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Lily of St. Leonards

some thoughts mainly on Scottish politics

Last Build Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2017 16:49:03 +0000


A single transferable Pro UK preference

Sat, 22 Apr 2017 04:42:00 +0000

Over the years I have had minimal interest in council elections. I simply want whoever runs the council to do their job as cheaply and efficiently as possible. Ideally I would like as little party politics as possible involved in how local services are run. I would much prefer it, for instance, if I put all my rubbish in one bin and that bin went out once a week. I don’t want my council to try to change the world. In fact I want them to do as little as possible, do that little well and charge me the smallest amount the can. However, in Scotland all elections are different. Every election is an expression of public opinion about the only political issue that matters to all of us. That is their importance and the reason why I intend to first write about the local election and then at a later date turn to the General Election.So long as public support for the SNP remains high the issue of Scottish independence will always be on the agenda. The key task for Pro UK people is to gradually whittle away at that support. The goal is first to create a strong opposition and then to take power away from the SNP. At present Theresa May has said that there will be no indyref2 any time soon (always use indyref2, the SNP don’t like it as it reminds them that they lost). The SNP will have to wait at least until Brexit is finished and we all have had a chance to see how it works in practice. This gives us some time. The ideal situation is to make the SNP go into the next Scottish Parliament elections in 2021 having to campaign explicitly for indyref2. Let all pro-independence parties make a clear, unambiguous manifesto commitment to indyref2 and see how the electorate responds. For too long the SNP have been pretending that a particular vote, in a General Election, or for the Scottish Parliament, is not about independence. They then later decide that it in fact was about independence. In fact all votes in Scotland are always only about independence.Theresa May can only maintain her “Not yet” strategy so long as Scottish public opinion allows her. It is crucial therefore that we take every chance to demonstrate that we agree with her. This is where council elections become important. They are not about bins, they are about the future of our country. The council elections in Scotland will take place on May 4th. The method of voting is by the Single Transferable Vote. This means that you can put a “1” in the box next to your first choice, “2” in the box next to your second choice etc. It is possible to have only one preference. Alternatively you can vote for as many or as few parties as you like. I don’t believe in negative campaigning, nor do I believe anymore in voting tactically in a First Past the Post General Election. I think voters should always vote for the party they support. I think campaigns to vote tactically against the SNP perversely help the SNP. The reason for this is that such campaigns are inherently negative and they get SNP supporters backs up. This encourages a “we will show them” mentality. At the last General Election I supported tactical voting. I was wrong. I think it contributed to the SNP winning nearly all the seats. I know that some people I like and respect will disagree with me about tactical voting. To an extent it depends on where you live. If a constituency is a marginal where only one of the Pro UK parties can challenge the SNP, then voters will naturally vote tactically. But elsewhere the vast majority of voters will not vote for a party they disagree with and rightly so. There is something dismal about it. Better by far to vote for a party you believe in. At least your choice is positive.  However in a Single Transferable Vote context it is perfectly reasonable for me to express a preference. This is, after all, what this sort of voting is designed to show. Well I will be campaigning for the Conservatives, both locally and nationally. They will be my number one choice. I hope that they will gain the maximum number of council seats in Scotland. But I will use my 2nd and 3rd [...]

What if the SNP held indyref2 without permission?

Sat, 15 Apr 2017 04:28:00 +0000

Nicola Sturgeon loves to make threats.  How often have we seen her put on her angry face, screw up her fists and start talking in her thickest Ayrshire accent about what she will do if her demands are not met? Her colleagues follow the leader. Every few days we see a story in a newspaper involving the latest SNP threat. Perhaps they will do this. Perhaps they will do that. Many of these stories are, of course, just kite flying. They want to see how Scottish voters will react. They want to keep everyone guessing and make everyone nervous. Don’t be nervous. Don’t be worried about what the SNP will do to us. Rather let them begin to be worried about what we might do to them. The SNP have ruled Scotland since 2007. They reached the peak of their power in 2015 when they won nearly all the seats at the General Election, but they lost their overall majority in the Scottish Parliament in 2016. Who knows, they may win it back next time round. But then again they may not. Parties rarely remain in power for ever. Eventually voters want to give the other guy a chance, if only so that they can see someone else’s face. So who knows how Scottish voters may eventually respond to Nicola Sturgeon’s threats? Most of us don’t want indyref2 anytime soon, if at all. Well we live in a democracy. We might decide to respond to her threats by voting for someone else. If enough of us do so, there will be no more threats. There are other ways we could respond also. If the SNP get to fly kites so too can we. Look at the following as a thought experiment. I’m not sure if it is feasible or even desirable, but it is an option. There has been the suggestion from Scottish nationalists that they might hold an independence referendum without the permission of the UK Government. Apparently it might be possible for the Scottish Parliament to vote for this even though such a referendum is a reserved matter and therefore outwith the powers of a devolved parliament. I have no idea how serious this suggestion is. Let’s assume that some nationalists, perhaps Nicola Sturgeon herself, are considering this option. How might we respond?Well in my view Pro UK political parties should have nothing to do with this sort of illegality. They should not turn up at the Scottish Parliament for any such vote. They should moreover suggest that if the Scottish Parliament is to be used illegally, they might decide to never turn up again. The Scottish Parliament has not passed a law in the last year. It is turning into something of a talking shop with no purpose. Well one response from sensible political parties would be to ignore its existence. The UK Government could decide that if the Scottish Parliament is being used to do things that are illegal, indeed seditious, it would be better if it ceased to be. This could be carried out simply by repealing the Scotland Act of 1998. A simple majority of MPs at Westminster would be sufficient. This would be perfectly legal. What if somehow the SNP succeeded in organizing an unofficial/illegal independence referendum? Well such a referendum could only be advisory. Then again aren’t all referendums only advisory? The result of the EU referendum could have been rejected by the UK Parliament. So therefore, logically,  could the result of the Scottish independence referendum of 2014. Likewise any second referendum result could be rejected. The UK Government then could promise that it would ignore the result of an illegal indyref2 on the grounds that the vote was illegitimate.How best should Pro UK Scots react to such an unofficial/illegal referendum? My view is that we should boycott it. Imagine if there were a debate about Scottish independence, but only Nicola Sturgeon turned up. Imagine if every single person in the audience was a Scottish nationalist. Imagine if there was no equivalent of Better Together. There was no Mr Darling making the case for the UK, no Mr Murphy standing on Irn Bru crates, no nothing. Imagine if people like me and also newspaper journalists ceased to write[...]

