Sunday 30 January 2022

Turning off the SNP ventilator

 

As Mr Putin lines his tanks up along the border of Ukraine, it remains to be seen whether he will use them to invade or whether he is merely bluffing. But whether he invades or doesn’t there is a cost involved in all these tanks and soldiers being kept there. There is financial cost, but there are other costs too. The focus of the Russian government at the moment will be almost exclusively on planning what to do or not do with these tanks.

So too as Nicola Sturgeon moves her metaphorical tanks once more to the border with England ready at a moment’s notice to create an international border, there is a cost involved whether she is seriously intending to hold an independence referendum during 2023 or indeed if she is bluffing.



The SNP intends to hold a vote in the Scottish Parliament on an independence referendum. Sturgeon also will appoint a group of civil servants to come up with another independence plan. There is a cost to this, though given that the civil servants are employed by the British taxpayer it may not be paid by the SNP. But the more important cost is that Sturgeon and every other SNP MSP will be focussed this year and next on doing what they can to at least give the impression that they are planning for an independence referendum.

It may well be the case that they are doing nothing of the sort. It is very hard to get at what is really going on in the minds of people like Sturgeon. There are few if any leaks. It may be that she is as keen as the most fanatical Scottish nationalist to have a repeat of 2014 as soon as possible. It may on the other hand be the case that she keeps promising a referendum next year without seriously thinking that there will be one. But the cost to Scotland is the same.

Just as the Russians cannot easily be getting on with helping Russia recover from the effects of Covid on the Russian economy, while they have their tanks on the border of Ukraine, so too Sturgeon attention will not be on helping the Scottish economy to recover from Covid, but rather on constitutional issues.

She may claim that she can focus just as much on helping Scotland recover while planning to separate it from the UK, but she is frankly looking rather tired and the SNP and its followers can only really ever get enthusiastic about one issue and that issue is neither schools nor hospitals.

The Scottish economy has been rather more damaged than some other parts of the UK because Sturgeon when faced with a choice always chose the most restrictive option. She is not going to change. If there is a new wave of Covid later in the year, we can expect her back on the TV telling us what to do. She plans for us to be compelled to wear masks for years.

But Sturgeon promised that there would not be an independence referendum until the pandemic was over. How can the pandemic be over if we are still forced to wear the masks that began wearing a few months after the pandemic began? Either it is safe to go the shops without a mask or it is safe to hold an independence referendum. Alternatively, we must conclude that wearing masks is not about preventing the spread of illness, but rather about Sturgeon retaining control over the Scottish public.

There is uncertainty at the moment about how Covid will develop. There is also uncertainty about areas of the economy such as tourism and hospitality. Many of us are going to continue working from home at least some of the time and the SNP wishes to encourage this as it will cut down the use of fuel for transport. But this is already a very radical change to the nature of work. It will have consequences for property ownership of offices in cities. It will have consequences for busses and trains and for shops and pubs in city centres.

The SNP then wishes to add to one of the greatest uncertainties facing the Scottish economy in decades, the uncertainty about whether we will still be part of the UK in a few years. This is a rather riskier adventure than even Putin’s tanks invading Ukraine, because there is little doubt that Putin will win in the end at least in the short term.

It is hard to imagine a worse time for Scotland to choose to be independent. The Scottish economy depends on a ventilator controlled from number 11 Downing Street in order to stay alive. It pumps in pounds and Sturgeon spends those pounds while planning to switch off the ventilator. Perhaps the civil servants writing their cunning plan will tell us where they are going to get those pounds after the switch off. Perhaps they might also tell us if an independent Scotland would intend to pay back the money that kept us alive.  



Until the SNP has a credible plan for how it would replace the money Scotland now receives from the UK Treasury, then the only honest civil servant plan must conclude that independence would make us all massively poorer. By all means ask the Scottish people in a referendum “Do you want to be poorer?”. It could even have a Yes/No answer and we could have it next month rather than next year.   

But until intelligent informed Scots can credibly view independence as at least economically neutral, we must conclude that Sturgeon is bluffing. She will know that her civil service report would be analysed during a campaign not merely by independence supporters, but by the best economic minds in the country. If it fails to make a credible case for switching off the economic ventilator, then it is highly likely that the Scottish electorate will vote to continue breathing.

But we all have to go through the charade of the next year because Sturgeon is controlled by Scottish nationalist voters who would prefer choking on their own phlegm and dying in a free Scotland to our sharing a country with English people.

Friday 28 January 2022

Never send for whom the birthday candles burn

 

There may have been some former Prime Ministers who were so saintly that everything they said and did in private in 10 Downing Street would have met the standards of probity set by Britain’s media, but I can’t think of one of them. Nor would I or anyone else that I have ever met want to be judged by the content of our private conversations. Which of us has not once used a word, or expressed a prejudice that would get us into a lot of trouble if it were leaked by a former friend or revengeful colleague? If it were possible to have surveillance on every word and deed of our lives, we would all be cancelled. Everyone has broken one law or another and everyone when asked about it has lied.  

If the media can conspire with an insider who witnessed everything that went on in Downing Street to get rid of one Prime Minister, it will not be the only time that they use this power. Sometime in the near future there will be someone else in charge. There will be another insider who knows the secrets and there will be another chance to orchestrate a campaign of revenge that leads to a Prime Minister resigning.



But this is not democracy. It is mediaocracy. It will not lead to intelligent government, but rather to mediocracy. It will be government controlled by a media looking for gotcha moments. A future Prime Minster will be so cautious of any gaffe that he will not dare to do anything, lest Beth Rigby or Robert Peston asks whether he feels guilty about killing a grandma in Preston because of his policy.

In our mediaocracy the Prime Minister will be held to ransom by each misdemeanour the surveillance Cummings picks up. No one else in Britain will be held to this standard of conduct. Cummings himself feels no guilt because he too went to the party nor indeed that he drove to Durham. Rigby and Burley went to parties and who knows had birthday cakes, but they still get to throw the first stone because in our mediaocracy the media is not itself judged by the standards it uses to judge the Prime Minister. Nor are the rest of us.

We have lost sight of the fact that 10 Downing Street is a place of work as well as a home. The standards by which we judge essential workers who continued to work while the rest of us either worked from home or did nothing are quite different.

If a group of nurses during a break in the staff room decided to give one of them a birthday cake, there would have been no prosecution. If a group of firemen after a shift had finished decided to drink some beers together, they would not have lost their jobs. If members of the police bought ice creams and shared them in their patrol car, they would have broken no law.

The rules that applied to essential workers were different to those that applied to the rest of us, precisely because they were essential workers. Nurses frequently practiced dances and then posted them on the Internet. This sometimes involved them not socially distancing. But no one thought it was untoward because the nurses were working hard and no doubt the dancing helped their morale.

