Thursday 31 March 2022

What Ukraine teaches us about Scottish and Irish nationalism


The war between Russia and Ukraine is essentially about different forms of nationalism. It is for this reason that it is relevant to Scotland. This is why the SNP is trying to create a narrative which it hopes will be helpful to its goal. After all Ukraine is the result of a successful secession movement. But it is also the victim of secessionists trying to break up Ukraine and also the victim of Russian nationalism attempting to unite independent states which formerly were part of the USSR and the Russian Empire.

Russian nationalism takes a similar form to processes that led to the unification of both Germany and Italy in the nineteenth century. The formerly independent states that eventually became Germany and Italy were at least as linguistically diverse as Belarus and Ukraine today. Someone from the north of Italy will struggle to understand Sicilian more than a Russian will struggle to understand Ukrainian. Someone from Berlin will struggle to understand Bavarian.

German unification came about through force. Saxony is now part of a united Germany because it lost the Battle of Königgrätz in 1866. The wars of German unification were just as aggressive as the war in Ukraine today. The justifications just as dubious.  Russian nationalism therefore is not essentially different from the forces of unification nationalism that shaped the map of Europe in the nineteenth century.

We look on Italy and Germany today not as historically unjustified, because their attempts at unification were successful. Peace treaties were signed and places like Saxony accepted their loss of independence, other states like Austria accepted their loss of territory. History views the wars that led to German and Italian unification as inevitable even justified and the process of unification as benign or even a good thing. Few Germans or Italians regret that they live in a unified nation state.

Nationalism is dangerous however because there are conflicting claims. Ukraine was allowed by the Soviet Union to become independent. But the right that Ukraine has as a sovereign nation state to maintain its territorial integrity and independence is incompatible with the claims of Russian nationalism. When two sides have irreconcilable political goals, war is frequently the result.

“War is simply the continuation of political intercourse with the addition of other means”

If Russia had successfully invaded and conquered Ukraine the result might have been similar to 1871 when Germany achieved its goal of unification, but it looks now as if Ukrainian heroism will prevent this. Ukraine will remain a sovereign independent state, but it may not be able to maintain its territorial integrity. Russian forces may withdraw from most of Ukraine, but it is less likely that they will withdraw from Crimea or the Donbas.

What might peace look like between Russia and Ukraine? At the moment Russia has asserted that Crimea is part of Russia and that the Donbas is independent from Ukraine. These places have de facto seceded from Ukraine, but their secession is unrecognised by the West and most of the rest of the world.

This is where the issue becomes of some importance for Scotland? Does Ukraine have the right to prevent parts of its state seceding? Unquestionably it does. It is for this reason that we haven’t recognised that Crimea is legitimately part of Russia.

It doesn’t essentially matter whether or not the majority of the people in Crimea or the Donbas want to leave Ukraine because Ukraine legally has the right to maintain its territorial integrity.

But what if Ukraine makes peace with Russia and allows the Donbas and Crimea to secede and become parts of Russia? This unquestionably would be legal. Lots of boundaries in Europe have changed in history and peace treaties have recognised these changes. But it would set a horrible precedent.

If Putin’s wars in 2014 and 2022 lead to Ukraine permanently losing Crimea and the Donbas then secession movements in these places would have succeeded and war would have been rewarded. Putin might be encouraged to have another go later or some other country might try to achieve unification with a territory it claims.

But it is going to be difficult if not impossible for Ukraine to get back either the Donbas or Crimea. The West could maintain sanctions and isolate Russia until these territories are restored, but this will lead to a frozen conflict rather than peace and it will make war in the future likely.

We are in a different situation in the United Kingdom. No one thinks it likely that there will be war. But Irish nationalism’s attempt to make Northern Ireland secede from the UK is essentially the same as Russian nationalism’s attempt to create a united Russia. It is trying to unite people who it thinks are really Irish even though they live in a separate state. Well, this is just the same as Putin thinking that Ukrainians are really Russians.

Scottish nationalism is similarly comparable to the people in the Donbas and Crimea attempting to leave Ukraine. The circumstances are different. But nobody questions the right of Ukraine to maintain its territorial integrity even if the majority of people in Donbas and Crimea expressed their wish to leave in democratic elections.

But if Ukraine has the right to maintain its territorial integrity against both the secession (Crimea, Donbas) and unification (Russian) forms of nationalism, then the UK obviously has the same right.

The UK just like Ukraine is a single nation state. It is not a federation, still less a confederation, nor is it like the EU. It has parts that happen to be called countries, but it is not a voluntary union any more than Germany or Italy are voluntary unions.

