Thursday, 26 May 2022

Voting with our feet

 

It is expected that soon Nicola Sturgeon will announce her latest attempt to have a second independence referendum. Lots will be written about this, but it is not the most important issue facing Scotland. The most important issue is demographics, but almost nothing will be written about that.

Alastair Allan SNP MSP for the Western Isles has admitted the importance of demographics. He wrote "Anything we can do to reverse depopulation trends should be encouraged." He is also supportive of an SNP scheme to pay 100 people £50,000 to move to a Scottish island.



But the problem is not limited to Scottish islands, although it is more acute on these. The problem is that Scotland has an aging population that at present is growing very slowly and is predicted to fall in the decades ahead. Currently around 5.47 million people live in Scotland, but it is predicted to decline to 5.39 million by 2045. This amounts to Scotland losing Paisley.

I would suggest to Mr Allan that the thing that he most needs to do is to cease supporting the SNP.

And it came to pass that a Scottish man named Jacob met a woman he fancied called Rachel. But in order to marry her he had to labour for 7 years under Alex Salmond. He then had to labour for another 7 years under Nicola Sturgeon, by which time Rachel was in her forties and Jacob relied on Viagra. It is for this reason that Scotland’s birth rate is declining.

The SNP has been ruling since 2007. If Scots don’t want to have babies or if Scots choose to live somewhere other than Scotland, it is because of the SNP.

What would make someone decide to live on an island in Scotland? £50,000 might help, but it isn’t going to be enough to buy a house unless that house doesn’t have a roof and has been abandoned since the clearances. Even then the land might well cost more than 50K.

To move to a Scottish island, I need to be sure that the transport links to the mainland are secure and reasonably cheap. I am going to need a good Internet connection and a job that pays a similar wage to the one that I have at present, otherwise the SNP’s grant will run out soon. I am going to want good education and healthcare and I am going to want access to shops that sell products at a not much higher rate than on the mainland. I will want Amazon and other retailers to deliver to me almost as quickly and cheaply as they do elsewhere.

What has the SNP done to guarantee these things? Nothing. In fact, it has made the issue of transport considerably worse by its failure to build ferries. I would be dubious about even going on holiday to a Scottish island in case my ferry home was delayed or cancelled. I wouldn’t even consider moving there until the SNP sorts out the ferries.

From where does Scotland get most of its immigrants? Scotland has 408,000 people who were born in England, plus around 50,000 from Wales and Northern Ireland. This is more than the EU and the rest of the world put together. Well Scotland can only increase its population by increasing its birth rate and immigration rate. So, if you want to populate Scottish islands, you have to either make the islanders have more babies or you have to make Scotland more attractive to people from the places most likely to come here.

But the SNP continually tells English people living in England that they want Scotland to the leave the UK. This is about the worst possible way to attract people from other parts of the UK.

The SNP is saying to someone living in another part of the UK, move to a Scottish island, but next year there will be an independence referendum. Your mortgage for your house on your Scottish island will at present be in pounds Sterling, but we have no idea what currency it will be in when we are independent. We might use the pound for a while unofficially, but then we might have to create a new Scottish pound, and then we might have to join the Euro, but we don’t really know.

What’s more I hope that your job won’t depend on the UK’s internal market with no borders and with rules and regulations that are the same everywhere. If you work at present in financial services, it will be tough luck when your business can no longer rely on the Bank of England, but never mind you will have stunning views over the Minch.

The SNP might argue that joining the EU will mean lots of Europeans will come to Scotland instead of English people. But when the UK was an EU member relatively few EU citizens wanted to come here. Why would that change after independence?

Language is everything. Most of can’t easily move to Slovakia, because we don’t speak Slovakian. The best chance of increasing immigration to Scotland is from fellow English speakers in the UK who can understand our accent easily. But the SNP are saying we will pay you £50,000 to come to a Scottish island, but we expect you to be a foreigner in a couple of years. Of course, we will give you a Scottish passport, but your friends and family in England will be as foreign as the Japanese or Saudi Arabians. Try getting someone to move to Brittany from Paris if it will soon no longer be French.

There is a reason that Scotland has a demographic problem. There are better opportunities elsewhere. Scotland is beautiful, but much of the land is poor, and undeveloped and much of our farming marginal. We had lots of heavy industry, but like much of the world that used to rely on coal and steel and shipbuilding we have been unable to replace the jobs lost. This is partly the fault of successive governments, but really it is the fault of the Scottish population. It is people that create jobs not governments.

Because much of Scotland is empty and sparsely populated, the cost of providing goods and services is much higher than in England. A person on a small Scottish island will quite possibly have better access to education and healthcare than someone in inner London. But the cost of providing these services will be massively higher. So too it costs hugely more to deliver a letter or a parcel or a tin of beans to Harris than to Hamstead, but the cost to the islander will only partly reflect this.

He won’t be charged the market rate for goods and services because as a British citizen he can expect similar prices wherever he lives, but where is the guarantee that this arrangement would continue after independence? This is the real folly of people on Harris electing Mr Allan. If the Outer Hebrides were independent its standard of living would collapse, but the people there think they can get by without the UK. Does the rest of Scotland really look so rich that it can subsidise the Outer Hebrides? Which part? Paisley.

Scottish services are subsidised by the UK taxpayer because they cost more to deliver on a Scottish island, but that subsidy would cease after independence and the SNP are unable to explain who would make up the difference. So, if the doctor and the teacher on your Scottish island depends on the UK taxpayer, who is going to fund it if Scotland leaves the UK? After all there are going to rather fewer Scottish taxpayers and who knows how many more might choose to stay in the UK by moving south.

If the SNP really wanted to help reverse Scotland’s population decline it would

1 Cease going on about independence.

2 Encourage Scots to stop looking at English people as the Enemy

3 Focus on building an economy that can provide good jobs and cheap childcare

4 Build ferries and improve roads.

5 Encourage people from other parts of the UK to move to Scotland.

 

But instead of doing any of these things the SNP will waste millions on a scheme that will at best bring 100 people to Scotland’s islands and millions more on an independence campaign that will go nowhere for a very simple reason. Scotland cannot afford independence.

This is why our population is falling. Despite the SNP winning elections our confidence in the future of Scotland amounts to choosing not to have babies or else choosing to leave.

We are voting with our feet.