Indyref2 is in the long grass, we kicked it there

Sat, 08 Apr 2017 05:40:00 +0000

A short time ago it looked as if there would indyref2 within a year or so. I could feel the tension building within myself, I could sense it coming from others. If there were going to be another vote on independence next year, the campaign would begin more or less now. It would be another long and drawn out affair with the result uncertain to the end. All the old arguments would be repeated with new variants. I dreaded the prospect. It didn’t look as if anything could be done to stop this. Somehow an idea had developed in Scotland that you just couldn’t say “No” to Nicola Sturgeon. Apparently if you did something apocalyptic would happen. If a UK Prime Minister said “No” it would lead to something like the 1745 Rebellion. The clans would rise and support for Scottish independence would go through the roof. There is a lot of received wisdom put forward by journalists and others who apparently should be listened to. Much of it turns out to be quite wrong. Journalists often have access to sources that the rest of us don’t, but their ability to think is no better than anyone else’s. Sometimes it’s worse. They’ve been getting quite a lot of things wrong lately.Few political commentators thought that the Conservatives could win a majority at the last General Election. Perhaps fewer still thought that it was possible that the UK could vote for Brexit. Quite a large part of the media thought that a vote to leave the EU would lead to immediate economic disaster. Instead it has led to growth. Many journalists thought support for Scottish independence would rise, because we voted Remain while the majority of the UK voted Leave. Lots of journalists were until recently writing as if indyref2 was inevitable and it was happening soon. Theresa May wouldn’t dare say “No” and anyway Ruth Davidson would advise her not to. Now where are we? In First World War terms Nicola Sturgeon made her great push, but it got entangled in the barbed wire. Maybe Ruth Davidson was bluffing all along, but she came out in favour of blocking the latest SNP attempt to break up our country. Theresa May has stood firm. At the moment indyref2 has been kicked into the longest of grasses. Nicola Sturgeon is taking swing after swing, but she doesn’t actually even know where her ball is. Let the SNP spend the next few years looking for it. Meanwhile the rest of us can get on with our lives. The simple of tactic of telling Sturgeon that she would have to wait has proved effective. The UK Government has not said “No” rather they have said “Not yet”. Who knows when we will arrive at yet? It may be after the next Scottish Parliament elections, then again depending on the result it may be never. Has there been an uprising in Scotland? No. Quite the reverse. Pro UK Scots demonstrated to the Theresa May that we supported her stance. Hundreds of thousands of us signed a petition saying we didn’t want our lives disrupted by indyref2. This was crucial. This made a difference. It made more of a difference than anything I have ever written. Politics is about public opinion, which is expressed not only at elections. The SNP like to give the impression that they speak for Scotland. Pro UK people must continually show that they don’t. Each of us can contribute in different ways. But every Scot who shows that we agree with delaying, perhaps indefinitely, indyref2 helps Theresa May maintain that position. Of course some Scottish nationalists will be angry. That is after all their default position. But contrary to some expectations a Tory Prime Minister saying “Not yet” has not led to a surge in support for the SNP, nor has it led to mass demonstrations in the street, nor has it increased support for Scottish independence. Most Scots still don’t want indyref2 anytime soon and polls suggest the result if it were to happen would be the same as last time. Moreover I have noticed some Scottish nationalists who while maintaining their long term goal of independence have also recognised that[...]

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Scotland is not a colony, the UK is not an empire

Sat, 01 Apr 2017 06:07:00 +0000

Alex Salmond wishes to inform us that “the days of the British Empire are over, and the days of British prime ministers denying self-determination to the Scottish people are over as well.” There are all sorts of odd things about this sort of statement. Most of us who have any knowledge of history are well aware that the British Empire is over. There are a few British Overseas Territories, but they are few and far between. They could hardly be called an Empire. So Mr Salmond is informing us of something we already know. Why is he talking of the British Empire at all? Could it be that he thinks that Scotland is somehow the last remnant of that Empire?I come across the idea every now and again from Scottish nationalists that Scotland is somehow a colony. I sometimes wonder where such ideas come from. Well obviously they come from the top. But it is a very odd idea none the less. If Scotland is a colony, who has been colonising us? From where have they come? During the British Empire people from the UK did indeed settle in parts of the Empire. Many of the descendants of those people still live in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. So who are the settlers who came to Scotland? Are they the English, the Poles or the Pakistanis? It’s fairly obvious how offensive this is likely to get quite quickly.Scotland isn’t a colony. Rather for the past 300 years and more we have been part of a nation state called the United Kingdom where people have moved about freely. Scots have moved to England in large numbers. English people have moved to Scotland. This is not settling an Empire, but rather it is people moving within their own country. I am not colonising England if I decide to set up home there. It is ludicrous and offensive to suggest that I am. Mr Salmond is complaining about a British Prime Minister apparently denying something to the Scottish people. What is this thing that is apparently being denied and who is denying it to whom? Firstly there is a false distinction between a “British Prime Minister” and the “Scottish people”. A British Prime Minister could well be a Scot and has been on many occasions. Moreover, the Scottish people are all British citizens. Some of them may not like this fact at the moment, but nevertheless it is a fact. Britain is not some Empire ruling over Scotland. Rather we are British. If you doubt this, I suggest you look at your passport at the point at which states British citizen. Has anyone denied self-determination to the Scottish people? It depends what we mean by the “Scottish people”. Who are they and how do we determine who they are? Are Scots a tribe that can be distinguished from other people in the UK? If so I would very much like to know on what basis Alex Salmond thinks he is from a different tribe to Theresa May. Is it because he speaks a different language to her? Is it because his culture or religion is vastly different to hers? Does he think that his ancestry means that his tribe by necessity must diverge from her tribe? What then is this “Scottish people” that Alex Salmond belongs to but, Theresa May doesn’t? How is it defined? No-one is denying self-determination to people in Scotland for the simple reason that we live in a democracy. The British Prime Minister was elected just as much by Scots as she was by any other British citizen. The fact that most Scots would have preferred someone else is neither here nor there. In any democracy some people are disappointed. Scotland is not ruled as if we were part of an Empire, because we each have just as much representation and just as much electoral power as any other British citizen. I as a Scot have one vote in a General Election. So too does someone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In addition I have a vote for the Scottish Parliament where all sorts of devolved issues are decided. Constitutional matters are not devolved. That was the deal when we set up the Scottish Parliament. That is what peopl[...]

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What's so great about Britain?

Sat, 11 Mar 2017 05:43:00 +0000

Sometime in prehistory a group of people arrived on our island from Europe. They were Celts. We know next to nothing about them or the people who lived here before they arrived. All that is left of them are the monuments they left behind, places like Stonehenge and Scara Brae.  The Celtic speaking people of Britain, as far as we know, spoke more or less the same language up and down the country and if we’d been left alone, no doubt we would still be speaking the language of the Picts and the Iceni. But that wasn’t how history played out.  Our island has always been attractive to immigrants and they have made us what we are. We are all immigrants and we are all mongrels.The successive waves of Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings and Normans were not always absorbed without a struggle. There was conflict. But the mix proved beneficial. We are all equally the children of all of these ancestors. We all have the same heritage no matter which part of the UK we come from. There is no fundamental difference between someone from Scotland, from Wales from England or from Northern Ireland, just a variant on a theme, a slight difference in the mixture.Someone whose parents arrived on our island more recently is equally a part of our island story and an equally welcome addition to the mixture of our melting pot. We are all part of the same story of Britain, where people have arrived with hope because life here is good and always getting better. We’re good mixers the British and the mix that makes up the British people has been most fortunate for it has meant we have been at the forefront of much that is good in the world.We gave up feudalism centuries before many parts of Europe. We developed nascent forms of democracy and human rights earlier than anyone else; we gave up absolute monarchy while most of Europe still believed in the divine right of kings.  We developed free markets and free forms of trade, while most of Europe still had serfs. We were at the forefront of nearly every development that made Europe prosper from the agricultural revolution of the 18th century to the industrial revolution of the 19th century. But all these revolutions occurred here more or less peacefully. While Europe was rocked with revolutions in the 18th and 19th century, while they were torn apart by nationalism, we concentrated on slow, rather dull progress. Change came to Britain. We became gradually a fairer and more democratic country. We became wealthier and everyone shared in this wealth more and more. But we never revolted, we never overthrew. That was never the British way. We took our time and acted with due care gradually on our inexorable path to progress. It is not accidental that French philosophers of the 18th century, like Voltaire admired Britain and the liberty that was to be found here.  There was something in the British character that avoided extremes. Something in the mixture means the British have always liked moderation and so we looked on when the French chopped off the heads of their nobility, we looked on in 1830 and 1848 when Europeans took to the barricades. Instead here we had dull reform bills that gradually extended the franchise. Here we developed worldwide trade that more and more brought wealth to the nation and gave us the leisure to invent the sports played by the whole world. From British prosperity and adaptability came the ability to imagine that there could be such a thing as a computer and a television. All these things happened because of our fundamental stability and the gradualness of our change.Because we have always loved freedom and because we have always been a tolerant people, we don’t like bullies and tyrants. For this reason Britain has made some of the grea[...]

