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Lily of St. Leonards

some thoughts mainly on Scottish politics

Last Build Date: Sat, 20 Jan 2018 20:14:55 +0000


Falling off a cliff

Sat, 20 Jan 2018 09:12:00 +0000

The stats for my blog have fallen off a cliff. No doubt this is because I have ceased running on the treadmill that kept them going. It had become something like an addiction watching the number of readers increase and fall each week. I would scramble to get next week’s blog ready. Sometimes I would leave it late and would wake up early on Saturday morning and write the whole thing out, check it through once and then go. Other times I might have something prepared.  That is if events didn’t make it obsolete. I started academic life with two rules. Don’t respect great people too much and never repeat anything found in a book. How can you write any sort of critique of someone else’s views if you think revere their greatness? If you repeat what you have found in a book, a newspaper, a lecture or in a conversation, what would be the point of anyone else reading what you write? Reading is not pointless nor are great people, but unless it is possible to in some way go beyond what they say it is not really worth saying anything at all. But saying something new every week is like feeding an addiction.  Sometimes it is necessary to have a dry December and then a dry January etc etc.When you stop and have time to look around and reflect there is the chance to think more detailed thoughts. I haven’t been writing, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy. Ideas have been developing. Some of them may one day be written.I no longer have any desire to write about the weekly events of politics. Most of it is disposable and of no consequence. I am almost equally disgusted by Government and Opposition. Some of what I have read about the Prime Minister and her advisors makes me long to kick her Government out no matter what the consequences. If Theresa May is incapable of thinking for herself, why is she Prime Minister why indeed is she in Parliament? Is it just a matter of ambition? But then the whole thing has a Lady MacBeth quality about it. Are you trying to wash your hands Mrs May? It’s not a good look. Let us then have a few years of Labour. Let them do their worst and we can all then start again perhaps with something a little less sordid. But then again what a mess Labour could indeed make of things.  Still perhaps every few years the electorate once again has to relearn the lesson that socialism doesn’t work. The trouble is that you don’t always get the chance to kick out socialists once they gain power. Beware. Scottish politics is not worth writing about at least until there is another election. Politics in general revolves around the issue of equality. Those who make a god out of equality are winning. If you believe in freedom and free markets don’t let them. This is the only issue of substance. People are different. They have different abilities. Men and women are different. The attempt to make them the same leads to nonsense. This is what I attempted to write about in the last few months of my blog. Perhaps I will try to turn some of these ideas into a longer piece.The problem is this. Writing no longer pays.  There are exceptions of course. Some fiction pays a lot, some famous columnists in newspapers make a lot. But nearly everyone else scrapes a living and would be far better off doing something else. For every blogger who makes a fortune there are millions who get paid essentially nothing. If I reflect on the hours I spent writing versus the amount earned it would amount to perhaps one pence an hour. Far from this being minimum wage it isn’t even enough to buy sweets. Why do it?  Eventually it looks awfully like feeding an addiction to get readers. But it doesn’t matter how many readers there are because none of them click the adverts, because all of them have ad blocking software and think that they can forever read for free. There won’t be any newspapers in twenty years’ time. If we are not careful there won’t be any books or any writers. I don’t miss the way I would write something on Twitter and then a few minutes later check to see if someone had read i[...]

The Little University on the Prairie

Sat, 25 Nov 2017 08:57:00 +0000

Apparently there is a plan in Scotland to pay students £8000 per year to study. Scottish students already have their fees paid by the taxpayer. The idea now is that they should be paid the equivalent of the "living wage" to study. This all begins to get rather expensive for the tax payer. But is it worth it?A while back I came across an exam paper from the late nineteenth century. The task involved translating various passages from English literature into Ancient Greek. With a bit of effort I could imagine doing the reverse of this. Give me a few months, a dictionary and a grammar and I could probably make a stab at translating a bit of Plato or the Bible. But to translate Shakespeare into the language of Homer, to translate Milton into the language of Xenophon, this is a task I could not imagine being able to do.  Yet there were students from an unsung Scottish university able to do something that nearly all of us today would consider to be impossible. We have a habit of looking down on the past as something superseded. Look at those awful late Victorians with their “white man’s burden” and their dreadful views about everything. How lucky we are to be so enlightened. How terrible it must have been for them to live in such darkness. But if you ever have the chance to read a work of scholarship from this period, you might be surprised to discover the level that was attained. Civil servants in India would produce scholarly editions of the Vedas as a hobby. Our man in Baghdad could actually speak fluent Arabic in various dialects and understood the history of the area and the people who lived there. It was for this reason that he could give sensible advice to the Government. The reason these people could do these things is that university education in the late nineteenth century was of a very high standard indeed. Whatever people studied required hard work and serious intelligence. It didn’t much matter what someone studied, because any employer would immediately recognise that a degree from even the most humble Scottish university qualified someone to take on whatever burden was assigned. Does it do that now?When I wander into the university library the first thing that I meet is a wall of sound. It may as well be Ronnie of the Ronettes telling me to be her baby for all that this present building resembles any previous place I have ever tried to study. I remember going to the University Library in Cambridge and finding silence. Anyone who spoke more than a couple of whispers immediately got a dirty look. No-one went to study with their friends. But we have progressed. Now we have a social space. Now we have collaborative learning. I would prefer frankly to leave collaborating to the French.  I find myself frequently in a room where I am the only one actually reading a book. I open my book of Russian literature and begin reading. I continue doing this until I’ve read enough and leave. This is what I think studying is. But I am the only one doing it. The first thing that everyone else does when they enter the room is to open their laptop. They then open their mobile phone and proceed to switch attention from the one to the other until this becomes boring and they then proceed to chat with their friends. On the laptop is everything that they need to study. All the lecture notes have been written up with nice bullet points. Nearly everything that has to be read can be found on something called a “virtual learning environment”. It is rarely if ever necessary to even go and look for a book, let alone read it. Some good work is still being done. Intelligence is a constant. The same proportion of the population is very able as was the case one hundred years ago. But a university degree no longer tells me that someone is even moderately able. Governments increased student numbers to such an extent that people with IQs of 100 and sometimes even less can obtain a degree. This logically follows from expanding numbers towards 50%. The standard has to be lowered otherwise those toward[...]

Bought and sold for RT gold

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 08:42:00 +0000

Does it matter very much that Alex Salmond has chosen to appear on Russia Today (RT)? No. I sometimes glance at this site. It has a perspective, but then again so does the BBC, CNN and the New York Times. RT has a Russian perspective. It’s not a perspective we often have access to in the Western media, so in that sense RT can be useful. I find some of its reporting and opinion pieces to be very biased, but others are no worse than what we get in British newspapers or television. But then every story on every website has to be evaluated critically. The important point to remember is that RT is funded by the Russian Government and it has a goal. This goal is to further the interests and foreign policy objectives of Russia.Does this make RT illegitimate? No. The BBC World Service likewise has a goal. Do you think that we fund radio programmes in obscure languages out of the goodness of our hearts? In Britain too I find that the BBC has a perspective that it relentlessly pushes. It is most often very fair and balanced in its coverage of politics, but at the heart of it all is political correctness. Most people, perhaps nearly everyone who works for the BBC believes in this or at least won’t question it. I doubt it would be possible to get a job if during an interview someone expressed doubts about aspects of feminism, gay marriage or climate change. So while it is possible to describe much of the coverage on RT as propaganda, so to it is equally possible to describe the BBC.But why would Alex Salmond choose to appear on RT? It may be chance. He may simply have received an offer from the Russians. He lost his job earlier this summer and has the right to work where he pleases. But it might be worth reflecting for a moment on what he is doing. During the Soviet Union various Labour politicians and Trade Union leaders made trips to see how socialism was working out. Many of them went to see a collective farm and reported back on how wonderfully it all was working out and how progressive and efficient it all seemed. When travelling around the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in the 1930s they noticed no famine, nor in other parts of the Soviet Union did they notice any repression. This continued right up until the end of the Soviet Union. Various Labour politicians and trade union leaders supported Soviet foreign policy goals, such as nuclear disarmament and in return were given money by the Soviet state. The Soviet Union was Britain’s enemy all through the Cold War. The greatest threat to our existence came from Moscow. We also, of course, were a threat to them. But let’s be clear. There is a word for siding with the enemy during wartime. I think the West has made a terrible mess of relations with Russia since 1991. We have pushed the EU and NATO right up to Russia’s border and crossed Russian strategic red lines. There was a chance back in the early 1990s to include Russia in NATO and give it some sort of EU membership. We could have had a relationship of cooperation and friendship, but chose instead to continue the Cold War rivalry. No doubt the Russians were to blame also. The Yeltsin years were humiliating.  Russians may have been treated with some friendship, the Americans even sent aid, but they were also treated as if they were all useless, second rate drunks.  The financial crisis of 1998 showed that democracy and free market economics could lead to poverty.  In order to avoid further descent they turned, or rather returned to the familiar pattern of leadership. Putin has brought Russia back to being something close to a great power again. But in doing so he has come into conflict with the West. He has become our enemy.The final straw for the Russians was Ukraine. Just as the Americans would not allow missiles to be sited in Cuba, the Russians could not allow Ukraine to join the West. They fought to stop this and they won. But in return the Americans deliberately set out to wreck the Russian economy and achieved that goal. The rouble fell [...]