  

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

To the world King

 

The latest picture of Boris apparently toasting someone at a party is in fact the most recent part of a giant coverup.

Boris’s ambition to be world king had a flaw. He had discovered at Eton the joys of fagging which initiated him into certain practices such as wearing comfortable shoes and being slippered by them.



  

He tried to shake off the memories of his various youthful flings, but realised at Oxford that while he could be friends with Dorothy, he had no desire to sleep with her.

But in the dark days of the mid 1980s it was unimaginable that he could rise to the top of the Party let alone reach make the world his kingdom unless he hid his nature from his fellow politicians and the British electorate.

Boris cruelly deceived poor Allegra by stating his belief in the sanctity of marriage and claiming to wear a silver ring on his thing which prevented any possibility of sin prior their wedding vows. Allegra found the whole thing to be romantic, but instead of having a Rolls Royce wedding night she ended up being driven by an Austin Allegro. Boris told her that the ring wouldn’t come off, but this was just the first of his deceits.

Allegra traded in the Allegro for a car with rather more va va voom, Boris ended up driving a Morris Marina.

He tried the same ring trick with the Marina, but this car lasted for 27 years and eventually produced five springs if you rolled off the back seat. One of the springs or possibly more may have come about because of riding in other cars, unfortunately Boris had lost count and indeed had lost interest claiming that they had nothing whatsoever to do with him. They didn’t.

Eventually Boris decided to trade in the aging Marina for a younger model as the Marina had become a three-wheeler due to the spring problem spreading from the seats to the suspension.

The car I drive is crucial to my image thought Boris i.e.  it was vital that the everyone remained convinced of its potency. Two more springs duly emerged from the back seat.

No one doubted that all of the springs were due to Boris. After all they each looked remarkably like him. But Boris remained a friend of Dorothy and while he was in love with being over the rainbow in company with Judy, he realised that Princess Leia was really his sister.

But Boris longed for his days in Eton and wanted to recreate having his behind roasted in front of a roaring fire. During an international get together he found the love of his life who had also spend his whole life pretending.

Manu too liked to be with older cars, but he looked after his so well that there were no springs, not least because the back seat was never used. Boris decided to call Manu Cleo and wanted him to be his Queen when Boris became world King. But they had to pretend to hate each other.

Boris decided the best way to do this was to leave Manu’s club. Manu pretended to be terribly angry about this and it provided them with a certain frisson each time they had a liaison at the Bulgari Hotel in London.

The great secret of Boris and Manu was going to be leaked however. Someone perhaps it was Princess Leia or perhaps it was Mrs Bardot was going to tell everything to the papers. Boris and Manu were not what they seemed. They had been living fake lives all so that they could rule everyone as King and Queen.

Boris decided to purchase a car with a super injection and this would stop any of the rumours getting into the press. He would use his super injection to scotch any rumours.

But tragedy struck on night when he arrived at the Bulgari to find Manu bulgariing with his own super injector. Boris wanted to clap Manu in Jeremy Irons, but instead unforgivably used his cast iron mandate to cast irons instead.

The staff at the Bulgari witnessed the result of the bulgariing discovered the rice crispies going snap crackle and popper and the police were called. Boris and Manu were doomed. But the police were wearing rainbow helmets and realised not only that Manu was immune but that s/he was from an oppressed minority and agreed to hush the whole thing up.

But it wasn’t enough just to forbid the press from writing about the Bulgari Incident. After all it kept trending on Twitter. There needed to be a distraction.

Let’s make the press instead talk about Boris having parties in his house, then no one would ever guess what he was really up to. That will keep the story locked down.

So, you see everything about Boris is a lie. Everything you think you know about him is false. But now he has a new mission. It is not enough for him to be world king. He wants the whole world to be independent of the Solar System. He has produced a manifesto called the World’s Future and in it he has described how he intends to separate the World from the other planets.

Although he has spent his whole life lying about what he is, he wants you to trust him on this. He doesn’t have an anti-Solar System, or indeed an anti-Galaxy bone in his body , but it’s obvious that the world would be more prosperous if it was independent from both.  

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Cyclists should allow cars to overtake

 

I spent a part of my childhood living in the Highlands. Many of the roads were much worse then. I learned as a passenger from the back seat how to use passing places. One of the key lessons was to allow overtaking. The other was not to be selfish. If all road users learned these lessons wherever they are we would all be safer and calmer.

I believe in being courteous on the road and thinking about the needs and safety of everyone we meet. If I see someone trying to get out of a side road my tendency is to stop and let them if it is at all possible to do so. This isn’t because I am being particularly virtuous. I think driving is safer for me if I am courteous to other road users.


It's also necessary to think of the safety of others using the roads especially if they make a mistake. People frequently overtake when it is dangerous to do so, but it’s possible to lessen the danger by allowing space to cut in or by slowing down to help someone who has misjudged the possibility of overtaking. It’s in the self-interest of all of us to do everything we can to avoid accidents.

I learned while at university that riding a bike was particularly dangerous. In Cambridge everyone rides a bike and students see it as an essential part of the experience. But Cambridge is a particularly dangerous place to cycle with narrow roads and ditches full of water at the side of many roads. I used to warn new students to get to know the place before riding a bike, but they usually ignored the advice. Deaths were quite common.

Many car accidents are survivable, but cyclists and motorcyclists will frequently be killed while the driver of the car or lorry that hits them survives. It is right therefore that car and lorry drivers should be particularly aware of the safety needs of pedestrians, horses, bikes and motorbikes. We will probably survive a collision, they most likely will not.

Every road user has an equal right to be there, but we all need to be realistic about our behaviour and we all need to think about each other’s needs. A balance is needed and I’m afraid some users are getting the balance wrong.

Thirty years ago, bicycles were almost exclusively used for short journeys. People would ride to work or sometimes a few miles into the countryside. As a child I never saw cyclists in the Highlands making long journeys. The roads were unsuitable and the mountains too large. But since then, the number of cyclists has increased massively.

This hobby does not appeal to me, but obviously people have a perfect right to enjoy the countryside as they please. But what they do not have the right to do I believe is to deliberately obstruct other road users.

Driving round Scotland, I find that the vast majority of cyclists are courteous and thoughtful about other users. The Highway code says that they have the right to ride in groups or to ride in the middle of the road or to ride two abreast, but most cyclists will adjust how they are riding if they see that a car wants to overtake.