A defence of the UK (summary)

Sat, 04 Mar 2017 07:48:00 +0000

My essay A defence of the UK is long and detailed. But the main arguments can be summarised as follows:IntroductionWe must present arguments that are clear and true. Scottish politics has only one issue and is tending towards the politics of Northern Ireland. Is there a case for a single Pro UK party so that we are united against the SNP?The aim is to persuade moderate Scots. Leave the fundamentalist nationalists alone. Scottish independence involves long term uncertainty and potential instability. It could lead to results that none of us can guess. The structure of the essay involves listing ten disadvantages to independence, which at the same time show the advantages of staying in the UK. For campaigning to succeed it must involve a positive story about Britain while pointing out true disadvantages of Scottish independence. It must never be negative about Scotland as Scotland is a great place to live. But we have a perfect right to point out what is wrong with Scottish nationalism. Disadvantages1. Deficit.I describe what an economic deficit is and that Scotland has the largest in Europe. I explore why Scotland has a deficit and how being a part of the UK means that we don’t suffer the economic consequences. I explore the ways in which an independent Scotland would need to act in order to reduce its deficit. It would need to massively cut public spending and raise taxes. But this would prove counterproductive as it would have the effect of inhibiting economic growth. The deficit alone makes the SNP’s desire for independence untenable at the moment.2. Debt.I show how having a deficit would inevitably lead to the Scottish economy being in debt. I then explain that it is likely that Scotland would have to take on a share of the former UK’s national debt. I use the word “former” as a way of pointing out that Scottish independence would mean that the UK would cease to exit.A refusal to do take a share of the debt would mean that Scotland would have no share of the former UK’s assets and could expect no cooperation or friendly relations. I point out that whatever debt Scotland had we would have to pay a higher interest rate than the UK does at present.3. Currency.I make clear that the present circumstances of Brexit make it impossible for Scotland to retain pound sterling as part of a currency union. There would then be three alternatives. Scotland could use the pound unofficially, but this would make our financial services industry untenable. We could have our own Scottish pound or we could have the Euro. If Scotland were to join the EU we would have to promise to join the Euro. This would involve setting up a Scottish pound and central bank only to abolish it upon joining. If Scotland failed to join the Euro but pegged a Scottish pound against pound Sterling, it is worth remembering that pegs can break. I point out that all of these options would have potentially damaging real world consequences for ordinary Scots with mortgages which are at present denominated in pounds Sterling. The Euro would probably be the best option, but no option is better than our present arrangement, which can only be kept by our remaining a part of the UK.4. TradeBecause the UK is leaving the EU, Scottish independence would now involve Scotland and the former UK ending up in different trade blocs. But we do the vast majority of our trade with other parts of the UK and relatively little with the EU. This means that an independent Scotland would potentially have to impose tariffs on goods and services from the other parts of the UK, which is our largest market. This is clearly economically illiterate. Moreover, if the former UK were able to come up with beneficial trade arrangements with other countries, like Austr[...]

A defence of the UK

Sat, 04 Mar 2017 06:34:00 +0000

IntroductionThe main feature of living in a modern democracy is that nearly everybody gets to vote. As John Donne once said in a rather different context an election “comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when it comes”. At one point only people with a certain amount of property could vote. At another point men could vote but women couldn’t. Now every citizen over the age of eighteen can vote. A Nobel Prize winning scientist has one vote. So too does a person who left school with no qualifications. Some people follow political debates closely. Some hardly follow them at all. Some people think they understand all the issues while others vote because of intuition or because that’s the way their friends vote. None of this matters as it all evens itself out. In a large population the wise counterbalance the foolish. If you ask a million people a question, very often the majority have the correct answer. There is a wisdom in crowds. Anyway that is the system we have and there is no changing it.There is only one issue in Scottish politics. This has been the case since the SNP were first voted into power in Holyrood. Other issues are talked about and debated, but they don’t matter. Scots do not vote according to their opinion on what to do about education or health care. The vast majority of Scottish voters vote according to whether they want Scottish independence or they don’t. This remains the case even if an election is not explicitly about Scottish independence.In this way our politics has come to resemble the politics of Northern Ireland. People there vote according to identity. The difference is that they tend to unite behind one Pro UK party (the DUP) or one anti UK party (Sinn Féin). I suspect that many Northern Irish voters don’t particularly like either of the main parties they vote for, but they are aware that the alternative is to split the vote and thereby damage their side of the argument. There may come a time in Scotland where the Pro UK side has to unite rather than split itself into three parts. Whichever of the three turns out to be the strongest and most Pro UK may gain the vote of all Pro UK Scots. We are not there yet. But there will come a time if the Conservatives continue to increase support that sensible Labour or Lib Dem voters will reason that they can live with Ruth Davidson’s centrist politics as she has the best chance of defending our position in the UK. We still have a way to go before we shake off the tribalism of voting for red, blue or orange. But the nationalists shook it off a while back and they all now vote for one party or for parties like the Greens that are fellow travellers and will do what the SNP asks. At the very least, in the forthcoming council elections vote in such a way that we send a clear message to Sturgeon. We don’t want another independence referendum anytime soon. If the SNP do worse than expected and if the Pro UK opposition increases its support it will strengthen Theresa May’s hand.Because there is only one issue in Scottish politics it is worth looking at the main arguments in such a way that they are comprehensible to everyone. A lot of what is written in newspapers and spoken about by politicians is very dull. People quote statistics at each other and make up stories about what would happen if we vote one way or the other. I think voters have seen through this.Many of the threats made during the EU referendum have already been shown to be exaggerated. It is very important that a political campaign is grounded in truth. Never exaggerate and never present something that is uncertain as certain. We can’t predict the future, but politics is about presenting the best guess about what might[...]

Playing hardball with Mrs Angry

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 06:11:00 +0000

There’s a little woman I know who is from the Glasgow area and she always gets her own way. If there is a committee meeting she is aggressive. She interrupts. She tries to belittle the point of view of others. People avoid getting into an argument with her because rather than discuss calmly she gets emotional. She makes assertions which are really just her own opinions, but they are presented as truths. If someone crosses her she will bear a grudge, but at the same time she is a sycophant always trying to find allies and sucking up to superiors. I’m sure most of us know men and women like this in the world of work or elsewhere. The problem is that these tactics frequently work. Most of us want a quiet life. If I come across Mr Angry on the street I do my best to avoid eye contact. The problem in Scottish politics is that we are confronted with legions of Mr and Mrs Angry lead by the angriest woman of them all. The problem is that they have been indulged. They have been spoiled. No-one dares to stand up to them. It’s time we started daring.We may have to face another Scottish independence referendum. I am sick to my stomach at the prospect. Must we really have to go through all that again? Only this time I suspect it would be much worse. The experience of conflict changes you. The first independence referendum divided Scotland in a way that I could not have imagined previously. The nationalists may enjoy this. They claim that they found the experience inspiring. I did not. There will come a point quite soon when the prize for either side will not be worth having. It will be a permanently divided country whether independent or not. We all learn from each other’s tactics. The SNP chose not to accept the result last time. They just kept fighting. I doubt they would accept defeat next time. Yet they appear to think that if they could win by one vote everyone who disagrees with independence would joyfully accept the result and come together united as one Scotland. This may have been the case last time, but we have learned. We too could campaign to overturn the result at an election or through the courts. But no doubt the SNP calculate that the disagreement of nearly half the population would not matter. They are becoming ever more centralist and authoritarian in government. This would be enough to hold Scotland together under all circumstances like it or not.We do not ask for this fight. We thought that the last battle was decisive. That is what we were told. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes it is necessary to fight over the same ground twice before we can relax knowing our country is safe. If that is how it has to be, so be it. But for goodness sake make this the final battle and let us at least fight it on our own terms and on ground of our own choosing.The reputation of David Cameron is looking worse and worse as time goes on. His greatest tragic flaw was overconfidence. He thought he would win a referendum on Scottish independence easily. After all the SNP were miles behind in the polls. He should never have granted it at all. It was the experience of the campaign that created mass nationalism in Scotland. Cameron should have simply told Alex Salmond that the United Kingdom like every other European country was indivisible and it could not be broken up by a vote. Our historical experience is no different from that of countries like Germany, Italy and Spain. They would not allow the formerly independent countries that make up their constituent parts to vote to break up their country. Why should we?But this is a problem rooted in British history. We have allowed the constituent parts of the UK to continue to maintain a se[...]