The essential workers in 10 Downing Street had perhaps the most stressful job in Britain with the most responsibility. Many of them caught Covid in the early days because they had to continue working while the rest of us could isolate. Boris nearly died because of this. A quiz, or a drinks party in the garden or a birthday cake likewise was crucial for morale and is precisely the sort of thing that would have happened quietly in numerous places of work during lockdown. In hospitals, police stations and in the offices of journalists, the rules that applied to everyone else would have been bent and broken in private. But this was legitimate precisely because these people were essential workers who were interacting with each other every day.

If firemen need to work closely to put out a fire so that social distancing is impossible, it hardly matters if later in the fire station they don’t bother to wear masks. They had already exposed themselves to the risk of Covid. So too if in 10 Downing Street in a small office, civil servants were breathing each other’s air in close proximity, it did not increase the risk of exposure if they had a drink in the garden.

If the media or the police is to fairly judge Boris Johnson, they should investigate equally what went on with nurses, the police and every other essential job that kept our country going. If nurses can make dance videos involving close contact and breaking social distancing, then we have lost all sense of perspective if we object quite so violently to a socially distanced party in a garden.

Ah but it was Boris that made the rules. This is to suppose that there was a choice. There wasn’t.

There will be a public inquiry. Any Prime Minister who disobeyed the suggestions of SAGE would be castigated if it went wrong.  More importantly if we had not locked down in March 2020 Peston and Rigby would have looked at the daily figures and said Prime Minister do you feel guilty about murdering all these thousands of people because you didn’t do what the scientists told you?

We had lockdown, because nearly every other country had lockdown and because nearly every scientist told us it was necessary. Most of us wanted lockdown too.

But in our private lives we knew that we could bend and break the rules, because it was unlikely that we would be caught unless we were stupid. I am quite sure that there were policemen who visited their lovers on the sly. There were nurses who drove more than 5 miles and that nearly every MP at one point or another broke lockdown rules.

If there was a surveillance camera on our lives during lockdown, which of us would not be a sinner. It is for this reason that we value the privacy of our own homes and the fact that we will probably get away with minor breaches of the law. None of us could bear to live in a society where an informer would tell the press or the police about our least little lockdown breach. Then why do we expect a Prime Minister to live under constant surveillance with a media recruiting squealers to record his every conversations and deed.

There is lots of anger at the moment. Those who always disliked Boris are out to get him, but be careful because if a Prime Minister has no privacy and is to be judged by what he gets up to in his own house, then there would be no moral case for not extending the same method of judging into your house also.

Never send for whom the birthday candles burn, they burn for thee.


Monday 24 January 2022

Sturgeon and the EU both follow Putin's logic


If in 1979 the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic had held a vote on leaving the USSR the Red Army might have moved in to stop it. There would in that case have been less protest from the rest of the world than occurred when the Red Army invaded Afghanistan. It would have been an internal matter for the Soviet Union to determine how to deal with the secessionists in Kiev. International law upholds the right of a state to maintain its territorial integrity. What has changed in the years since to make the prospect of the Red Army invading Ukraine potentially the most serious international crisis in decades? The answer is that Ukraine is now a sovereign nation state, which it was not in 1979.

Was Ukraine a country in 1979? Ukrainian nationalists, insofar as they existed back then, might have pointed to various historical periods which might have been described as constituting a separate Ukrainian state, they might have pointed to differences in language, religion and identity. But whether they thought that Ukraine was a country or a nation, did not matter, because in international law it was part of the Soviet Union.



In 1991 it would have been perfectly legal if Gorbachev had decided to hold the Soviet Union together by force. There would indeed have been minimal complaint from NATO if he had decided to hold the Warsaw Pact together by force. After all we did not go to war when the Soviet Union crushed the Prague Spring in 1968 or the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. But the Soviet Republics and the Warsaw Pact countries were allowed to depart and afterwards the situation was not the same.

Ukraine today is a sovereign nation state. It matters not one little bit if previously it was a country or considered itself to be a country prior to leaving the Soviet Union. It has the same rights as any other sovereign nation state, simply because it is one. It is for this reason that the secession of Crimea is not recognised internationally. It doesn’t matter if the majority of the citizens in Crimea consider themselves to be Russian. It doesn’t even matter if they hold a vote to secede. They are still legally part of Ukraine.

There are as I have long argued two forms of nationalism. There is the secession form of nationalism and the unification form of nationalism. Wishing to maintain the territorial integrity of your country is not nationalism, otherwise the word would apply to all countries and so become meaningless.

Sovereign nation states may protect themselves from both of these forms of nationalism. This means that Ukraine can legally prevent Crimea attempting to leave even if the overwhelming majority of Crimeans want to do so. Ukraine can also legally fight against a Russian nationalism which seeks to unite Russian speaking people on the basis that they previously were all part of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union.

While it would have been legal for the Soviet Union when it was a sovereign nation state to defend its territorial integrity, it is not legal for Mr Putin to attempt to recreate either the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union by force. Indeed, even if he were able to overwhelmingly win a referendum in every former member of the Soviet Union for reunification the governments of these states could refuse to allow it.

But while we accept the illegitimacy of both secession nationalism in Ukraine (re Crimea) and unification nationalism (re the Soviet Union) we don’t apply this logic closer to home.

Scottish nationalists are secession nationalists, which is no different from Crimea voting to secede from Ukraine. It doesn’t matter one little bit that Crimea had an historical existence that was different from Ukraine, or that the people living there today have a different identity and language from other Ukrainians. They are only allowed to leave Ukraine if the government of Ukraine permits it.

For this reason, Nicola Sturgeon’s latest threat for the Scottish Parliament to hold a vote on an independence referendum, is no different from if the Ukrainian SSR had held such a vote in 1979 or indeed if Crimea or the Donbass held such a vote today. To suppose that it is legitimate is to use Mr Putin’s logic.

Irish nationalism started off as secession nationalism. In this case it would have been perfectly legitimate for the United Kingdom to have held itself together with force. But having allowed Dublin to depart, the UK has no claim whatsoever on that territory. To attempt to reunite the UK by force would be no better than Mr Putin trying to reunite the Soviet Union by force.

But so too for Ireland to attempt to unite Ireland and Northern Ireland is equally a case of unification nationalism and is as illegitimate as Mr Putin trying to unite the Russian people of the former Russian Empire.

It matters not one little bit how Northern Ireland came to be. It is legally part of the United Kingdom. To seek to make that territory part of your own territory is no different from Mr Putin seeking a United Russia by grabbing Crimea.