Most cars too are patient. No one sensible wants to get into a dispute with another road user. I have not witnessed cars beeping their horns or drivers shouting even when people riding two abreast fail to let people pass.

But there is clearly a contradiction in the advice given by the police on single track roads to allow overtaking and the view of many cyclists that they are perfectly within their rights on narrow roads to ride in such a way that it is impossible for others to overtake for as long as they please.



A while ago I tweeted about this and received a response from a police force questioning my driving ability and whether I ought to have a licence. But a free society allows people to question the laws and rules that govern the use of roads. It is perfectly justified to for instance think that the speed limit ought to be eighty miles an hour while obeying the actual one. It is equally permissible to question the rule that cyclists ought to be allowed to ride two abreast whenever they see fit. Of course, I have to follow rules and obey laws I disagree with, but it is the mark of a totalitarian society that does not even allow me to doubt the wisdom of these laws.

But this is the mark of modern policing. It has become authoritarian about issues such as homosexuality, transgender and lockdown rules, so that it requires not merely that people obey the law, but that they agree with it. While obeying the law it ought to be possible for me to think that homosexuality is sinful and that it is impossible for a man to become a woman. But this is no longer the case on a range of issues. It is now necessary to remain silent lest the police object to my thoughts and find them hateful. But there is a phrase for such a police force. It is “thought police”.

I think that allowing cyclists to ride in groups or two abreast is dangerous not merely for other vehicles, but for the cyclists themselves. The reason that the police demand that users of single-track roads allow overtaking is not merely that failing to do so will be frustrating for other users, but that it will cause accidents. If you hold up the local fisherman who needs to catch the tide long enough, he will take the first opportunity that presents itself to overtake you even if the road is only just wide enough and he can only just see far enough ahead. Of course, he should wait patiently as his chance to get his boat out fades. So too we should all wait patiently as we miss appointments or are late for work because Extinction Rebellion has blocked the road or cyclists are riding two abreast, but it is human nature to be impatient.

It is rarely a problem passing cyclists in a car, unless they deliberately set out to obstruct and this unfortunately is happening more and more frequently. Suddenly on a main road the traffic slows to a crawl. What has happened? The traffic jam stretches back hundreds of yards. Instead of going seventy everyone is going ten miles an hour. We edge forward, wondering what can be holding us up. Eventually it becomes clear. Two cyclists riding two abreast have caused the jam. No one beeps at them. No one remonstrates. Everyone waits on this rather twisty road for a place where it is safe to pass. If the cyclists had just moved to single file, it would have been easy to pass them, but because they take up nearly the whole of one lane it is difficult. But why should the rule for single track roads not apply on a fairly narrow two-lane road?

The problem with the Highway Code rule about riding two abreast is that certain cyclists view it as allowing them to ride two abreast whenever they please and no matter how many other road users they obstruct. It is as if they see it as their purpose to obstruct.

As the law stands two cyclists have a perfect right to behave in this way, but there is also a moral law. They are being selfish.  We know that drivers sometimes overtake when it is unsafe to do so. They do this because they are frustrated. Sometimes when they do this, they have an accident and sometimes someone gets killed. Everyone ought to wait patiently behind the two cyclists even if their riding two abreast means that no one can overtake ever. This is the police advice in this situation. But we all know that eventually a car driver will take a chance.

So, what do I do when I come across two cyclists riding two abreast in such a way that it prevents me overtaking?

1 I beep at them risking a confrontation.

2 I wait patiently until a sufficiently empty stretch of road is visible even if that means waiting an hour.

3 I overtake when I think it’s probably safe to do so, but I’m not 100% sure.

In this situation drivers frankly have to take a chance or else the traffic jam will stretch all the way from Inverness to Wick. Suddenly you see a stretch of road ahead. It looks just about long enough. You make it and breathe a sigh of relief. But one day you won’t make it, or else someone else in the traffic jam will discover a diminishing stretch of road with car speeding towards them from just round the corner.

No doubt the two cyclists will feel virtuous as they pass two abreast the mangled wrecks.  We didn’t do anything wrong. It was safer for us to ride two abreast because it made us more visible. We had no obligation to move to single file, because we can ride two abreast whenever we judge that it is safer for us to do so and we judge it to be safer always. The police will agree with the virtuous cyclists and tut-tut at the folly of car drivers.

Pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists horses and herds of cattle should be able to use the roads as safely as cars and lorries, but if I suddenly found that my car was going ten miles an hour due to an engine fault and I saw that others wanted to pass I would pull into the first layby I saw out of politeness and out of concern for the safety of other road users and also because I was brought up on roads where there is an obligation to allow overtaking.  

Most cyclists get this, but some I’m afraid set out deliberately to obstruct as many wicked cars as they possibly can.

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Who would win indyref2 tomorrow?

 

If there were a Scottish independence referendum tomorrow who would win? I genuinely have no idea. I don’t think anyone does. You might as well toss a coin. But let’s ask a different question. If you asked 1000 Scottish nationalists who would win an independence referendum, 999 or more would answer that their side would win. If you asked 1000 Pro UK people the same question there would be far less certainty and confidence. This is the essence of our problem.

There are no Scottish nationalist writers who think they will lose. Even when they were 25-30 points behind in the years leading up to the referendum in 2014, I never came across a single SNP supporter or commentator who was anything other than optimistic. Instead, they kept telling me that independence was inevitable. Even when they lost in 2014, they expressed no sense of pessimism. From that moment they kept telling me that they would have another go and when they had their chance they would win.



I cannot see into other people’s minds. People can express confidence and optimism when inside they are full of doubt, but I believe that Scottish nationalists are genuine in their confidence.  It is this that makes them formidable opponents.

The Pro UK side was overly confident when it granted Alex Salmond an independence referendum. David Cameron thought he would win easily and gave Salmond everything he wanted. David Cameron thought he would win the EU referendum easily too.  We don’t hear much from David Cameron anymore.

The Pro UK campaign won decisively in 2014, but not overwhelmingly. It is a lot to lose by 10%, but it is not hopeless for the loser and so we all simply continued the campaign. If the gap had been 20% the issue would have been closed. Since then, the SNP with around 45% of the vote wins all the seats, but 45% is not enough to win a referendum.

