Friday 30 September 2022

The prospect of a Labour majority changes the argument in Scotland


It may be that the Conservatives have already lost the next General Election. Labour has a 33 point lead. A Labour majority, which was unthinkable a short while ago is now a 7/4 favourite. I am obviously not a Labour supporter, but I look at the prospect of Labour winning a majority far more favourably than Labour merely winning most seats and relying on other parties to form a government.

There are a variety of economic opinions about the Truss/Kwarteng mini budget. Economics is not a science like physics. I sometimes think it is not a science at all, because it does not really predict. Few economists can predict market crashes, nor do they know for sure which stocks will rise, nor what will happen to currencies. If they did, they would make a fortune by betting on the markets.

But whatever the theoretical truth about the budget, it is clear that both market sentiment and the public is against. It might be that in the long run Truss and Kwarteng would be proved right, but we will never get to the long term if public opinion and the markets say No. You can’t buck the market even if the market is wrong.

The political consequence may already be such that the British public is ready for a Labour Government. Truss will have to succeed in the next two years in an extraordinary way to turn this around.

Democracy works better if one party does not stay in power for more than about ten years. The party that has been in government gets to reflect on its failure and develop new talent. If a party remains in permanent government, like the SNP, it becomes corrupt and ceases to really care about the electorate.

If Labour wins the next election, I will hope that it governs well and brings prosperity to Britain. I live here.  I do not believe that either socialism or social democracy are the answers to our problems. But voters need to learn this lesson once more because many of them are too young to remember the last time Labour was in government.

Starmer is dull, but intelligent and competent. He is not going to govern in an especially ideological way. With luck Britain might have a repeat of the first two Blair governments without the wars.

Labours main problem since 2015 has been the loss of its Scottish seats, with the result that it always looked as if it could not form a government without the help of the SNP. The debate then becomes whether Labour could govern as a minority or whether it would have to make concessions to the SNP, i.e., more money for Scotland and a second independence referendum. But this calculation changes if Labour can win an overall majority.

The SNP argument that England votes Tory while Scotland doesn’t, ceases to work if the UK overall votes Labour. The SNP cannot reasonably complain that Scotland votes SNP but doesn’t get an SNP government, because the SNP only stands in Scotland.

But more importantly the real prospect of a Labour government will change the nature of the campaign in Scotland. Former Labour voters in Scotland might be tempted to vote Labour again if their new MP might be part of a government. A successful Labour election campaign will make Scots focus more on UK issues and getting rid of the Tories rather than independence. This could see Labour gaining a number of seats in Scotland.

At the moment the SNP plan is still to hold an unofficial referendum in October 2023. We await the result of the Supreme Court case. But it is hard to imagine this taking place under the circumstances. There is too much turmoil. This leaves the SNP arguing that the next General Election is a de facto referendum. But the prospect of a Labour government kicking out the Tories would risk Scottish voters not paying attention to Sturgeon’s de facto referendum.

If Scots decide to vote Labour because it would actually kick Tories out rather than SNP which has only ever kicked Scottish Labour MPs out, then there is every chance that the SNP would not win 50.1% of the electorate let alone of the turnout. But then Prime Minister Starmer could on the morning after the General Election tell Sturgeon that she has lost her referendum and needs to wait another generation.

Scottish nationalism is fundamentally an anti-Tory movement. It developed in the 1980s as a response to Thatcher. Scottish nationalists have almost identical views to Labour supporters except on independence. But this means running an independence campaign during a Labour government will always be harder than during a Tory government. Why vote to leave when you agree with the Labour government? The only reason would be the prospect of a Tory government coming to power. But that would be a distant prospect, not a present concern.

If there is anything that will change the logjam of Scottish politics which keeps the SNP in permanent government it is a Labour majority at Westminster. It would provide Scottish voters with an example of change, that they might want to emulate especially if Labour in a way that was popular in Scotland.  

Oddly for a Conservative, I would far rather see Labour win well if it is to win at all. What matters to me most of all, beyond any economic arguments is that the UK remains intact. If the price of that were a majority Labour government, I would pay it in a second. I may even vote for Labour if I think it has the best chance of winning where I live.


Wednesday 28 September 2022

Does the Scottish people have the right to self-determination?


The reason it is so boring trying to have any sort of debate with Scottish nationalists, is that after a while you realise that they are repeating what they have read on a sort of crib sheet. Eventually any discussion either ends with swearing and insults or exactly the same claims about 97% of Scottish energy being given us by Scottish wind, the civic and joyous nature of independence supporters and how Scotland subsidises England. It would be nice to have some variation and original thought, but I have yet to come across a genuinely creative thinker on the nationalist side. There is rarely if ever honesty about the difficulties an independent Scotland might face, but this lack of honesty extends even to attempting to hide the true nature of the Scottish nationalist ideology. But just occasionally it peaks through.

The SNP has put forward arguments to the Supreme Court that claims that the Scottish people have the right to self-determination in the same way that Kosovans had to the right to self-determination when Kosovo left Serbia. It goes on to argue that the Claim of Right 1689 and the Act of Union 1707 shows that Scots are a people and that this is the ground for our right to self-determination.

It is intriguing that the SNP bases its case partly on a vehemently anti-Catholic document like the Claim of Right, which is fundamentally about preventing Catholic James VII and II remaining King of Scotland after the Glorious Revolution 1688. If you actually read it, you will discover a document that makes the Famine song seem positively liberal and kind in its treatment of Catholics. Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon should read extracts in the Scottish Parliament beginning with all the bits about Papists and Jesuits.

The independence of Kosovo is not recognised by Serbia, Russia, China, Spain and India among others. It is very much a special case due to the attempt by Serbia to ethnically cleanse Kosovans from what was then Serbia.

There have been no war crimes in Scotland for hundreds of years. No one has tried to force Scots to leave Scotland in recent times. Anyway, if you take Kosovo as your precedent, you would end up with Scotland separating from the Former UK, but being unrecognised by London. Not only that. Scotland would be unrecognised by at least two members of the Security Council and we might find it difficult to go on holiday to Spain if they didn’t recognise our independence.

So Kosovan independence is problematic at best. But there is an obvious distinction between Kosovans and Serbs, which justifies the former being treated as a people, which does not apply to Scots. Kosovans are Albanians and speak a different native language to Serbs. Kosovans are Muslims and have a different religion to Serbs. In what similar way are Scots different from other British citizens?