Of course, in the case of Northern Ireland there is the Belfast Agreement. But this was the result of attempting to achieve the goal of unification nationalism by force of arms. The British Government would never have agreed unless there had been decades of bombing. But if a united Ireland can be achieved by violence why cannot a united Russia? Democracy has nothing to do with it. We have accepted that the people of Crimea cannot democratically decide to unite with Russia even if the overwhelming majority want it. They cannot because Crimea is legally part of Ukraine. Well Northern Ireland is legally part of the UK.

No wonder the EU is so confused about events on the border of Ukraine. The Germans will send no aid to Kiev and will stop the British flying weaponry through German airspace. Well German unification only happened because of force and German reunification only happened because the Russians permitted it. Combined with German guilt, the result is that the EU will do nothing.

But more importantly I think is that the EU has sympathised both with Scottish secession nationalism and Irish unification nationalism in its attempt to get revenge for Brexit, and this make the EU logically sympathetic to the Russian argument about Crimea’s secession and reunification with Russia and indeed with the moral case for the recreation of the Soviet Union. After all, if you believe that it is a moral imperative to create a United States of Europe, you are bound to regret the dissolution of the United States of Eastern Europe and Asia, otherwise known as the USSR.


Wednesday 19 January 2022

The BBC makes those who don't go to a restaurant pay for those that do.

 

Who should pay for BBC TV programmes? Should it be those who watch them or everybody who owns a TV? I can remember when there were only three channels. If you owned a TV in Britain, you almost certainly watched quite a lot of BBC programmes or at least listened to the radio. The number of people who only watched ITV must have been small. So, there was no particular injustice in taxing TV ownership. Some people might have preferred that the BBC was also funded by advertising, but it was also possible to reasonably argue the case for public service broadcasting funded by taxation. The BBC when I was young was genuinely different from ITV.  That distinctiveness was worth paying taxes for. But the BBC now is just ITV without commercials.

It would be possible to fund the BBC out of general taxation in the same way that we fund the NHS or the Army. This would be a bit unfair on those who don’t watch TV, but this is no different in principle from those who don’t have children to send to school or those who don’t get sick and need to see a doctor. Around 95% of the British public owns a TV. Wouldn’t it be simpler just to fund the BBC from taxation rather than go to the bother of taxing TV ownership with all of the difficulties involved in collecting that tax?



There might have been a case for this when there were only two or three channels, but since the introduction of subscription TV in Britain we have been able to pay for what we want to watch.  Why shouldn’t this model apply to the BBC too? It is here that we need to think about taxation.

To use an analogy:

Conservatism is the idea that if a group of us go to a restaurant we each pay for the food.

Socialism is the idea that we all pay taxes so the state can give us free restaurants.

The BBC likewise wants those who don't eat in the restaurant to pay for those who do.

It would be possible to fund free restaurants out of taxation, but if you do that you might as well fund shops from taxation too. In that case each of us would take what we wanted from the supermarket, but not pay anything. This would abolish money. It would also require rationing, because if everything were free it would be necessary to stop people stripping the shelves of free food and drink. Free healthcare for this reason has waiting lists. If you open a pub paid for by taxation with free beer, it too will have to ration the beer or else run out. You will only get immediate access to the beer if you have to pay for it. This is the problem with the socialist model of healthcare and indeed the socialist model of anything.

The capitalist or Conservative model of taxation is that we each pay for what we want to buy and that government only funds areas that cannot be reasonably funded privately. The socialist or Labour model is to extend government and public spending so that taxation funds not merely the police, schools and hospitals, but also areas that we might have been left to pay for ourselves such as free eye tests free prescriptions and free public transport.

Take the example of the bridge to Skye. Previously to there being a bridge everybody who wanted to go to Skye had to pay to go on the ferry. After the bridge was built some residents of Skye complained about having to pay a toll. What they wanted was for everybody to pay for the cost of the bridge, rather than merely those who used it. This is essentially the BBC argument.

I was pleased when I drove to Skye that I didn’t have to queue to pay a toll, but at most I might cross this bridge once a year. Someone who lives on Skye might cross it every day. Society might decide that it is reasonable to fund bridges out of general taxation. But there is clearly a limit to what we should fund from general taxation otherwise we will end up with free shops, free restaurants and the abolition of money.

Where you draw this line ought to be the argument between the Conservatives and Labour.

The Conservative argument is that lowering taxation and lowering public spending increases economic growth and allows market efficiencies to make services better and cheaper. You get better healthcare with no waiting.

The Labour argument is that increasing government spending and raising taxation allows greater equality, because government can then redistribute wealth from the richest to the poorest.

The Conservative argument is that this will make everyone poorer, because inequality is the reason why people work hard in order to make themselves better off. It provides an incentive. Labour will make us more equal, but at the expense of making us on average poorer.

Hardly anyone would expect a trip to the cinema to be paid for from taxation, let alone a trip to the pub. We don’t expect people who never go to the cinema to pay for those who do. But this is the model of funding that the BBC expects to continue even when there are now hundreds of channels paid for either by subscription or advertising.

But what of poor people who might not be able to afford a subscription? What about radio? We could not easily subscribe to Radio 4. There are also BBC channels which must have very low view viewing figures like BBC Parliament and BBC Alba. How could these be funded by subscription as they would attract few if any subscribers. This would require a political decision. Even if much of the BBC were to be funded by subscription a core public service channel might be available for free either funded by that subscription or by general taxation.

In some countries the public sector broadcaster has adverts between programmes. This would be no worse than at present where the BBC has endless adverts for its own programmes and services.

The BBC is stuck with a funding model which is obsolete. It is not the public service broadcaster that it was. There are very few genuinely intellectual programmes on TV compared to in the 1960s and 1970s. Much of the output is popular and dumbed down. There is too much woke propaganda.

If the BBC were funded by subscription it would have to change. It could no longer afford enormous salaries for those who don’t merit them. It would have to become more efficient and it would have to go into the world market place to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime. But it is just this that is necessary if the BBC is once more to be the world leader that it once was. The licence fee traps it in public ownership just as much as British Leyland.  

So long as the BBC relies on handouts it will remain lying in bed, getting up unshaved at 11 strolling to the foodbank and then on to the corner shop for some beers and a packet of fags. It may think that there is no other way of living, but it is in fact trapped by the handouts, which prevent it from fulfilling its potential. It is a dole scrounger with detector vans.

Who should pay for the BBC? Those who watch it. If you don’t go to the restaurant, you shouldn’t be expected to pay for those that do.

   

Monday 17 January 2022

Will Scots tire of obeying her?