But even though the Pro UK argument tends to lead opinion polls on independence our side has become ever more pessimistic. It only takes the least little set back or Sturgeon being on TV every day for people like Alex Massie to tell us that we are doomed. When things get better, he repents and starts attacking the SNP, but the damage is done. Nationalist commentators never write like this. Even if the goal is far away, they tell their supporters that they are making steady progress towards it. So too we have “Pro UK” voices telling us that if there were a referendum tomorrow then the SNP would win it. Our opponents would never write this, because they know that it would damage their argument.

Mr Tomkins is likable, able, knowledgeable and intelligent. He has written some great Pro UK articles, but who does he think he is helping with his prediction? It merely helps the SNP’s optimism and increases the tendency towards Pro UK pessimism.

There won’t be an independence vote tomorrow, for which reason it is easy to say which way you would vote, because there are no consequences. It was the reality of the moment of choice in 2014 that gave us the result we got. There was a huge turnout and lots of people who in theory supported independence in practice voted No. Scottish nationalist confidence did not actually stand up to the test of putting an X in a box.

We can’t know what the result of a hypothetical independence referendum would be, because we have no idea when or if it might happen. Would Sturgeon still be leading, if not who would be her replacement? What would the question be? A Remain/Leave question gets a very different answer. What would be the circumstances in the world? Would there be war, pandemic, economic crisis or some other event we cannot predict now? What would be the state of the EU and the UK’s relationship to it? Which party would be in Government at Westminster and who would be leading it? All of these issues would play a part and more. So, predicting the result is in all honesty like trying to predict who will win a match between Rangers and Celtic ten years from now. It is neither intelligent nor wise to suppose that you know the answer.

The reason the referendum was granted to the SNP is that Cameron felt certain that he would win it. It is for this very reason that the SNP will not get another go any time soon. The loss of Scotland is an existential threat to the UK and the odds of it being lost in a referendum are about 50/50. No one is going to risk their country on a coin toss. If polls were once more showing a Pro UK lead of 30% then a second referendum might happen, otherwise the SNP will have to wait a generation and by that stage saying “No” might have become a political tradition such as applies in most other countries which do not allow referendums on secession.

The SNP’s best chance of a second referendum is that the loss of Northern Ireland demoralises the British Government to the extent that it prefers to kick out the Celtic fringes and become instead the English Government. But polls show overwhelming support in Northern Ireland for staying in the UK. Alternatively, if support for independence reached the 65-70% level along with mass demonstrations Catalonia style plus civil disobedience then I think enough English voters would decide that Scotland was not worth the trouble. But we are nowhere near that. Polling on independence is about equal and demonstrations are merely small bands of Jacobites in woad and fancy dress. One side leads for a while in the polls then the other. So long as that remains the case the British Government will be under no real pressure, because the SNP is elected by a minority of the electorate and a minority does not win you independence.

The difference between victory and defeat in Ukraine at the moment is morale. The average Russian solider doesn’t want to be there. The average Ukrainian is defending the country he loves. Morale isn’t enough and armies historically have sometimes been overconfident. But morale is crucial in any battle including a political one.

The Pro UK side has great arguments. The kind of things that settle general elections are all in our favour. The economic argument is decisive. Scotland initially at least would certainly be poorer if it voted for independence. It would start life outside of the EU and having destroyed the UK, it would be using someone else’s currency without permission or else planning to create its own currency and then perhaps join the Euro. It would face at least a regulatory border hindering trade with its greatest trade partner. It would have to find a way to replace the money that at present it receives from the British Treasury. There is no obvious replacement unless a secret gold mine exists under Ben Nevis.

The UK has a better historical record than most and is living up to that historical record in its aid to Ukraine. The world is very uncertain, with new threats emerging do we really want to respond to these by partitioning the island on which we live, dividing people whose only real difference is an accent?

There is a great positive argument for the UK. We are fortunate to live in a genuine democracy with a high standard of living and a set of common values that are the same from the south of England to the north of Scotland. We are willing to share our wealth with each other because we have shared the same country for centuries.

We have all of the arguments that we need. What we lack is the optimism to make them. Far too many nominally Pro UK commentators spend too much time with Scottish nationalists. It’s as if they have gone up the Congo and like Mr Kurtz have gone native. Mr Tomkins would be wise to wear his pith helmet lest he catch too much sun.

While Scottish nationalists have kept their optimism since 2014, they have lost their argument. It is much harder now for Scotland to become independent than it was in 2014. If Scotland joined the EU while England stayed out there would be a greater chasm between them than at any time since the Middle Ages. Only Remainers cannot see that this is decisive for the argument. The only thing that prevents long-term SNP defeat is Pro UK defeatism.

 

 

 

Monday, 16 May 2022

Ditch the Northern Ireland Protocol

 

The boundaries of nearly every European country have changed since 1900. The exceptions are places like Spain and Portugal and the Netherlands. Everyone else has either lost or gained territory or come into existence. But all of these boundaries are fixed now and irrevocable. This is the reason why Europe is united in support of Ukraine as it fights to maintain its territorial integrity and to stop Russia changing its international borders.

The only exception to the rule in Europe that borders are unchangeable is the United Kingdom. Nowhere else in Europe is a sovereign state threatened on two fronts one internal, the other external.



It is really our own fault. Ever since the Kingdom of Great Britain was formed and then later the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, we have maintained the idea that this state was made up of places called countries. No one else in Europe thinks in this way, though they too are most commonly made up of formerly independent kingdoms and states.

It is for this reason that the UK alone thinks that each “country” has the right to choose whether it remains or leaves democratically. No one thinks that Sicily or Saxony or Silesia has this right.  

This is why the UK was willing to make peace in Northern Ireland by means of the Belfast Agreement. The response to decades of terrorism by the IRA with the goal of bringing about a united Ireland was to grant the IRA the right to that goal if it could win support in both Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. No one else in Europe would have responded to terrorism in this way. The Spanish did not for instance allow the Basques to achieve what they could not achieve by terror by means of votes.

Britain’s attitude to Northern Ireland has from the beginning been to a place apart. The British Government was willing on a number of occasions in the past 100 years to negotiate it away. The Northern Ireland Protocol was simply the latest of these. But the root is the same. The British Government and most voters in Britain have not viewed Northern Ireland as permanent British territory.

While we were willing to send troops to Northern Ireland, it’s position within the UK was always contingent. The argument was that we defended Northern Ireland only because the majority who lived there wished to remain British. Implicit was the idea that we didn’t really want Northern Ireland. It’s just those pesky Ulster Protestants made up a majority and so we were stuck with them. If only they were more like Terry Wogan or Val Doonican we could be shot of the place.