How to respond to Nationalist threats

Sat, 11 Feb 2017 07:06:00 +0000

Before finally deciding to campaign for Brexit, Boris Johnson prepared two articles for his regular Telegraph column. The first explained why he was choosing to vote Leave the other why he was choosing to vote for Remain. Many people would see this as a sign that his eventual decision was calculating and based on self-interest. I would hope that most of us make decisions by means of calculating the pros and cons and I would suggest that few indeed are the people that do not at least take into account self-interest when they decide to do anything. Moreover, as events showed the Theresa May route of backing Remain while not doing so enthusiastically was the path more likely to lead to the big prize. The important point however, is that on certain issues people are genuinely torn. I know I was. It is these people who decide elections.The decision in the EU referendum was difficult because of our inability to see into the future. Many British people perhaps didn’t much like the EU, but they could see that there were risks involved in leaving. Voting to stay meant that things would go on more or less the same in the near future. If you thought life wasn’t so bad this had its attractions. What if all the horrible things the Remain campaign predicted turned out to be true? After a few months it is becoming clearer that the sky will not fall in. Of course, we haven’t left yet, but the predictions made by Remain were that the UK would immediately suffer from choosing to leave the EU. The reverse has been the case. There is an important lesson here for Pro UK people. I do not agree with some Scottish commentators that it shows a lack of understanding of the Scottish people for English Tories to suggest that Theresa May should say “No” to a second independence referendum. I think these commentators misunderstand the risk of saying go ahead. Let Nicola Sturgeon have a tantrum. Let the Scottish Nationalists go on demonstrations. Let Scottish opinion be inflamed. So what? Like a toddler on the floor of a supermarket screaming its head off such actions have nowhere to go. If we hold firm, we can block the SNP indefinitely. If we don’t, we might lose our country for ever. Every single European country, plus each member of the Security Council would agree that Theresa May was within her rights to say “No Nicola, you have had your referendum and you will have to wait some years to have another.” British Prime Ministers blocked the desire for an EU referendum for years even though they knew there was huge support for one. George Osborne thought David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum was foolish. Must we really live in a world where we are continually held to ransom by Nicola Sturgeon? If Theresa May has the legal right to say “No” then let her say “No”. The Scottish Parliament does not have control over constitutional matters and therefore cannot have a mandate over such issues. There is nothing remotely undemocratic about saying this is an issue for us not you. This is an issue that was settled decisively only a short time ago. Demonstrate and fume all you like.But until and unless we hear authoritatively that there is not going to be a second independence referendum any time soon we must prepare as if there will be. Many Pro UK people are foolishly optimistic. It’s almost as if they are singing “We’re going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line”. Sorry folks you are completely deluded. We dislike the SNP. We dislike Nicola Sturgeon and think her arguments are poor. But if there were another General Election tomorrow the SNP would still win most of the seats. If there were another Scottis[...]

Theresa May makes Sturgeon look petty and foolish

Sat, 04 Feb 2017 05:32:00 +0000

There is developing an extraordinary difference between Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon. It is impossible to imagine Nicola Sturgeon going to Washington and charming everyone she meets. While May has dignity, character, politeness and obvious intellect, Sturgeon simply doesn’t. May puts her points with force, but not with anger. She is subtle while Sturgeon has the subtlety of a Glasgow handshake. I can’t recall hearing Theresa May make an overt threat. I can’t recall hearing Nicola Sturgeon have a conversation that doesn’t involve a threat. I can’t remember Theresa May ever saying something that could be described as a grievance. She suggests the motto “Never complain, never explain”. The force is in what she doesn’t say. I can’t remember Sturgeon saying anything that didn’t involve a grievance. It’s always someone else’s fault (this is why she is mocked as Elsie).  She is incapable of taking responsibility for anything. It must be tough for Sturgeon to see how Theresa May is doing so well. I don’t remember particularly rating May prior to her becoming Prime Minister. She was just another Tory minister who had not achieved particularly much as Home Secretary. She set out to limit immigration to the tens of thousands and then didn’t campaign for the only method which she knew would achieve that goal. I found her decision to back Remain, but then hardly campaign for it to be lacking in conviction. I would have chosen someone else to be Prime Minister. But May has done much better than expected. Her speech when she became Prime Minister set the tone. Her defence of the UK was most welcome. Her answer to Nicola Sturgeon that the question of Scottish independence has been settled was perfect. She didn’t get angry with Sturgeon. She went up to Edinburgh and didn’t complain when she was made to sit in front of two Scottish flags. It was a matter of indifference to May, something trivial, while the fact that it was so obviously crucial to Sturgeon showed that the SNP leader was trivial, concerned more with appearance than substance. During the EU referendum the Tory party was at war with itself, but May brought peace in a way that perhaps no-one else could have. The Brexiteers were given high ranking positions, the Cameroons were driven into the wilderness and Remain supporters like Philip Hammond and indeed May herself worked hard to make Brexit a reality. While some Remain supporters fought a rear-guard battle to prevent us leaving the EU, May didn’t throw a tantrum à la Sturgeon. Instead she gradually made it happen. Now the rear-guard looks like noise, the sort of thing that is forgotten by history. There was a Supreme Court judgement the other week, but it no longer mattered.Theresa May has turned out to be a lucky Prime Minister. Who could have guessed in June that Winston Churchill’s bust would be back in the Oval office? Who could have guessed that the President of the United States would actually like Britain and would offer us a trade deal? It looks very much as if Theresa May is able to do business with Trump. Her quiet manner works. She doesn’t set out to offend him. Rather she quietly fulfils her diplomatic mission. Trump thought NATO was obsolete, but after a short conversation with Mrs May he is 100% in favour once more. Some European leaders ought to be grateful that a British Prime Minister has been so helpful with their security concerns. It may be that the UK can take on the role of go-between. Could Nicola Sturgeon have achieved so much? Obviously not. What May has demonstrated is that the UK is respected in the world. We have allies. W[...]

How Donald Trump could limit migration more fairly

Sat, 04 Feb 2017 05:32:00 +0000

Most people in modern Britain have little or no experience of visas. Either we don’t need a visa or else it’s straightforward to obtain one by spending a few minutes on a computer.  Most people don’t want to go to the places, like Russia or China, which require visas you have to send away for, but with a little trouble, expense and form filling it’s not that difficult to go to Moscow, Beijing or even Minsk. There are some places that are genuinely tough to visit. Bhutan in the Himalayas makes you pay a $250 tax per day just to go there. They have only relatively recently opened their country to the world at all. They don’t want to be overwhelmed by the modern world and its people. Still with a few exceptions if we have enough money we can visit almost any country in the world. Money opens doors.What we frequently forget in Britain is that huge numbers of people in the world cannot travel where they please for the simple reason that they don’t have enough money to do so. It’s difficult if not impossible for all but the wealthiest Russians to come to the UK. In order to obtain a tourist visa to visit the UK you have to demonstrate that you have enough money to take care of yourself and stay in hotels for the duration of your stay. You have to show that you have a job and property in Russia and that it is likely that you will return. It is easier if you have a UK resident who can sponsor your trip, but the process of obtaining a visa is still expensive, time consuming and far from guaranteed. For the most part it is practically speaking impossible for the average Russian citizen to come to live and work in the UK unless they marry a Brit.Are we then discriminating against Russians? Yes we are. Someone who was born in a part of the Soviet Union that is now Latvia has the right to live and work in the UK by virtue of Latvia being in the EU. Another person who was born a Soviet citizen doesn’t have that right. This might seem unfair, but this is the nature of the world. We don’t allow everyone from the world even to visit the UK because we think that if we did a proportion would overstay or in some other way abuse their visas  We make a distinction between people from some countries who find it easy to visit Britain and people from other countries who find it hard or even impossible to visit. On what basis do we do this? Well generally we favour people from friendly nations and allies. We also favour people from countries with standards of living which are similar to ours. Few Japanese people would want to work illegally in the UK, but lots of Russians would. This is because the standard of living in Japan is similar to the UK, while in Russia it is much lower. The likelihood of someone abusing the visa granted to them is a key part of the calculation of whether the visa is granted or not. We are then already discriminating against the vast majority of citizens in the world. Every Western country does the same. Unless you favour a world without borders, which is very noble of you, but not very practical, then it is necessary to accept that we have to limit the right of most people in the world to travel to the UK.  The Conservative Party for some years has wished to limit immigration to the tens of thousands per year. One of the reasons why the British people voted to leave the EU is that it became obvious that the only way to limit immigration was to leave. You might disagree with attempts to limit immigration, but this in effect is to get rid of borders. Campaign for that if you will, but you will find that the majority disagree with yo[...]