 

The next General Election could be as far away as May 2nd 2024. We have all assumed that it would be sooner, but that was before the collapse in support for the Conservatives. Two and a half years ago we knew nothing about the pandemic, but instead were stuck in a Brexit stalemate with talk of a “people’s vote” and the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister. The past is not so much a foreign country as another world. Will anyone remember about parties in the Downing Street Garden two and a half years from now?   

But in Scotland unless something very unforeseen happens we can be fairly certain that the fundamentals things apply. The Scottish nationalists have had first Brexit and then the pandemic to decisively change Scottish opinion, but it has barely moved. Support for independence increases and falls, or perhaps only the margin of error in polls increases and falls. It never reaches the 60-65% level where the SNP would feel that it had a good chance of winning and it never falls to the 35-40% level which might allow us to go back to how it was before 2014. Instead, the carrot in front of the nationalist donkey, continually encourages it to go for independence next year. But when next year arrives, the carrot is still stuck in front of the donkey, because it is held there by a stick.



Labour may be ahead in the polls, but the fundamental arithmetic is just the same as it has been since 2014. Labour cannot easily win an overall majority since losing nearly all its Scottish MPs. It would have to win an overall majority in England, but England at the election in 2019 was nearly all blue. That may all change because of Boris Johnson breaking lockdown rules, but is the English public really going to vote en masse for kneeling Keir Starmer?

The hope for Sturgeon is that Labour would win enough to form a majority with SNP seats. It is nearly certain that the SNP wins nearly all of the Scottish seats because its share of the vote in the high forties is as stuck as support for independence. Labour and the Conservatives are more than twenty points behind and that hasn’t changed much since 2014.

The condition for a deal with Labour would be an independence referendum, but would Sturgeon really want one in 2026, would she even still be there? The problem for the SNP is that it would be much harder to win a referendum with Labour in power. After all Scottish nationalism is as much, perhaps more, an anti-Tory movement as it is a genuine desire to put an international border between England and Scotland.

Modern Scottish nationalism got its boost because Labour and the Lib Dems decided it was unfair for Scotland to have a Tory government which Scotland didn’t vote for. But if left-wing Scotland had a Labour government propped up by the SNP, then we would have got the government we voted for. This time England would not have the government it voted for, but that would not bother Scottish nationalists. So, while a Labour victory might give the SNP another chance at independence, it would be in unfavourable circumstances. The SNP might lose again, which would be careless as that would allow any future British government to say you’ve lost twice why should we give you another go.

The SNP dilemma amounts then to this. It must hope for a Tory Prime Minister, because this will give it the best chance of winning a referendum, but this Prime Minister will say No. A Labour Prime Minister might be forced to say Yes, but he would merely be giving the SNP a referendum it might lose and which it therefore might try to avoid.

Strategically the SNP faces a number of problems. If Brexit and the pandemic could not decisively move opinion its way, what would? Sturgeon won’t want to go on for ever. By 2026 she would have been in the job a very long time and she wouldn’t have much time to do anything else. But if not Sturgeon, who?

The nationalist movement is split between Salmond and Sturgeon. It is going to need to heal that split or else go into battle divided. But how can Salmond and Sturgeon reconcile after each doing their best to destroy each other? There may be another SNP star waiting to shine, but it is not obvious at the moment who it is.

While Brexit was an initial advantage for the SNP (Scotland didn’t vote for it etc.) it fundamentally made it harder for Scottish nationalists to win the argument because it made independence a much more radical, scary proposition than it was when the UK was a member of the EU. So too the pandemic initially showed Sturgeon running Scotland, taking all the important decisions. Her popularity increased even among some Pro UK people. But the pandemic also showed how dependent Scotland is on the Treasury to provide us with furlough and vaccines. If you got your arm jabbed by someone from the British Army, you might have realised that it would be a pity to break up an organisation that is so efficiently run.

In the long run however perhaps more important than all of these things is that Sturgeon has demonstrated that an independent Scotland would be a more authoritarian place than the UK. She has shown just a little too much delight in telling us what to do. Whenever the UK government wanted to open up even just a little, Sturgeon chose for us to have less freedom. When England said that people didn’t need masks, Sturgeon said we’d have to wear them for years to come.

Young people, many of whom would have been SNP voters and supporters of independence are not obeying Sturgeon anymore. They are going down to England for a New Year party or they are having parties in each other’s homes despite Sturgeon saying they should not. They are going to football matches with banners critical of the SNP and chants that are rude about Sturgeon. This is a quite new development.

Scottish politics looks stuck. Mr Ross’s attempt to protect the Tory vote by telling Boris to resign, will not change long term Conservative support in Scotland. Scottish Labour flirting with the idea of allowing MPs and MSPs to support independence may attract a few former Labour voters back, but will lose just as many Pro UK people. Scottish Labour and Conservatives will continue in the mid-twenties a little more a little less until and unless they each provide an alternative story to Scots which we might prefer to the SNP.

Scottish Conservatives must try to win voters to the idea that free markets, low taxation, low public spending and free trade opportunities after Brexit will make us richer.  If you are unwilling to make Conservative arguments better by far if Scottish Conservatives and Labour merged in the middle to form one Pro UK party that was social democratic. There is no real ideological split between Ross and Sarwar, so why split the Pro UK vote for nothing?

The Scottish stalemate might be broken by one Pro UK party, but that won’t happen. But it could still be broken by young Scots who cannot even remember when the SNP did not rule getting tired of the authoritarianism. If you don’t want to wear a mask forever, if you like being able to go to a party in England, if you sing rude songs about Sturgeon and the SNP, it might just be the time to vote for someone else, otherwise your dissent and your disobedience looks a bit like naughty schoolchildren doing what they are told again as soon as teacher comes back into the classroom.

Saturday 15 January 2022

Many are called but few are chosen.

 

I think Britain was at its happiest in the first few years of Tony Blair. Thatcher had kept winning, because the alternative was Michael Foot and then Neil Kinnock, but most people did not much like her, let alone love her.  We were willing to tolerate the tough unpleasant medicine of the 1980s, because many of us could see that it was necessary, but we rather preferred the 1970s with one nation Tories like Heath managing our decline along with Wilson and Callaghan. British people are naturally social democrats or what amounts to the same thing Tory wets.

The problem with really changing our country for the better is that you have to do things that are unpopular. You have to close down the pits and the steel works. You have to close down inefficient nationalised industries. Later when standards of living have improved the electorate might look back and thank you, but initially it will side with the flying pickets.



So too now. If you can shrink the size of the state, lower taxes and lower public spending you will in time have an economy that performs more efficiently. If you realise that the EU is about protectionism, then you will realise that leaving gives you the opportunity of greater free trade with everyone else. Wages will likewise increase by limiting the supply of cheap labour from abroad, but this will only work if British workers have to take the jobs freed up and if you can control the incoming flood from elsewhere.