It is this context that gave rise to the Northern Irish Protocol. It is unimaginable that any other part of the UK would have been treated in this way. No other European country would have allowed such an arrangement.

The problem began with Theresa May accepting that the Belfast Agreement meant there could be no border infrastructure between Ireland and Northern Ireland. But there is nothing in the agreement about borders and the interpretation that the border must be invisible was an Irish nationalist one.

However, once the British Government accepted that the Irish border must be invisible it made the Protocol inevitable if Britain wanted to leave the EU with a deal. Faced with stalemate and the very real prospect that the Remainer rearguard would succeed, Boris Johnson agreed to the Protocol, because the only alternative was not to leave at all. He too like his hero Winston Churchill viewed Northern Ireland as expendable. Millions of Brexiteers did too as we voted for Boris and Brexit.

The European Union has shown itself to be sympathetic to both Irish nationalism and Scottish nationalism. There is little prospect of a united Ireland anytime soon, but there is no question that the Protocol is part of a long-term strategy to weaken the bonds between Northern Ireland and Britain and to create a united Irish economy as a precursor to a single state.

But there are any number of border disputes where identities stretch across borders. The EU does not allow German speakers in South Tyrol to agitate for a border poll and reunification with Austria, nor does it think that Russian speaking parts of Ukraine ought to have the right to join Russia by means of a poll. There is not one border in mainland Europe that the EU wishes to change democratically, but there are two in the British Isles if not three if we count Wales.

The problem in the end is due to us. It is because we do not view the United Kingdom like the United States. If Alaskans wished to rejoin Russia, the United States would fight to maintain its territorial integrity, but we won’t.

While the British Government will keep saying No to Sturgeon, we won’t say No forever if support for independence remains high enough. If eventually the demographics of Northern Ireland changes enough and support for a united Ireland becomes the majority, we will do our best to bring about their desire. We may even fund it.

Perhaps it is better that we allow democracy to change borders rather than war, but if that were the case why didn’t we argue for legitimate plebiscites in Ukraine and why don’t we argue for them everywhere else in the world where there are peoples who would prefer to form their own state or to join someone else’s? The reason is that this would certainly cause chaos and would make most states impossible to administer. It would also make the European Union collapse about as quickly as Yugoslavia did.

The United Kingdom is the most unstable state in Europe. We are held together by a minimum of sentiment. Few English people would care if Northern Ireland left and not many more would care if Scotland left. What really holds us together is subsidy. Neither Northern Ireland nor Scotland can afford to leave the UK without suffering a major drop in living standards. Someone would have to make up the difference. That someone could be either Dublin in the case of Northern Ireland or Brussels in the case of Scotland but it’s hard to see how either would be willing or able to subsidise to the extent that London does at present.

Ditching the Protocol is necessary because it turns Northern Ireland into a drain that is linked to Ireland’s gutter. If it is to inevitably go, then we are merely pouring money down that drain. If on the other hand, we are serious about protecting our territorial integrity then we need to change our attitude both towards Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Is it better that the UK exists or is it better than we revert to the situation in the Middle Ages with a large England and the Celtic fringes separate and squabbling with their richer neighbour? It is unlikely that this arrangement would have been as successful for any of the four parts including England. There is a reason we united, just as there is a reason that France and Germany are no longer made up of squabbling kingdoms.

Neither the United States nor any member state of the EU would allow something like the Northern Ireland Protocol to exist within their own country. It is mere hypocrisy that they demand it exist within ours. They cannot expect the UK to remain a valued and necessary ally while doing all they can to encourage the UK to cease to be.

Ireland cannot describe itself as a partner, let alone a friend while it aims to annex our territory. There is enough instability in Easter Europe without adding to it here.

 

Friday, 13 May 2022

SNP corruption comes from the top

 

Why are there so many tales of corruption and scandal involving Scottish nationalists? Former SNP MP Nathalie McGarry has just been convicted of embezzlement and will most likely be jailed. It is a sad story and each of us ought to regret the disgrace and ruin that this individual faces. She could have had a long career as an MP, instead it was cut short after two years and now she will find herself in an unpleasant place with limited prospects afterwards. But why did she think she could steal money and get away with it? The answer I think is that belief in the cause makes Scottish nationalists feel they are immune to ordinary morality.

We don’t know exactly what exactly Alex Salmond did or did not do when he lived in Bute House, but we do know that his behaviour was covered up. The Scottish media did not carry stories of what he was alleged to have been doing when he was alleged to have been doing it. It took many years before witnesses came forward and eventually there was a trial.


Mr Salmond must have thought he was immune. He could do what he pleased, and no one would even talk about it. After all there was an independence referendum to be won. No SNP politician who witnessed anything untoward would have spoken publicly about it in 2014 in the months leading up to the referendum.

But this culture of silence has if anything got worse since Nicola Sturgeon took over from Salmond. There was secrecy about how Salmond’s behaviour was investigated. There was secrecy about what Sturgeon knew and when she knew it. When the whole scandal was investigated by the Scottish Parliament documents were withheld and the final result of the investigation was less than satisfactory.

Anyone watching the coverage of both Salmond and Sturgeon speaking about the various allegations was confronted with the idea that there was something important waiting to be revealed, but that it never would be. One or other of Salmond and Sturgeon was not telling the truth. We could reasonably believe that Salmond was a more or less innocent victim of an attempt to ruin him by Sturgeon. Alternatively, we could believe Sturgeon’s story. But we could hardly believe both.

Astonishingly both Salmond and Sturgeon were able to return to frontline politics soon after. Sturgeon’s party was not damaged even a little bit by the scandal. Salmond was able to launch a new party and is still treated with respect.

In England both Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer have faced calls for resignation for minor breaches of lockdown regulations such as having an impromptu birthday party or drinking beer with a curry with colleagues. It is simply unimaginable that if something like the Salmond Sturgeon scandal had happened in England that it would not have leaked almost immediately and that it would not have brought down everyone involved.

In Scotland however the Scottish nationalist side of the electorate simply does not care if Sturgeon breached any lockdown regulations. It doesn’t even care if she plotted to unjustly have her predecessor sent to jail.