Learning from Leave

Sat, 28 Jan 2017 06:18:00 +0000

In Scotland it’s important that Pro UK people move beyond our disagreements.  Keeping up the pressure on the SNP requires us not to squabble among ourselves.  Whichever way we voted in the EU referendum it’s crucial that we learn the lessons of that campaign. Obviously Remain had good arguments that can be adapted to persuade Scots of the benefits of remaining in the UK, but what may be less obvious is that so did the Leave campaign. We must think clearly about past campaigns and focus on what works.  In this way we will be able to develop arguments that may prevent a repeat of the Scottish independence referendum, or alternatively if the worst happens, to win it.I have made clear on a number of occasions that I don’t think the SNP have a right to break up our country. The issue has been settled. But I am one voice and others such as Ruth Davidson disagree with me. Nicola Sturgeon may ask and she may get. In that case we would have a fight on our hands. Never underestimate your opponent.  History is littered with the example of complacent generals who lost. Campaigns are won with simple messages that are believed. Not everyone follows politics as closely as you do. Not everyone understands every detail. I’m certainly hazy about certain aspects of Scottish devolution, international law and how the EU works. But a Nobel Prize winner in economics gets one vote just the same as the rest of us. During the EU campaign the Leave team realised that detailed discussion of the Single Market baffled most voters. Even most MPs were unclear about the various distinctions between the European Economic Area (EEA), the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) and the EU Single Market. A campaign that got itself bogged down in a debate about the benefits of these various options would be followed only those who already knew about the issues and who had probably decided how to vote already.  What matters in any campaign is to target the message at those who are undecided and who are persuadable. These are people who usually don’t follow politics closely. It was for this reason that the Leave campaign had relatively simple messages:Leaving the EU would mean that we would take back control. Parliament once more would decide everything rather than Brussels. Leaving the EU would save us money. We would no longer have to pay the subscription fee. This was said to be £350 million a week (the gross figure before any rebates and before anything we got back). This looks like a lot of money to most people.Leaving the EU would mean that we could control the level of immigration rather than leave it uncontrolled.These issues were the ones that decided the EU referendum. They were simple and for the most part they were believed. That is why Leave won.Crucially these three issues work for Pro UK people in Scotland. It is, of course, the case that Scotland voted to Remain in the EU. But this has more to do with the political circumstances of Scotland rather than genuinely different attitudes about the fundamental issues. It’s hard to think of a mainstream Scottish Politician living and working in Scotland who voted Leave. Scotland has a far smaller population that England does. Imagine if three new towns were planned in Scotland to take some of the strain from England. Imagine if tax breaks were given to encourage English people to move to these towns. How would the SNP react? Half a million new Scots with English accents might well change the electoral arithmetic. No doubt Nicola Sturgeon would be most welcoming.But what is more important is[...]

Boats against the current,

Fri, 27 Jan 2017 17:32:00 +0000

I can’t remember the last time I bought a newspaper. Perhaps it was when I went on a long train journey. But when was that? Trains have become so expensive that it is nearly always cheaper to fly. I have a picture of myself at various points in time reading print newspapers and getting ink on my fingers. I remember how newspapers were enormous and how there was a knack to folding them so as to make reading manageable. But it isn’t as if I have stopped reading newspapers. I have a series of bookmarks on my browser. Each morning there are a few sites I go to. But when did I last pay to read anything?There was a time a few years ago when nearly every newspaper online was free. It all happened rather quickly. Suddenly something we all used to buy without much thought was free. Perhaps we didn’t buy a newspaper every day, but we did sometimes. But why pay for something that is free? It must have been at this point that I ceased to read newspapers made of actual paper.But this is our problem really, because nothing is free. Neither baby boxes nor newspapers are free. Someone has to pay.Newspapers are companies that pay staff to write. The people who write are called journalists. This is a job just like any other job. People may write for a living because they like writing, but they need to live just like everyone else. Would you do your job for nothing? Perhaps you would. But could you? How would you pay your bills?But how do free newspapers make any money to pay their staff? Well there are adverts. You may notice those things along the top of the page or down the sides. Perhaps you don’t notice, because you’ve got some sort of add blocker installed so that you are not bothered by ads. What a clever idea that is. It’s almost as clever as never watching the advertisements on free television.  Above all we must make sure that we never pay for anything. That way it’s bound to stay free forever.Have you noticed how fewer and fewer online newspapers are free now? The Times hasn’t been free for quite a while. I can only read the odd free article, before they start asking me to pay. Fair enough. But do I pay? No I just don’t read the Times anymore. The Telegraph now has a subscription model too. I can read quite a bit on the site, but most of the comment section is behind a paywall. It’s a pity. I rather miss reading some of my favourite journalists, but do I pay? No. It wouldn’t really be sensible for me to pay, because I can find more than enough alternatives.  Just occasionally I have a look at the Guardian. They don’t have a subscription yet, but they have a begging message at the bottom of each page. No doubt if that doesn’t work they will either go out of business or find some other way of getting readers to pay. The problem is that unless it is absolutely vital to me to read a certain newspaper or commentator I can always find more than enough alternatives. The BBC will always give me the basic news, dull and worthy, but more or less accurate. For comment I can go to sites like The Spectator or Reaction Life. If they started to charge, I could find any number of other sites. The begging bowl approach seems to work best where readers are committed to a cause. I think it must be for this reason that people sometimes make contributions to Bella Caledonia and Wings over Scotland. What are they paying for? What would happen if readers didn’t pay? The great thing about writing for the Internet is that it is completely free. Anyone can decide to set up an account for nothing. All they ha[...]

The front of the queue

Sat, 21 Jan 2017 07:24:00 +0000

One of the best bits from Tim Shipman’s book “All out War” is when he describes David Cameron’s attempt to negotiate some sort of deal with the other EU leaders. The account feels already like another country as if we could look back on those days from a perspective of centuries. But then “the past is foreign country. They do things differently there.” How transient are the political events of a year ago. I had forgotten many of the things that the papers thought at the time were momentous. But then the papers have forgotten them too. Can it really be less than a year ago that Cameron went to Brussels looking for a deal? He might as well have been wearing the clothes of his great grandfather. That world has gone. It is but a dream remembered. The problem that David Cameron had is that he wanted something and others had to decide whether to give it to him or not. He carefully toured round all the various EU countries. But none of this actually mattered. At every point he had to ask the Germans.  There is an appearance [schein] about the EU, but there is also a reality [sein]. When you have to ask for something, what matters is whether the lady from Berlin says Ja oder nein [yes or no]. The Germans calculated that Britain would not vote to leave the EU and most importantly David Cameron would accept whatever they gave him. So they gave him more or less nothing. This is the key lesson for our future relations with the EU. Don’t ask for anything. Luckily it looks as if Theresa May has learned it. The world is different from how it was a year ago in other ways too. There is a long section in Shipman’s book describing how if Britain dared to leave the EU Mr Obama would put us at the back of the queue. Oddly huge numbers of British citizens cheered him on. Thank you Mr Obama. You are too kind. We want to be at the back of the queue. No doubt some people at the time realised that Mr Obama himself would be gone by the time the issue arose, but then everyone must have calculated that the president spoke for all future presidents. It was after all long standing US policy to support the EU. Who could have guessed at the time that we would now have a president who likes Britain, who thinks of himself as in part British and Scottish, and who wants to put Britain at the front of the queue? But still some British citizens are complaining and are desperate that we should go to the back. Is this some sort of masochism or is it an inferiority complex? If you suffer from it I suggest you do what you can to get over it.We all eventually revert to our historical roles. It is for this reason that you should read history. Not to learn from it. No one ever learns from history, but rather to understand where we all are now. Far from being an aberration, Trump is taking the United States back to its natural position. He is reasserting the Monroe Doctrine.Both Franklin Roosevelt in 1940 and Woodrow Wilson in 1916 promised to keep the USA out of European wars. Wilson even used the slogan “America first”. Of course we all know that it didn’t work out that way. But this just expresses the tension in American history. Do we stick to our own continent or do we get involved? After a long period of interventionism the US is going to go back to its natural position. No doubt it will intervene again, but not yet. This changes everything. It also provides Britain with an opportunity. Crucially when Theresa May goes to get her deal with the EU she is willing to walk away. We don’t particularly [...]