At this point we need to look at the claim that Scots are a people. On the one hand this is trivial. It is reasonable to call people living in Scotland as Scots or Scottish people. But merely living in a place with defined boundaries does not make you part of a people. For instance, people living in London are Londoners, but they are not a different people from those living in the rest of England.

It isn’t enough to say that Scots live in a different country from people in England. After all, if we look at European peoples they are not limited by national boundaries. The Hungarian people don’t just live in Hungary, they live in Slovakia, Romania and other neighbouring countries too.

But what then is it that constitutes a people in the European context. When Poland was partitioned, the Polish people were those who spoke Polish and who were Roman Catholic. It was this that led Woodrow Wilson to argue that various European peoples should have independent states. But when he argued this, he was not thinking of people living in Scotland.

When we talk about “a people” we don’t just mean people living in a certain area. We invariably mean people who share a common ancestry, language and usually religion. It is for this reason that some people argue that the Kurds should have an independent state where all people of Kurdish ethnicity could live.

But this has a very unfortunate consequence for Scottish nationalism. How are we to distinguish the Scottish people from the other people living in the UK? We cannot do it by language. Scots overwhelmingly speak the same language as everyone else in the UK. We cannot separate Scots on the basis of religion. Most of us are not particularly religious. We cannot separate on the basis of national boundaries, because a people can transcend national boundaries or only occupy part of a country. We are left with ancestry and common heritage.

But this amounts to I am part of the Scottish people, because my ancestors have lived here for centuries, my ancestors signed the Declaration of Arbroath and the Claim of Right and because I descend from these people these documents apply to me also.

That’s fine as an argument, but it is ethnic nationalism. It is blood and soil and the Brothers of Scotland in just the same way as the Far Right Brothers of Italy that has just been elected there.

But if we are to base the right to self-determination on being ethnically different from people in England and unfortunately there is no other way, then we are going to have a problem with dealing with those people who are not ethnically Scots. They cannot be part of the Scottish people unless Scottish people merely means people living in Scotland, but that can no more give Scotland the right to self-determination than people living in Burgundy or Bavaria. It would only be if Burgundians were a different people to the French that they might have a right to self-determination. But they cannot have that right merely because they occupy the territory of a state that was once independent.

Scottish nationalism likes to claim that it is civic and uses this to attract people who are not ethnically Scottish, but in the end all forms of nationalism resolve themselves into ethnic nationalism, because nationalism is always about the fact that my ancestors have lived here since Robert the Bruce and this is why we want to refight 1314 until we finally win. If there were no sense of Scottish nationalists forming a distinct ethnic group, there would be no sense of Scottish nationalism.

Scottish nationalists dressing up in historical costumes and continually appealing to ancient history and documents tell you everything about the basis of their thought.

Of course, it is absurd to suggest that Scots are a distinct people from the rest of those living in the UK. We are the same mix of all of the migrants who have been arriving here for thousands of years and who continue to do so. But if that is the case there is no separate people to claim the right to self-determination.

The intellectual foundation of Scottish nationalism with its claim that Scots are a separate people is a sort of pseudo-racism that wants to maintain that we are a race and the English are a different race and that this justifies are hatred of them.

People living in Scotland who do not themselves descend from those who wrote the Claim of Right ought to be careful, because the language of prejudice in that document might just apply to you also. Those whose family has arrived in Scotland in recent decades should no more play with matches than play with a nationalism that is just as likely to turn on you as all other forms of nationalism have historically turned on those who are different.

People in the rest of the world ought to be careful also, as if Scots are a people with the right to independence, then pretty much anyone can claim the same right and secession and perhaps war will soon come to your country too. After all the Russian people living in Ukraine have as good a right as the SNP to self-determination and to an independence referendum.


Sunday 25 September 2022

After independence Sturgeon would need a wall.


There are approximately 4.6 million adults in Scotland. Of these around 1.9 million or 41% pay no income tax. 48% of us pay between 19 and 21%. While 9.9% pay 41% and 1% pay 46%. Around 60% of revenue raised in Scotland comes from that top 10%. But this means that Scotland has an obvious problem. We are being undercut.

One of the benefits of Brexit was that it gave the UK the chance to undercut the EU. The UK could become a low tax, low regulation offshore competitor attracting business from the Continent. The EU did all it could to prevent this happening and thus far has largely succeeded. Perhaps Truss will be able to do better. But she has just done to Scotland what Brexiteers promised to do to the EU.

If you think this doesn’t work, look at Ireland. Much of Dublin’s income comes from it having a model of very low corporation tax. This means that it is cheaper for many large businesses to be based in Ireland rather than say France or Germany. This is good for Ireland, but bad for everyone else, which is why they want to force Ireland to raise corporation tax. Well Truss has just done to Scotland what Ireland does to Germany and France.

The problem for Scotland is that large numbers of Scots pay no income tax at all. This is partly because the rate at which people begin to pay income tax has been raised by the UK Government. I have always believed this is a long-term mistake. It means that low-income workers have no interest in keeping tax rates low because they don’t share in paying them.  If you don’t pay income tax at all you don’t directly benefit from tax cuts.

The SNP could of course argue that the threshold should be lowered in Scotland and I’m sure its wish would be granted, but it won’t because it would upset its core support.

We know that support for Scottish independence correlates with socio-economic status. The low paid and those on benefits are most likely to support Scottish independence, while those who pay the highest levels of tax are least likely to support it. There are exceptions of course. There are millionaires who support the SNP. But generally, it is obvious that poorer Scots hope that Scottish independence will increase the help they get from the state. They want higher taxes and higher public spending, because they know that someone else will pay for it.

But this is why the SNP has a problem now and particularly if it were ever to achieve Scottish independence. The top 10% of tax payers are going to be very much better off if they moved to England tomorrow. Of course, not all of these people can move. Many will have jobs in Scotland or businesses that cannot easily be moved. But if you work in finance in Edinburgh, you could just as easily do your job in London. The same goes for doctors and many other professions that are easily transferable.

It would be difficult for many of us to move. We would need to sell a house, move schools and move from rather empty quiet Scotland to crowded England, but young people starting a career after university will right now be faced with a choice. Get a job in England which will immediately pay more because of lower tax or get the same job in Scotland which will pay less. Scotland not merely faces a brain drain, we face a tax drain too.

