and reliant on lorries and trains connecting us to the continent. If only we had been independent, we could have been like New Zealand looks even more foolish when both New Zealand and Australia have merely delayed the pandemic, have fewer people vaccinated than the UK and are pretty much where we were in March 2020 at the beginning rather than reaching the end.

There was a little flurry of excitement at the SNP conference as Sturgeon brought on stage a figure who would take the campaign for independence to the next level. Unfortunately, no matter how much she tried to flog it, no one but the most committed were buying and it turned out that the rather comatose new Scottish nationalist hero was Robert the Bruce’s horse, which was not sleeping, but rather dead and it would not rise again no matter how many times Sturgeon hit it.

The same SNP strategy of giving it a good bash as proved less than successful in keeping the engines of Cal Mac ferries going and unfortunately destroyed the computers that were needed for the vaccine passport ap to work. Sturgeon’s determination to do better than England no matter how inconvenient for Scots suffers also from the problem that Covid is spreading freely in Scotland, in schools and in homes and indeed where two and three are gathered together not merely in nightclubs and football stadiums. If vaccine uptake in Scotland had been low, then the SNP could have argued that the vaccine passport was encouraging those who had yet to come forward, but the present rate of vaccination is 93% for the first dose and 84% for the second.  Pretty much anyone who wants a vaccine has had it. Those who don’t want it will do without seeing Cowdenbeath playing Stirling Albion.

Despite Sturgeon being on the TV with her Covid briefings only two things actually made a difference and she was in control of neither. We were able to stay at home because the Chancellor funded furlough and kept businesses going. The rates of death and serious illness came down because the British Government invested in vaccine research and bought enough to vaccine the whole population. Sturgeon wasn’t able to stop Covid spreading. Her decision to send old people back from hospital killed more than any other decision she made. Having a different policy to England on this or that saved no lives, but might instead have cost them owing to confusion.

The bounce in support for independence that she hoped would occur by monopolising the airwaves hasn’t happened. Meanwhile thoughtful Scots have noted how dependent we were during the pandemic on Treasury money and Britain’s ability to borrow at low rates and how it’s rather useful to have the British Army organise things and drive ambulances. It would be rather a pity to destroy something that has from time to time proved so necessary.

But a decision by the Supreme Court may prove to be the worst news of all for Sturgeon. Ever since the SNP came to power, it has been determined to turn the Scottish Parliament into something that it isn’t. Firstly, it renamed itself the Scottish Government, then it decided to have departments and ministers for areas it did not control, in the end we had Sturgeon treating the Prime Minister as a visiting dignitary as she went on her travels trying to develop a separate foreign policy. The SNP kept pushing the boundaries of devolution with Sturgeon acting as if we had voted for independence in 2014, when in fact she lost rather badly.

The latest ruse on the part of the SNP was to attempt to pass two laws that were outside the remit of the Scottish Parliament. These were the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill and the European Charter of Local Self-Government (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill. The Supreme Court has agreed that the Scottish Parliament cannot legislate for areas outside its competence because this is contrary to what the electorate voted for and contrary to the 1998 act that set up the Scottish Parliament in the first place.

This might seem an obscure point of law, but it has an important consequence. If the Scottish Parliament cannot pass a law which is outside its remit, it cannot logically have a mandate to do so. But constitutional matters are reserved, which means a bill for an independence referendum cannot be legally passed by the Scottish Parliament (without permission). But logically this means that the Scottish Parliament cannot have a mandate to pass such a bill. It cannot say the majority of MSPs support this bill therefore we should pass it. The consequence of this is that even if the SNP had all of the MSPs it still could not pass a law regarding constitutional matters (e.g., independence) because to do so would be outside its scope and illegal.

But this has a rather devastating consequence for the SNP. If constitutional matters are reserved, then they have nothing whatsoever to do with the Scottish Parliament. The SNP cannot claim a mandate for an independence referendum based on an election to Holyrood, because Holyrood does not deal with this issue. For the same reason it cannot pass a law to join the United Nations or a law to annex Berwick.  It could claim a mandate for independence in a General Election, but only if it won the majority of seats in Westminster. The arithmetical difficulty for the SNP is that even if it won all of the seats in Scotland it would not have enough to form a government.  Winning even 100% of the vote in Scotland would not give the SNP a mandate for an independence referendum, any more than if the Conservatives won 59 seats in the whole of the UK would give them a mandate.

The only way in which 59 seats gives you a mandate is to treat Scotland as already separate, but this is to assume what you are trying to prove, that Scotland ought to be separate. If on the other hand Scotland is a part of the UK (we voted for this in 2014), then winning 59 seats no more gives you a mandate than winning 59 seats anywhere else in the UK.

The only route to a legal independence referendum is for the SNP to persuade enough MPs in Westminster to vote for an independence referendum. It could do this by forming a coalition with Labour. So long as the SNP wins most of the seats in Scotland, Labour’s only route to power is to have some sort of deal with the SNP. It would be almost impossible given the current parliamentary arithmetic for Labour to form a government by winning enough seats only in England and Wales.

The result of the Supreme Court decision is that a Conservative Government can logically, morally and democratically block the SNP for ever, because the SNP will never have a democratic mandate for independence unless it starts standing in the whole of the UK and wins a majority of the seats. The only danger is if Labour thinking of short-term power decides to risk the future of the UK on a deal with Sturgeon. Labour would of course, because it would have no choice.  

Monday 4 October 2021

Is Brexit to blame for everything?