The parts of the UK are called countries for historical reasons just as for historical reasons the parts of the United States are called states, but Texas is a state in a different way from which the United States is a state and therefore Scotland is a country in a different way from which the UK is a country. Crimea once was independent and it might choose to think of itself as a country, but it is still part of Ukraine and has no more right to leave because it formerly was independent or indeed because it thinks of itself as country.

The United Kingdom has a different political tradition from most countries in the world. While Ukraine would forbid an independence referendum in Crimea, we granted one in Scotland. But this is a political position that could change. It depends on political opinion in the whole of the UK. The vast majority of Ukrainians would oppose the parts of Ukraine being given the right to secede. This is why they are fighting a war. Public opinion is different here.

The world looks differently on attempts by Ireland to unify with Northern Ireland and the attempts by secessionists in Scotland to leave the UK. But future events in Ukraine will change this. If Putin succeeds in unifying Russia with Crimea and the Donbas, then international opinion may look less favourably on both Irish and Scottish nationalism. If the world continues to assert that the right to territorial integrity is paramount then other countries might come to see the UK’s right to territorial integrity as important to them. They won’t want a precedent to be set.

A peace treaty in Ukraine may well involve the UK being involved in guaranteeing peace and security in Ukraine. But obviously the UK cannot guarantee anything if it lost Northern Ireland, Scotland and perhaps Wales. In that case there would be no UK, because there would be nothing left to unite.

The war in Ukraine shows the danger of both the secession and unification forms of nationalism. But Ukraine itself cannot be accused of Ukrainian nationalism for defending its territorial integrity against these nationalisms. So too it is absurd to describe British people who wish to maintain the territorial integrity of the UK as nationalists. The Ukrainians fighting so bravely are patriots. This is the word for everyone who wants to keep his country intact.

Her mask shows she supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Why then does she not support the territorial integrity of the UK?


Thursday 17 March 2022

Can I speak Scots?


I was recently asked on the Census about my ability to speak Scots. I said that I did and did so very well. I can speak, read and write Doric, the Aberdeenshire variant of the language because I grew up speaking it as a child and in many ways, it was my first language. But the question still left me a bit perplexed, because I was unable to define what knowing Scots amounted to.

At the beginning of lockdown, I set myself the task of learning Polish. My husband grew up in one of those border regions of Eastern Europe where Polish is still widely spoken although it is no longer a part of Poland. This is one of the complexities of Eastern Europe that we are not always aware of here, because such border complexities and continuums don’t exist on our island.

I know exactly what it is to speak Polish. There is a standard version of the language, which I have been learning. There are grammatical rules. There is a vocabulary. If I use Duolingo I can test my ability to read and write Polish. I am right or I make a mistake. But how do I test whether I speak Scots?

Can I read Scots? Well, it depends. I struggle with anything written much before the 19th century. There are lots of words in poems by Robert Burns that I either don’t know or would pronounce differently. I have read all of Walter Scott, but I quite frequently need to look up the glossary. I also recognise in the dialogue that Scott writes that I have never ever spoken Scots in the way that his characters do. Their vocabulary is far richer than mine ever was and they have a Scots word for nearly everything.

Growing up in a small village in Aberdeenshire quite a long way from Aberdeen I spoke Doric more fluently than people in the larger towns and much more fluently than the people in Aberdeen. We had a wide vocabulary for farming. We said numbers differently from English people. We would sometimes not even be understood in Aberdeen if we spoke particularly broadly. But people who lived outside of the villages were even broader than we were. So, which of us spoke Scots?

I remember typical conversations would involve a mixture of English words and Scots words and we wouldn’t always use the Scots word even when we knew it. We would switch between. I don’t remember ever using only Scots words. Nor did I always speak English words with a Scottish pronunciation. No one did.

Can I write Scots? I have only ever done so as a sort of game or a joke. The problem is I don’t know how to spell Doric words. I end up just spelling them phonetically. Fit like? Foo ye dein’? But I have never seriously written a letter or an email in Scots, nor have I tried to reproduce a Scottish accent when trying to write dialogue. It always turns out like Mark Twain trying to reproduce how black people spoke while sailing down the Mississippi.

There was a time when Scottish people routinely wrote in Scots, but this was hundreds of years ago. I have never written so much as a shopping list, let alone an essay in Scots and few Scots have since the Union of the Crowns unless to make a point that they can. Even in the eighteenth-century Scottish thinkers wrote in English. Scottish literature has usually been in English apart from dialogue and some poetry. Few if any Scottish speakers actually write in Scots even if we theoretically can do so.

