Friday 26 November 2021

The Great Sturgeon

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Sturgeon's wonder when she first picked out the green light at the end of Covid's dock.

Her popularity was rising as the disease spread throughout Scotland. But we at least had a deliverer who could save us all from this sickness. We could be comforted by her daily televangelism. Her prophecy that the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped was finally coming to pass. The most stubborn former No voter was either dead in a care home, or else converted to the cause. Even Tories were saying we could not survive without Nicola. Her daily TV appearances killed all known viruses remotely just by zapping them with a flick of her prompter. When Covid was over there would be the green light for a second independence referendum and the result by that stage would be inevitable.

Her dream must have seemed so close that she could hardly fail to grasp it.

2020 must have seemed a good year for Scottish nationalism. There had been great hopes before about Brexit. Angry Scottish Remainers would surely prefer the EU to the UK. Yet somehow it never quite happened. Sturgeon lost 21 seats at the 2017 General Election. But now finally the issue that would get her to the promised land had arrived. Of course, she hated having to be on TV every day, just as she loathed taking selfies with Greta Thurnberg and a can of Irn Bru. Still there was a moment as her popularity climbed and as support for independence gained a 13% lead that she saw herself as unstoppable.

She could hardly fail to grasp the dagger that would kill the United Kingdom. “Come, let me clutch thee” said Sturgeon “I have thee not, and yet I see thee still”.

Something happened last winter and it became clearer still as we moved into the second year of the pandemic. All of Sturgeon’s TV appearances, all of her little rules and regulations and Scottish versions of British guidance made zero difference. If there had been no devolution at all and we’d all just done the same in each part of the UK, it would have made minimal difference.

I remember how we treated Covid like the Olympics. Germany was doing better than Britain. It must have been because of all their extra efficient hospitals. Now they are in lockdown. Sturgeon too saw her task as simply doing better than England. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the disease-ridden English spreading it to Scotland, we wouldn’t have had any cases at all.

I remember how Sturgeon had an elimination strategy in the summer of 2020 and promised us that if we only did what we were told she would eradicate Covid. Even Australia and New Zealand haven’t managed that. With Covid spreading this summer in Scotland at a higher rate than anywhere else in Britain, Sturgeon looked merely foolish as if she were trying to abolish the common cold.

She did not know that it was already behind her, somewhere back in that vast obscurity of SNP plans, where the dark fields of Ravenscraig rolled on under the night.

Brexit changed everything firstly on the surface and then fundamentally. It helped the SNP initially, but this was merely an illusion as if some unkind fate were playing tricks on Scottish nationalist hopes, like one of those stories where you are given your heart’s desire, but the price is something dreadful. It must have seemed so close.

Brexit briefly increased support for the SNP because Remainer Scots were angry, but in time we all gradually began to realise that it was going to make it much harder for independence if England was outside the EU while Scotland was inside. It put Scotland back to a world we hadn’t inhabited since the Middle Ages and went against the whole course of history where we gradually became closer to the neighbours on our small island. The SNP have never come up with a convincing answer to how practically it would work for an EU border to be drawn between Berwick and Gretna. This is why support for independence is falling. The fundamentals of the SNP argument are mere obscurity and we won’t vote for dark fields in the night.

Sturgeon believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.

Boris would say Yes. He would be forced to. If only she made a coalition with the Scottish Greens, she would get her green light. But there is no sign of it. The man from Del Monte, he say No. It’s not at all obvious what Sturgeon with Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater can do about this. They could hold a vote in the Scottish Parliament, but we already know that it is outside Sturgeon’s remit, because the courts have told us this. So, it would be ignored.

It took over three years to organise the first independence referendum after everyone accepted there would be one in 2011. So, who are you kidding Mrs Sturgeon when you keep telling us that it will be in 2023? It amounts to a Scottish nationalist wet dream that may well be orgastic, but is merely a sticky mess the next morning.

It eluded us then, but that's no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.

Covid has changed the way we work forever. Along with the Internet it amounts to a revolution like the invention of the printing press. We are therefore going through one of the great changes in history and we can hardly guess what work will be like in the coming decades. Faced with uncertainty voters stick with what they know.

Two things mattered during the pandemic. The vaccine and furlough. The first saved our lives the second saved the economy. Neither came from Sturgeon.