I have become bored following stories about incompetence at building ferries. The story is important. It could only happen in Scotland. Public money has been wasted, documents have gone missing. But even if these documents are eventually discovered it won’t make any difference. The SNP politicians involved won’t be touched and even if they were the popularity of the SNP won’t be touched.

There is a word for this. It is corruption. Nathalie McGarry’s crime is part of a culture that has developed in Scotland under the SNP. The cause of independence is more important than anything else. It is more important than morality. It is more important even than crime.

If Nicola Sturgeon broke a lockdown rule, there is no one who would snitch on her and even if there were such a story the Scottish media would not touch it. So, we are left with rumours about her that no one really knows to be true or false.

Alex Salmond could behave so badly in Bute House that women civil servants were told not to be alone in the same room as him, but not one of these women felt she could go to the police at the time when it might have been possible to investigate more fully. Instead, they had to wait for permission from on high years after the event when it was difficult to prove anything.

But if you lived in a political culture where people tended to get away with things, whether it was hiding documents or touching knees in the backseat of cars, then you too might think it would harm no one if some money from a campaign account ended up in a personal account.

Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues know that they will probably survive any scandal. If they make a muck of building ferries, it won’t matter much, emails will be lost, documents shredded. More importantly scandals are mainly about public opinion. If Boris Johnson loses enough votes because of a scandal he will go. But Sturgeon knows she won’t lose votes, and neither will the SNP.

It is for this reason Sturgeon acts like an absolute monarch and why the SNP courtiers behave like they are in Versailles rather than in Holyrood.

How do you get to the top in the SNP? How do you reach the inner circle? There are nearly fifty rotten boroughs in the gift of Sturgeon. One of them can go to a Nathalie McGarry or not as the case may be. But we know that Sturgeon in the end will have the final say over the list.

The difference between being an SNP MP or not would make a big difference to the lifestyle of a lot of independence supporters, few of whom could earn that much on their own. So, who wouldn’t keep silent in the hope of getting the patronage of the monarch?

It is for this reason that we don’t get leaks from the Scottish civil service. It’s for this reason that SNP scandals and lies so rarely lead to resignations and almost never lead to a drop in support or the loss of seats.

Parties like the SNP think they can rule as badly as they want, because it won’t make any difference to their support. They think this, because it is true.

But if you think that you can get away with ruling badly, because you can, eventually you think you can get away with anything, because you can.

It is for this reason that Nathalie McGarry will go to jail. She is the product of a corrupt political system which thinks that it can do anything and still be elected. If hundreds of millions of pounds can be wasted on ferries that are never built, but no one is punished, then what is twenty grand between friends? If you can get away with losing millions, then you can surely get away with nicking small change.

Sunday, 8 May 2022

Peace and prosperity

 

When the clocks change each year in Scotland each spring, I am able to see more of it. The weather may vary, but the daylight doesn’t and by June we have so much light that it is possible to go almost anywhere and get back in the same day. I take my own coffee and buy sandwiches in a supermarket so the only significant cost is the petrol. This year it is more expensive.

The political issue that matters most to each of us is having a job and how much of our wages go on necessities and entertainment. Gaining or losing a job changes our lives far more than anything a political party can do. The cost of living changes what we can and cannot do more than any political manifesto.  



What really matters is disposable income. If we have to spend so much on heating, fuel, and groceries that we have little left at the end of each month then it becomes ever harder to do the things we like whether that is driving to the Highlands or flying away on holiday. But there is minimal serious debate about these issues. Instead, we debate trivia such as whether Keir Starmer drank beer and eat curry or Boris Johnson attended a party during lockdown.

The cost of living is higher now because of Covid and the war in Ukraine. The Conservative Government is not responsible for either, but it is responsible for some of the choices that it made.

We are now living quite well with Covid. I don’t wear a mask and indeed I don’t think about Covid at all. There is a risk of catching it, but I no more think about it than I think about catching any other contagious illness. We could have learned to live with it sooner.

When we chose to respond to the pandemic with lockdown and restrictions on working and education it was not clearly explained that this would have an economic cost. We are paying that cost now. You cannot stay at home for two years not working with the Government paying your wages and expect this to change nothing anymore than if you were made unemployed.

The debate we needed to have in 2020 was about risk and reward. Were you willing to risk your standard of living and perhaps your job in order to protect society from a relatively small risk of dying for each of us and a rather larger one for the elderly? Public opinion was overwhelmingly in favour of restrictions, but I think this is because it thought staying home and doing nothing would be cost free in the same way that it thinks that the NHS is free.

The cost of energy is partly due to war, but it is also because successive governments have failed to develop our own oil and gas including from fracking. We have not built reliable alternatives to fossil fuels such as nuclear reactors. It means that we are overly reliant on renewable energy which given our climate is intermittent, forcing us to buy oil and gas from abroad which is now expensive.

It is sensible to become less reliant on fossil fuels. They frequently come from unpleasant parts of the world and the price has often been very high in the past. But we all need cheap energy to maintain our lifestyles and it is folly not to do all we can to make Britain self-sufficient in energy.

I would be happy to drive an electric car, but at the moment they are too expensive and it would simply be impossible to drive to the Highlands and back in a day. There is no point for a government to pursue Net Zero if it will turn huge numbers of British people into paupers. We won’t vote for it.

The response to the cost of living crisis must be to explain to the British people that your lifestyle depends on British prosperity and that the only way to achieve this is to cut public spending, cut taxes and pursue free market economic strategies to the fullest extent possible.

I voted for Brexit because I believe in free trade. Leaving the EU gave us the chance to develop free trade with the rest of the world, because the EU applies the Common External Tarriff on everyone it doesn’t have a trade deal with. Leaving also gave us the chance to undercut the EU by binning EU rules and regulations that were costly and unnecessary. We could make it easier for the rest of the world to trade with us and we could become more efficient and productive.

But the Government has increased taxes, it has failed dismally to reform public services like the NHS, because voters refuse to allow it. Public spending has increased massively including paying people to do nothing and there is no movement at all towards lowering public spending or making it provide better value for money. No wonder we are poorer. The paradox of free money is that it makes you poorer.  

If you get free paracetamol on you your free prescription it will cost you more in taxes (if you pay them) than it would to buy the packet from the supermarket for forty pence. The same goes for all other free goods and services.