Bach’s wife

Fri, 10 Nov 2017 21:36:00 +0000

Many people think the greatest composer who ever lived was Johann Sebastian Bach.  There might be some debate about this. Some think Mozart was greater, others Beethoven. It doesn’t much matter. If you look at a list of the greatest composers these nearly always make up the top three. But who is the greatest female composer? Is there a woman composer who ranks with Bach? No. How many women composers would make a list of the top one hundred? Perhaps Hildegard von Bingen a medieval abbess might just sneak into the bottom of the list? Why should this be so?The assumption made by feminists is that men and women are equal in every respect and that there is no real difference between us. For this reason whenever a difference occurs it must be explained as being not due to difference but due to something else. The absence of a female Shakespeare is explained by Virginia Wolfe as owing to the absence of a room of her own which the hypothetical sister of Shakespeare might have lived in. There is always someone or something else to blame for the lack of female success in any particular area. Usually the prime culprit is a man or men in general. There are no great female composers because women historically have been oppressed by a patriarchal society that prevented them from realising their talent.The ability to blame someone else for your own failure is the key to that failure. Success is difficult to achieve, far, far easier to blame the dog for my failure to turn in my homework. If you give someone an excuse for failing do not be surprised when they grasp it. A struggling woman composer who is given a ready-made excuse that her failure is due to her sex will find that excuse far more palatable than that it is due to her lack of talent. This is the essence of the problem with feminism and one of the reasons why I am not a feminist. It provides a reason for female failure and someone else to blame other than the woman herself. It causes the failure. If I count correctly Bach had twenty children. He had seven with his first wife Maria Barbara and thirteen with his second wife Anna Magdalena. Bach could achieve greatness and he still had the time to father twenty children. How could he possibly have done this? Could a woman have given birth to twenty children and still have had time to achieve greatness as a composer? My guess is that this would simply be impossible. While being pregnant it would be difficult to focus on composing and while looking after all these children it likewise would have been difficult to pay complete attention to your latest string quartet. Nappies and notes do not mix well. The reason for the absence of female composers is probably due to the difficulty of combining motherhood with composing. But as many women know there is a difficulty in combining anything with motherhood. Having children is a full time job. It’s not the lack of a room that prevented Shakespeare’s sister from writing her plays, it’s that she married and looked after many children. If she hadn’t married she might like Jane Austen have become the greatest English novelist, but instead she chose to create something more important than novels. She created people. I disagree with feminism and any other ism that strives for equality, because it fails to admit that there are real differences between people and classes of people. I don’t think that women are better than men, nor worse. We are different. Any particular woman is not limited in her talent and has the potential to be the greatest composer who ever lived. But it is contrary to experience to suggest that women and men in general have exactly the same talents. We don’t.The fundamental difference between men and women is that only women can give birth. It is this general ability that defines who is a woman. It is this likewise which makes it ludicrous to suppose that someone can simply become a woman on a whim.  Approximately half the population can have children while half cannot.[...]

The trial of Effie Deans

Sat, 04 Nov 2017 05:34:00 +0000

Imagine if thirty years ago someone had been murdered in Cambridge. Suddenly the police arrive and knock on my door and accuse me of being the murderer. They take me into custody, question me and eventually charge that on the night of November 4th 1987 I did wilfully and with malice aforethought murder one Scott Walters.  What would I say in my defence?The trial of Effie DeansI might say that I’m fairly sure I was in Cambridge on that particular night, but I don’t remember anything else about it. All that I can remember is that I didn’t murder anybody. At this point no doubt I would get someone to defend me. What would my lawyer ask?He would no doubt begin asking the police about their evidence. Do they have any DNA linking me to the crime? No. Do they have any objects, possessions or fibres of clothing linking me to the murder? No. Do they have any witnesses? No. Do they have a confession? No. Do they in fact have any evidence at all? No. Is there a case for me to answer? Obviously not. This we should hope is the same for every crime. If I am to be accused of grievous bodily harm or burglary or even cheating in my exams there has to be evidence even for a case to be investigated. What’s more in order for me to be put on trial this evidence ought to be such that it can potentially convince beyond a reasonable doubt. But what if I said that Scott Walters put his hand on my knee or groped my breasts while we were both at the college disco or even that we both got drunk and went to bed without my consenting to this? What then?Likewise I should be able to provide evidence. Is there any DNA evidence? No. Are there any witnesses? No. Although lots of people were there at the college disco, no-one can remember that particular night in 1987. Is there any other sort of evidence? No. All that there is my testimony that Scott Walters did something awful in 1987. Should the police investigate? What if Scott Walters says he hardly remembers me? We were at college at the same time, but he can’t even remember what I looked like. Alternatively what if he says that he did indeed sleep with me? He can remember it clearly, but it was consensual. I might disagree with Scott Walters. I might say he was violent and afterwards I had bruises all over my body because of his assault. The police might then ask me do you have any photographs? No. Are there any witnesses to these bruises? No. Did you tell anyone at the time? No. Are there witnesses to your being distressed? No. Did you go to a doctor or a nurse? No. There is only conflicting testimony and memories that differ. Under these circumstances is there a case? No. During a trial there is a commonly an accuser and an accused. If people could be relied on always to tell the truth there would be no need for trials at all. Law as we know it would never have developed at all. We would simply ask people to tell the truth and they would do it. But, because people commonly tell lies we need evidence. If someone says I was assaulted last night we can find witnesses, we can find DNA we can find fibres or whatever, but we just can’t do this thirty years later. It is for this reason that we ought not to even attempt to investigate let alone try such crimes if they occurred at such a remote time that there is no longer any possibility of finding evidence. It may or may not be the case that a crime occurred on November 4th 1987, but we unfortunately have no means of discovering the truth. If I reported that my house was burgled thirty years ago, but that I have no witnesses to the crime and no evidence of damage or even that anything was taken, then I’m sorry but there is not going to be any sort of investigation. Whether or not there was a crime, there is just no evidence. It was all repaired or replaced long ago. There is therefore no case to answer. Something very ugly however is happening at the moment. We are attempting to convict people without evidence, purely on the bas[...]

The Catalan handkerchief

Sat, 28 Oct 2017 04:51:00 +0000

Spain isn’t greatly liked in Britain. This has been particularly noticeable in the past few weeks as the crisis in Catalonia has developed. Quite a few writers have indulged in the pleasures of Spain bashing and for a variety of reasons. Some Eurosceptic Brexiteers have sympathised with the Catalans and used the crisis to complain about democracy in Spain and the EU. Some people have just found another underdog to champion. Plucky little Catalonia up against nasty Spain only needs Francis Drake to come to the rescue after he has finished his game of bowls. I’ve always taken the view that I shouldn’t encourage secession in someone else’s country if I don’t want it in my own. It is grossly hypocritical to do so. One of the features of the Scottish independence campaign that I remembered most was how people from other countries either resident in Scotland or not began taking sides. I lost count of the number of Germans who were desperate for my country to be broken up. When I asked them how they felt about Germany breaking up once more into Saxony, Bavaria etc. they became rather less enthusiastic about German forms of nationalism and didn’t at all like the idea of going back to the days prior to German unification.Unless you have gone through this an independence campaign and felt the effects of full blown nationalism you don’t really get it. For Pro UK Scots the ongoing campaign to break up the UK is traumatic. We just want to get on with our lives without the constant fear of yet another threat from Nicola Sturgeon. It looks for the moment as if support for the SNP is in decline. The likelihood of another independence referendum happening anytime soon is decreasing by the day. If the SNP loses its overall pro-independence majority at the next Scottish Parliamentary election, which is likely, then we will more or less be safe for the foreseeable future. But it’s been tough. Australians don’t have to worry about their country breaking up, nor do Japanese. Most people around the world don’t have this worry. It may all be good fun for the Scottish nationalist. They may enjoy this process of trying to break up the UK. But I don’t enjoy it. Out of all of the bad things that have happened in my life I would put Scottish nationalism somewhere near the top. I would rather see bubonic plague in Scotland than the disease of nationalism as the former is far easier to cure. It is partly for this reason that I am not one of those Scottish writers who tries to see the good side of Scottish nationalism. I don’t want to play fair with these people. I don’t feel sorry for them when they keep losing. I don’t feel sympathy for their pain. I just want to defeat them and see them fully recognise that their defeat is permanent. Nationalism is the best political card that you can play. Appealing to people’s sense of identity is tapping into something very basic and very powerful. Successfully playing this card can lead to almost anything. For the sake of their identity people are willing to lie, cheat, steal and kill. The only card historically that is stronger than nationalism is religion. Until a few hundred years ago in Europe people were willing to kill in order to make someone else believe one thing about Jesus Christ rather than something else. Most of us now believe in freedom of religion. We have put theocracy behind us as something primitive. But we haven’t yet put nationalism behind us. The fact that nationalism is the strongest card in the deck means that responsible politicians should never play it. When things go wrong you get Spanish police bashing in the heads of people trying to vote. When things go very wrong you get Yugoslavia or Ukraine. What have we learned? 1. There is no right to secession in European democracies. Anyone who doubts this should reflect that no-one will recognise a Catalonia that has achieved independence illegally. Therefore Catalonia i[...]