Can I speak Scots? Yes. But I rarely if ever do so now. Whenever I meet a fellow Doric speaker, I routinely speak Doric. But I am rusty now. The fluency I had as a child comes back quickly, but it’s not the same. Then everyone I knew spoke Doric all of the time, now fewer and fewer have the knowledge of the language that I did as a child. Sometimes I say words other people don’t know and vice versa. It depends on where you were brought up and when.

Now if I sit on a bus going to Peterhead or the Broch, I find myself hearing really fluent Doric only when people are going to the end of the line. The larger towns and villages near to Aberdeen no longer really speak Doric. The children barely speak it at all.

Outside of the North East few Scots can really speak the Scottish language fluently. I remember people from Glasgow and Edinburgh visiting when I was a child who were completely baffled by the language spoken in rural Aberdeenshire. For them speaking Scottish was little more than an accent, some changes in pronunciation and a spattering of vocabulary.

If you read documents from Jacobean times there is no doubt that people in lowland Scotland spoke a language very different from English as different as German and Dutch. But the Scottish language that has come down to us today is a mere remnant of this. We have been losing its vocabulary for more than four hundred years.

Attempts to write in Scots today nearly always strike me as artificial as if the vocabulary comes from a Scots dictionary rather than from lived experience. There is no standard Scots language that we all could learn like I am learning Polish and there is nowhere I could speak it after learning it.

If Elizabeth the First had given birth to a son and Scotland and England had gone on different paths, we might now be speaking a Scottish language that was not mutually intelligible with English. But we don’t. Every Scot understands standard English and the language we usually speak every day is as understandable to other British citizens as Brummie, Geordie or Scouse.

I can still speak a form of Scots that few even in Edinburgh, let alone London can understand. It has a distinct vocabulary and grammar, but I almost never speak it. I would not dream of trying to write a scientific article in Doric, nor have I ever read one. I can’t speak Doric anywhere else than in rural Aberdeenshire, because no one in the Central Belt would understand me.

The Census will eventually tell us that there are this many Scottish speakers in Scotland, but many of them will only speak English with a Scottish accent and a few Scottish words thrown in like they do sometimes in the Scottish Parliament.

Some political points may be scored, but the truth is that there are zero monolingual speakers of Scots over the age of five and the number of truly fluent speakers of Scots who could hold a conversation using only Scottish vocabulary is I strongly suspect fewer even than those who could hold a similar conversation in Gaelic.

By all means spend resources on reversing a language decline that has been going on for centuries, but you will no more stop it than you can stop getting old. The SNP are desperate for a separate language to fuel their separatism, but the truth is that the overwhelming majority of Scots speak only English.


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Sunday 13 March 2022

Sturgeon lacks the intelligence in both senses of the word

There is a moment in the Godfather when Vito Corleone tells his rather dense son Sonny “Never tell anybody outside the family what you’re thinking again.” He was right. The fact that Sonny revealed his opinion leads directly to an assassination attempt on Don Corleone and indirectly to Sonny’s death.

I was reminded of this when Nicola Sturgeon chose to reveal her opinion about introducing a no fly zone in Ukraine. Sturgeon has no army, no navy and no air force. The Scottish Parliament has no say whatsoever on defence, nor indeed on foreign policy, but Sturgeon has been going beyond her remit for years.

She acted as if Scotland were a member of the European Union and was allowed by the EU to engage in low level international diplomacy. She tries to act as if Scotland is already an independent sovereign nation state rather than a part of one and now acts as if Scotland were a member of NATO. She does these things for a reason.

Scottish nationalism depends on establishing that Scotland already is what the SNP want it to become. The argument amounts to we are independent so we ought to become independent. It is for this reason that Sturgeon treats the visit of a British Prime Minister as if it were a visit from a foreign power. The argument may be contradictory, but it is also effective. Most Scots do think that Scotland is already a country just like France or Germany. It is why asking them “Should Scotland be an independent country?" amounts to should we be what we already are. After all our leader even has an opinion on foreign affairs and how to help other independent countries like Ukraine.

But it is here that the SNP’s obsession with independence becomes dangerous. Most of the time Sturgeon’s pretence that Scotland is already an independent nation state is petty and harmless, but not always.

If the members of the Corleone family had been united, if they had not revealed any difference in opinion, then it might have been possible to avoid the threat that developed to the family. So too if Remainers and Scottish nationalists had accepted defeat in the 2016 and worked together for the best possible deal for the UK, then the deal we achieved would have been much improved. Sturgeon’s playing at foreign affairs harmed Britain and did not bring her one step closer to independence.

The issue is far more deadly now. Britain’s dispute with the EU was about competing interests, but the member states of the EU remain our friends and allies. They are economic competitors but they are not threatening us. Russia is threatening us.