The Conservative Government has moved so far towards the Left that it might as well be led by Tony Blair. But the Tories are still treated as being as much wicked right-wingers as if they actually had right wing policies so where is the political benefit? But while social democracy might work a little better than socialism in a society like Britain it will make us poorer in the short term and much poorer in the long term. It will be popular because the instincts of British voters are mostly in favour of free things and not working, but they will punish you eventually for making them all poorer.

Capitalism is unpopular. We like the Nanny State. We are delighted to be locked up at home watching TV and would be happy to be there forever so long as we got free ready meals and alcohol. It may seem clever for the Conservative Party to try to attract centrist and left-wing voters by adopting the policies of New Labour, but it is actually rather thick if those same policies impoverish Britain. It also means that the Government is wasting its 80 seat majority and failing to make the changes that would make it still more popular.

The only way to increase the prosperity of most of us is do what Margaret Thatcher did in part in the 1980s. She made Britain more efficient. She made us work harder and she got rid of industry that was unprofitable. The result was a massive increase in our standard of living. She was hated for it.

Boris Johnson must begin to do something similar or else he will deserve to be kicked out. The response to an increase in the cost of living must be to make work more efficient, goods and services more profitable. Our wealth depends on our productivity and our trading as freely as possible with as many other countries as possible. Tax and spend makes us poorer.

The Conservatives Government must dig up as much oil and gas here as we can while at the same time increasing renewable energy and nuclear power. It must reduce taxes on oil gas and petrol and lower duties on flights while investing in the next generation of power development so that we can all heat our homes without thinking about it and drive our cars wherever we please.

But none of this will have any point if we are all either blown to bits by nuclear weapons or if the world climate becomes so unpleasant that it is no longer worth visiting. I want the Scottish scenery I love to remain as it is. I don’t want it to be polluted or spoiled.

The only response to Russia’s continual and lurid threats is to take them seriously. We must work towards defeating Russia to such an extent that it never again will be able to threaten either its neighbours or us. There is a chance to do this now. It is the best chance for one hundred years and may not come again for another. If Ukraine can defeat Russia in the field and better still recapture the territory that it has lost, it may just be possible to negotiate a peace settlement with a future Russian leader that leaves Russia as unable and unwilling to threaten its neighbours as Germany and Japan in 1945. “Carthaginian Peace” could then be known as “Russian Peace.”

The price of peace with Russia and the normalisation of relations must be the territorial integrity of Ukraine including Crimea plus the repudiation of the idea that Russia can continue to behave like the Soviet Union in its attitude to the rest of the world. If that is not acceptable to Russia then we must continue sanctions indefinitely and treat every Russian citizen as a pariah. Don’t give them visas, don’t let them visit don’t sell them anything. Let them eat Kasha, until they change their own regime.

But if Ukraine has the right to defend its territorial integrity so too obviously does the United Kingdom. The British Government should no more accept trade barriers between Britain and Northern Ireland than Ukraine should accept trade barriers between Crimea, the Donbas and the other parts of Ukraine.

The problem with Northern Ireland is not the Protocol. The Protocol is a symptom of the UK’s long-term failure to assert that Northern Ireland is UK territory and will remain so until and unless it is captured by war. The same obviously applies to Scotland.

Just as Ukraine does not allow separatists in Crimea or the Donbas to threaten the legitimacy of its territorial integrity nor should we. Just as there is no democratic right to leave Ukraine, so there must be no democratic right to break up the United Kingdom.

We are very good at defending other countries, but rather poorer at defending our own. We allowed the Republic of Ireland to so interpret the Belfast Agreement that it made the Protocol inevitable. We encouraged the IRA to believe that what it could not win with bombs it could win with votes.

It is as if we Ukraine made a peace treaty with Russia that said whichever bits of Ukraine you want you can have so long as you win a border poll.  

The UK must assert its territorial integrity as a principle that transcends all other agreements and treaties, if necessary, in a constitution. There is little point in developing policies that increase the prosperity of country if it can be voted out of existence. This is what Ukraine is fighting for. We should fight for no less.

Thursday, 28 April 2022

Making a Nicola's ear of it

 

It is frequently difficult to measure the extent of SNP failure. Every year figures are released that demonstrate that Scotland is poorer than England and that we depend on a subsidy, but few SNP supporters either pay attention or believe the figures. Economic data is boring and difficult to understand. The SNP succeeds in questioning the truth of its own figures and anyway blames Tories for its own failure.

So too Nicola Sturgeon somehow had a good pandemic despite being responsible for neither of the things that made a difference, furlough and the vaccine. Her daily announcements about how Scotland dealt with Covid better than the wicked Tories saved few if any Scottish lives. Her divergence on masks on lockdown and all the other minutiae that we have since dispensed with made no obvious difference to health outcomes in Scotland, but they did make a political difference. Scotland was different. That was the point.



Health data is complex and hard to understand so Scottish nationalists can safely ignore that we did no better than other parts of the UK and in some respects did worse. They can maintain the illusion that Scotland is run well even when it isn’t.

But a simple figure ably illustrates how Scotland is mismanaged. The census in itself is not something we usually pay much attention to. Every ten years we fill it in and then forget about it. The information is important for running the country. This is why £138 million was spent on collecting the data in Scotland. But unfortunately, the survey has been botched. Whereas in the other parts of the UK 97% of households responded in Scotland that figure is 74%.

The last census was in 2011 and elsewhere in the UK it took place in 2021, but SNP Scotland had to be different. Just as “Test and Trace” had to be pointlessly renamed “Test and Protect” in Scotland, just as every time the UK Government made a TV announcement about Covid policy we were told that it didn’t apply to viewers in Scotland, just as we were supposed to remember what FACTS stood for, but never quite did, so too the SNP’s decision to be different about the census merely led to confusion and fewer households taking part.

We are all obliged to fill in the census form and it is a very good idea to do so, but clearly more people are going to do so if the form is as easy to fill in as possible. But along with lots of sensible and important questions, we were also met with questions that were irrelevant to the vast majority of ordinary Scots. Who knows how many people quit the survey on being asked about their gender? Some questions or the available answers pointed to SNP political goals.

A survey with no obvious political bias asking only the most necessary questions might have had a higher response rate, but the biggest reason for the difference in response rates to the rest of Britain is the SNP’s decision to go it alone in having the survey 11 years after the last one rather than 10.