The casting coach goes back to the cave

Fri, 20 Oct 2017 21:15:00 +0000

How many fat, ugly sixty five year old men do you know who have an addiction to sex? How many have beautiful wives or girlfriends in their twenties? I don’t know very many. Aging academics may chase after girls who could be their daughters and sometimes even their granddaughters and some may even succeed in catching them, but still it is not a common sight to see fat ugly sixty five year old men with the problems associated with addiction to sex with the youngest most beautiful women in the world.Strangely I don’t know any women at all who while approaching pension age chase after handsome, athletic young men. I likewise don’t know any women at all who are addicted to sex, or who seek to have sex with multiple people who they barely know. Perhaps such women exist, but I have never met them.The prospects for most men or women who have arrived at middle age of sex addiction would anyway appear to be bleak. How many of us could go to the latest nightclub with the expectation of finding someone young and beautiful to share the night with. Even if we should try to feed our sex addiction every night it is unlikely that most of us could succeed in satiating it unless like so many other addictions we were willing to pay. There are no doubt some fat ugly men who feel the need to pay for this sort of company. But how many could obtain it for free? The number of fat, ugly women on the other hand who could succeed in sustaining such an addiction to young beautiful men must be vanishingly small. I have never met one, nor even heard of one. Very few men indeed would marry a woman a lot older than them. I can think of Mr Macron and a certain presently unemployed Scottish politician, but there are very good evolutionary reasons why this situation is rather rare. Marrying your mother may well be comforting, but it is unlikely to give you any children. So if this trait in masculinity ever existed it probably was evolved out some time ago. Here we arrive at the fundamental differences between men and women. Despite what feminists and other left-wing theorists may contend there are real differences between men and women that are not going to go away. These are due to our natures as human beings being different. It is therefore simply contrary to human nature to try to make that which is different the same. To try to do so damages both.  Instead of trying to reform human nature, which is the continual goal of the Left, the task ought to be to accept it for what it is and work with it so that all human beings have the best chance to arrive at something approaching fulfilment and happiness. Women, of course, have desires, but they are different to the desires of men. There is no casting couch for male actors whereby female executives appraise the latest talent and then attempt to bribe them to have sex with the promise of acting jobs. There are no harems where a single powerful woman has hundreds of beautiful young men so that she can have a sex with a different one every night. Women, at least for the most part, simply don’t want to have sex with multiple young men. A harem might be a male fantasy, but even the role of the sultana is a female nightmare. Men are attracted to physically fit, beautiful young women. If you doubt this please explain why successful Hollywood actresses are generally young and beautiful rather than old and ugly? Is it because acting talent is unevenly distributed amongst the population so that it is mostly associated with the young and the beautiful? Why isn’t the latest female lead in the latest Hollywood blockbuster unfit, middle aged and plain? Shouldn’t we just pick the most talented actress, no matter what they look like?But why do men like beautiful, fit young women? Isn’t this terribly unfair to the rest of us? Perhaps it is, but it is also down to human nature. We are as we were forty-thousand years ago.  Consciously or not,[...]

An unknown face for a new Conservative party

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 20:27:00 +0000

The great moment in modern British politics upon which all else turns was the election in 1979. The decade that followed brought in fundamental change, not because the Conservative Party sought consensus and the centre ground, but rather because it decided to take a different direction. There was disagreement, there was struggle. Sometimes it was even violent. But the results of the decade that followed are still with us.Britain had been in decline since 1945. Both Conservatives and Labour had come to accept that governments intervened a great deal, that trade unions were powerful and had to be consulted, that nationalised industries would take a great deal of public money and produce little as a result and that the task of each party was simply to manage our decline. If this had continued, we would probably now be a rather second rate economy. The average standard of living for everyone in the UK would today be much lower if a radical Conservative Government had not been elected in 1979. At one point it looked as if the election of Tony Blair in 1997 was also a turning point. He had embraced social democracy rather than socialism and had fundamentally changed the nature of the Labour Party. Here was the chance for something quite new and for a while it worked. The Labour Party more or less accepted capitalism and hoped to use the profits generated to increase public services and benefit everyone. Blair’s legacy failed not because social democracy doesn’t work. There are many examples of it working in Europe and elsewhere. It failed because Blair himself became so poisonous that any idea associated with him becomes poisonous too. All of the reforms he made have now been thrown out. Labour didn’t so much go back to how politics was prior to 1979. It went further. Corbyn repudiates everything that was done to reform the UK in the 1980s. He doesn’t hope to reform capitalism, he hopes to overthrow it. He hopes to go back to October 1917. The election of Jeremy Corbyn would be a radical turning point in British history. Of course such a government would make an almighty mess of the economy.  No doubt, after a few years of this the British public would come to its senses and vote Labour out. But would we get the chance? The problem with the Far Left is that they are not really democrats at all. They are revolutionaries. These people don’t always give up power without a struggle. This is why it is so dangerous for moderate Labour people to support Corbyn.  Perhaps they think that they could control and moderate him if he was Prime Minister. Perhaps they don’t really care what a Far Left Government would do to Britain just so long as it was a Labour Government. This above all is why voting tribally is so dangerous. Some people hate Tories so much they would prefer communists. But moderates forget what happens to Menshevism and democratic socialism when the Far Left wins. If you are lucky you get to repent for your sin of moderation, if you are unlucky you don’t. But how should Conservatives respond to this threat? Firstly trust the British people. Labour did well at the last election partly because no-one thought Corbyn could win. This is not going to be the case at the next election. People will take it seriously that Corbyn might become Prime Minister. Secondly we must delay the next election for as long as possible. There are things that need to be done. We need above all to get out of the EU. Who knows what Labour would do with the negotiations, so don’t for goodness sake give them the chance to be involved. For this reason Theresa May must be allowed to stay as Prime Minister until at least we leave the EU. However much some people dislike her, what matters is not to let Corbyn into power. Would it be possible to have a leadership election without having a new General Election? Would the Government even surviv[...]

A senseless struggle about nothing

Sat, 07 Oct 2017 04:36:00 +0000

There are two forces going on in human nature, the desire to unify and the desire to separate. The reason that we have nation states at all is because people have felt the need to unify with others who are similar to them.  In antiquity each small village had its own ruler, its own customs and often its own variety of language. Historical progress across the world has involved the process of people uniting to form nation states. These are the building blocks of international relations and without them there would be chaos. The process of separation has occurred when nation states have overreached themselves and tried to include people who are too dissimilar. There is an ebb and flow throughout history. The Austro-Hungarian Empire broke up into its constituent parts, but the United States was able to unify much of the North American continent into a single nation state, made up of many states.In recent decades we have on the one hand seen the European Union attempt to gradually form a nation state out of its parts, while on the other there has been a marked increase in nation states breaking up since the fall of the Soviet Union. While Germany provides a recent example of unification there are many more examples of separation. But where is the optimum? At what point do we say this nation state is stable? It neither needs to separate nor to unify. One problem is that modern European nationalist movements want to do something that is inherently contradictory. They wish both to unify and to separate.Scottish nationalists think that it makes sense for Scotland to separate from the United Kingdom, but to remain a part of a European Union that has the aim of becoming a United States of Europe. But the problem is this. If Scots cannot make a success of being part of a nation state called the UK, how on earth are we to make a success of being part of an eventual nation state called the EU? The same obviously goes for Catalonia.  If Catalans cannot bear to live in a nation state (Spain) with people who are similar to them, how will they be able to bear to live in a nation state (the EU) with people who are dissimilar? If Spain, which has been a nation state for centuries cannot hold itself together we can have no long term expectation that the EU itself will remain intact. I think this is why the EU has responded to the crisis in Spain in the way that it has. Secession has become all too frequent in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Soviet Union, but if this spreads westwards then the EU is bound to find itself going in the opposite direction to the one in which it intends. Moreover, if the aim is to have a federal EU what does it matter if a border happens to be here or there? If the aim is to be borderless why be so bothered about so called independence at all. A state in the eventual United States of Europe would be no more independent than Kansas or California. It won’t matter under these circumstances what is or is not called a state or where a supposed boundary is drawn. In this sense the struggle that is taking place in Catalonia looks like it is about nothing at all. Both Spain and Catalonia want to be part of the EU. But then they are struggling over the boundaries of a nation state while at the same time both intending to give up this nation state. The problem is that many people have contradictory ideas about the EU. They think somehow that it will be possible to remain a nation state while taking part in the process of EU unification. But this is a form of self-deception. The nation state called East Germany ceased to exist when it joined with West Germany. At an earlier point in history independent nation states like Saxony and Prussia eventually ceased to exist and simply became regions of Germany. For a hypothetical Bavaria to struggle to be independent from Prussia while both seek to j[...]