The risk of nuclear war is still remote, but it is a lot less remote than it was a few weeks ago. We must hope that the same rules apply as they did in the Cold War. If not, we are in trouble. But those rules limited the ability of NATO to act against Soviet aggression. Both sides went to great lengths to avoid shooting at each other, because it might escalate a conflict that was already dangerous enough.

It is understandable that Volodymyr Zelenskyy would like a no fly zone like the ones that the West imposed in Bosnia, Libya and Iraq. It would undoubtedly help Ukraine against Russia. It is understandable why Sturgeon wants to play the dim brother role, Zelenskyy is popular. Sturgeon hasn’t been on TV much lately. Sympathy with what the Ukrainian leader wants, might increase support for Sturgeon and Scottish independence. But she is in fact giving aid and comfort to Russia.

There is a reason why NATO has rejected a no fly zone. It has intelligence in both senses of the word. Sources will be telling the NATO command structure that a no fly zone risks escalating the conflict into a conflict between NATO and Russia. The only way to enforce a no fly zone is to threaten to shoot down Russian planes and mean it. We might also have to destroy Russian air bases, radar stations and the facilities on which the Russian air force depends.

But this is the equivalent of shooting border guards in Berlin because we sympathised with those East Germans trying to escape. It’s like shooting down Russian bombers testing UK defences as they approach the coast of Scotland. It’s like sinking Russian ships in the Moray Firth. If this is the SNP’s defence policy, while unilaterally getting rid of nuclear weapons from Scotland, it isn’t going to end well. Perhaps our unbuilt ferries can take on the Russian navy.

Those who threatened the Corleone family looked for division, because that division could be exploited. It was for this reason Don Corleone told his stupid son not to reveal his opinions in public. The Russians too will be attempting to exploit division in the UK. They know that if only Scotland could become independent, then one of three NATO nuclear powers would be diminished. There would no longer be any need to worry about the British armed forces, because they would have ceased to exist after three hundred years of defeating almost everyone.  

A divided UK would have to worry about its northern flank. The former UK bases and radar stations in Scotland would belong to someone else. The UK has played an important role in supporting Ukraine sending weapons when Germany didn’t want them even to cross German territory. Putin would be delighted if Sturgeon succeeded in breaking up Britain. Why else do you think he was willing to fund Alex Salmond. It would be surprising if Putin’s money has not been helping other Scottish nationalists.

I suspect if asked Zelenskyy would say that the most helpful thing Sturgeon could do would be to abolish the SNP.

There are few real democracies in the world. We are threatened by tyranny not merely in Russia, but also in China. We cannot afford an idiot son who thinks that he is already Godfather. The UK can afford no division at all, not from Remainers and not from Scottish nationalists. Disunity now is dangerous.

Sturgeon should confine her comments to those areas that are controlled by the Scottish Parliament. She lacks the intelligence in both senses of the word to comment on anything else. 

Thursday 10 March 2022

Why the Government does so little for Ukrainian refugees.


Around two million Ukrainians have fled from the Russian armed forces terrorising their country. The vast majority (more than 1.2 million) have gone to Poland. This is something quite remarkable if you know anything about the history of Poland.

Much of Western Ukraine was part of Poland until 1939 when the Soviet Union attacked it in cooperation with Germany and later incorporated it into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Up to one hundred thousand Poles were massacred in Wołyń and Eastern Galicia by their Ukrainian neighbours. Yet all of this has been not only forgiven, it is as if it has been forgotten by the Poles. It is a remarkable story of reconciliation that people who nurse grievances of a far lesser scale could learn from.

But there is something else that is remarkable about this story. Only a few weeks ago Belarus was flying people from the Middle East and sending them towards the Polish border. The Poles responded by building a wall. Very few refugees were able to get to Poland. Why such a difference in response?

The UK at the moment has taken very few refugees from Ukraine. The Home Office is being bureaucratic and making it difficult for Ukrainians to come to Britain. There is a reason for this. Accepting refugees into Britain is politically controversial. Mass immigration is an important issue for many British voters.

Britain could for instance grant visas to all refugees in France who want to come here. This would save them risking their lives in rubber dinghies. But we don’t because public opinion wants to limit the number of refugees coming to Britain. Many British people think that France should take them instead.

But public opinion is not opposed to Ukrainian refugees coming to Britain. Many British people are angry with the Home Office for not doing more to help. But if that same Home Office offered visas to those in France there would be opposition.

We are no different from the Poles, but in Britain we are unable to be honest about it. It is this that is leading the Government to make a mess of this issue. There is a very good reason why public opinion is so different about refugees in France who want to come to Britain and refugees in Ukraine and it is not because we have the War in Ukraine on our TVs every day.