So even as part of the UK Scotland is going to lose revenue, but imagine if Pro UK people who undoubtedly pay the vast majority of Scottish taxes are outvoted by those who don’t pay tax at all. This would be perfectly democratic of course. We don’t limit voting rights to those who pay income taxes. But there is nothing to stop Pro UK people voting with their feet. Not unless Sturgeon decides to build a wall.

The majority of Pro UK people would doubtless stay in Scotland after independence. Many of us have jobs we would not want to leave, children we would not want to uproot and we love Scotland just as much as independence supporters. But a proportion of Pro UK people would leave especially if times were tough in the first few years of independence.

Independence supporters usually react to this with a sort of glee. Cheerio. Happy to see you leave etc. But the worst thing that could possibly happen to Scotland is to see part of its population leave.

Scotland has a very low birth rate. It has a low life expectancy. It has poor health and increasingly poor education. The majority of people who choose to move here are from other parts of the UK, which would decline after independence, because they would become foreigners.  Few people from elsewhere choose to come to Scotland. Scotland’s population is aging and in decline. Independence supporters should be getting down on their knees and pleading for people to stay rather than telling us to Foxtrot Oscar.

At the moment if some of Scotland’s highest earners and highest tax payers choose to take advantage of lower tax rates in England, Scotland will be compensated by means of the Barnett formula. Scottish tax revenue may fall, but the UK Treasury will redistribute and the level of Scottish public spending will stay the same. Independence supporters will not notice any lowering in their benefit payments. We will still get free prescriptions, free tuition and all the goodies the SNP give us.

But the economic case for independence is gradually going to get worse the longer the tax differential between England and Scotland continues, because those Scots who pay the most tax are going to leave.

Worse if Scotland were to achieve independence it would lose not only the money, we now get from the UK Treasury, we would have to take on a proportion of UK debt, because it is just this debt that pays our pensions and gives us annuities. We would then have to pay for all of the promises that the SNP made to people who don’t pay taxes, from a dwindling pool of tax payers, many of whom could pay less tax in England, most of whom did not want independence in the first place.

Scotland might be able to make up for its loss of population by having an open immigration policy welcoming everyone from everywhere. But even those Scots who pay the lower rates of income tax receive about as much from the state as we pay. To increase tax revenue substantially you will need to import people who will immediately be paying the higher rates of tax.

But where are you going to get them and if you can get them, how are you going to stop them moving to London, where they will earn more and pay less tax? After independence Sturgeon would need a wall.

Saturday 24 September 2022

Not so much quasi-Conservatism as the real thing.


Liz Truss is attempting to rescue both Britain and the Conservative Party by a supply side revolution involving massive tax cuts. Suddenly after years of Tory centrism and wet mush we have got Friedman and Hayek back as the philosophy behind Kwasi Kwarteng’s thinking. It is not so much quasi-Conservatism as the real thing.

This ought to work. If you believe in free markets, indeed if you believe in capitalism then it is really basic stuff that lowering taxes and shrinking the state will lead to growth. The problem is time.

We have about two years to turn things around. At that point there is going to be a General Election with a task only half done. The voters will have to have faith in Friedman and Hayek even though they have never heard of them. Most probably voters are going to have to feel just a little bit better than they do now and have a sense that we are going in the right direction.

The Left including Scottish nationalism is going to throw everything they have at Truss, because hers is a revolution that if given the chance will change everything.

There was no going back to the 1970s after Thatcher and the Berlin Wall came down. Instead of the Heath Wilson socialist double act we ended up with Blair and Cameron two sides of the social democratic coin. That consensus continued until yesterday. Now ideology is back and the difference between Truss and the Left becomes obvious and massive.

The point of lowering the size of the state is that socialism doesn’t work. Governments spend money less efficiently than the people who earn it.  

Where I work the department has a budget. If you spend less than your budget you get less next year, so as the deadline approaches you buy anything, not caring if it is useful. You are spending someone else’s money anyway, not your own.

People are motivated to study and work because they want to earn money that they can then spend on themselves and their families. No one works to pay for the NHS even if they like the NHS. No one works to pay taxes.

If you lower taxes people will work harder and the money they earn will be spent more efficiently than if the Government spends it.

This works except for one thing. Jealousy.

In your work if your colleague gets a pay rise and you don’t what do you feel? Be honest. Most people feel jealousy. Your income stays the same. You haven’t lost anything, but you resent that your colleague now gets more.

This is the heart of why people oppose free markets and capitalism. Some people work harder, some people are more talented or cleverer or can kick a ball better than others. It is not fair.

In ancient times I might work harder to make clay pots than my neighbour, but he might be more talented and people want to buy his pots rather than mine. I earn less than he does. I resent him. I invent a system where he pays more tax than me so we end up earning the same. This is called socialism.

But if a talented maker of clay pots earns the same as a mediocre maker, why be talented? Why work hard if the result is the same? It is for this reason that Left-wing thinking depresses economic growth and the Soviet Union could not compete economically with the West.

Inequality is the foundation of capitalism, without it there would be no incentive to work and work harder. But many of us are uncomfortable with this idea, not least because the Left argues not merely for equality of opportunity, but for equality of outcome.

But this is our problem. If we all live in ancient time and we are making pots, or tools, or growing grain, what happens if the Government decides to pay everyone a universal basic income. Perhaps I am not very good at making pots or growing grain, but now that the Government pays me to do nothing I needn’t bother. But then those who are growing the grain see me doing nothing and reflect why should I work hard every day while my neighbour is idle? But if the farmer chooses universal basic income too, who grows the grain?

Free market capitalism in its earliest form works because the poor know that if they don’t work, they don’t eat. This is the ultimate incentive to work and it applies still in most countries of the world. Even in Eastern Europe today where there is a minimal welfare state people without work do not starve, but rather do anything.

This is the part of the revolution that Truss still needs to push through. Growth is hindered by taxes that are too high, but it is also and equally hindered by welfare being too high.

No one questions that those who genuinely cannot work should be given enough to live especially if they are old or sick or disabled. But in Britain vast numbers of people choose to be idle even though they could work. If all of those people who could work did so we would be able to cut government spending on welfare and increase economic activity leading to economic growth.

The way to encourage people to work is to make benefits such that they do not discourage people from seeking work. But the Left just as it encourages ever higher taxes, also encourages ever higher benefits. The endpoint of this is that we pay 100% tax and all of us are on equal benefits called universal basic income. At this point we would have genuine starvation and call it our socialist paradise.