Conservative values of free trade, free markets and freedom from government interference in our ordinary lives work. They make us more responsible, more moral and above all richer.

Socialism doesn’t work, but nevertheless remains stubbornly popular. Social democracy works better than socialism, but is oddly unpopular right now in Britain under our social democrat Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Much of politics is about name calling. Tories in Scotland are unpopular just because they are Tories, not because of anything that they believe or do. Boris Johnson’s government has in the past two years spent more than Corbyn intended to do. It has paid people a large proportion of their salary to sit at home and do nothing. It has increased the deficit more than any government in peace time and it has increased the size of the state too. It has interfered more in our ordinary lives than any government since the war. If this is not social democracy, then what is?

Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford and Keir Starmer want to spend even more, borrow even more and lockdown even more. Boris Johnson is already the most authoritarian Prime Minister in peace time. At no point in our history have we been obliged to stay indoors for so long, nor to wear masks while out of them. At no point except during wartime have there been such restrictions on leaving Britain or arriving, that is unless you arrive in a rubber dinghy. But this level of authoritarianism was not enough for Sturgeon and friends.

But it is crucial to remember that lockdown and all of the authoritarianism that went with it was wildly popular at the beginning. Most people wanted to stay at home, being paid not to go to work. The popularity of authoritarian social democracy in the past two years is higher than it has ever been.

Were these measures necessary? It is difficult to answer. We lived through previous pandemics accepting that we might get sick and some of us would die. The virus went through the population unrestricted and eventually got milder. How many would have died if we had done the same this time versus how many actually died? We don’t know, because if everyone in the world had done nothing it is possible that the virus would have become milder more quickly. People who died this time because of lack GP or hospital care, depression or joblessness might have survived. Did lockdown make Covid more virulent for longer, just as evacuating flu victims from the trenches in 1918 made Spanish flu more deadly. It is always hard to know what would have happened if we had chosen not to intervene. But I wonder if lockdown broke the first rule of medicine first do no harm. We must leave it to future historians to determine.

But Boris Johnson had absolutely no choice whatsoever in introducing the authoritarian measures that he did. The scientists demanded it. If he had done nothing the media would have asked him such idiotic questions as “Do you feel responsible for Mrs Jones aged 88 who died because you didn’t lockdown the country?” A subsequent public inquiry would have blamed him for doing nothing and so too would the people who blame him now because they could not visit their dying relatives.

The task for Conservatives is to look at where we are now, authoritarian social democracy, and try to find a way back to Conservatism. We are not of course going to get there by following the route set out by Douglas Ross who is himself a social democrat indistinguishable from Nicola Sturgeon apart from not wishing Scottish independence.

The first thing to do is to get rid of all of the authoritarian laws as soon as it is possible to do so. When Covid is killing no more than influenza, then there is no reason to wear masks. I have always thought that masks were like the iron railings taken away during World War Two. Even if they were subsequently chucked into the sea by the Navy, giving them up made people feel like they were doing their bit and that we were all in it together. There is no evidence at all that masks have had more than a marginal effect on deaths from Covid. Social democrats will glare at you because they think you are not doing your bit and because we all enjoy tutting at a rule breaker, but we will not get rid of social democratic authoritarianism until we make mask wearing a matter of choice rather than a matter of law.

We next need to begin spending less, taxing less and trading more. We need to embrace the working from home revolution and the decline of retail. There are huge cost savings to be made from not using offices and not driving cars or sitting on trains and busses in order to get to work. Companies that grasp this will profit at the expense of those that don’t.

Who is best to lead Britain back to free market, free trade Conservatism? I fear there is nobody. Both Sunak and Truss are complicit in the last two years of social democracy and authoritarianism. Most Conservatives realise that social democracy is the religion of the British people and so triangulate towards it. After all no one dares tell us that the NHS is in fact not the best in the world, but a rather mediocre socialist vision of healthcare that has performed rather poorly in the past two year. Instead, we require fantasy.

If you tell the truth about anything the media describes it as a gaffe.

So, I am pessimistic about the necessary steps being taken. This is what matters rather than the hysteria of the past week. We demand equality even from our leaders as if Napoleon should have died on the retreat from Moscow rather than escape because he was Napoleon and because we didn’t go to Sunday school and didn’t read the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Not everyone gets the same pay for the same effort.

It may well be sensible for the Conservative Party to ditch Boris if it decides he is a liability. Elections are popularity contests after all. It may also be sensible to ditch a social democrat authoritarian for a genuine Conservative, but where are we going to find one of those in a Britain in love with social democracy which is never happier than when it is told to stay indoors? Many are called but few indeed are chosen.

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (the disgruntled workers), by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich (1750s)


 

 

Tuesday 11 January 2022

Bring a bottle Mark

 

A mały ptak [a Polish little bird] tells me that in March 2020 Mark Drakeford and Nicola Sturgeon went to swingers weekend in Bute House. It was a bring your own bottle weekend but everything else was free. The purpose was research into the questionnaire that Sturgeon intended to give to school pupils about their sexual habits. The task for both her and Drakeford was to answer each question in the affirmative. For this reason, upon Mark’s arrival, he immediately switched clothes with Sturgeon and became for the weekend Marcia while she switched clothes with Mark in order to become Nicholas.

The question was could a transwoman (Mark) have vaginal sex. He answered in the affirmative by insisting that transwomen were just the same as women and so had cervixes. Sturgeon’s task as a transman was to determine whether he could have anal sex with a man and whether this made such a relationship homosexual or heterosexual. Nicholas reasoned that if a transwoman could rape a dog he could do just as well if he asked nicely. The dog of course knew quite well that the transwoman was in fact a man having been on the receiving end. Nicholas’s partner unfortunately found this method of having sex unfulfilling. Something was lacking.



As observers at this weekend were various members of the Scottish press, but despite being witnesses to a reincarnation of the Two days of Sodom nobody noticed anything untoward and the Monday editions of both the Herald and the Scotsman merely had the latest reports about how there would be an independence referendum next year and analysis of the twentieth opinion poll since the pandemic began about Scottish voters voting intentions on independence. In other news a ferry had broken down between Arran and Oban and Nicola Sturgeon fresh from her relaxing weekend was telling us how she would eliminate Covid from Scotland that summer if only we did what she told us to do.

Does it matter that Mark travelled to Scotland in breach of both Welsh and Scottish regulations and that neither of them practiced social distancing during their swingers weekend. Fortunately for both Mark and Nicola they each campaigned for Remain and so their lapses can be ignored, unlike that wicked Boris.