When Russia intervened in the Syrian Civil War it did to Syrians something very similar to what it is now doing to Ukrainians, but this did not mean that we wanted large numbers of Syrians to be given visas to live in Britain. We could have airlifted thousands and settled them here, but we chose to allow only a token trickle to come.

Syrians suffered just as much as Ukrainians, but if they had turned up on the Belarussian border or if they were in France trying to get to Britain, there would have been no demand to immediately give them visas or to allow them to come here with neither passports nor documents. There is a reason for this too, but we are not allowed to admit it.

The failure to tell the truth about our different reactions to war in Syria and war in Ukraine is the reason why the Home Office is unable to make a distinction between Ukrainian refugees and Syrian refugees. The Home Office thinks that because British public opinion would oppose allowing Syrian refugees to arrive here en masse it must treat Ukrainians in the same way. It would be unfair and unequal not to.

In an abstract way we recognise the common humanity and equality we share with everyone on the planet, but when we actually think as human beings, we would care more about a maternity hospital being bombed in our own town than one bombed in Mariupol and we quite possibly would not pay much attention at all if it was in Aleppo. This doesn’t mean we are hypocrites or immoral. It just means that we are human beings.

But the problem is that we are continually told that it is the worst possible sin to make any distinction at all between people on the grounds of nationality or race or religion. It is impossible therefore to even have a conversation about why the Poles built a wall to keep out one group of refugees, but apparently are willing to open their arms without limit to people whose grandfathers may have been their enemies.

It is for this reason that we have dishonest conversations about refugees, migration and immigration. We ought to treat everyone equally, but in fact we wish to discriminate. But this inconsistency does not make us wicked, it makes us like every other human being on the planet. The need to discriminate is part of our common humanity.

Poland is happy to take millions of Ukrainians, because Poles recognise them as similar people to themselves. They know that if some of those Ukrainians choose to stay in Poland permanently within a generation, they would be indistinguishable from other Poles. The same goes for Britain. The descendants of Polish refugees who stayed here after the Second World War are now no different from anyone else.

Poles knew that if large numbers of people on the Belarus border came to Warsaw, it would eventually change the character of Warsaw beyond all recognition. They have been to Britain and seen what has happened to some of our cities. It is for this reason they built a wall.

In Britain we also have a metaphorical wall. The Home Office does its best to discourage refugees who it could easily help to arrive here. If Poland can take more than a million refugees in a few days, Britain could easily send planes to every conflict in the world offering to give a home to anyone in need.

If all human beings are equal and equally deserving of our help then why don’t we go into Middle Eastern refugee camps handing out visas and plane tickets? These people have just as much need as Ukrainians.

Human beings discriminate. Our families are most important, then our fellow countrymen and then those who are most similar to us. But we are forbidden from being honest about this, because we have been conditioned for decades to lie about the transformation of our own society and to condemn anyone who tells the truth. Failure to lie gets you cancelled.

We would mind no more if a million Ukrainians came to Britain than we did when a million Poles came, but we would mind very much indeed if we treated the refugees from all conflicts anywhere in the world that way.

It is the dishonesty about this that makes the Home Office do so little and the Poles do so much.



Tuesday 8 March 2022

Is Nicola Sturgeon a wee boy?


Most of us will soon be filling in the Census which is now done online. Quite why it needed to be done a year later than the other parts of the UK is therefore unclear as doing things on the Internet does not involve any risk of catching Covid. But SNP Scotland loves to be different.

I haven’t done my census yet, but from past experience the vast majority of questions will be about matters of fact. I will be expected to answer truthfully. So too if any of us fill in an application form about a job or even apply to join a club it is expected that we answer questions factually and truthfully. Of course, we can lie about our age or our qualifications, but if found out we might lose the job or even be convicted of fraud.

But on one issue and I think one issue only the SNP now thinks we can answer questions without reference to the facts. It wants to bring in a self-declaration model about gender. What this means is that someone will be able to simply declare that he is a woman despite having a male body or that she is man despite having a female body. We will not, at least not yet, be able to self-declare about any other aspect of our body. If I am white, I cannot self-declare that I am black. If I am 93, I cannot self-declare that I am 23. If I have Covid I cannot self-declare that I don’t have it, until my body is free from the illness. But I can change my gender whenever I want and without any checks from doctors or anyone else.

Self-declaration about gender involves something rather strange about language. It divorces being a woman from the objective characteristics of being female. It is not possible, I think even the SNP admits, to self-declare about one’s biology. A person is objectively either male or female. It is not possible to change this. A man who changes his body to mimic as far as possible the body of a woman, remains biologically male. But what then is the self-declaration about? If I can be a woman even though I have a male body, what is it that tells me I am a woman? It cannot be my body. But if it is not my body, what can it be?