There is no starvation in Britain. I can go to Aldi and buy a bag of potatoes, a bag of lentils, plus whatever vegetables are on sale with a cheap cut of meat and make enough soup to feed a football team for a few pounds.  There may be children who are malnourished because their mothers feed them crisps and Irn Bru, but the issue here is not financial, but educational.

There is no more inefficient method of trying to help poor people than donating food to food banks. There are no foodbanks in Eastern Europe, no one starves there. No one starves here.

Foodbanks merely encourage welfare dependency by making living on benefits more pleasant. People who might have looked for a job if they only had benefits get the equivalent of benefits in kind that encourage them to do nothing. Giving to food banks doesn’t help these people. It hurts them.

The best way to help poor people is to get them to work. The level of benefits ought to be such that people want to cease receiving them and instead receive a pay check.

 We have forgotten the basics of capitalism in Britain. We have come to expect the Government to solve all our problems and pay all our bills. But this will make all of us poorer in the end, especially the poorest.  Social democracy leads merely to decline, laziness and inefficiency. Public services and welfare depend on growth.

The Left will resist Truss with everything they have, because if it can just be proved that lowering taxes and getting people off welfare makes all of us wealthier then who will listen to Starmer or Sturgeon? Give real Conservatism a chance and we will destroy the Left.


Wednesday 21 September 2022

Mother Russia calls, but no one listens


Everybody including me got everything wrong about the war in Ukraine. The Germans and the French thought it wasn’t going to happen right up until the moment that it did. The British and the Americans thought that the Ukrainians would be defeated within a week or so. The fear was that the Russians would then threaten Lithuania and Poland and that NATO would struggle to defend the countries it had expanded into since the end of the Cold War. It turns out that no one knew anything.

Russia is now pinned back almost at its starting point. Its best troops are gone and Ukraine has counterattacked with such success that it can win the war. It may even be that Ukraine will be able to recapture the whole of the Donbas and perhaps even Crimea, which would make Russia’s defeat complete in a way that was simply unimaginable in February.

It is likely that the world would have accepted a peace deal prior to the war with Russia keeping its territorial gains from 2014. Ukraine would have had little choice but to accept this too. Putin is desperate because Russia faces the prospect of complete humiliation similar to the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 or the Treaty of Brest Litovsk in 1918. This has long term strategic consequences.

Russia has bet the farm on restricting gas supplies to Europe. We will all pay higher prices and we may have some power cuts, but we will get through this winter. But who is going to rely on Russian oil and gas ever again afterwards?

But Russia sells nothing much except natural resources. Russia doesn’t really make anything. There are few if any Russian brands in our supermarkets. We don’t buy Russian cars or TVs. All we buy is oil and gas. But when you freeze your consumer don’t expect him to buy from you again.

Anyway, oil and gas are borderline obsolete technologies. The present crisis will merely hasten our move away from fossil fuels towards renewables and nuclear. In the short term we may burn more coal, oil and gas, but we won’t get any of it from Russia and we won’t burn them for long.

Russia is not China. It did not make the transition to a market economy. Russians do not work like the Chinese. They expect a western standard of living because they border Europe, but they have never worked particularly effectively, efficiently or hard.

The literary character who best reflects Russians is Oblomov. He spends his days sleeping on a divan dreaming about his ancestral estate that is decaying because of his inactivity. His friend Stolz of German ancestry tries to get Oblomov to do something, do anything, but it is Stolz who does everything.

Russia imported its Napoleonic generals from Germany and almost everyone in tsarist Russia who made anything, taught anything or sold anything was from abroad.

Russian success historically has been military. In 1812 Russia defeated Napoleon almost as single-handedly as it defeated Nazi Germany in 1945. Russian military might has instilled fear in everyone because of these two events. Russia may look useless, but just wait, it is merely Oblomov sleeping, when roused he will be a formidable foe.

But Ukraine has just exposed that there is no more Russia to arise. There is no one for Mother Russia to call. The long centuries of serfdom waiting to be told what to do has given us merely Russian passiveness. The tyranny of the Soviet Union waiting for the whispered denunciation and the Gulag has created a people capable merely of consuming vodka and committing acts of barbarism.

The Russian Army has shown itself to be completely without discipline and without expertise. Its weaponry is second rate and the quality of its troops still worse even that that. All it can successfully do is rape women and children and torture people it claims to be brothers. But an army that loses discipline or never had it will struggle against an army fighting because it wants to rather than because it is forced to.

The Ukrainians have shown that they are innovative, well-motivated and with first rate morale. They are equipped and trained by the British and the Americans and are a different order of competence from the dregs of Russian society that it is now recruiting from its prisons.

Strategically Russia is being defeated like it was defeated at the end of the Soviet Union. The Russian Empire that had gradually been brought under control from the days of Ivan the Terrible was lost when Gorbachev lacked the will and perhaps even the means to hold it together.

A few machinegun bullets would have been enough to stop the Ukrainian SSSR and the other Republics from leaving the Soviet Union, but by that stage Gorbachev could not rely on the machine gunner doing what he was told. So, Russia lost what it had taken centuries to gather.

Now it is unclear that Putin or whoever follows him has the means to keep the Russian Federation together.

Russia is poor, empty and without effective armed forces. It has nothing to sell and no obvious means to become an efficient part of the world economy. Its people dream of the luxury they see on western TV, but lack the means to gain it for themselves. Any new business opportunity is as likely to be stamped out by corruption or mafiosi who simply steal it.

There is therefore a vacuum. Russia stretches all the way to Vladivostok. But neither the land, the resources nor anything else is properly exploited. If this was the USA every corner would be used for either business or farming, but in Russia the grain all fell on the stony ground. It won’t sustain the population that this enormous chunk of Eurasia ought to sustain.

Outside Moscow and St Petersburg there is poverty, squalor, deprivation and hopelessness and this was before the events of the last year. If you live in a small town five hundred miles from Moscow there are few opportunities. Less even than there were during the tsar, when such towns could be reasonably pleasant and prosperous at least for the upper classes.

We have already been witnessing Russia’s hold on the Soviet Union’s former Republics weakening. They either look to the West or to China or are forced like Belarus to be vassals of Mother Russia.