No-one expects the Liberal Inquisition

Sat, 30 Sep 2017 06:24:00 +0000

There must be something in human nature that means we always need to take a good thing too far. In this way far from turning it into a very good thing we instead turn it into a very bad thing. The fault, for instance, with Christianity is not what Jesus and his disciples taught, but that many centuries later when the Church had become powerful it started burning people at the stake for believing one thing about Jesus rather than another thing. It’s impossible to imagine either Jesus or his disciples thinking that this was a good idea and yet Christianity taken to the extreme did indeed lead to the opposite of Christianity. At the point at which the Church persecuted people for not believing a particular version of Christianity or for believing something else or indeed nothing at all, the Church reached the point where it no longer expressed the core of Christianity (“Love thy neighbour”, “Be thee doers of the Word”, “Turn the other cheek” etc. etc.). Rather the Church expressed the opposite of these things and had in fact become Anti-Christian. I think the same can be said for nearly all ideas. When we read about the early socialists who attempted to create heaven on earth in the 1840s we read about something perhaps misguided, but at least benign. Some people created communal forms of living in various parts of the world. They attempted to put into practice various ideas about equality. These attempts failed, no doubt because they were contrary to human nature, but they did little harm. It was only later when the ideas of socialism were pushed further usually by means of forcing human nature to change that we got the horrors of the twentieth century.We are now seeing this same process of extremism in contemporary liberalism. The ideas of the liberal left which started off with a plea for tolerance and an attempt to make a fairer world have arrived at the point where they are the source of intolerance and they are making the world worse. What we have now is a position where liberals are tolerant if and only if you agree with them about everything. But this is very similar to Christianity at the time when non-believers were burned at the stake. Liberals may not actually be proposing to burn Jacob Rees Mogg at the stake, but they are just as angry with him as the Church used to be with heretics. This is not liberalism. It is the opposite of liberalism.There are a set of views that everyone must hold and that cannot even be discussed. The creed of modern liberalism involves believing certain things about race, about equality, about women, about gender and about sex. We all know what these things are even if sometimes it is difficult to articulate quite what can be said and what cannot. We all know what sort of things might get us metaphorically burned at the stake. Being polite to other people strikes me as perfectly reasonable. Don’t call people nasty names that they dislike. Fair enough. But it has now been turned into the unforgivable sin. Someone who fails to keep up with the latest preferred term may find that they don’t have a job anymore. Someone who disagrees with some aspect of feminism, even if there is good evidence that this aspect is questionable may too find themselves forced to recant and then repent. We have reached the stage where we must not discriminate in any way between a British citizen and a citizen of any other country. Anyone who thinks we ought to discriminate, for instance by maintaining an international border and limiting immigration, is precisely thereby a bigot, far-right or worse. The pressure to conform to the extremes of liberalism is just as much as during the Inquisition there was pressure to conform to the teachings of the Church. This liberal/left-wing inquisition is what keeps nearly all of us silent even when we disagree. To [...]

Encouraging nationalism involves a heavy responsibility

Sat, 23 Sep 2017 06:24:00 +0000

As many of us have noticed this week, Spain is trying to prevent one of its parts from holding a referendum on independence. I normally don’t pay much attention to the internal politics of European countries. I can’t even routinely name the leaders of more than a few EU countries. But I began noticing the dispute in Spain a few years ago and from time to time have paid attention. There is a reason for this. Independence movements feed off each other. Scottish nationalists wave Catalan flags and vice versa. The example of one potentially helps or hinders the other. In the UK there has been a longstanding political convention that we govern by consent and that this means that if a part of the UK expresses a wish to leave then it will be allowed to do so. It was for this reason, owing to the fact that the SNP gained a majority in the Scottish Parliament they were allowed to hold a referendum in 2014.A similar principle applies to Northern Ireland. Because a majority of people in Northern Ireland wished to remain in the UK we allowed them to do so. We were willing to go to a great deal of trouble, spend a large amount of money and lose not a few lives to defend this principle. It was right for us to do so. But in order to make peace we came to an agreement that if a majority in Northern Ireland wished to leave the UK they would have the right to do so. The same principle no doubt applies to Wales. It is important to realise however that this is a political principle. The UK like any other nation state can grant the right to any of its parts to hold a referendum on independence. But it can also withhold the right. It can change laws. It can revoke treaties. Parliament is sovereign and a majority of MPs can more or less vote as they please. Moreover, convention in UK politics changes and evolves. While we govern by consent, we have the same rights as any other nation state to defend ourselves against foes both foreign and domestic. The consent by which we rule is not without limit. For instance, London could not decide to secede from the UK even if a majority of the people living there decided they were not British. We may or may not allow a right to self-determination, but like everywhere else it is balanced by the right of a nation state to maintain its territorial integrity.Despite what many nationalists think, there is not a universal, unilateral right to self-determination. There are various conventions and precedents and laws. There are matters that encourage other countries to recognise such a right to self-determination. These include a place being a colony, part of a tyranny or the victim of aggression. But the right to self-determination if it exists at all is still balanced by the right of a nation state to maintain its territorial integrity. For this reason a modern democracy in Europe or the United States need not grant a part the right to secede, though it may do so. We recognised the rights of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to secede from the USSR. This was because they were parts of an undemocratic tyranny. We likewise recognised the right of the parts of the former Yugoslavia to secede because force was used to try to prevent their leaving. But there is a limit. Few indeed are the European nation states that recognise Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia or Crimea as instances where secession was or is justified. It doesn’t matter that the majority in Crimea wished to leave Ukraine (if indeed they do) because Ukraine has a right to maintain its territorial integrity. The same goes for Moldova and Georgia. Kosovo was recognised by most of the Western world, but only because of the violence done to it by Serbia. Even here, not everyone recognises Kosovan independence, seeing it as a dangerous precedent. Spain for instance thinks tha[...]

The theology of Jacob Rees-Mogg

Sat, 23 Sep 2017 05:29:00 +0000

Britain has become an extremely intolerant country. We have reached the stage where in the name of liberalism and tolerance only certain views are allowed to be expressed. This is neither liberal nor tolerant.It should be completely uncontroversial that a Catholic or at least some Catholics follow the teaching of the Catholic Church. Yet many people now appear to think, and it looks like they are right, that even to say that you agree with these teachings is to commit some sort of unforgivable sin that disqualifies you from public office. This is not tolerance. It is intolerance.  When Jacob Rees-Mogg calmly and rationally explained his opposition to gay marriage and abortion no-one, but no-one actually looked at his argument. His opponents did not provide counter arguments rather they simply asserted that his views were unacceptable. Do we not have freedom of religion in Britain? Yes of course we do, but some religions are more equal than other religions.The Church of England is no longer the established Church, nor indeed is the Church of Scotland. They may be this officially but in reality the only established Church is the Liberal/Left establishment that establishes what is correct and what is incorrect. Although some people in Britain can believe what they please and will never be asked about God and the consequences that follow from actually following the teachings their religion, others must cease believing what their religion tells them to believe and follow the Church of Political Correctness. This is not freedom of religion. This is not tolerance. It is intolerance. Rees-Mogg thinks that gay marriage is simply not possible because marriage is a sacrament and Parliament has no power over sacraments. This lack of power is self-evidently true. The difficulty with his argument is that it would logically imply that only those who believe marriage is a sacrament are actually married. This would have the consequence of dissolving the vast majority of marriages in the UK. Strictly speaking Protestants including those in the Church of England ought to think that there are only two sacraments (baptism, and communion). Catholics and Orthodox Christians think there are seven one of which is marriage. The difficulty for Rees-Mogg’s argument then is that it would not only invalidate gay marriage it would invalidate the marriage of everyone who is neither a Catholic nor Orthodox. Where I think he is right however is in the suggestion that marriage is at least connected with God. Until relatively recently everyone believed this. Nearly every marriage in Britain until a few generations ago would have followed the words of the Prayer Book which explained why there was such a thing as marriage. First, It was ordained for the increase of mankind according to the will of God, and that children might be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy name.This is why we have marriage rather than simply living together. Even people who have ceased to believe in God still maintain the traditions of marriage, just as many people who have ceased to be Christians still follow Christian morality. But why? Why should we think it necessary for people to marry? Why when they do marry should we think it desirable that they remain married? The Church has an answer. Marriage was created by God, firstly so that there would be children. Secondly, It was ordained in order that the natural instincts and affections, implanted by God, should be hallowed and directed aright; that those who are called of God to this holy estate, should continue therein in pureness of living.  The problem is that if you don’t believe in God why should you want to be a part of something ordained by God? Alternatively if you don’t [...]