I am nearly always confident of describing someone as a man or a woman based on appearance. Apart from infants we nearly always can tell just by looking. This is how we learn the words “man” and “woman”. But if self-declaration is not based on appearance or physical characteristics, the words “woman” and “man” when used by people self-declaring are being used in a completely novel way. They are being defined perhaps by some inner feeling, but they are not being used as the rest of us use them. This makes them homonyms. Someone may say “I am a woman”, based on an inner feeling, but it is the equivalent of someone using words like “bank” to mean both a place that stores money and a place next to the river.

When I learn a foreign language such as French, I may say “Je suis une femme”, but if I looked like a man my French teacher would correct me. “Non, vous êtes un homme”. If I based being un homme or being une femme on an inner feeling that no one else could share, it would be impossible for me to learn French. But the same obviously goes for English. Every person who wishes to self-declare their gender has learned English by means of objective physical characteristics which are sharable.

I could not learn the words hot or cold unless being hot or cold was an objective characteristic of things that everyone talking can perceive in the same way. But the same goes for words like “man” and “woman”. Everyone including the person wishing to self-declare learned these words by their parents and teachers correcting them. If as a child I pointed to a large breasted person in a dress and said “Mummy it’s a man”, she would have said “No, it’s a woman”. The word would not have been learned in relation to anything going on in the head of the woman.

The SNP therefore wants to have a new definition of “woman” based on the feelings going on in some people’s heads, but they want this new word to be used in exactly the same way as the old one. This is the problem with self-defining. No one else is doing it. Our words are defined by the linguistic community.

The reason why women are concerned about self-declaration is that it will allow the self-declarer all the rights that the rest of women have who have obtained them not be means of self-declaration, but by means of having female bodies.

Society over the centuries has developed certain social rules. While it is acceptable for women to take off their clothes with other women, it is not normally acceptable with men. This is because of the difference between male and female bodies. Women don’t want men to see them naked unless they are sexual partners.

So too women’s bodies are usually less strong than men’s bodies for which reason there is women’s sport.

If a woman is raped, she is likely to be scared of men for which reason she would hope to be examined by a woman doctor and would hope that her rape counsellor would also be a woman

Women only want people with female bodies to be in the changing room. They want to compete only against people with female bodies and they want their doctors and rape counsellors to have female bodies.

Normally this isn’t a problem. When everyone used the word “woman” to mean someone with a female body “women only spaces” were safe. But self-declaration changes that. It allows people with male bodies to define “woman” in a way that allows those with male bodies to go into those spaces.

Women in those spaces do not care what is going on in the head of a person who self-declares as a woman, what they care about is that this “woman” has a male body.

Every male in Scotland who does not self-declare he is a woman is defined as a man based on his male body. It is for this reason that such men cannot take part in women’s sport, cannot be women doctors and women rape counsellors. But a subcategory who define “woman” in a different way can access women only spaces simply because despite having male bodies they define themselves as women. But the reason for keeping them out of women only spaces remains the same. They have male bodies. How they define themselves has nothing to do with it.

The SNP pretends that those of us who object to self-declaration are doing so out of prejudice and that there is nothing to fear. But the example of the American swimmer who despite being male is competing in women’s races shows exactly why we should be concerned.

This swimmer despite having male anatomy shares the changing room with young women. If any of these women object they will be thrown off the team. But the trans swimmer still dates women. It is likely that he is still attracted to female anatomy and uses the male anatomy he retains sexually. It is unclear if this trans swimmer is heterosexual or a lesbian. Can lesbians father children?

It may be that this trans swimmer is entirely honest, but his team mates will be evaluated in their swimsuits as to whether they might be suitable for date and they might notice the enthusiasm in his swimsuit if he finds them attractive. It is for precisely this reason that women have fought to keep male bodies out of changing rooms and for women’s sport to be a contest between female bodies.

Everyone in Scotland defines every word we speak objectively and collectively, because we speak a shared language with definitions and rules that are not made up by me or you, but by all language users together. It is this that makes the SNP’s attempt to change the meaning of “man” and “woman” so bizarre. They might as well change the meaning of “English” to “Scottish”, if a man can become a woman simply by saying that he is one.

If being a woman has nothing to do with having a female body, what is to stop me declaring that Nicola Sturgeon is a wee boy?


Sunday 6 March 2022

Consigning the SNP to ancient history


Politics suddenly came to an end when Russia invaded Ukraine. There is nothing in the papers anymore about Boris Johnson having parties in Downing Street. There are no more briefings about Covid and we’ve all ceased caring very much about how many cases there are either here or elsewhere. I suspect that the police investigation into who opened what bottle of wine and when will result in nothing very much because no one is any longer paying attention.