This weakening will continue. The threats are a sign of weakness.  Russia appears not merely impotent but deranged. It returns to the human wave tactics with obsolete equipment with a mass mobilization of the unwilling. It is the First World War all over again. A disciplined army will defeat the mob in Donetsk in the same way it defeated it at Tannenberg in 1914 with Russian generals responding to disaster with blowing their brains out. 

Expect Russia's neighbours to ask themselves why turn to Russia if it can be defeated by Ukraine?

Worse as Russia’s population declines further because women choose not to bring babies into a land without opportunity and anyone with any talent or money is getting a one way ticket to anywhere, so the vacuum of land without people will expand and the emptiness will become ever more obvious to Russia’s neighbours.

At some point a Russian Republic far far away from Moscow will gradually fill up with Kazakhs or Chinese or Koreans. It won’t be necessary to fight a war. Instead, the takeover will eventually just become a matter of fact.

The Chinese will be the main victor as Russia gradually retreats towards Muscovy.

When Mao first went to Moscow, he was kept waiting and was treated like a beggar at Stalin’s table, thrown a bone or two from the scraps of his Lord and Master. Russia in the 1940s was hugely more developed than China, both militarily and economically. It controlled the whole of Eastern Europe. But Russia slept and as it did so the Chinese first overtook it and then surpassed it.

China today has a better military than Russia, a better economy and a people who are willing to study and work in a way that Russians are not. Russia is already China’s vassal. Xi tells Putin what to do.  Now Russia’s weakness will be filled with China’s strength.

It is impossible to predict what will happen in a war that has already been unpredictable. The Russians didn't see the recent offensive coming, which is one reason why they lost. It is too early to say whether the Russian Federation will collapse. But it is vulnerable. If Putin is got rid off and there is an attempt to introduce any sort of real democracy then there will not be enough to hold Russia together. It will be the fall of the Soviet Union all over again.

If the Russian Federation continues then the Chinese takeover will more resemble its takeover of African countries and Central Asia. Chinese influence, money and power will quietly gain more than it could possibly have gained by invasion. This is where the Chinese are clever, while the Russians relying on the thinking of past wars and ancient glories have proved themselves as obsolete as their weapons.

Sunday 18 September 2022

Scottish nationalists refute their own argument


The past couple of weeks have exposed a delightful contradiction at the heart of Scottish nationalism. When I point out that Scottish independence would mean the loss of the monarchy, I am contacted by numerous outraged Scottish nationalists eager to point out that in 2014 the SNP intended to keep Queen Elizabeth as Queen of Scots. On the other hand, when I argue that the British Government should make clear to Scottish voters that if you choose to leave the United Kingdom you won't have King Charles III or any of his successors, numerous Scottish nationalists tell me that I am making their dreams come true.

Both horns of the dilemma think they are being extremely clever in refuting both of my arguments, but they are blissfully unaware that they are refuting themselves.

The response to the Queen’s death has made it obvious that there is an astonishing degree of support for the monarchy in the UK and indeed around the world. The Royal Family has had its difficulties and this has caused various commentators and pollsters to think that support for the monarchy might be in decline. But look at events on the ground.  

The past weeks have been a sort of reverse French revolution for Republicanism in Britain. Whoops you just lost your head.  You may still be speaking as allegedly Charlotte Corday did afterwards, but there is not much sense coming out of your mouth.

Not one serious political party will campaign for a republic at the next election. Those politicians who support republicanism in the Labour Party will told to keep their mouths shut. There will not be a referendum on this issue in the lifetime of a new born baby. So, write and protest all you wish. Claim that Charles is not your king. But to what purpose?

So too even in Scotland. When the astonishing scenes of people lining the pavements became undeniable, I was first told by Scottish nationalists that they were tourists. I was then told that they were Scottish nationalists who both supported the monarchy and independence. After all the SNP supports the monarchy. Didn’t you know? Finally, I was told by Mr Curtice and the Scottish establishment to move along please, nothing to see here, nothing had changed and that everything would be back to normal in a few days. Sorry for the delay in campaigning for next year’s referendum.

But the Queen’s death has turned into one of the most significant political events in the past decades. It is not disrespectful to point this out. Rather it is to acknowledge that her reign was even more important that we realised,

We will resume normal politics shortly, but since her death almost no one has been thinking about the cost of living crisis and the price of heating, whatever Liz Truss plans to do and Nicola Sturgeon also has become of so little interest that it has become irrelevant. It’s not so much stop all the clocks as stop all the politics. To suggest that this is not a political event is obtuse.

When something important happens, you can try to diminish it. Look some people are chipping away at the Berlin Wall. Look some planes are flying into the World Trade Centre. Look there are some crowds queuing to view a dead Queen’s coffin. But the key is to realise that some events change how we think about the world and the arguments we can sensibly make about it.

In Scotland the SNP has failed to address the consequences of Brexit. It has used it to try to gain support from Pro UK people who were also Remainers. But it has completely ignored the consequences of Brexit for the independence argument.

In my view any sort of regulated border between Scotland and England destroys the SNP argument. There is no way Scottish voters will choose passport checks at Carlisle plus trade tariffs.

Support for independence is contingent on people believing that the border will continue like now. But that would depend on both the EU and the former UK Government agreeing to some sort of special arrangement, which is unlikely to be in the former UK’s interest.

But to Brexit we can now add the monarchy. If the British Government and Charles III made absolutely clear that it would have no interest in Charles III becoming king of Scotland, then it is true that the hard core independence supporters with their Celtic tops and their hatred of the crown would be dancing a jig, but the consequence of their dancing is twofold. One it makes it obvious that support for the monarchy amongst most independence supporters is insincere. Two that sorry folks independence is not going to happen.

The sort of people who might be tempted to support independence to get Scotland back into the EU are just the sort who lined the pavements of Scotland to say goodbye to the Queen. It is these people you need to win round.

Every time independence supporters tell us how much they hate the monarchy, they emphasise that the SNP’s idea of making Queen Elizabeth the Second Queen Elizabeth the First of Scotland was merely a ruse. Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon calculated that the monarchy was relatively popular in Scotland so they promised to keep it. It might win a few votes for the cause. Once independence had been achieved it was always their intention to have a referendum on the monarchy.

But why would King Charles III subject himself to this? Why would the British Government let him? He is King of the United Kingdom. He is not going to reward those who destroyed his kingdom any more that Louis the XVII would have been inclined to reward those in 1795 who had caused a guillotine to be hanging over his head.