It’s not bad enough yet

Sat, 16 Sep 2017 07:25:00 +0000

 I was going to write about something else this week. I had something almost ready about Jacob Rees-Mogg’s views on theology. But then I saw that he had ruled himself out from being leader, no doubt because of his views on theology. Maybe at a later date I will discuss those views. I think there is an interesting rational argument to be had about the subject. But why stick your neck out. It’s not bad enough yet. Every other day now North Korea either has a new test for a new sort of nuclear weapon or else it sends a rocket over Japan. Kim Jong-un is the Little Engine that Could. He’s little and a little round and he can. Everybody gets very angry about this and makes all sorts of threats. But nothing is going to happen until and unless he does. If any sort of nuclear weapon actually lands on American territory or the territory of an ally then there will be a nuclear response. But until and unless that happens Mr Kim knows that he can pretty much do as he pleases. The Chinese don’t want to see a unified Korea, so they will do nothing. The Russian’s chief foreign policy goal is to do the opposite of what the Americans want and so they will do nothing. Mr Kim wants attention and perhaps needs it and so he will throw his rockets out of his pram, but the game requires that he doesn’t go too far. The only problem is if he miscalculates. What if one of his rockets accidentally lands in Japan? Is there a response then? But fundamentally until the situation gets bad enough the Americans will do nothing. It’s not bad enough yet. I think it has to get very bad indeed before any sort of military action is taken against North Korea. So Mr Trump’s threats are probably empty, just as Mr Kim’s rockets are empty. The game is very dangerous indeed, but for the moment that’s all it is.The same logic applies to our domestic security situation and the situation of every other Western European Country and indeed the United States. Here we face a situation that is much more dangerous than North Korea, but here too it isn’t bad enough yet. Every now and again for the last while we turn on the news to find there has been another terrorist incident somewhere in Europe or the United States. We’ve had big ones (9/11) and small ones (Parson’s Green) and medium ones (e.g. Nice).  But none of these are bad enough. What we always get afterwards is the same meaningless words from politicians and the same meaningless gestures. The Eiffel Tower is lit up with the colours of another country’s flag. Scared people tell other scared people that they are not scared. We promise that we won’t give in to terrorism while trying to modify what we say and do in order not to provoke it. None of these things do any good whatsoever. We’ve even ceased to listen to what the politicians say as we already know what they said last time and what they will say next time. The problem is this. Just as Jacob Rees-Mogg has to rule himself out of being Tory leader for telling the truth about his views, so all of us have to rule ourselves out of membership of polite society if we tell the truth about the nature of the problem and provide solutions that might actually solve it. It’s not bad enough for us to do this and so we say nothing.There is an unforgivable sin in the modern western world. Because of this unforgivable sin most people go to great lengths to prove that they are not sinners. The unforgivable sin is so awful that I dare not even name it. I can blaspheme against the Holy Spirit with impunity, but we all know that certain words and certain truths may not be said in modern Britain. The reason they may not be said is that it isn’t bad enough yet.Since Scottish politics became a dead issue not worth[...]

Indyref; or, 'tis three years since

Sat, 09 Sep 2017 05:22:00 +0000

It’s a pity Walter Scott is so little read nowadays. Waverley (or 'tis sixty years since) is not merely a station in Edinburgh it is the key to understanding everything in Scottish history and if you understand the past you understand the present, for history is not about what was, it’s about what is, it’s not about then, it’s about now.I resolved earlier this summer to not write about Scottish nationalism, the SNP or even Scottish politics. For the most part I have stuck to this resolution. For the moment there isn’t really anything to write. But as we approach the three year anniversary of the independence referendum I’ve decided to make an exception. But this time I’m not really trying to persuade those who are sympathetic to Scottish nationalism. Rather I think it is for us Pro UK people to learn a lesson.I have gradually been building towards the conclusion that we were very lucky indeed in 2014. Part of the reason for this is what happened a year ago during the referendum about leaving the EU. Scotland might well have voted to leave the UK and for exactly the same reason that the UK voted to leave the EU. On both occasions the “Remain” campaign was dreadful and achieved the opposite of what it intended.I have long thought that “Better Together” could hardly have been a worse slogan and strategy. This came to me gradually. For a very long time indeed I went along with it, writing articles about all the disadvantages of leaving the UK and all the advantages of remaining. None of these did any good. All of them missed the point. “Better Together” implicitly concedes defeat by acknowledging the possibility of being apart. No-one, but no-one, would argue that it is better for Kansas to be together with North Carolina. To suggest that Brittany is better of being together with Normandy would be met with bemusement in France. The reason for this is that both French people and Americans think that they are one nation indivisible. Therefore it is unthinkable that they should split. “Better Together” acknowledged separation while attempting to argue that we should not separate. It should instead have said that the UK is one nation indivisible and therefore separation is senseless. But this is the problem at the heart of our thinking about the UK. For centuries we have acted as if we were similar to the EU. We have played “international” football with each other and have allowed separate identities to develop. Our Pro UK politicians concede the nationalist argument by continually acknowledging the separateness of the parts of the UK and then use a combination of bribery and threats to try to hold the whole thing together. The key to defeating an opponent is to deny what he asserts and refute what he assumes. “Better Together” went into battle by accepting what the SNP assumes, i.e. that Scotland is a country in the same way that France is. The only difference between the SNP argument and the Pro UK argument was over the advantages and disadvantages of remaining and leaving. But if you share the SNP assumption then quite logically you must share their conclusion. If Scotland is a country in the same way as France is, then it ought to be independent. Why should Scotland alone out of all the hundreds of countries be the only one that can’t manage to be an independent sovereign nation state? Why indeed? If I thought Scotland was a country in the same way that France is, I would vote for the SNP. Because “Better Together” agreed with SNP assumptions it was left with mere calculation. Let's tot up all the economic advantages of staying in the UK and point out all of the economic disadvantages of leaving. Also let’s make leaving the UK seem[...]

If there is hope, it lies in the Poles

Sat, 02 Sep 2017 05:09:00 +0000

There has been endless complaint since the UK voted to leave the EU a little over a year ago. Not from voters mind you. The vast majority of Remain voters have simply got on with their lives and accepted that they lost the argument. Owing to the fact that the Remain prediction of immediate catastrophe for the UK simply did not occur, many former Remain voters have come to the conclusion that they were duped. But this has not stopped the rearguard action from some politicians and some influential people in the papers. There are still attempts to stop Brexit or to so water it down that it would amount to staying in the EU. Even if the doom and gloom about Britain’s immediate future has been shown by events to be ludicrously pessimistic, we are still supposed to believe these pessimists. It’s as if a weather forecaster kept telling us there would be a hurricane and when day after day it kept failing to appear he kept on expecting us to believe that he could predict the speed of wind. It’s time to realise that that the establishment of political experts in Britain are wrong. What’s more they have been wrong about everything for the past fifty years. It is for this reason that some of the newer EU members such as the Poles are beginning to question whether the whole thing is worth it. The reason is simple. They can watch and they can think.The whole EU project is based on deception. If only it all happens gradually we can create a United States of Europe without anyone noticing. I don’t think in the end that forming a new nation state called Europe is a good idea. I can though respect those who disagree with me. If it were modelled on the United States of America, with just as much freedom and democracy and with similar rights for the constituent parts, then there could be advantages. But the EU is not remotely like the USA. The people of the USA elect their president and their upper and lower houses of parliament. The powerful people in the EU are appointed. The most important decisions are made behind closed doors. The democratic will of member states (Greece, Republic of Ireland, France, the Netherlands) has recently been overturned. There has been a concerted effort to do the same with the UK. But it looks like it will fail.  There is likewise at the moment an attempt to make Poland bend to the will of its EU masters. Hopefully that will fail too.If you want to be part of something called the United States of Europe, then it indeed makes sense to support Remain. But few indeed are the Brits who do. This is where the whole project becomes dishonest. I don’t think many French or Italian people want France or Italy to be merely a region of Europe. But after sixty years of EU propaganda and mission creep there is a tendency to think that there is no alternative. A tiny proportion of Remain supporters really believed in European federalism yet that is what they voted for. There is a sort of self-deception that the EU won’t ever quite reach the point of being a United States of Europe. But watch how it has gradually moved more and more towards its goal. There is a single currency. There is border free travel such that in parts of the EU you barely even notice international borders. There is a president. Soon there will be an army. If you don’t think European federalism is happening you frankly are not paying attention. Brexit may involve some tough choices and it may even involve some hard times. But if we don’t want to be part of a federal nation state called the EU, and the vast majority of us don’t, then leaving is the only option. You either get this, or you don’t. I don’t think you need to be ruled by someone else in o[...]