It was clearly foolish for Mark and Nicola to have a party when everyone else in the country was locked down by them, but did it change the course of the pandemic in any way. Was it a super spreader event? Well Mark did an extraordinary job of spreading himself very widely, but Covid was already endemic in Britain at that time and so Mark’s best efforts probably didn’t make much of a difference.

The rather more subdued party that happened in London involved people who worked closely together, frequently in the same room. If they were going to catch Covid from each other, they could just as well have done so any day of the week prior to the bring a bottle party.

Did any of the people in the Downing Street Party have a loving relationship with someone else who was there? Did some of these people go back to each other’s houses even though they didn’t live together and hadn’t formed a bubble? It’s truly shocking that during the pandemic people continued to meet other people they hadn’t known previously on dates and then went on to have sex with each other.

How many people in Britain from March 2020 onwards went to someone else’s house in order to have dinner or a bottle of wine? How many of us broke lockdown at least once?

I think that Nicola Sturgeon may well have had her haircut by a professional when she wasn’t supposed to. I don’t know whether she did or she didn’t. But I think she might have done. I think it’s also possible that Sturgeon one Friday night had a few drinks in her office with her colleagues. I don’t know if she did. The Scottish press wouldn’t tell me if they did know. After all, when Alex Salmond was accused by multiple women of sexual assault and attempted rape during the year of the independence referendum, we heard not even a rumour. When it seemed as if the whole of the SNP inner circle was plotting against Alex Salmond we never really got to the bottom of the story. We still don’t know what Sturgeon knew and when she knew it. The SNP’s inner circle remains more secretive than that of the Corleone family.

But in London there is a genuine opposition and there is a press and media that are determined to dig out negative stories about Boris.

In my view it was foolish of him to allow such events. Why leave yourself open to scandal if someone finds out? It’s not worth it for the sake of a drinking some bottles of wine in the garden. But does it matter? No. Not really. No one died because of a bring a bottle party. Covid was spread no more that day than any other day at that time.

Should a government always follow the rules that it imposes on the people? No. What matters is that a government governs effectively. If a bring a bottle party made a government govern better it would be justified. We didn’t after all expect rationing to apply to Lancaster bomber pilots. They might have eggs and bacon for breakfast while everyone else had none. Winston Churchill no doubt received brandy and cigars that were unobtainable for ordinary people.

It is easy to accuse Boris of hypocrisy, but the truth is that we are all hypocrites, because hypocrisy is part of the human condition.  I would have preferred that all Covid rules were voluntary. Let people assess their own risk and act accordingly. But the truth is that lockdown was mostly lightly enforced. I kept away from other people, but otherwise drove where I wanted and did as I pleased. Lots of other people visited friends and relations and lovers surreptitiously. I am not going to judge them. They may have spread Covid by doing this, but they equally well might have spread it by legally going to the shops.

I don’t want Britain to turn into a country where we judge each other’s moral lapses. If people needed to let off steam in Downing Street or even in Bute House good luck to them.

The pandemic killed over one hundred and fifty thousand people. The only thing that stopped that number being greater was the decision by Boris to gamble on their being vaccine. But by all means get upset about a bring a bottle party if it makes you feel better.

I don’t know if Mark Drakeford and Nicola Sturgeon broke any of their own Covid rules, my little Polish bird unfortunately was so traumatized by events in Bute House that it has disappeared out of fear that either Marcia or Nicholas might view it as a suitable object for their next conquest. But I strongly suspect there are SNP and Labour politicians who have broken lockdown rules to a greater extent than a bring a bottle party in a garden. Which SNP MP or MSP visited his lover when he shouldn’t have? Which had a party after work in someone’s house?

The real hypocrisy is that if my little bird told BBC Scotland, or the Herald or the National about such an indiscretion they would shoot it and pretend that such things couldn’t possibly happen in Scotland. After all we never have parties. We are much more virtuous than that wicked Boris.

 

 

Monday 10 January 2022

A victory also for Australia

 

I don’t follow tennis very much, but what little I knew about Novak Djokovic I didn’t much like. My initial response to his being denied entry to Australia was schadenfreude. I don’t know why I wasn’t a Djokovic fan. It was rather unfair. But something about his manner grated on with me. I’d read stories about his rather weird views and opposition to the vaccination. Anyway, whenever I caught him on television I rooted for the other player. All this just changed. I reflected that I had been unjust and that Djokovic’s treatment at the airport in Melbourne was unjust. This has turned me into a Djokovic fan.

The whole business of international travel depends on us believing that if we are granted a visa, we will not be denied entry into a country. If Australia routinely denied people with valid visas entry at the airport, it’s tourist industry would collapse. A visa may not guarantee entry, but if we seriously believed there was a realistic chance, we would be stopped at the border we just wouldn’t bother to travel to these places at all.


The embassies of countries like Russia can be capricious. I have known people to be refused a tourist visa because they have visited that country too often. Journalists can be kicked out if they too frequently write things that are critical of Putin. But I have never heard of someone with a valid visa being denied entry to Russia on political grounds. It is clear that this is what happened to Djokovic.

When Djokovic received his visa, the Australian authorities were happy for him to come to Australia and compete in the Australian Open. But there was a public backlash. This is partly because Djokovic is not liked by many tennis fans. If  a more popular tennis player had been given an Australian visa in similar circumstances there would have been less of a problem. Likewise, if an obscure tennis player had been allowed entry under the same circumstances there would have been no public backlash. This indeed was the case. Some less than famous tennis players have been competing in Australia after entering in exactly the same way as Djokovic.

What happened next? The Australian Government panicked. Someone made a phone call to the airport. Stop Djokovic entering. Find something, anything wrong with his visa. Revoke it. Put Djokovic in an unpleasant hotel and maybe he will decide to leave of his own accord.

But Djokovic didn’t panic. If you have ever arrived at an airport after a long-distance flight after little if any sleep, you know that you are in no fit state to answer questions in English let alone in a to you foreign language. Imagine if you arrived in Belgrade from Australia only to find you had been denied entry and the border guards refused to allow you to talk on your phone. How would you feel as they fired questions at you in Serbian? Djokovic of course speaks excellent English, but who would want to deal with having to make crucial legal decisions in a foreign language while jet lagged.

Djokovic could have taken the next flight out. He could have cursed Australia and its people. But instead, he remained calm and polite, stayed in the awful hotel, eat the awful food and waited for justice.

What we have learned this morning is that the rule of law still applies in Australia. That’s a very good thing to know. It is the difference between a serious democracy and somewhere like Russia. Australians may be angry this morning that Djokovic has been allowed into their country. But they should feel safer that public opinion has not swayed the decision of a judge even if it has swayed the decision of a government.