You cannot both want the United Kingdom to cease to exist and express support for the King of the United Kingdom. That contradiction in the SNP’s plans in 2014 has been fully exposed. But the idea that the very swing voters that the SNP needs to win independence, will vote any time soon to ditch the monarchy is to suppose that Queen Elizabeth II was like her distant ancestor Edward II being sent homeward to think again.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has changed the argument in Scotland and it is the SNP that will have to think again not merely about the economic consequences of Scottish independence, that is the easy part, but that Scots are more deeply involved in her kingdom than we even realise. The monarchy unites us and there is nothing else that could make us line the pavements nor queue in the cold and the rain, certainly not Scottish nationalism.

It's hard to even imagine anything more powerful than what is attracting people to the Queen, but it is just this that the SNP will have to refute before it can win independence. Unfortunately, Scottish nationalist insincerity about the monarchy has rather stupidly destroyed its own argument.

Wednesday 14 September 2022

The SNP cannot logically support the monarchy


When the Queen had her 70th jubilee in June I was surprised to discover the number of Union Flags that were displayed across Scotland. The SNP had done its best to erase the flag from public life and its supporters frequently described it in the most insulting ways possible. But the jubilee was genuinely popular here. The Queen was clearly much loved in Scotland.

I was even more surprised to see pavements packed with people seeking a last glimpse of the Queen’s coffin. The scale was quite unexpected.

Everything I knew about Scotland told me that support for the monarchy was at best muted among independence supporters. But now the same people who have been telling me for years that they want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom and become a republic are telling me that the SNP wants to retain the monarchy and loves the King.

It is crucial to remember always that the SNP is a single-issue party. It wants to achieve Scottish independence. If that requires it to adopt Labour policies it will do so to attract former Labour voters. It will be Pro EU if it thinks that it will win votes now, even though the SNP campaigned against staying in the EC in 1975.

The problem the SNP has is that most Scots hold rather contradictory views. We think that Scotland already is a country just like France with all the attributes of independence.  But we also love and want to retain the rights and advantages of our shared citizenship in the UK. If we were to lose any of these, we would think twice about going it alone.

It is for this reason that the SNP campaigned in 2014 for what might be called independence in the UK rather than its more well-known slogan independence in Europe. Alex Salmond hoped to persuade Scots that we would barely notice Scottish independence. We would keep the pound, we would keep the monarchy, there would be open borders and we’d have exactly the same rights to live and work in the former UK as we do now. We’d watch the same TV. We’d be best friends with the English. If he could have got away with it, Salmond would have told us that the Barnett formula would continue also.

Scottish nationalism unlike most independence movements has always been a minority pursuit. The SNP’s task has been to persuade Scots who mostly like living in the UK to leave it. The debate is therefore largely dishonest.

Most SNP politicians are republicans. Most think of themselves as exclusively Scottish, but they are willing to pretend even to feeling British if it gets just one more Scot with a conflicted identity to cross over to their side.

For this reason, Scottish nationalists pretend that Charles III is King of Scotland and therefore upon independence he will continue to be King of Scotland. We will go back to how it was between 1603 and 1707 when James VI of Scotland became James I of England.

But this is the big lie at the heart of Scottish nationalism. Both Scotland and England were already on their last legs in 1603 when they gained the same king. At this time the country and the king were more or less the same thing.

If Scotland in the century between the James VI and I and Queen Anne had found another king then Scotland might have resumed its independence. Failure to do so guaranteed the two kingdoms becoming one.

There is no kingdom of Scotland today. The last Scottish monarch was Anne. There is no kingdom of England either. The last English monarch was Anne also. This is so basic that I am astonished that I have to point it out to Scottish nationalists. But I do.

In 1707 Anne became the Queen of Great Britain. It is for this reason people who live in her kingdom became British. A century later the Kingdom of Great Britain merged with the Kingdom of Ireland to form the United Kingdom.

Charles III is king of the United Kingdom. There is no kingdom of Scotland for him to be king of, because Scotland is not a sovereign nation state and the kingdom of Scotland ceased to exist in 1707.

We continued to refer to Scotland as a country, but it lost all of the typical attributes of a country in 1707 precisely because it ceased to have a King of Scotland.

It is for this reason that it is incoherent for the SNP to claim to be monarchists. It is of course perfectly possible for Charles III to be head of state of places like Canada and New Zealand while also being King of the United Kingdom. But he cannot become King of Scotland and remain King of the United Kingdom. The reason for this is that if Scotland became independent there would no longer be a United Kingdom for him to be king of.

If Alex Salmond had won in 2014 Elizabeth II would have ceased to be Queen of Great Britain, because Scotland would have left. She had never been Queen of Scotland. She might or might not have chosen to become that, but like everything else the SNP promised in 2014 it was not in Alex Salmond’s gift. Whether Scotland continued to share a monarch with the former UK would be up to the monarch and Parliament, not the SNP.

The contradiction in the SNP’s supposed monarchism can be illustrated best by its basing Scotland’s supposed right to independence on The Claim of Right 1689. People who have never read this document want to base all sorts of dubious claims about it. In fact, it is one of the foundation documents of the UK.

In the Glorious Revolution of 1688, James II King of England was kicked out and replaced by William III and Mary. But Scotland had a problem. It needed to kick out James VII King of Scotland and it wanted to imitate the English Bill of Rights 1688. The Claim of Right did the job.

The Claim of Right is primarily an anti-Catholic document, accusing James VII of being a papist who used Jesuits to seduce Scots away from their protestant faith. It therefore says

The said Estates of the Kingdome of Scotland Doe resolve that William and Mary King and Queen of England France and Ireland Be and be Declared King and Queen of Scotland.

This is the purpose of the document.

There are some important statements similar to the Bill of Rights in England that limit the power of the monarchy. This was the moment when we moved away from the Jacobite concept of the divine right of kings to a modern constitutional monarchy.

But it is crucial to realise that neither England nor Scotland in 1689 were democracies. The rights that these important documents gave us, most certainly did not involve the right to break up a kingdom nor to political independence. The vast majority of Scots in 1689 did not have the vote at all, let alone the right to vote for independence.

An 18th century Alex Salmond would have been hung drawn and quartered and it would have done him no good whatsoever if he had appealed to the Claim of Right.