Wallace must fall

Sat, 26 Aug 2017 04:14:00 +0000

By an amazing piece of good luck the Aberdeen branch of the Wallace Must Fall Campaign has discovered a hitherto unknown letter between William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. One of the problems of medieval history is that so few contemporary sources survive. We are forced to rely frequently on Blind Harry whose reliability as a witness is hindered not merely by him being blind, but more importantly by the fact that he lived some hundreds of years after the events he describes. But finally we have a contemporary source which provides us with insight into the mind of Wallace and the motivations for his actions.In time it is hoped that a full facsimile of the letter will be published, but for the moment it is necessary to rely on a summary. In the letter Wallace expresses his concern about his serfs and expresses his fears about the malign influence of Magna Carta (1215) spreading to Scotland. With wonderful insight into the future Wallace foresees that limiting the rights of the English barons will limit the power of the English king. He realises that ultimately it is bound to lead to a peasants’ revolt and with it the end of serfdom. In order to maintain the rights of the nobility in Scotland, Wallace concludes, it is necessary to fight the English who otherwise will bring with them emancipation.The Wallace Must Fall Campaign already knew that both Wallace and Bruce were slaveholders. Every member of the nobility in Scotland owned serfs, which is of course another word for slave. What was unknown until now was that the motivation of Wallace in fighting for “freedom” was to maintain the slavery of those serfs that he owned. It is clearly unacceptable to have statues of slaveholders, especially when they fought a war of independence precisely in order to maintain the bondage of these slaves. It is for this reason that the Aberdeen branch of the Wallace Must Fall Campaign proposes to put a rope around the neck of the statue of William Wallace and pull it down. Meanwhile the Aberdeen branch of the Bonnie Prince Charlie Must Fall Campaign has discovered a hitherto unknown letter in which he expresses admiration for the fact that there is still serfdom in Scotland. In fact there were Scottish serfs until 1799. Charles Edward describes this as just one of the many reasons for why he wants aims to get his father’s kingdom back. He likewise expresses his disdain for the so called “glorious” revolution of 1688 and the Bill of Rights that came with it in 1689. Once more the dreadful Magna Carta codified into law along with other malign documents such as the Petition of Right (1628) and the Habeas Corpus Act (1679) seeks to limit the rights of Scottish kings and nobles. This must be resisted in the name of FREEEEEDOM. All of these attempts to restrict the divine right of the Bonnie Prince are intolerable. He goes on to express his admiration for the Clan system (i.e. feudalism) whereby members of the clan must work for the chief without pay. Charles Edward describes how he hopes to spread this system of bondage throughout his father’s kingdom. What works so well in Ballachulish ought to work still better in Bedford. Think of the costs saved when the kingdom had no need to pay wages. The Aberdeen Branch of the Bonnie Prince Charlie Must Fall Campaign thinks it is disgraceful that modern Scottish nationalists call themselves after the 1745 campaign to bring slavery to Britain. Unfortunately there is no statue of Charles Edward Stuart in Aberdeen, but it is prosed to erect such a statue for the purpose of then toppling it.Meanwhile the Aberdeen branch of the Robert Burns Must Fall Campaign have discovered a letter which [...]

The Left is winning

Sat, 19 Aug 2017 05:13:00 +0000

Until recently I thought that the Right had won the economic battle decisively, but were gradually losing the cultural war. Now I am not so optimistic. Conservative economics suffered a set-back at the last election and now Conservatives are actually helping the Left to still more decisively destroy Conservative values. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher won the Cold War by bankrupting the Soviet Union and by showing that Right-wing economics bring with it peace and prosperity. They therefore won both at home and abroad. The Left had generally supported the Soviet Union or at the very least sympathised with Soviet aims and ideals. But the fall of the Berlin Wall and the sight of masses of Eastern Europeans voting with their feet made the Left look silly. After decades of admiration of the Potemkin village in which lived the Soviet Union the Left was forced to reassess socialism and reflect on the fact that it simply didn’t work. It became clear to all but the thoughtless that wherever socialism is tried it leads to poverty and tyranny. For this reason the Left refocussed it efforts. On the economic front it would strive to modify capitalism and make it fairer and more equal without trying to overthrow it. The Left decided that it could work with the free market and improve it. This is the essence of Blairism and other forms of social democracy present from time to time in places like Scandinavia.Social democracy can work well enough. There is a balance between government spending on things that make society more pleasant (free healthcare, various benefits) and allowing markets to be free and citizens to be taxed at as low a rate as possible. Very high taxes and excessive government spending will interfere with the free market to such an extent as to inhibit economic growth. But very low government spending and tiny rates of tax may lead to a society that is not very pleasant to live in.   The debate between British Conservatives and social democrats is however essentially sterile. The difference is minimal and amounts to a few percentage points on tax and a slightly different emphasis on public spending. All mainstream UK political parties are really social democrats of one form or another including the Conservatives. There isn’t a party that favours laissez faire free market economics and which wishes to seriously limit the size of the state. Oddly however despite winning the ideological battle in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher was hated by those who essentially agreed with her. Perhaps it is for this reason that they hated her, because they were forced to agree. The difference between the mildly social democratic SNP and the Conservative Party is really trivial apart from their views on Scottish independence. Both parties are in favour of free market capitalism. The SNP is even in favour of lowering business taxes like the Republic of Ireland. The SNP wants to increase public spending, but then so do the Conservatives. Both favour reducing the deficit. They only differ on the timescale. The SNP accepts that an independent Scotland would have to try to balance its books and live within its means. But this is exactly what the Conservatives think with regard to the UK. The ideological difference between the SNP, the Conservatives and indeed Blairite Labour turns out to be practically speaking tiny. Why then is there so much hatred? Why hate Margaret Thatcher and think of her as the Wicked Witch of the West when fundamentally you agree with her about everything except details? Jeremy Corbyn has brought ideological difference back into British politics. Since the end of the Soviet Un[...]

Better to be a dragon than a bear : the Chinese Russian relationship.

Sat, 12 Aug 2017 07:47:00 +0000

Part 1Russia famously was described by Winston Churchill as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. What is less frequently noted is that Churchill went on to solve his riddle. The key to understanding Russian actions was to look at Russian national interest. But is this not simply to state a truism? Isn’t the key to understanding any country’s action to simply reflect on its national interest? Is Churchill actually saying anything at all? Then again, it was not straightforwardly in the American national interest to fight a war against Germany in 1941. The threat came from the Pacific as they had just learned. Why go for a Germany first strategy? Why afterwards spend the next decades defending a largely ungrateful Europe. So too it was not straightforwardly in the UK’s national interest to either defend Belgium in 1914 or Poland in 1939.Countries do not always act in their own national interest. Many Western countries in the past decades have sometimes cared more for their own sense of altruism and liberalism than narrow self-interest.  The human rights of strangers are frequently seen as being more important than a country’s security, sometimes even its very existence in its present form. Swedish kindness and openness to the world is seen by many Swedes and certainly those in Government as being more important than maintaining the Sweden that has existed for centuries. So no, not every country is defined by national interest.If Russia is a riddle then China is an inscrutable mandarin. If the average person in the West knows little about Russia, they know still less about China. Our stereotype is of meeting a Chinese wise man who baffles us with his depth. Meanwhile we have no idea about what he really thinks, because his face is a mask that gives away nothing. If Russia is a riddle what then is China?Western knowledge decreases the further we go east. Western education focused traditionally on knowing everything that it was possible to know about some people who used to live in Greece and Italy. Everyone else was a barbarian and therefore not worth studying. We moved on a little and began to learn French, German or Italian. We might have some knowledge of the history of France and of French literature. But no matter how educated a person might be their knowledge stopped at the river Elbe. During the period of the Eastern bloc people in the West barely even distinguished between the various countries. What was the point? They were all de facto ruled from Moscow. Few indeed were those who could name more than two cities in the Soviet Union or one or two in any of the other Warsaw Pact countries. While French and German were familiar, many in the West did not even really know what Russian sounded like and if we did we certainly could not distinguish between Czech, Polish and Russian. They were just a generic Slavic, which we distinguished no more than the Slavs themselves historically distinguished between our languages. They thought that we were all dumb (немцы [nemt︠s︡y], niemiecki). We thought they were all the same. Few Westerners know very much at all about the history, language, literature or culture of the lands beyond the Elbe. The languages were too hard. Russian which is a world language spoken by hundreds of millions is barely known. Even the alphabet is a mystery. The average Westerner thinks that it is the equivalent of mirror writing. And that it involves back to front Rs and Ns. Only a very few specialists would have dreamed of learning, Polish, Czech or Bulgarian. But at least we had some knowledge of the countrie[...]