The Conservatives have made a lot of mistakes lately. But the decision to go it alone on vaccine development rather than join with the EU, made more difference than everything else put together. It saved more lives too. In difficult times we learned the benefits of the Treasury. It would have been much tougher if Scotland had voted for independence in 2014. We all know this. This is why support for independence is falling.

With Russia perhaps about to invade Ukraine and with China threatening Taiwan now does not look like a good time to abolish the British armed forces.

Scottish independence depended on a world that is now gone. This is the problem with the SNP continually trying to rerun 2014. It eluded us then. Just one more go. It’s like a compulsive gambler at the puggy machine. Next time I’ll get four cherries. Even if this time I have only one and she’s called Joanna.

Tomorrow we will march faster. The pity for these poor people is that they are marching backwards. All that they demonstrate by their marches is that they are not really a mass movement.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

This is the tragedy of Scottish politics and why the Scottish Parliament has achieved nothing of significance since it was created.

It isn’t that Scotland could not become independent. It’s that it couldn’t be done without damaging our prosperity, standard of living and above all without doing grave damage to the relationship we have with those who live in the other parts of the UK.

We are obsessed about a past, when we continually fought against England, which was in every respect worse than now. But it is not 1314 that prevents our rowing boat from getting beyond the waves that are pushing it back, it is 2014. Our population is divided and pulling in different directions. The idea that independence would unite a disjointed crew depends on the opponents of Scottish nationalism accepting defeat in just the way we have all learned from the SNP not to do.

The Great Sturgeon may go on and it may be true that she has no plans for retirement, but she knows that her career is already over because it is revolving “slowly, tracing, like the leg of compass, a thin red circle in the water.” And her cause is lying face down dead in the water.


Friday 19 November 2021

The unforgivable sin

There is some speculation that Russia might be about to invade Ukraine again. The Red Army might be about to repeat its “liberation|” of “Little Russia” bringing it back to the Motherland whether it likes it or not. In such a case a large number of Ukrainians might decide to flee westwards. Would they be stuck behind a barbed wire fence in tents trying to cross the Polish border?

If President Macron took his Napoleon complex one step too far and crowned himself emperor and masses of French people decided to flee across the Channel in rubber dinghies how would the British respond? Would we propose as a solution to this problem that they should be sent to Albania? Would we indeed pay Mr Macron millions to stop his people fleeing? Britain has been happy to rescue fleeing French Huguenots who had a well-founded fear of persecution after being massacred on St. Bartholomew's Day 1572. We were happy to give homes to those French nobles who escaped the guillotine and we gave a base to Charles de Gaule and the Free French though we got little thanks for it.

The response to people wishing to come to Britain is entirely different depending on where they are from. Britain absorbed millions of EU citizens with minimal difficulty. If we had to resettle a few hundred thousand Ukrainians we would do so and barely notice. Why then are we bothered about Belarus flying in people from Syria and Iraq? Why care about upwards of one thousand people a day arriving in rubber dinghies from France?

There is a fundamental lack of honesty about this. The reason we would not be that bothered if French refugees turned up on the South Coast or if Ukrainians had to flee here from the Red Army is that twenty years from now the children of these people would be indistinguishable from the rest of us. The descendants of the Huguenots may have French names, but in all other respects they are no different from those French who arrived with the Norman Conquest. Likewise, the children of Ukrainians would be like the children of those Poles who arrived here some decades ago. There would be no stories about them blowing themselves up in a taxi, nor would there be any stories about them complaining about the racist treatment they had received in Britain. There would in fact be no stories at all.

The attitude we have towards refugees or migrants is entirely dependent on who they are. If Australia suddenly became too hot for its inhabitants, there is no doubt whatsoever that our government would offer large numbers of Australians the chance to come somewhere cold, wet and miserable. We would do so because we’d recognise that apart from an accent there is little to distinguish an Australian from a Brit. But when there was a war in Syria our government did it's very best to minimise the number of Syrians who came here. Were these Syrians not equally people in need?

We are dishonest too about our duty to our fellow human beings. Our first duty is to our families, our second duty is to our fellow citizens, but our duty to the rest of the world depends entirely on whether they are people we know and like. If we really wanted to treat every human being equally, we would abolish all borders and pool the world’s money so that everyone got his share, but unfortunately this would involve a rather drastic cut in our standard of living and the gradual dilution of whatever national identity we feel.