The rights of people we dislike must be treated just as fairly as the rights of those we do like. That’s what the rule of law means. Governments depend on public opinion, which is one of the reasons why they sometimes act stupidly and unfairly, but Australians should be grateful that they live in a country where the courts will stand up to the Government and protect the rights of even the most unpopular person in Australia.

I have enthusiastically accepted every vaccine that has been given me. I disagree with the stance of those who oppose vaccination. But I also believe that in a free society we should be free to disagree. We should not emmerder (as Mr Macron put it) on those who have a different conscience to us. It amounts to a form of coercion.  

Vaccines are primarily beneficial to the recipient. In the past few weeks, we have seen omicron spread freely in Britain even though the vast majority of people have been vaccinated. If vaccines were able to stop the spread of omicron they would have done so. But they have stopped most people from getting seriously unwell.

Djokovic does not have Covid now. Therefore, he cannot spread it. He might catch it from someone in Australia, but this is equally true whether he has been vaccinated or not. If he catches Covid, he might pass it on to someone else, but this is the case whether he has been vaccinated or not. Omicron is spreading freely in Australia, the idea that one Serbian tennis player more or less is going to make a material difference to the health situation in Australia is simply absurd.

Public opinion in Australia is angry because the very strict attempt to keep Covid out has failed. But Australians should reflect that they have suffered far fewer deaths than European countries and, in most respects, have been fortunate. Keeping Covid out for so long gave them the chance to be vaccinated, whereas in Britain we had to face Covid initially with no defences.

Australian anger may seek a victim in Novak Djokovic, but sacrificing a scape goat will not save one life in Australia. But the fact that Australian justice has stood up against Australian anger and the Australian Government has saved Australia. It has shown Australia to be a country with the rule of law. It has shown it to be a country that is incorruptible. Advance Australia fair.

 

Sunday 9 January 2022

Devo-max helps the SNP

 

Imagine it’s 2016 and we are faced with the choice of leaving or remaining in the EU, only this time the referendum has a third choice. There were few people in Britain at the time, even amongst Remainers, who wanted Britain to join the Euro or Schengen. Even Remainers like David Cameron often complained about unelected officials in Brussels telling us what to do. Even Remainers did not express enthusiasm for “ever closer Europe” or the EU in time becoming a United States of Europe. What should we call people who wanted to stay in the EU, but for the UK to have as much power and sovereignty as possible? Devo-maxers.

If a third “devo-max” option had been put to the British people in 2016 it may well have won. The problem is that no one including the EU would have known what it meant. The EU already knew that Britain had not been a particularly keen member of the EU project. We had been willing to accept the benefits of membership of the EU and Remainers were scared of losing those benefits, but there were few indeed of us who thought we had the same nationality as someone from Slovakia or shared a common identity.



Would the EU have been willing to increase Britain’s “devolution” or subsidiarity? Well, this is what the Remainers wanted. Cameron went to Brussels to ask for more powers while remaining in the EU. He hoped for some concessions which would have made it easier for him to win the vote. But he didn’t get much if anything, which is the reason that he lost. So, if there had been a third devo max option in the 2016 referendum, we would have ended up with similar negotiations with the EU which likewise might have given nothing much.

This is the problem with having three alternatives on a referendum where two of them are clear, but the third is vague. So too if Scotland were faced with a three-way referendum Leave, Remain or Devo-Max, it might well be the case that Devo-max would win with just over a third of the vote, but what then?

Pro UK people might vote for devo-max because it would keep the UK intact, likewise Scottish nationalists might vote for it as a stepping stone towards independence. Genuine supporters of maximum devolution might see it, like Remainers with regard to the EU, as a way of keeping the economic benefits of the UK’s Single Market while Scotland would have the maximum amount of subsidiarity within the UK.

One of the dangers of three-way referendum is that, the best laid schemes of the devo-maxers could see Scottish independence winning with 34% of the vote, which is a great deal less than 50%. But this is the fundamental problem. Scotland is divided enough. Imagine trying to achieve independence or indeed devo-max when nearly two thirds of the electorate voted for something else.

What is the maximum amount of devolution that is compatible with Scotland remaining in the UK? I have no idea and I don’t think many of its supporters know either. But the EU has told us. There was a level of subsidiarity that it was willing to allow Britain, but membership of the EU meant following the rules of the EU. The UK could not opt out of free movement nor could it opt out of EU Single Market Rules, nor could it have its own trade policy. New EU member states have even less chance to opt out than Britain did. This is the reason that the EU is fighting with Poland over the principle of Polish law being subordinate to EU law. The EU knows that if it loses this battle then it loses the means to hold itself together.

It is for this reason that devo-max is so impossible to define. Devo-maxers see it as a matter for Scotland alone, but this is to see Brexit as a matter for Britain alone, when clearly the EU saw it as a matter for the cohesion of the EU.

At the moment devolution in Britain is already lopsided. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have varying degrees of devolution, but England as a whole has none at all. England instead has various mayors governing parts of the country but not all. If Scotland were to be given devo-max, then Scotland would have more powers than either Wales or Northern Ireland and many more than parts of England.

We have a UK Parliament and a UK Government voted for by the whole British electorate, but if there were devo max in Scotland this UK Parliament would have no say whatsoever on Scottish domestic policy. Why in that case would it have Scottish MPs? The UK Parliament at present on domestic matters is really an English parliament. Boris Johnson’s Covid rules only apply in England. But again, why should MPs from outwith England have a vote on matters that only apply in England? If this is a problem now how much worse would it be if Scotland had devo-max.

At the moment despite having control over the vast majority of Scottish domestic matters, the Scottish Parliament relies on a grant from the UK Government. Do devo-maxers propose that this would continue or that the revenue needed to run Scotland would be raised in Scotland with no grants coming from the UK? But the problem with full fiscal autonomy is that it would turn the pound into the Euro. The UK avoids the difficulties of the Euro because we have fiscal transfers between the parts of the UK when needed and because we already have political union. It is the lack of these things in the EU which makes the Euro so problematic.

If Scotland had full fiscal autonomy in the UK, but without fiscal transfers, then if Scotland lived beyond its means and had debts that it could not pay, then it would be in the position of Greece when it faced the prospect of being forced to leave the Euro. But this would have consequences for the whole of the UK, which would have no control over spending in Scotland.

Far from making the UK more stable, devo-max would create further resentment if Scotland continued to receive UK grants under the Barnett formula. It’s hard to see how Scotland could manage without these for the foreseeable future.

But, if Scotland was autonomous fiscally it would undermine the pound and the UK economy generally unless the Bank of England continued to bail it out, which would ultimately amount to Scotland have maximum devolution but with Daddy standing behind the mortgage of the teenage girl at university.