British citizenship confounds both Irish & Scottish nationalism

Sat, 12 Aug 2017 05:11:00 +0000

One of the main benefits of travel and meeting people from different places is to discover that ideas that are almost universally shared in one place are unknown in another. There is a tendency in the West to suppose that what we think everyone thinks. Left/Liberal values are held to be universal even if some of them have only developed recently even here. Take the concept of nationality. In Britain we almost all accept that nationality is fundamentally a matter of citizenship. All British citizens are equally British. It doesn’t matter where they were born or where their parents came from. When Mo Farrar runs or Moeen Ali bats and bowls they are cheered by British supporters and treated as Brits in just the same as if they could trace their ancestry back to the Roman Conquest.  We think that this is how everyone in the world is treated. But it isn’t.Someone born in Belarus whose parents speak Polish may well be a citizen of Belarus, but is most likely to think of himself as Polish. Someone from a Russian speaking part of Estonia is likely to think of himself as Russian rather than Estonian. Many citizens of the Russian Federation, e.g. people from Chechnya would not be thought of by other citizens as Russians. They would be Chechens or from one of the other groups that make up that country. Nationality in much of Eastern Europe is defined primarily by language and ancestry. What this means is that when the Soviet Union broke up and Russian speaking people of Russian ancestry were left in all of the former Soviet Republics these people remained Russians. They did not become Armenian, Kazakh or Lithuanian.These two concepts of nationality matter, because they have an effect on our thinking in the real world. If nationality is a matter of citizenship it is open to all. If it is a matter of ancestry, it is not something that can be changed. More importantly viewing nationality as a matter of ancestry implies that one country has a claim on the citizens of another. The fundamental justification for Russian actions in Crimea is that it was protecting Russian nationals. These people were not, on the whole, Russian citizens, but their ancestors were Russians and they spoke Russian, so from the Russian point of view they were fellow nationals. Russian irredentism depends not only on the idea of reclaiming land that was lost, i.e. land that used to be part of the Soviet Union or Russian Empire, but more importantly people who were lost, i.e. Russians. There is no question that Crimea used to be part of the Russian Empire. It was conquered by Catherine the Great. It was then part of the Russian  SSSR [Soviet Socialist Republic] until 1954 when it was transferred to the Ukrainian SSSR. It has a mixed population today, but there is no question that the vast majority of these people speak Russian, think of themselves as Russian and have Russian ancestry. Russia held an illegal vote on whether these Crimeans wanted to reunify with Russia. The vast majority said they did. No doubt there was pressure on them to vote in this way, but this does not really change things. There is little doubt that in a free vote, observed by Western observers and conforming to all democratic norms, they still would have voted to be Russian. This follows from the fact that most Crimeans think of themselves as Russian, for the simple reason that from their point of view they are Russian. Their language and ancestry trumps their citizenship. But does one nation state have the right to take a part of another nation state in this way? Can Russia hold votes asking a[...]

Ireland shows why Scotland will never leave

Sat, 05 Aug 2017 03:58:00 +0000

Apparently the Irish Taoiseach wants the UK to remain in the EU. He is trying to keep the door open to the European Union and if that door fails, then he wants Britain to at least remain in the European Single Market and Customs Union. The Republic of Ireland is also concerned about the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic and it wishes to maintain the passport free Common Travel Area that allows citizens of the Republic to travel anywhere within the British Isles without even showing a passport. But if that proves impossible the Republic would prefer border checks to take place at the sea crossings between Britain and Ireland. Above all the Republic is concerned about its trade. The British buy a lot of goods and services from the Republic and these goods when transported to the European mainland make their way through Britain. To summarise Brexit is going rather badly for the Republic of Ireland.The Pro EU establishment across the world went full blast with their scare stories in 2016, but the British didn’t listen. We’ve been through tough times before and generally we can take it. We are usually willing to fight for a principle. We don’t care to be controlled by foreign powers. This after all is what we were fighting for both in 1914 and 1939. Maintaining the sovereignty of the UK and other European nation states has been at the core of Britain’s foreign policy for centuries. It is the reason why we are willing to go through tough times. We do so because it is worth it. But fortunately it looks as if we are not going to go through particularly tough times. A year later and the UK economy is doing just fine. Despite an epic Remoan rear-guard action Britain is going to leave the EU and we are going to leave completely. To achieve this goal we actually don’t have to do a thing. We just have to wait and in early 2019 we will have left.It would be very nice to have a deal with the EU. The deal could go something like this. The UK will become a country like nearly every other country in the world that trades more or less freely without giving up one little bit of our sovereignty. Australia, for instance, does not need to be ruled by Jakarta in order to trade with the rest of Australasia. It does not require the Australasian Court or the Australasian Commission to tell it what to do. No-one in Australia would consider such a requirement to be worth it. They would say stuff your trade if you want to tell us what to do. We can buy from someone else. So the EU can allow us to trade more or less freely or we can buy from someone else. That is their choice. Whatever happens we will be fine. We may need to adjust. We may have to buy Anchor butter rather than Kerrygold. But here’s the deal. We can get on quite well without buying Irish butter or German cars. We can get our butter and cars from somewhere else. We could even make our own. The Republic of Ireland unfortunately is in a rather different position. Much of their trade is with the UK. If the EU imposes delays and tariffs on trade between the UK and the EU it is going to make it rather difficult for Dublin to send its milk and butter to the EU. It could either send it on a slow boat round Britain or it could find its lorries held up both at Holyhead and Dover. If British tourists have to spend hours waiting in line to show their passport at the EU border, then Republic of Irish citizens might equally find it somewhat harder to nip across the border to fill up with petrol in Northern Ireland. Cooperation cuts both ways. Of course it need not[...]

And profanation of the dead

Mon, 31 Jul 2017 08:03:00 +0000

Once more we have a commemoration of a First World War Battle. We have reached 1917 and the so called “Battle of Passchendaele”. What we haven’t reached is any sort of understanding of what the battle was about, what happened and why. This is reflected even in the name of the battle. The First Battle of Passchendaele didn’t begin until October. The Second Battle of Passchendaele began in late October and continued into November. What we are commemorating on the 31st of July is the beginning of the Third Battle of Ypres. This campaign began with the Battle of Pilckem Ridge. Of course, no-one will mention anything about this. All we will get is cliché about mud and futility. The Third Battle of Ypres was not futile, nor was it defeat for the allied powers. It was part of a series of battles that ultimately defeated Germany. Each of these battles involved enormous loss of life. But this was not because the Germans, the French or the British were stupid. It was simply because we had reached a stage in the history of warfare where defence was massively stronger than attack. One hundred years earlier during Napoleon’s campaign soldiers were mainly armed with muskets and a large mass of men could charge a defensive position and expect to succeed. This meant that a Generals task was to manoeuvre his troops so that he it would be able to successfully attack his opponent. The General who did this best won. But during the nineteenth century this changed because of the invention of breech loading rifles and latterly machine guns. Even by the end of the American Civil War, defence had become so strong that armies were reduced to trench warfare. Fifty years later with the development of the machine gun it became simply impossible for a large mass of men to charge a defensive position and expect to meet success. Why didn’t we have a repeat of trench warfare in the years between 1939 and 1945? The answer is that in the period in between technology developed again so that we had effective aircraft capable of supporting attacking troops and we had effective tanks capable of breaking through a defensive line. This brought manoeuvre back into warfare.The Generals of the First World War had neither effective aircraft nor effective tanks that could operate in all conditions. These things were developed during the course of the First World War, but they had not yet reached the stage of being able to break through a defensive line on their own. The only effective ways of breaking a defensive line that these generals had were artillery and troops. During the course of the First World War the various armies developed and changed artillery and attack tactics. These became progressively more effective. Unfortunately they had to learn by experience. This experience, otherwise known as battles, was not futile. Only by fighting the Battle of the Somme and later battles such as Third Ypres did the British Army learn how to win. By November of 1917 when the Second Battle of Passchendaele ended with Allied Victory the British had developed “bite and hold” tactics for which the Germans had no answer.  In desperation the Germans attacked in March 1918. Their attack met with initial success and they too developed innovative tactics. But their offensive ultimately failed, because they could not finally break the allied line. By 1918 the Allied Armies had more or less perfected the method by which they could break the German line and they proceeded to do so from July 1918 until November. In this way t[...]