It’s rather amusing to read a document which Scottish nationalists use as the basis for their whole case. They have obviously never read it. If it had not been for the Claim of Right it is likely that Scotland would have remained a separate kingdom. If we had chosen contrary to the English to retain James VII rather than adopt the English King and Queen there would never have been the Act of Union of 1707.

It is still more amusing still to reflect that the green side of the Central Belt bases its claim to Scottish independence on one of the most virulently anti-Catholic documents you could possibly read. You cannot both celebrate the Jacobites and the Claim of Right. It shows you understand neither.

Charles III and the monarchy is inherently opposed to the secession of Scotland. You cannot possibly support the King and want his kingdom to be broken up. The idea that the King would reward such disloyalty by becoming the king of Scotland is preposterous.

We know that the SNP is crossing its fingers when it claims to have loved Queen Elizabeth II. One of the first acts of an independent Scotland’s Government would be to ditch Charles III if he was foolish enough to accept its offer.

The existence of our monarchy is grounded in us having one king who is sovereign over the whole of his realm. To suppose that you can support the monarchy while campaigning for Scottish independence is to misunderstand our history and our country. It is not merely dishonest it is deceiving yourself.

Monday 12 September 2022

In what way would being a Republic improve Britain?


The UK is going through some tough times at the moment. We have just had the pandemic, followed almost immediately by an economic crisis and our Queen has just died. We have a new Prime Minister who most ordinary voters know nothing about. The coming winter may be the most difficult since 1978/1979. Yet I am hopeful.

The response by the overwhelming majority of British people to the Queen’s death has been one of shared grief and united sorrow. No one had to come out to view the Queen’s coffin pass on the road from Balmoral to Aberdeen and then on to Edinburgh, but the pavements were packed. The same will be the case on the journey to London and this will continue until the day of the funeral.

Overseas with a few notable exceptions, governments and peoples have expressed sorrow, empathy and indeed a love for someone else’s queen that is rare indeed.

Would Britain really have been better off if after the Queen’s father died, we had decided to become a Republic?

I am not remotely opposed to the Republican form of Government. Some very fine countries have presidents. The USA elects a president as does France. Both are good places to live as are Germany and Ireland. But so too are the various constitutional monarchies in Europe like Norway and Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands. It isn’t at all obvious that Norway would be more pleasant, more free or more democratic if it replaced Harald V with a president. Britain would face exactly the same challenges this winter if we had a president rather than King Charles III.

The UK is as it is because of our history and our history is intimately tied up with the monarchy. It is because Henry VIII’s sister Margaret Tudor married James IV of Scotland that the heir to the throne upon Elizabeth I’s death was James VI and I. Without that marriage, it may well have been the case that Scotland and England remained separate countries with similar languages like Portugal and Spain.

It is also because of monarchy that the transition from absolutism to democracy happened gradually here and without revolution. If the European Union can claim to have prevented European war after 1945, then it is still more obvious that the Kingdom of Great Britain prevented Scotland and England continuing the periodic battles and wars that had marred the centuries prior to unity.

Because we have a constitutional monarchy, we can abolish it when we chose. It would merely require a Republican Party to win a General Election. But it would be time consuming to change our constitution. If a Prime Minister were also head of state, it would change the nature of Parliament and the nature of our democracy. Liz Truss is Prime Minister because she won her battle to be an MP in South West Norfolk and was chosen to be leader of her party. She wasn’t elected by the country as a whole, no Prime Minister ever is. She can hardly then be the equivalent of a president. But if we had presidential elections like in the USA, we would no longer have a Prime Minister, but a totally different political system. Alternatively, if we elected a symbolic president with no powers, we would end up with someone anonymous like the President of Austria. But this is no obvious improvement.

We are not in the Middle Ages. We are one bad king away from getting rid of the Monarchy. If Andrew the First was to be our next King, I suspect we would not have a king at all. But we are not in that situation. Everything King Charles III has done in the past few days suggests that he will be both good and popular.

I have seen some criticism of the King that the head of the established church should not be an adulterer and a divorcee. But this is to misunderstand the nature of Christianity and the church. Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery (John 8) is to forgive her and tell her to go and sin no more. If anyone sincerely accepts that they have done wrong and repents with the intention of not doing that wrong again then Christianity offers forgiveness and redemption. It doesn’t matter how large or small the sin. To have a sinner as head of the church reminds all of us that we are sinners too. Adultery and divorce are now commonplace. All sex outside marriage was considered sinful by Jesus. So go ahead throw the first stone at King Charles.

Each of us has done things that we are ashamed of. Each of us has treated boyfriends and girlfriends or husbands and wives poorly. Charles III is no different from the rest of us and deserves the same second chances that we too hope for when we do wrong. He now has a new marriage and a loving wife. Camilla has behaved well for many years now. She too deserves no less love and forgiveness than we all also hope to receive when we show weakness and the frailty of our humanity.

Everything I have seen in the past few days suggests to me that Queen Elizabeth II has brought the British people close together in her death and that King Charles III will bring us closer still in his life. The crowds packing the pavements of Scotland do not look like people who want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom nor for Charles III to be the last King of it. He represents continuity with our long history and unity. Scottish nationalism cannot compete with our story of shared purpose rather than separation.

Long may he reign.

Saturday 10 September 2022

Shame on the haters


When Mikhail Gorbachev died recently, I didn’t notice any anti-Russian or anti-Soviet sentiment on Twitter or in the newspapers. Even those who have good reason to resent Soviet or Russian expansionism kept silent or offered only mild criticism. But somehow the death of a 96-year-old lady, very frail and much loved by most in Britain set off a torrent of abuse the like of which I have never seen.

Governments and heads of state around the world have been respectful and sometimes more than that generous. At the state funeral will appear many of the most important world leaders. But there is a festering hatred in some of the people they represent. Why should they hate the Queen quite so much?

It may be that the vast majority of Irish citizens have nothing against Britain and are mourning the Queen as befits a friend and an ally of the UK. But it didn’t look like that on what they called Irish Twitter.

It may be that the vast majority of Scottish nationalists would love King Charles III to be king of Scots and for the beloved monarchy to continue after independence. After all this is official SNP policy.

It may be that the overwhelming majority of Welsh people are delighted that William will be Prince of Wales. It is hard to tell who is representative and who is not.

It may also be the case that the woke African American professor who disgraced herself by wishing agony on a 96-year-old was unique, but Black Twitter showed any number of people going on about slavery and empire as if the Queen was responsible for both.