Sturgeon just revealed her hand

Sat, 14 Jan 2017 07:21:00 +0000

If you’ve ever played a card game that involves bluffing, you will no doubt be aware that it crucially depends on the players not being able to see each other’s cards. I can pretend that I have four aces only if my cards are hidden. This makes it possible for me to bluff. It also makes it possible for me to win even if I have a very poor hand. Indeed my hand may be worse than yours. It all depends on what I am willing to risk. Nicola Sturgeon has continually been telling everyone for some time that she is not bluffing. But which card player would admit to bluffing? While piling my poker chips ever higher I may suggest that I am not bluffing, but it doesn’t mean that I actually have four aces. The confidence of a poker player may be in inverse proportion to the strength of this hand. The bluff only works because of the apparent confidence.The difficulty with politics as opposed to cards however, is that we can all see each other’s cards. Every little detail is debated endlessly in the papers. During interviews politicians are asked about their intentions. Eventually a pretty clear picture emerges of the cards that are held.Nicola Sturgeon gave the game away last week. Since last June she has been making threats on a daily basis. At one point apparently she contemplated calling an immediate second independence referendum in response to Brexit. But she didn’t. She waited for the polls to show an increase in support for independence. But they didn’t. At first Sturgeon demanded that Scotland must be allowed to both stay in the UK and the EU or else she would demand another independence referendum. Now she demands that Scotland must somehow remain in the EU Single Market even if the UK leaves. But it is becoming ever more apparent that Scotland will not get a special deal and that the UK will not remain in the Single Market. In response to this Sturgeon tells us that there will not be an independence referendum in 2017. I don’t think there should be another independence referendum ever. I don’t believe that the UK Government has an obligation to give in to SNP threats. They certainly don’t have to do so at the moment. The SNP do not have a mandate, not least because independence was barely mentioned during the last Scottish Parliament election. What’s more the SNP did not win an overall majority. But anyway constitutional matters are outwith the remit of the Scottish Parliament. You cannot have a mandate to do something that is outside of your control. Neither Scottish independence nor EU membership are devolved issues. They are therefore quite literally not the business of the Scottish Parliament, nor are they properly speaking the business of the SNP. For reasons that are unclear to me in Britain we allow some people to threaten to destroy our country while spending vast amounts of money on armed forces to protect ourselves against others who want to do likewise. I think Nicola Sturgeon has poor cards. My guess is that she thinks this too. But don’t let’s be overconfident. Her chance of winning is about 50/50. Support for independence rose from 25% to 45% last time. It could certainly rise from 45% to 50.01% if there were a next time. Let us do all in our power to prevent their being a next time. The future of our country cannot amount to a coin toss where we continually must get a head, but if it ever comes down tails we lose forever. No country in the world would accept these odds, nor should we. It is vital that Pro UK people work to c[...]

A new Act of Union

Sat, 07 Jan 2017 08:06:00 +0000

Every now and again someone in Scottish politics pops up and mentions the word federalism. This has become even more frequent since the EU referendum. Apparently the fact that Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain in the EU, while England and Wales voted to Leave has caused a problem that is so enormous that we need to have a new Act of Union, still more powers for Scotland and the other parts of the UK and we need to call this new arrangement federalism. Various models of federalism have been proposed. Some imagine that England ends up with its own parliament others that England is divided into various regions. It strikes me that if England can be split up into regions, then so too could Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  While Scotland has received a great deal of devolution from the UK in the past decades it has also seen a great deal of centralisation within Scotland. I would much prefer to be ruled by a local assembly based somewhere in Aberdeenshire. If it is correct to devolve power to Scotland, why not devolve it to the town level within Scotland?  But it is entirely unclear to me how any of this addresses the issue of the EU. The threat to the UK comes from the SNP. As Scotland voted differently to the UK as a whole, the SNP think this justifies them threatening to leave. Would federalism alleviate this threat?Ever since we began the process of devolution in Scotland we have been promised that giving more power to Scotland will eliminate Scottish nationalism. In fact quite the opposite has occurred. Scottish independence has gained in popularity the more power has been devolved to Scotland. A generation ago we had a constitutional convention that Labour and the Lib Dems promised would solve the problem. It didn’t solve the problem, but rather created it and then made it worse. Next Gordon Brown in response to higher than expected support for Scottish independence vowed to give the Scottish parliament still more powers. He no doubt expected that this too would see off Scottish nationalism. Now Kezia Dugdale promises a new constitutional convention giving Scotland still more powers. This too she, no doubt, hopes will diminish SNP support in Scotland and transfer it to her. It really is time for a period of reflection by Labour. They have frankly done enough damage as it is. They were the first to play the nationalist card when the continually complained about England voting for Thatcher while Scotland voted for Labour. It was this and this alone that gave rise to the modern SNP and the loss of nearly every Labour MP in Scotland. It would be well if Dugdale, Brown and Co. first apologised for the damage that they have done before attempting to do more. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the idea of federalism. It works well in a number of countries. But it doesn’t really address the issue. Scotland already has a similar amount of power to a state in the United States. Would giving Scotland still more power satisfy Nicola Sturgeon? Scottish nationalists greedily gobble up ever little concession of power from Mr Brown etc., but do they ever make a concession in return? They would react in exactly the same way to federalism as they reacted to devolution and “the Vow”. They would take it, bank it, complain that they hadn’t in fact been given anything and then ask for more. Devolution and indeed federalism depends on the idea that some issues are devolved while others are decided centrally. S[...]

The Turning Point

Sat, 31 Dec 2016 07:17:00 +0000

Certain people I know and certain people I read have been describing the past year as something horrible. You only have to go back one hundred years to see how foolish this assessment is. Imagine you had just celebrated Christmas in 1916. There is every chance you would have lost someone during the previous years fighting. What would you have to look forward to in 1917? Well there would be further stalemate on the Western Front. The French Army would reach the limit of what it could take on the Aisne and come quite close to revolution. The Russian people would overthrow autocracy only to have it reimposed in a worse form than before. The British Army would spend all summer and autumn trying to capture a little Flemish village called Passendale and in doing so perhaps reach its lowest point in history. So no, let’s have a little perspective, 2016 was not such a bad year after all. I don’t follow the day to day events at the Scottish Parliament with any real closeness. If I see Nicola Sturgeon on television I have the immediate urge to either turn it off or throw a brick at it. Given that it would be wasteful to destroy televisions, I opt for the former alternative. There was an election last May. The SNP did worse than before. They no longer have a majority. No-one expected this result. We have a long way to go before Scottish politics gets back to normal. But this is the starting point. Far too many Scots at present vote because of identity issues and because they think it is patriotic and Scottish to vote for the SNP. So long as this continues we will have permanent SNP rule. Along with it we will also have corruption and incompetence. Good governance depends on kicking out your rulers from time to time. It also depends on voters choosing one party as opposed to another because of ordinary political issues. So long as the Scottish electorate votes for a party that is only concerned with independence, Scotland will be run poorly. It is becoming ever more obvious that many SNP MPs and MSPs are simply not up to the job. They would never have got near a Parliament if it hadn’t been for their involvement with the independence campaign. Well what do you expect when an electorate elects poorly qualified nobodies?What Scotland desperately needs is an ordinary political debate that is balanced between the moderate centre left and the moderate centre right. At that point we can debate about the economy and how best to make that economy work to the advantage of all of us. We are a long way from this. But the path towards it does not go through continually talking about independence. In time as SNP incompetence becomes ever more apparent we can hope that the Scottish electorate may realise this. Until then we have reached stalemate. Each side faces the other across no-man’s land and there is no end in sight. But just as 1916 was the turning point, so too 2016 may turn out to be the year that in the long run defeated Scottish nationalism. The thing that disappointed me most about 2016 was that we have reached the stage where it is routine for politicians and voters to not accept the result of elections. I thought this was a purely Scottish phenomenon. The SNP were bad losers right from the moment they lost the independence referendum. They campaigned to overturn the result immediately. I thought this was an aberration. But no. Exactly the same thing happened after we voted to leave the EU. Suddenly people wh[...]