Turning gold into base metal

Sat, 29 Jul 2017 05:43:00 +0000

 There was a period in British politics where we all more or less agreed with each other. Tony Blair was a somewhat more Left-wing Thatcherite, while David Cameron was a somewhat more Right-wing Blairite. The two main parties shouted loudly at each other, but this just hid their fundamental agreement about nearly everything. At this point voting became largely a tribal matter. Did I belong to the red team or the blue team? In the end, competence or the lack of it mattered more than policies. Either party’s policies might lead to good results so long as the people in charge knew what they were doing, for in essence the policies didn’t differ. Each party simply agreed that the task was to grow the economy as much as possible and to then spend as much of that growth on the things that the voters wanted. But the age of agreement is over.The dismantling of the consensus came about because of the referendums. The Scottish referendum taught the whole of Britain that politics could be divisive and that people could disagree about the fundamentals. Here was a choice that would lead to two radically different futures. Either Scotland would become independent and the United Kingdom would cease to exist or it wouldn’t. Suddenly politics mattered. The result mattered. There was no use pretending that each side believed the same as the other. They didn’t.We had a further taste of division during the EU referendum. Again politics mattered. People cared about the result. Two different futures were being presented for Britain. No-one could pretend that the two sides agreed. They didn’t. They each presented a different vision of the future. Politics had become binary again. It had become a matter of Yes and No, Leave and Remain. The British electorate gained a taste for difference. It became used to fundamental disagreement for the first time in decades. It expected political parties to differ and rewarded this difference. Once more we have a truly Left-wing Labour Party. Political commentators decided that a Labour Party with Jeremy Corbyn as leader were no hopers who couldn’t possibly defeat the mighty Conservatives. The majority of Labour MPs who continually tried to get rid of Mr Corbyn agreed with this commentary. But they all ignored that the public had come to like the fact that politics mattered and that it was about fundamental disagreement. The cosy consensus looked like an establishment stitch up. It is for this reason that we must rethink the whole debate from the ground up. We must go back to first principles. Labour now has a clear ideology. Well so too must Conservatives be clear about what we believe and why we believe it. David Cameron wanted to rebrand the Conservative Party, while Theresa May thought if only she could steal a few of Labour policies she would be bound to win over Labour voters. But neither has been willing to explore what Conservatism really is, nor have they been willing to really defend the essence of Conservatism. Well we have an opponent now and that opponent is clear about his beliefs. Mr Corbyn does not apologise for his Left-wing views because he thinks they are correct. It’s high time we explained once more to the public why Mr Corbyn and the Labour Party are wrong. It’s also high time we defended Conservatism both intellectually and morally. Only in this way can we begin to persuade the public.To understand a thing you have to grasp its essence rather than its accidents. Too often we are blinded to the nature of[...]

Equality or freedom

Sat, 29 Jul 2017 05:43:00 +0000

What is it that distinguishes people on the Left and people on the Right? We now have two party politics again. But what is the choice between these two parties fundamentally about? The answer can be summarised in the following way. Conservatism is about what is. Liberalism/Socialism is about what ought to be. For this reason Conservatives seek to protect what is, while the Left seeks to overturn it. Conservatives think that the fundamental structures of society that have developed over centuries should be respected and that progress should be gradual. The Left is dissatisfied with how society is at present and wishes always to change it radically, decisively and immediately. The basis for Conservatism is respect for human nature as it is. We have the society that we have because of human nature and the faults in society are due to the faults of human nature. The Left on the other hand is dissatisfied with human nature and seeks to reform it. Only in this way can it radically change a society that is grounded in human nature.It is fundamental to human nature that we are unequal. In any primitive society you will find hierarchy. Likewise if  you took one thousand modern human beings and put them on an isolated island, left them and came back after a hundred years you would find inequality. Some people are more intelligent, stronger, more ruthless or have more charismatic personalities than others. Some people are fit and healthy, beautiful and popular, others are not. Some people have skills that are uncommon and which are necessary for society others have much less to offer. Society is fundamentally unequal because people are unequal. The Right accepts this as a fact and tries to work with human nature. The Left is dissatisfied with the inequality of human nature and seeks to create a better society by means of creating a better human being.The motto of the French Revolution, liberté égalité fraternité [liberty, equality, fraternity] involves in fact only two things not three. Equality and fraternity are obviously the same thing. It’s the same idea as found in Schiller’s “Alle Menschen werden Brüder” [All people become brothers]. At present my brother or my sister is someone in my family. I prefer this person to someone who is not in my family. But heaven on Earth or Schiller’s Elysium happens when everyone in society is equally my brother and I cease to make the distinction between family and anyone else in society. The problem for the French and for every other revolutionary movement is that people do not want to become brothers. We wish to retain our hierarchical structure whereby I have talents, gifts or qualities that make me more successful than you. A handsome man who has his pick of pretty women, does not wish to become equal with those who don’t. If my skill at fishing means that I can catch one hundred fish why should I give most of them to the person who has no skill at fishing or who is lazy and who catches none? It is for this reason that the motto of the French Revolution involves a contradiction. It is only possible to achieve equality/fraternity through compulsion. But what is compulsion other than loss of liberty?It is not accidental that the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution or the Chinese Revolution led to terror. It is a feature. The attempt to eradicate inequality and create a utopian brotherhood of man will always involve those who are more talented, stronger and intelligent bei[...]

Socialism is theft

Sat, 15 Jul 2017 04:08:00 +0000

In order to understand a thing you have to strip it back to its essence. The fault of too much political thinking has been that it is too abstract. It tries to impose a theoretical system on human nature rather than accept human nature as the basic building block. This is especially the case with the political ideas of the Left and it is the reason the same pattern follows whenever they are implemented. Finding that socialism/social democracy comes up against the ordinary human nature of the workers, the Left requires that human nature changes. The theory is correct therefore it is the humans who are in error. But finding that people prefer to be in error the Left attempts to enforce change. It does this first through law, but if it meets opposition, being convinced that the goal of socialism is worth it, the Left resorts to force. Everything follows from the failure to understand and accept the essence of human nature. Why do you go to work? People have different reasons and it sometimes depends on the job that they do. Some people claim to love their job so much that they would do it even if they were not paid. But there are few indeed of us who would like to live without any sort of income. If I won the lottery, I might decide to quit my job. But I would only do so because I would think that I could maintain my lifestyle without that job. For the vast majority of people, the reason why we get up every morning is so that we have an income and so that we can spend that money on things that we want and need.Who do you spend your money on? The answer to this is simple. I spend my money on myself and on my family. What proportion of your money do you choose to spend on anything or anyone else? Well, if you think of this proportion in terms of household expenditure, you will find that most people spend a very small proportion on anyone other than their family. Out of each person’s disposable income what proportion is donated outside the family? Some people are indeed very generous, their generosity sometimes increases with their affluence, but even so it is still the case that for the vast majority of people an overwhelming proportion of our disposable income is spent on ourselves and our family. Why do we encourage children to get a good education and why do people who work seek first a good job and then a better job? Why do people seek promotion in their work rather than just remain at the level at which they begin? Again there can be a variety of motives. We might hope that our children have a more interesting job because of their education. We might think that education makes life more worthwhile and interesting. We might want to do more good by being promoted. All of these things may be true, but if we are honest, most of us will reflect that we want a good education in order to get a job that pays well, we want promotion because we want our pay to increase and we want all of these things because we want to provide our families with a better lifestyle. I know someone who was working as a cleaner. She was earning the minimum wage. She decided she could do better by working for herself. To begin with she was actually doing rather worse than when she was paid by an employer. Now that she had her own small business, she found that for every hour she wasn’t working she was paid nothing. But when she was working she could charge more and the amount that she was paid went to her business rather than the b[...]

Everything is permitted except morality

Sat, 08 Jul 2017 04:40:00 +0000

We live in a relentlessly secular society. In some ways I am glad that we do. I would far prefer to live in a secular society than a theocratic one. I don’t want laws to be governed by any religion. I don’t want a government to say to me that I can or I can’t do something because of religious rules.  I believe in freedom of conscience and the freedom to believe or not to believe. But I think this freedom should cut both ways. Religion should not attempt to impose its beliefs on society, but nor should society attempt to impose its beliefs on religion. Is it possible for a politician in Britain to be a practicing Christian? Most certainly it is. Theresa May is a Christian. So are Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. There are many others. There are also politicians who follow other religions. This is generally unproblematic.  Why then has there recently been some controversy over the former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron who resigned because he thought it was impossible to be both a Christian and lead the Lib Dems?It may have been because Mr Farron is a more high profile Christian than other politicians. Theresa May does not often talk about her faith, nor for that matter did Gordon Brown. It is for them something that is kept in the background. But Tony Blair did indeed do God. He talked about it quite a lot. What is the difference between Blair and Farron?Tony Blair has been a practicing Roman Catholic officially or unofficially for many years. What would he have said if he had been interviewed about something controversial like abortion or homosexuality? Well Tony Blair thinks that the Pope is wrong about homosexuality and that the Catholic Church is wrong about abortion. As usual he finds a third way. What about Mr Farron? I don’t know exactly what he believes, but I’m sure that whatever it is, he really believes it. Mr Farron believes in Christianity literally. For him the task is to follow the teachings of Christ. He adapts to Christianity rather than striving to make Christianity adapt to him. That is the difference. I don’t know the denomination that Mr Farron follows, but it would not be at all surprising if the version of Christianity he believes in has traditional teachings about abortion and homosexuality. For nearly two thousand years every version of Christianity had the same teaching about these issues. Most still do.We have in Britain and the West in general gone through something of a revolution since the 1960s. In 1959 nearly all Christians and most of the population in general thought that marriage necessarily involved one man and one woman, that sex outside marriage was sinful, abortion and homosexuality wrong and that changing sex was impossible. There might have been a few people that disagreed, but they were uncommon. All of the churches taught more or less the same things about Christian morality although there were some disagreements. Christianity in 1959 was still a fixture in the life of our country. People generally conformed at least outwardly to Christian morality even if they didn’t themselves believe in Christianity. In the past fifty years or so we have started a social revolution almost without precedent. Until the 1960s nearly everyone living in Britain would have believed more or less the same things about traditional Christian morality. We have now reached the stage where almost no-one still does. What happened? The Christian rules[...]

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