Why couldn’t we have had the census last year like everyone else. The SNP blamed Covid. But it is hard to think of an activity less likely to spread an infectious disease than sitting at a computer filling in an online form. Filling in the census did not lead to an increase in Covid anywhere else and it wouldn’t have done so here.

The SNP’s reason for delay was completely spurious and it has resulted in a census with such a low response rate that it will turn out to be useless and a waste of the £138 million spent on it. 700,000 Scots have failed to respond. They could all in theory be fined £1000, but almost no one will be fined so there won’t be an awful lot the SNP can do to get those who filed the census letter in the bin to do the form now.

The SNP is quite good at throwing away the odd hundred million quid, whether it is on a shipyard that can’t build ships or a hospital that gets delayed or on some other initiative that fails to improve Scotland. The failure of the census will have lasting consequences for those responsible for determining how many schools we need and how many GPs. It matters. Mistakes will be made in the years ahead that otherwise would not have been made. The result is that Scotland will fall that little bit further behind the other parts of the UK where the task of counting heads was managed in a way that we could not.

But perhaps more importantly the difference in response rates is so obvious that it will be hard for the most determined Scottish nationalist to not realise that the SNP has made a Nicola’s ear of the census. How do you blame Tories for the 700,000 Scots who could not be bothered to fill in the form? If you can’t blame Tories you end up having to blame the SNP. Who else is there? Who else is responsible for running Scotland?

This issue will change few if any votes in Scotland. I have given up writing about SNP scandals, because there are too many, it becomes dull to list them and because SNP voters don’t care. They would vote for the nationalist whether he had parties during lockdown, lied about it, watched porn in Holyrood and was called Prince Andrew.

The SNP will win the council elections. They will certainly win most seats in Scotland at the next General Election. Our time span for getting rid of them is geological. Drip, drip, drip. A droplet of water falls from the roof of the cave we are living in. Shipyards drip. Salmond scandal drip. Census drip. With each droplet the SNP is further away from its goal of independence. One by one the evidence of SNP mismanagement becomes visible like a stalactite that formed from drops that at the time appeared to do nothing.

Support for independence is falling. If it could only fall another few percentage points, then it would no longer be the only issue that defines Scottish politics. At that point we would vote on who runs Scotland best rather than who wants Scotland to leave the UK.  The SNP would lose that contest.

An inability to determine accurately the population of Scotland gives a good explanation of why the SNP wastes so much public money. A failure to learn how to count.

 

Saturday, 23 April 2022

Who do I vote for to get one bin emptied weekly?

 

There is a tower near where I live. It was built in honour of some now forgotten landowner. The tower itself is almost forgotten and must attract few if any visitors. Yet when I turned up for the first time in many years, I discovered that it was locked by a chain and padlock. At the beginning of the pandemic, I imagine someone in the local council decided that it was unsafe to allow people to climb the tower as they might catch Covid from the steps. Now the chain itself has been forgotten. Who do I vote for in the local council elections so that when I go there again in ten years’ time, I will be able to get a view?

Every now and again I fill my car with clippings from the garden and take it to the skip. Before I learned the word “Covid” it was a matter of simply driving there. But my local council decided that it was unsafe to allow people just to turn up and so it became necessary to go online and book a time slot. Sometimes there was a man sitting in a little hut checking number plates sometimes there wasn’t. There are all sorts of officious rules about where rubbish must be put and what must not be included in that rubbish. Who do I vote for to get the local skip back to how it was?



My experience of what the local council does is mainly connected with bins. We have three bins. One wheelie bin for paper and another for general waste and a little one for food waste. Oddly glass bottles and jars are not recycled. We are supposed to drive to the bottle bank on the grounds that this will save energy. Who do I vote for so that all of my rubbish goes into one bin so that the council can then sort it themselves?

It isn’t that I think that what the council does is unimportant. It’s important to me that I pay a fairly large amount to fund these activities. But I have concluded that I will have to pay more or less the same amount no matter who I vote for. I have also concluded that the local services available to me will be more or less the same too.

I would like to have more faith in the efficiency of the council except I can’t help failing to notice the man in the yellow hi viz clothing whose life involves picking up cigarette butts one by one with a long pair of tongs. He can be seen every day in whatever weather performing this task. Perhaps he will one day have a tower built in his memory noting his long service to the community.

The men responsible for digging up the roads have minimal concern for the disruption they cause. I would vote for a party that made them do what they do at night. Everything is done as slowly as possible with as many breaks involving sitting in the cabs of their council vehicles. But the people you have to phone when you need something are usually sitting in their cabs too.

I emailed my fully competed form only to be told that I hadn’t sent it. On sending it again it must have been lost as I never heard from that section of the council again. It’s an excellent way of reducing costs.

The people I contact are usually quite pleasant, but they have jobs that are not judged by performance and which they cannot lose unless they fail to go on the latest woke awareness course. But who do I vote for in order to get a council that actually performs just a little better than it does now?

The council funds education, but what the children learn has nothing to do with the council. The council doesn’t decide who teaches the children nor how well they do it. So, it matters not one little bit who I vote for in the local elections the schools will remain the same.   

Most of us would not want to end up in a council old people’s home and will do our best to keep our relatives out of one, but there is no one I can vote for to make social care more inviting.

Local elections matter in Scotland only insofar as they reflect our opinions on national issues. Some people will vote for independence as if that will make a difference to local services. They will be encouraged to vote SNP to show that Scotland disapproves of Boris Johnson having parties in Downing Street as if that issue will change local services. Pro UK people will vote on the usual lines, but almost no one will vote for a specific local politician or a specific local policy. We will nearly all vote according to how we would vote in a General Election.

It should be the easiest thing of all to change issues at a local level. It is only necessary to get the support of a small section of the community to make a political difference locally. But this would only work if there were a genuine choice between the candidates offering different solutions and different funding models.

We are at fault. I have no idea who runs the council. I could not name a single candidate or how they differ on a local issue. I know that this one supports independence and that one doesn’t, but this will not change how the schools are run or how often the bins are emptied.

It should be easy to change where we each live, but local councillors are more anonymous than any MP in London and the local council is a tiresome bureaucracy that we avoid dealing with if at all possible. I would phone it up to unlock my tower, but I would have to fill in forms that would then be lost. It is easier to wait for the chain the rust.

Yes of course we should all vote in the local elections, they might even matter nationally, but don’t expect them to change anything locally. In that sense they are not local elections at all.

Who do I vote for to get one bin emptied weekly?