Simple gifts

Sun, 25 Dec 2016 06:14:00 +0000

We know what it is like to be divided in Scotland. It is hard even to remember that time from our youths when these divisions did not exist and could not even be imagined. “O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.” Now we have gone through a year of division in the whole of our country. I never thought I would see the day in Britain where people tried to block the result of an election. But it shows how deeply they feel about the loss. So too in Scotland. It’s all too deeply felt, if not always on the surface, then bubbling below and waiting always waiting. Sometimes there cannot be a political resolution. This is the fault of politics. We expect too much from politicians. We somehow think that all will be well if my side of the debate wins, or if my party gets more votes than your party. But none of these things matter. Not really. What has given you the most happiness in the past year? What has caused you the most grief? Think about the people that you know. Someone will have lost a wife or a husband. Someone else will have had a child. Someone got married or met someone special. Someone passed their exam or got the job that they were looking for. Someone else failed. All of the ordinary events that affect our lives have much, much more importance than the result of elections. This is not to be selfish. It is to be human. Our small circle of family and friends are what bring us the gifts that we value. But none of these gifts can be bought.Where I used to live Christmas was more or less ignored officially. The day where everyone celebrated was New Year. The 25th of December was just another working day. New Year had been turned into Christmas except Father Frost was blue and Snegurochka was cold and found it impossible to love without melting. There were New Year trees and there were New Year presents. People had a large New Year meal and sent New Year cards to their friends and acquaintances. I much preferred this way of doing things. Those of us who wanted to mark Christmas did so on the 7th of January (Orthodox Calendar) and this celebration was small scale. No-one made much of a fuss. No-one would be involved except close family. If there were gifts, they were simple gifts.I wish it were that way here. When I walk to my bus I see some houses put up flashing lights from late November onwards. They put them up too early and take them down too early. They have no conception of the twelve days of Christmas, because they think that Christmas starts sometime in late autumn. Why is there a need to demonstrate that you are celebrating Christmas? I think it is because you are not celebrating Christmas at all. The more lights on the house the less thought and feeling there is about what is actually being celebrated.The shops are now shut for one day only. Early on Boxing Day morning you will be able to go to the supermarket again. Yet people will go around the shops on Christmas Eve as if they have to survive a nuclear winter in a bunker. How many times your normal calorie intake can you actually eat without becoming ill? If you start at ten in the morning and keep drinking until midnight how big a headache can you actually create for yourself the next morning? How many people who you only see once a year can you fit into your house? Everyone feels they ought to be having the best time of the year. The duty to be merry is overwhelming. Merry Xmas. The X marks [...]

Game over for the SNP

Sat, 24 Dec 2016 06:59:00 +0000

To give Scotland a different EU status to any other part of the UK would in effect be to give it independence.  It might be the case that the UK would continue to exist in some odd way still technically united, but for how long could such an arrangement last? There may be examples of tiny parts of EU member states having a separate status. You can find an anomaly to cover every situation. But this is all beside the point. The SNP’s argument remains give us a status that amounts to independence or we will ask for another independence referendum. But what is in it for anyone who wants the UK to stay united? Nothing whatsoever. No matter what you give the SNP, they will still want independence. So what has your concession bought? Nothing of substance, only a little time perhaps. Meanwhile by making the bonds of the UK ever looser you have simply made it easier for the SNP to achieve independence in the end. A Scotland that remained part of the Single Market would in time become a rather different place to those parts of the UK that were outside. Different rules would apply in Edinburgh from those in Newcastle. Would it even be workable without monitoring the flow of goods and people at the border? It isn’t even worth looking at the complexities involved as the whole thing is obviously unworkable and designed to be impossible. The SNP just like Austria-Hungary in 1914 have given an ultimatum that they know will be rejected. We don’t know what sort of trade arrangement the UK will have with the EU after Brexit. Whatever we want will depend on the agreement of the EU. Donald Tusk has suggested that being part of the Single Market requires being a part of the EU. This may be contradicted by the example of Norway, but who is to say that the Norway option is even open to the UK. The EU may not wish as large an economy as the UK to have such an arrangement. We just don’t know. It should be possible to trade freely with other countries without being ruled by them. Free trade is in everyone’s interest. We are asking for no more than we are willing to give, but the EU is determined to punish us because we reject their rule. But the whole flaw of the EU, that is becoming ever more apparent, is that it went beyond trade and attempted to join hugely different European countries politically.  It should be possible for similar numbers of Europeans and Brits to live and work in each other’s countries. Again we are asking no more than we are willing to give. But the EU wants to punish us because we think it is unreasonable to give every one of five hundred million EU citizens the automatic right to live in the UK. Moreover, given that the EU has no effective border control with the rest of the world, they want us in effect to give unrestricted rights of migration to practically everyone who can get into Europe. With regard to both trade and immigration the EU wants much more from us than we want in return. Owing to the fact that Britain wants relatively little from the EU, it should be possible to come up with a deal that is in the interests of everyone. But the EU is determined to make an example of Britain, otherwise everyone would want to leave. It is for this reason that it is folly to tell the EU that we want this or that sort of deal, because they would immediately attempt to exact a high price. The only way to get what is best for the UK is t[...]

We have the chance to kill off Scottish nationalism

Sat, 17 Dec 2016 08:12:00 +0000

Just after the Brexit vote I came back from holiday and found a string of messages from Pro UK people. They were worried. Nicola Sturgeon was continually on the television complaining about something or other. Far from encountering systematic bias from the BBC, she was getting encouragement. At least she wasn’t one of those dreadful Brexiteers. People were asking me where have you been. Some were angry that I had encouraged them to vote to leave the EU. Look what you’ve done. The pound will soon be worth nothing. The markets are going to crash. We’re all going to lose our jobs and we’re not going to have a Prime Minister for months. Nicola Sturgeon is going to call a second independence referendum and she’s going to win it. It’s all your fault. There is something feverish about news at the moment. It must be to do with it being on all the time. They have to fill up the time with something. When there is a plane crash there are endless interviews with experts who know absolutely nothing about what has happened. When there is a budget there are continual speculations about what will be in it. Why not just wait a few hours and find out? Well so too with the EU referendum. There was endless noise. Much of it was just people complaining about the result and signalling that they were not and never had been a Brexiteer. Scotland didn’t vote to stay in the EU, nor did England and Wales votes to leave. None of these places are members of the EU. Try counting the members if you are unsure. Scotland is no more  a member of the EU than is Aberdeenshire or Antrim. When the Scottish Assembly was established it was on the basis that it had power over certain matters and didn’t have power over certain other matters. That is what the majority of people in Scotland voted for. Foreign affairs have never been devolved. International relations take place between independent sovereign nation states. Many people in Scotland would prefer that Scotland was such a state. But again we had a vote on this and they lost. The endless noise from Nicola Sturgeon is based on a simple mistake. It is of course a deliberate mistake. She thinks that if she acts as if she were the leader of a sovereign independent nation state she is more likely to become one. But really Scottish nationalists ought continually to be reminded of a simple matter of logic. You cannot become what you already are. If you already are independent, why are you campaigning for it? But then Sturgeon’s grievance collapses. She is complaining about something that was never within her remit and which the electorate in Scotland has more than once decided not to give her the power to control. Until and unless Scotland becomes independent it will not be able to have foreign relations with other sovereign independent nation states.  Most news and most comment about news is trivial. The reason for this is that most news will be forgotten a year from now. Political comment likewise is usually of no consequence. There was endless comment during the last General Election about what would happen if there were a hung Parliament. Today there is a lot of noise about Theresa May’s trousers. Nicola Sturgeon’s talking head after the Brexit vote was of no more consequence than these lederhosen. It is vital to see through the day to day noise and try to think about long term co[...]