But politics does not stop. It may be tasteless to link events in Ukraine with Scotland’s political situation, but events there will have long term consequences for the debate here and everywhere else in Europe. Finland and Sweden are debating whether they ought to join NATO not out of parochialism or lack of concern for Ukrainians, but because Russian actions and threats have changed the political and security situation in those countries. So too here.

Scotland is far away from both Russia and Ukraine. The SNP used this to take a semi-pacifist attitude to our security. For decades it opposed NATO membership and thought that an independent Scotland could get away with token armed forces. It blamed England for the fact that Scottish soldiers died in such large numbers during the World Wars. If only we had been independent, we could have avoided involvement. Russia was no threat to Scotland.

But we are having to relearn that European security requires a coordinated, collective approach. Each country needs to increase defence spending to the point where we can deter aggression not merely by means of nuclear weapons, but by means of conventional weapons too. Failure to compete on a conventional battlefield leaves the alternative of surrender or nuclear escalation. This all makes token armies, plus making Britain’s nuclear submarines homeless, look foolhardy.

The idea that Scotland would have been safer today if we had voted for independence in 2014 and sent the English submarines homeless to think again is to think that if Putin used nuclear weapons Scotland somehow would be spared.

At a time when each piece of the European security puzzle is vital to the defence of every other piece, the destruction of the British armed forces because Scots don’t like Tories and are obsessed with wars from the Middle Ages is unlikely to be comprehensible to people who are nearer to Ukraine than we are.

We were supposed to wait until the end of the pandemic and then add a year before having a second independence referendum. That already looked unlikely because of the economic consequences of Covid. How likely is it now after the largest war in Europe since 1945?

So, at some point the SNP are going to have to admit that there won’t be another referendum next year. They might pretend that it will happen the year after that, or the year after that, but the SNP’s credibility about everything will in time be destroyed by promises that it never keeps about a referendum.

The sanctions we have rightly imposed on Russia are already devastating the Russian economy. The hope is that they lead to regime change. If a new Russian leader seeks peace, then it may be possible to restore Ukraine to its full borders, meaning that separatists in Crimea and the Donbas would have to give up their independence from Ukraine. This looked impossible prior to the present conflict, but it may well be that Ukrainian territorial integrity becomes the condition for normalisation of relations with Russia.

This would have a profound effect on how the world views secession movements and the attempt to redraw international boundaries. If Ukraine has a right to territorial integrity, then obviously so does everyone else in Europe. Separatist movements whether in Catalonia, Flanders, Crimea, the Donbas or Scotland are going to be viewed with suspicion by the international community. It was after all the attempt by Russia to recognise separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk that sparked the present conflict.

Scottish independence always depended on the cooperation of both the United Kingdom and the international community. The former UK had to be generous to Scotland in maintaining the present trade, border and rights arrangements so that Scots could continue to live and work in the former UK with minimal barriers. The international community would only ever support Scottish independence if the breakup of the UK was friendly. Otherwise, Scotland would struggle to join NATO, the EU or anything else.

If the SNP had won in 2014 then both the former UK and the world in general would have done their best to make Scottish independence work, but the conditions that existed in 2014 do not exist now. Then we could just about pretend that the Cold War was a distant memory and that British armed forces and nuclear weapons did not matter. But Scotland’s grievance looks too flimsy to be indulged by anyone in 2022.

Our grounds for separation are insubstantial. Scotland may sometimes vote differently from the UK as a whole, but this is a feature of every democracy and would be a feature of Scotland if it were independent. We are fortunate to have free and fair elections at all.

Scottish nationalists look back to wars between Scotland and England and to a time when both were independent. But it is just this focus on ancient history that is looking ever more dubious when Putin uses that same ancient history to justify his shelling of cities. Every country in Europe is made up of places that once were independent or once were joined together. If we judged who owns what now by who owned it during the past 1000 years then there would be potential conflicts all over Europe.

Digging up Medieval history or re-enacting a Jacobite rebellion while marching in Scotland looked quaint and harmless until Putin also started digging around in the same cesspit. Best not to dig at all, because you will very likely find something unpleasant that smells.

Gradually politics will re-emerge from the shade that has been cast by the present conflict, but it will find the circumstances quite different. We will have less to spend as sanctions will damage us too. We will change our priorities from what we want to what we need to do. We will cease to think about trivia like parties and Downing Street or indeed Scottish independence. That is a battle that should be consigned to ancient history (1314 and 2014) just like the battles between the princes of Kievan Rus.