Beyond mere abstraction we don’t think that everyone is born equal. We care more about a hurricane in Florida than we do about a far more devastating cyclone in Bangladesh. We care more about Covid deaths in Britain that we do about Malaria deaths in Africa. We are territorial and tribal and want to keep our green and pleasant land for ourselves, our families and our friends. This is no doubt deplorable, but it also the reason why we defend our territory and why we have a country to defend at all.

Racism has become the unforgivable sin. A remark allegedly made in private ten or twenty years ago will mean that this cricketer will lose his job and struggle to get another. We all know that certain words would lead to our instant dismissal so we don’t use them in public if we are sensible. But this does not change how people think.

In a Yorkshire town which is racially divided, what do the inhabitants think about each other? Most people probably try to get along with those they meet. It’s easier than conflict. But many in each community decide to live in streets where there are only people like them. There may not be the same history of armed struggle, but this is a division similar to that in Northern Ireland.

In private which of these residents from either community has never had a racist thought about the other? In conversations in these homes prejudice will be expressed. You can’t go out with her. You can’t be friends with him. These people have no morals. Those people don’t fit in. These people smell. Both communities would probably prefer to live in a town, indeed a country, where only people who looked like them lived and where everyone believed the same things. If that were not the case they would not be living in separate streets.

Prejudice is part of being human. It is not limited to white cricketers. It is something that all of us feel including the Government when it has a different policy about migration from European countries and from the Middle East. If we were completely lacking in racism, we would be flying planes to Iraq and Syria to save them the trouble of sitting on the Polish border or risking their lives in dinghies. But we don’t, because we prefer Britain as it is, we think it has changed too much already and we don’t want to add to the risk that already exists.

The unforgivable sin is universal if we could look into everyone heart and private thoughts. We are careful about what we say in public, but when we hear about a Christian suicide bomber who converted we rather doubt the sincerity of the conversion not least because the concept of a Christian martyr is of someone who is put to death for his beliefs, not someone who puts anyone else to death for their beliefs.

Azeem Rafiq was the victim of prejudice, but it is the same prejudice shared by nearly all of us who would prefer that those in rubber dinghies did not cross the Channel and that those on the Polish border did not make it through and especially did not make it here. We can either be honest about this or continue hiding our prejudice under a bushel.

If as a Christian ten-year-old I had been taken to live in Pakistan, I would have been part of a tiny minority. It is doubtful that I would have been allowed to play cricket. I might have found that some people didn’t want to be friends with me or marry me, because of my religion. I would perhaps have learned various insulting words that are used about Christians. One of them might have been the word Kafir, which comes from the Arabic. Perhaps I would have also heard insulting words about white people. It would have been deplorable no doubt, but I would just have had to accept it. There wouldn’t have been much point complaining.

We must do all we can to treat whoever lives in Britain politely and with respect. But let us at least be honest about this. Each of us has prejudice, because it is part of what makes us human beings. Since time began, we have divided ourselves into groups based on features such as language, religion and appearance. It is for this reason that we have countries and peoples who distinguish themselves from other peoples.  It is only because we discriminated against those who were not in our group that we remained this people and this country rather than merged with everyone else.

Everyone commits the unforgivable sin. The accuser is equally the accused, who also has written and thought things that he ought not. Better by far if we forgave each other for being human.




Saturday 13 November 2021

Banned from Britain


How many people who are delivering their daughters to Oxford University are a threat to national security? I can think of no such dad’s pulling up to the college in their estate cars packed with clothes and computers blowing themselves up at the gates to our dreaming spires waking them from their slumbers with cries of Jesus is merciful. Good Catholics have not been a threat to national security since Guy Fawkes.

Rafal Ziemkiewicz a popular conservative writer from Poland was recently prevented from entering the UK in a situation that resembled Kafka’s Trial. He was not sure what he was accused of. He met merely polite obscurantism from the border officials. He had committed no crime either in Britain or in Poland, but was left unable to accompany his daughter to Oxford just because someone, who knows whom, had denounced him.

There was minimal coverage of this event in the British press. I searched for what he was supposed to have done but it was as if I saw through a glass darkly so thick was the smoke and so distorting were the mirrors.

I discovered that Rafal had planned to talk to some Poles in London a couple of years ago, but that some left-wing Poles had complained about him and involved Rupa Huq MP. The police got involved and the meeting didn’t happen. Rafal thought no more about it until he was prevented from going with his wife and daughter to Oxford.