I have finally come to my senses. I repent. If only I had a time machine I would go back to June 2016 and vote to Remain. I began to realise what an awful rotter I was when a mysterious new virus began to emerge from China. It was obviously caused by Brexit. If only I’d not voted to Leave then Prince Philip would be alive. I feel guilty about the volcano in La Palma which is showing justifiable wrath at Britain for daring to think it might manage without the EU. Help me Mr Lammy. Help me Baldrick. What can I do to atone? It’s my fault we are queuing for petrol.

It’s now more than five years since we voted to leave the EU. It’s longer than the First World War. Soon it will be longer than the Second World War. Yet out of all the political events in British history, this alone has the power to cause reasonable people to reflect on what might have been and point out I told you so about any and every bad thing that happened afterwards.

If we had not declared war on Germany in 1914 it is reasonable to assume that France would have been defeated quickly. This might have cost France a bit of money and another province, but the upside for the world would have been no Russian Revolution and no rise of fascism in the 1930s. But the calamity of voting for Brexit clearly outweighs all other counterfactuals.

Every election changes history for good or ill. If we hadn’t voted for Thatcher in 1979, we might not have closed down the pits and steel industry, but what other events might have happened. We just don’t know. This is why counterfactual history is more bunk even than normal history. There is a possible world where we wake up to find that Remain won the referendum, David Cameron stayed on as Prime Minister to be succeeded shortly afterwards by Jeremy Corbyn. This was no doubt what Lammy and Baldrick wanted. But would it have led to only wonderful things happening? We will never know. Because it didn’t happen.

But the fault of Baldrick and friends in attributing petrol shortages to Brexit is not so much that it is impossible to know what would have happened if we had voted their way. Maybe under Corbyn there would have been no money to buy petrol. More importantly as the time from an event increases, the multitude of causes becomes so enormous that it becomes ludicrous to attribute this event to that cause. I may speculate that France losing the First World War might have saved us from Communism and Fascism, but this might have meant that a later world war involved extensive use of nuclear weapons. Saying this event wouldn’t have happened if only we had done this, implies knowledge of a possible world that didn’t happen. But there is no such knowledge.

There are certain events in history that are decisive. Whether you regret it or not, the election of Thatcher changed Britain in such a way that there was no going back to how things were in the 1970s. Labour kept losing until it accepted this. So too with Brexit. It has decisively changed the path we were on.

The reason the French were so angry about Australian submarines was because they could see that the Entente Cordiale (1904) that led us to ally with France in 1914 had quietly come to an end. Strategically Britain’s role had changed utterly. Our role of propping up France did not survive Barnier. This leaves France with the dilemma it has had since 1870. France is too small to compete with a united Germany. This is why it has sought to merge with Germany since the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The trick for France is to end up ruling this merger. The danger is that at some point Germany loses its sense of guilt and seeks to rule France. But this is something France will have to work out on its own, because Britain has learned finally that we do not have to be involved as we were in 1914 and 1939. We can leave them to it as in 1870. Bonne chance M. Macron.

When something decisive happens, for good or ill, there is no going back. People who go on about petrol strikes caused by Brexit, don’t get this. It’s like someone on Mao’s Long March complaining about blisters. If only we hadn’t gone down this path instead of staying at home. These people fail to recognise the decisiveness of the event which is precisely why they complain.

The idea that Britain might rejoin the EU is like the idea that Britain after Thatcher would go back to the three-day week and the Winter of Discontent. At the next election no serious political party will propose a referendum to join the EU. Even the SNP which still favours independence in the EU would not allow us to have a referendum on it. The reason is that it is politically impossible to persuade the electorate to rejoin the EU.

The offer in 2016 was between the continuing EU membership with the conditions that were then and leaving. But that offer no longer exists. It is not clear even that the EU would allow Britain to rejoin under any circumstances, given how troublesome we have been since joining. But if it did allow us a second chance, it would make absolutely sure there was no way we could change our minds. The way to do this would be joining the Euro.

If Britain had joined the Euro there would have been no Brexit, because leaving a currency union involves all sorts of risk as we discovered during the Euro crisis involving Greece. So, logically if you set the condition of membership as being joining the Euro you bring stability into the EU. This is why joining the EU from scratch requires that you join the Euro. It also requires that you join Schengen. This means that there would be no need for refugees to sail across the Channel. They could just get on the Eurostar. Once in the EU you would effectively be in Britain, because there would be no checks that could stop you.

The Euro and Schengen would stop even most Remainers from voting to rejoin. This is why no one will campaign for it and why EU membership is a dead issue in British politics.

The only person who does not realise this, of course, is Nicola Sturgeon. She like Baldrick does not realise that 2016 decisively made Scottish independence impossible to achieve without damaging Scotland. Scottish nationalists may pretend that they could obtain opt outs from the Euro and Schengen, which Britain would be unable to get. If they are wrong on this, then Scottish independence looks as unattractive as the UK rejoining the EU. But even if Scotland could obtain such opt outs we would still be in the wrong trading bloc. It’s not just that we trade more with the other parts of the UK than the EU its that almost all of our trade is shipped through England and uses English ports. Any sort of regulatory border between England and Scotland would damage Scottish prosperity and quality of life. Its hard to see how either secession or EU membership could make up for this.

Few Scots are aware of these issues now, for which reason Sturgeon and the SNP remain popular, but it’s also hard to see how this lack of awareness could survive a campaign that concentrated minds. The SNP’s argument is much worse now than it was in 2014. Something decisive happened in the years since, but it’s easier to bang on about Brexit rather than recognise this.

After all if joining the Euro would have stopped Britain leaving the EU, then leaving a currency union with Britain would be equally as challenging for Scotland.