So, with the qualification that such people may or may not be representative and without trying to be unfair to Irish people, Scottish and Welsh nationalists and Black Americans who loved the Queen, it might be worth trying to understand this hatred.

Some Irish people resent that Ireland used to be part of the UK. They blame the British for occupying their island and for everything bad that happened there including Oliver Cromwell and the famine.

But the Queen was born in 1926. Ireland left the UK before that and the Queen like every other British person living today is not in any way responsible for famine or for Oliver Cromwell.

The history of both Ireland and Britain is one of colonisation and settlement. We would not be what we are today if we had not been colonised by waves of settlers from Europe including the Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings and Normans. To describe Ireland as being occupied for a thousand years is the equivalent of saying Britain was occupied by the Angles, Saxons and Normans and that we still are. It is an absurd interpretation of history.

An Irish person living today, just the same as a British person is the product of these migrations. It is for this reason that we speak English. If no one had come to our two islands in the past thousands of years we would both speak a form of Celtic or the unknown language of whoever lived here before Celts.

To blame the British for destroying the Irish language and culture is the equivalent of the British blaming the Germans and Scandinavians for forcing us to speak English.

An Irish person living today, just like a British person, is the descendant of all of these migrants. To hate the British is to hate yourself, because none of you are purely Irish. Who do you think taught you English, if not your British ancestors?

The same goes for Wales and Scotland. Poland kept its language while it was partitioned. Polish people do not hate Austrians for hundreds of years of occupation. Nor do they generally hate Germans for killing 17% of their population in World War II, nor Russians for occupying their country afterwards. But some Scots, Welsh, and Irish resent the fact that we generally found it more convenient to speak English. There was nothing like the oppression of Polish in Britain or Ireland. Your parents or grandparents chose not to pass their language on. No one prevented them from doing so in their own homes. So, who is really to blame?

Bad things happened in the past. There were dreadful wars, horrible diseases and famines. But no one sensible in Europe today blames famine on a present head of state or bangs on about a war or a conquest that happened in the Middle Ages.

The British Government made mistakes in the 1840s. It failed to do enough to alleviate the famine in Ireland. But it was Irish landowners, most of whom had been born and bred in Ireland who chose to export their grain. The British Government in the 1840s was responsible for horrible conditions in factories and the existence of workhouses, but it would be absurd for the descendants of those who suffered from stupid governments of that time and stupid policies to blame a leader living today.

The hatred of some Irish, Welsh and Scottish nationalists for the past actions of Britain is unbalanced. No one else in Europe has such hatred for other people. Every country in Europe invaded its neighbours. It’s what medieval kings and queens did. But no one today blames anyone else for the 30 Years War, even though it killed far more than any war in our two islands. It’s only us that obsess about 1314, Owain Glynd┼Ár or the plantation of Ireland and the Battle of the Boyne.

What it ignores is our good fortune to have two neighbouring states Ireland and the UK that are both prosperous, free and democratic. Our shared history dealt us some bad hands as it did everyone else, but it also was the foundation of what we have now.

Neither Scotland, Wales, England nor Ireland were democracies when we all came together, but somehow the combination of migration and mutual settlement gave rise to the free societies we have now. Ireland became a democracy on independence because democracy had developed slowly in the UK for centuries. Most other newly independent states in twentieth century Europe struggled to remain free from tyranny. Ireland only had a flourishing free market economy because it had developed one as part of the UK. Developing free markets out of nothing is not easy. Look at Russia if you doubt this.

But nationalists across the two islands give no credit whatsoever for our shared history only blame. Hating Britain and hating the British Queen is self-hatred, because every Welsh, Scottish and Irish nationalist is full to the brim with British ancestors.

I regret the British Empire because although it may have brought Britain short term gain, it gave us long term harm. European countries that had no empire are no worse off than us today, but avoided the legacy that we had to accept.

But would it have been better for those who were once part of the empire if Britain had never gone there? Perhaps but someone else would have.

If we had never sailed from our island, someone would have settled in what is now the USA. It may have ended up like South America. Australia may have been settled by Indonesia. Canada by the Russians.

It is impossible to know what would have happened if India and Africa had been settled by someone else. But we can be sure that they would not have been left alone. When one people have a technological advantage over another they have always migrated and conquered.

Perhaps Australia would have been better if the British had never gone there. But if the whole world had left Australia in isolation with no contact whatsoever it would be like one of those undiscovered tribes in the Amazon using blow pipes to shoot down helicopters. Even if you think that would be an improvement, it was never going to happen. Someone would arrive and conquer eventually even if it had not been the British.

Woke African American professors then have a choice. Their ancestors could have stayed in Africa in which case they would not right now be citizens of the richest state in the world. If you fancy that there is nothing stopping you applying for a teaching job in Chad or Malawi. You are free and rich and you can get on a flight.

The British did not invent slavery. Every country in the world I think at one point or another had slaves. Long before the Atlantic slave trade the Arab slave trade was transporting Black Africans to Arabia and beyond, only each of these was castrated, for which reason they have no descendants. Perhaps the woke professor would prefer that this had happened to her ancestor.

The people who brought slaves to America did so for the same short-term reasons as empire. But long term it was a mistake. By the time of the Civil War the northern states which had abolished slavery had an economic advantage over the southern states, precisely because they did not have slavery and were much more productive and populous. This is why they won.

But although both British people and Americans traded in slaves like everyone else did in the past, the British did more to stop the slave trade than anyone else and the Americans fought the bloodiest war in its history to abolish it there.

But woke African-American professors give no credit to either Britain or the USA for stopping slavery, they only blame us for their own ancestry giving them the good fortune to be living in a free, democratic society rather than living in a place they would not even wish to visit.

For good or ill African Americans are the product of American history. Their DNA is a mixture of the oppressed and the oppressor. Their own ancestors oppressed them, bought and sold them. So, who is really to blame?

The Queen was not just our monarch, she was the personification of our country a part of all of us. That's why her loss feels personal. People who hate the Queen and celebrate her death, hate us personally.  

Perhaps they are a tiny minority, but there is something horribly unjust and unfair about attacking a frail elderly lady who has just died. It reminded me of the Question Time audience after 9/11 who told the American Ambassador that his country deserved it.

If you joined in, if you opened a bottle of champagne, I view your vileness with disgust. What is wrong with you?