Tuesday 1 March 2022

Putin the Terrible


It is difficult to write about a fast-moving conflict with limited information and much disinformation. But it is impossible to write about anything else as every other topic looks trivial. I am uninterested in the domestic politics of the UK and cannot bring myself even to notice whatever Nicola Sturgeon might be saying about it or anything else.

The key with news is to think about what might matter a year from now and then to think about what might be remembered one hundred years from now.

The 2019-2022 pandemic is as significant historically as Spanish flu 1918, not because of the numbers that it killed, but because for the first time in history we attempted to stop the spread of a respiratory illness by isolating whole populations from each other. It already looks like an overreaction and a mistake. Longer term history may judge it still less favourably when it can see the damage done to the lives of those who were locked up.

We don’t know yet how well history will remember the 2022 Ukraine Russia War. The First Balkan War 1912-1913 killed over 400,000 but is remembered only by specialists now. But if there is a moment when history judges the Covid Pandemic to have ended it will be this.

When Putin threatened us with nuclear conflict, worrying about an illness with a relatively low Case Fatality Rate looked self-indulgent. When tower blocks are being shelled and defenceless civilians bombed a facemask looks like a rather flimsy defence against the dangers of the modern world.

People in Ukraine are not bothering much about Covid and that extends to their neighbours in places like Poland. There are more important issues to worry about and we can no longer hide in our houses.

While fighting the Cold War we chose to arm the enemies of the Soviet Union. In the short term arming bandits in Afghanistan might have looked like a good idea as they made life difficult for the Red Army, but encouraging Jihad looked less wise as these same people were able to defeat the West in both Afghanistan and Iraq. So too Nixon in China now looks to have awakened a threat that is long term even more dangerous than the Soviet Union.

We have helped to create a China that is a more dangerous foe because it has a first-rate economy on which we depend and because it is far cleverer and subtler than the Soviet Union ever was.

There is little doubt that Putin would not have acted in Ukraine without the permission of the Chinese and that the Chinese have long term goals which they hoped to achieve by means of the Russians. These include the Russian Far East, Taiwan and Chinese hegemony over much of Asia and the Third World.

China has killed far more in Xinjiang than Putin has in Ukraine, but has done it in such a way that the West barely notices and doesn’t much care. We are fickle about which conflicts make us angry. It largely depends on what the media chooses to put on our televisions.

But there are some grounds for optimism. Ukraine has already given Putin a bloody nose. The Ukrainians have performed better than expected and may yet prevail.

Even if they are defeated, the stand they have made will be like the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. It was defeated and led to the destruction of the city, but in the decades following the Poles submitted least of all Eastern Europeans to the Soviets and the example of their heroism in 1944 sustained them until they eventually gained their freedom in 1989.

So too with Ukraine. We don’t yet know if Zelensky’s bravery will prevail. It deserves to. We must hope that it will. But such heroism is not in vain no matter what happens. It is an example that will inspire Ukrainians not yet born. That example matters.

The West too has performed much better than expected. Putin thought there would be limited sanctions, but his fury demonstrates his miscalculation.

We are supplying the Ukrainians with weaponry and providing other services. Those Ukrainians who flee will be looked after.   

The West has more resolve than I expected. Long years of decline and folly had made me cynical. But I believe we have made a stand. It is too dangerous to let Putin carry on. He begins to remind me of the Repin painting of Ivan the Terrible and his son.

Putin’s Russian nationalism involves the idea that Ukrainians are relatives but subordinate, like children. Well, he has just killed the child he professes to love. His invasion has meant that Putinism has no heir and Russia is moving towards a new “Time of Troubles” just as it did when Ivan left the throne vacant.

It is too dangerous to leave a man in power who threatens us with nuclear war because we have imposed sanctions and his attack is not going as well as expected. The threats coming from Russia will not be forgotten nor forgiven.

The price for returning to normality, for removing sanctions and travel restrictions must not merely be regime change, but a change in attitude on the part of Russia.

No one has threatened Russia since the end of the Cold War. There was no credible threat from Ukraine or any of Russia’s other neighbours. Yet it has been invading neighbours and poisoning opponents in Salsbury as if it could do as it pleased. There are now going to be long term consequences, until and unless the Russian people decide to rejoin the civilised world.

Just maybe the West will also wake up to the far more subtle but much more dangerous threat coming from China. Putin only has military power plus nuclear weapons. He now has no economy. But China has all of the military power that Russia has and more plus an economy that gives it a strength that Russia lacks.

How the West deals with both Russia and China or better still how we achieve lasting peace between East and West we can hope is the story of the decades ahead told by the historians of the future.