Devolution during the pandemic has shown itself to be a source of chaos. We could have had clear and simple rules that applied to everyone, instead we have four sets of rules that have done nothing whatsoever to keep us safer.

I want the UK to stay intact. But we are not going to get there by increasing devolution to the point where there are almost no ties that hold us together. Devo-maxers know this. If devolution increased support for the SNP, then maximum devolution would increase it to the maximum. At that point it would be a short step indeed to independence.

Just as the membership benefits of the EU required us to faithfully be a part of the EU project and accept its aims, so too accepting the membership benefits of the UK such as the pound, free movement within the UK and the NHS, require us to not seek to undermine the UK. If we chose to leave the EU because we didn’t like where it was heading, we cannot expect to retain the benefits of membership. So too Scottish nationalists if they are honest must choose to leave rather than use devo-max as a Trojan horse to undermine the UK from within. That would be mere treachery and should have no place on a ballot paper.

Every British citizen should have a similar level of devolved power. Better by far if each parliamentary constituency has the same number of voters and that power be devolved to the constituency level. This would give us both MPs and a local administration to deal with the day to day running of a county. At that point there would be no need for Holyrood, but we would each have something close to the maximum level of devolution.

Devo-maxers naturally would be horrified by this, which shows the emptiness of their pretend interest in devo-max. What they want is not so much more devolution as more nationalism.

When Scottish nationalism caught Covid, it died and descended into hell and brought with it on the third day devo max.

Monday 3 January 2022

Twitter might as well ban Jesus Christ too

 

I had only vaguely heard of US Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene before Twitter banned her. From what little I have read of her I disagree with what she has said about Covid, vaccines and many other issues. But I can only disagree with her if I am allowed to know what she says and thinks. By banning her from expressing non-mainstream opinions I am prevented from even being aware that these views are held. But the problem with this is that some non-mainstream viewpoints have in the past turned out to be true.

The media could argue that it should only allow people to express views that are true. But the problem with this is who is to determine whether a view is true or false? The scientific consensus would certainly argue that Jesus Christ did not walk on water, nor did he turn water into wine. If a someone today claimed that he could cure Covid by touch, the scientific establishment would certainly dismiss him as charlatan. But this means that by the standards of the banishment of Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Pope should be banned from Twitter for claiming that Jesus Christ rose again on the third day.



Every saint requires miracles, but science tells us that miracles don’t happen and are contrary to all scientific laws. But then this means that anyone who expresses reliance on a saint, or who tells us that a saint helped in this way or that is likewise saying something that is false by the standards of science and should be given a number of strikes and then banned.

One of the difficulties with always going with the scientific consensus is that the history of science is full of theories that have been superseded. There are scientific theories which nearly every scientist believed to be true that later turned out to be false. Sometimes a single scientist has to fight against the whole scientific establishment in order to triumph in the end.

If I am told that nearly all reputable scientists believe something I will be inclined to take this as a good reason to believe it too, but I wouldn’t forbid anyone else from disagreeing as that single voice may well turn out to be correct. It probably won’t, but it just might.

I have witnessed from within universities being taken over by a sort of group think. Woke issues that were once peripheral to academic study have become the whole subject. The topics of race, gender, sexuality, slavery and colonialism which twenty or thirty years ago were barely touched on, have become so dominant that scarcely a book in the Arts or Social sciences is now studies which does not deal with one of them.

Ideas such as “white privilege”, “critical race theory” and the existence of multiple genders and none, which almost no one believed even a short time ago have become so mainstream that they are barely even questioned with those who do question liable to cancelled.

The 1619 Project developed by the New York Times, which views the whole history of the USA through the prism of slavery, arguing indeed that the American Revolution only occurred as a means of avoiding the abolition of slavery, depends on a self-hatred that would have been unthinkable a short time ago. It is as if an enemy of the USA wanted to undermine its people’s patriotism, self-belief and will to defend itself. Here is not an impartial sifting of the historical evidence, but rather condemnation beforehand and a search for evidence that fits in with the theory.  

But if universities can be taken over by odd theories that no one believed until a few years ago, if trigger warnings can go from something ludicrous, to something obligatory in the space of five years, then can we really be sure when establishment orthodoxy represents the truth and when it does not?

I have been inclined for the most part to go through the pandemic doing what I have been told to do. We each have different temperaments. I am naturally cautious. I am shielding my mother and anyway I prefer to stay at home. I have been vaccinated three times and will get a fourth if offered. But like many others I have had some doubts about the wisdom of this or that pandemic policy. I have reflected on the numbers of people who might have died because they didn’t get treatment for cancer, plus the numbers of jobs lost and school careers ruined. I have at times questioned. The ability to question the established orthodoxy is what makes us a free society.

I am not a lockdown sceptic, nor a vaccine sceptic. I disagree with these views. But I would not ban people from thinking these thoughts or expressing them. If we ban people for expressing views, we think to be false this time, what about next time when the banned view turns out to be true?

I want the scientific consensus about vaccines and lockdown to be challenged vigorously, because if a theory is true it can stand up to some dissent and counterargument. The only way we can be safe in our scientific beliefs is if each of them is challenged to the limit.

If man made global warming is real as appears to be the case it can certainly survive a few voices crying in the wilderness that proclaim that instead we are heading for a new Ice Age. If our theories are sound and reflect reality, we don’t need to shut anyone up, nor do we need to ban them from Twitter.

Free speech is also about allowing people to say things that are false. If reality does not correspond to a statement, then it is unlikely to be believed by many for long. We must allow people to say things that are false, because how else can we protect a future Galileo or Copernicus or Pasteur from being banned for saying something the establishment believed to be false, but which in fact turned out to be true.

Who is to be the judge of what is true and what is false? It cannot be the BBC with its “fact checks”. Global warming is a fact, but so too the BBC thinks is a man giving birth. Twitter will allow without question the liberal orthodoxy, but initially forbid anyone from saying that the virus came from a Wuhan lab leak, until eventually this becomes the established view. One consensus is overthrown by another.

We all need a bit more humility about the truths we believe. We could be wrong.  Better by far to allow those I disagree with to express freely what they believe than run the risk of someone deciding that what I believe is forbidden.  So, I protect your right to speak falsely in order that I may tell the truth.

Neither the BBC nor Twitter can determine what the truth is. Only reality can do that. Even when there is a scientific consensus it may be overthrown. The greatest story ever told would have been banned by Twitter as misleading the gullible public into thinking that they need not worry about dying from Covid because a man born of a virgin could make the blind see and the lame walk and so could certainly raise them up again like Lazarus. All of this is contrary to everything that science teaches.

If you ban Marjorie Taylor Greene you might as well ban Jesus Christ too.