He is accused of being far-right, but in fact his views are simply those of a mainstream conservative in Poland. Rafal is a best-selling author. Probably the most famous journalist in Poland. His books top the best-seller list. If he is far-right then we can assume that most Poles are far-right and that the Polish Government is far-right too. Perhaps we should ban all Poles from coming to Britain. 

Rafal as accused of Holocaust denial on the basis of one sentence mentioning the myth of the Holocaust. But this was in a book that extensively dealt with the reality of the Holocaust and which denied none of the accepted events which occurred.

If I write about the myth of Dunkirk and the way that it has been used in British history to create a story about little boats rescuing our army, this does not mean that I deny the historical events, it simply means that I am questioning a popular interpretation of these events. By questioning popular interpretations of historical events, we are more likely to arrive at truth. So Rafal far from denying anything is seeking to view the events of the Holocaust with the eyes of a historian. For this he should be commended rather than condemned.

The banning of Rafal from Britain is undoubtedly due to the actions of Rupa Huq. She may shrug her shoulders and say “nothing to do with me Gov” but how else did he get on some secret blacklist. It wasn’t because the British border force monitors Polish newspapers and bestselling books on politics and history. 

But let’s look at the beam in Rupa Huq’s eye compared to the mote in Rafal’s. Huq wants Shamima Begum to be allowed to return to Britain from Syria in order to face whatever charges she might face. Quite possibly none.  Begum married an Isis terrorist and was allegedly involved with Isis in Syria. Who is more of a threat to Britain a middle-aged Polish writer or an Isis supporter? Has Rupa Huq ever suggested that a Muslim should be excluded from coming to Britain? Did she side with the teacher who had to go into hiding because he showed a picture of Muhammad to his class?  This poor teacher is not threatened by anyone from Poland.

We have in Britain many fundamentalist Muslims some of whom may believe that homosexuality is sinful or that people who cease to be Muslims should be killed as apostates, but Huq condemns none of these people and does not wish to exclude any of them. On the contrary she opposes any attempt to limit immigration into Britain and puts no one on a blacklist unless he is a Polish Catholic.

Rafal is a traditional Catholic. He follows the teaching of the church. What he believes about homosexuality and transgender is shared by the majority of Polish Catholics and also by the Pope. Should we have excluded the Pope from coming to Glasgow because he believes that God created us man and woman and that homosexual practices are sinful? This does not of course mean that Rafal would treat transgender or homosexual people any different from any other person. The church also teaches that we must love sinners, care for them and treat them with dignity. This after all is the message of the story of the woman who was a sinner. Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.

Anyone who sees the video that Rafal produced about this case will see that this is a good kind man who is unusually intelligent. He is a top-class writer and so he thinks for himself and tries to be original. In order to reach truth, we need sometimes to be polemical. We need to use reductio ad absurdum arguments such as that if it is right to call death camps Polish it is equally right to call them Jewish because the Jews were inside of them. But anyone who knows logic realises that this is a way of saying that they were neither Jewish camps nor Polish, but rather Nazi. 

Rafal is a writer similar to the British journalist Douglas Murray. He says things that are a little controversial, because if we are always scared to speak our minds then we end up with thin gruel and grey mush that is merely boring and which says nothing. But this makes neither Rafal nor Murray bad people and it certainly makes them no threat to anyone.

We have a large Polish community in Britain. I am aware of zero terrorist attacks that were committed by Poles. So too in Poland there is an almost zero threat from terrorists. The likelihood of anyone from Poland coming to Britain to be subversive is miniscule not least because no one would understand this subversiveness as it would be committed in a language which to most British people amounts to a string of random consonants joined together with some shushing sounds. 

Rupa Huq is happy for anyone to arrive in Britain from a rubber dinghy without any checks whatsoever. She is happy for supporters of terrorism be it Isis Hamas or even the IRA to arrive here unhindered, but a Polish intellectual writer who has never committed a crime, who is a member of no far-right organisation and who has never expressed any hostility to Britain or its people is excluded from our country on the basis of rumour and unsubstantiated accusation. She is happy see him excluded. 

Most people who are excluded from Britain are genuinely dangerous, either because they are criminals or because they support ideologies that may genuinely influence people who are here. Rafal is no threat to anyone. He is merely excluded because he makes up the numbers. It is the equivalent of searching little old white ladies at the airport because we must demonstrate we don’t think Muslims are any more likely to be terrorists than anyone else. It is this dishonesty that Rafal fights with his writing. It is because of this dishonesty that he could not take his daughter to Oxford.