The SNP have reached the end of their day

Sat, 10 Dec 2016 06:51:00 +0000

Something rather interesting just happened to Scottish politics, but I’m not sure anyone noticed. There is so much comment and speculation about day to day political events that there is a tendency to miss the essential. The complexity gets in the way of our ability to see the simplicity.  The SNP just did something very foolish indeed. The odd thing is that they apparently are not aware of this fact. I began this blog when it became apparent that there was going to be a referendum on Scottish independence. At that point almost no-one in Scotland was much interested. It took a very long time indeed for me to build an audience. Mostly I was writing for myself and those few on either side who could see that the debate was building into something much larger. It was good practice. If you want to improve your writing just write more often. I wrote all those articles however, because I thought that the Scottish independence referendum would be decisive and that it would end the discussion once and for all. It was for this reason only that I wanted to win. It seems impossibly naïve now as if I was taking part in an egg and spoon race. I had thought that if you don’t cross the line first or if the egg falls off the spoon, then you lose. Since September 2014 I have put away childish things. I have learned that defeat in elections does not mean that you lose. I have learned that in Scotland time flows so quickly that a generation lasts only a day. It is as if we really did live in Brigadoon. I rather expect Nicola Charisse to burst into song and dance with a dodgy accent and for Gene Salmond to endlessly go on about the heather on the hill. But what they both are unaware of is that it really is the end of their day. In London there has been a court case where someone who did not like the Brexit result has been arguing that the UK Government does not have the right to leave the EU without asking Parliament first. A number of very important judges, every single one of whom also did not like the Brexit result, have been deliberating impartially. Studying law means that you can rise above all prejudices in such a way that you are able to decide matters with pure reason. In this way you rise above the ordinary masses in a manner that they just cannot quite grasp not having had the benefit of studying law. The SNP have also been involved in this court case. They have been arguing that because leaving the EU will have an impact on Scotland then the Scottish Parliament should also have a vote. Apparently this court case is momentous.  We are supposed to wait for the judgement as if it was being given by Solomon himself. But no-one seems to have noticed that someone has run off with the baby. There is no case, because there is no baby. The SNP will no longer be able to play divide and rule. They will not be able to cut Britain in half, because they have just made the means by which they wish to do so obsolete. The other day the UK Parliament had its say about Brexit. It wasn’t the final vote. There will be other votes. There will be more complexity. But in essence we can be more or less sure that by the end of March the UK will tell the EU that we are leaving. Apparently they don’t know yet. The UK Government will have to give Parliament a plan. But in negotiations a plan is never much more than [...]

To see ourselves as others see us

Sat, 03 Dec 2016 05:25:00 +0000

There is a stuffy consensus in Scotland. There always has been. Perhaps it has to do with the Presbyterian idea of the elect. We are exceptional. We are different. Wha’s like us. It makes our newspapers exceptionally dull, because almost no-one questions the assumptions which are shared even by political opponents. Ruth Davidson, Nicola Sturgeon, Kezia Dugdale and the Liberal who no-one now remembers may shout at each other and sometimes even pretend to be rude, but they are best friends really. It’s like a cosy little student union debate. They disagree of course, but they all share each other’s assumptions. I have always preferred heresy. Some of the most interesting ideas are heretical. With a different turn of events they may have become orthodoxy. It’s always worth questioning everything. In this way you just might arrive at the truth. It is a truth universally acknowledged in Scotland that Robert Burns is our greatest writer. I think Walter Scott is incomparably more important. But Scott was a Tory and could write about both Scotland and England with sensitivity, understanding, love and truth. Without Scott the history of the novel is quite different, because others throughout the world first imitated him and then reacted against that legacy.One of the biggest problems in Scotland is our lack of understanding of both our own history and the history of other places. Waverley is now no more than a train station and so we have lost touch with the complexity of the reaction of Scott’s readers.  They could both support Charles Edward Stuart’s adventure while being pleased that he failed. Now our history is more cartoon like and single dimensional. We have given up reading and prefer to get our history from films where people paint their faces blue. Some of us even imitate this practice.But although I prefer Walter Scott, Robert Burns has some moments of brilliance:O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us! It wad frae mony a blunder free us, An' foolish notionWe are so stuck in our cosy little consensus in Scotland that we are not even aware of how others see the situation.Language is not a solitary thing. What was learned from Ludwig Wittgenstein is that a solipsistic idea of language is not really even conceivable. For instance the word “red” is learned by my describing things like post boxes as red. My mother and other people correct me if I describe grass as red. They do this correcting without being able to get inside my mind. What is going on in my mind is irrelevant and drops out of the equation. What matters is how I use the word “red” and that I use it in a way that is consistent with other people. Language is social, because that is how it is learned. But what have we learned in the few months since June? We have learned that in Scotland we use certain words in way that is peculiar to us. It is as if we maintain that grass is red. Nicola Sturgeon’s grievance was that Scotland didn’t vote for Brexit. Well so what? In any democracy parts vote differently to the whole. But that is not really her grievance. Her complaint is that Scotland is a country and we didn’t vote for Brexit. This is the essence of her argument. She thinks that Scotland ought to be independent because in the European Union referendum we [...]

Our Scottish president

Sat, 26 Nov 2016 07:54:00 +0000

The left lost the economic battle when the Berlin wall came down. No-one after that could take socialism seriously as a way of running an economy. Given the chance people living in a socialist society will vote with their feet. Of course there are those who are either too young or too stuck in their ways to learn this lesson. But there are not enough of them. Hard line socialists like Jeremy Corbyn and friends exist, but unless something odd happens they are not going to be running anything any time soon. Of course odd things are happening in politics at the moment, but let us at least hope that Europe has seen the end of Marxist economics. The left however has been fighting a different battle for the past fifty years or so. They have stepped up this battle since communism ceased to be a serious option. Moderate people on the left realised that capitalism was the only game in town and so they tried to modify it and make it fairer. But capitalism works precisely because it is not socialism. Adding socialistic ideas to capitalism doesn’t improve it, because the driving force of capitalism is the incentive provided by inequality. Take away the incentive and you take away the growth. This is why in the end voting for Labour always makes people poorer. Free markets are the way to bring people out of poverty. They have brought more people out of poverty than all the socialists put together. I think some people on the Left began to realise this too. So they put their energy into other causes. The Left in this way ceased to be about economics at all.The real battle hasn’t been going on in parliaments, it’s been going on in universities and in newspapers and on television. There has been an attempt by the Left over the past fifty years to change how people think and then to enforce that change. The left always depends on changing human nature, but this can only be done by force and re-education. This is the case with all cultural revolutions, not just those that occur in China. Sometime in the 1990s I was at a conference reading a paper. I used standard English grammar and used the word “He” to stand for non-gender specific persons. Suddenly I found some American vehemently objecting not to the subject of my paper but to my using the word “He”. I told him that I found the alternatives ungrammatical and he walked out of the room muttering something about prejudice. At this point the way I studied and wrote was quite traditional. The subjects that I was interested in, philosophy, theology and Russian literature were still studied more or less how they had been fifty years previously. Politics didn’t really enter into the discussion. But gradually, year by year, more and more this began to change.Soon new ways of looking at the subjects that I studied became obligatory. Some people thought we should write from the perspective of feminism. Others considered that a post-colonial perspective was more essential. Others still used queer theory. It might have been interesting to read one or two books from such perspectives, but soon nearly everything had to be written from a political perspective. The trouble was that this perspective was always from the Left and you were not allowed to disagree with it. Anyone who questioned the central tenets o[...]

My offer is this, nothing

Sat, 19 Nov 2016 05:40:00 +0000

Many Scottish nationalists are impatient and permanently angry.  The hundreds of thousands who joined the SNP after losing the referendum in 2014 are both a blessing and a curse. Of course, they are better than the alternative. Remember when there was the idea that the SNP would somehow fade away after losing the referendum. This didn’t happen for a reason. It wasn’t because of any sort of betrayal. It also wasn’t because of what David Cameron said after Scotland voted No. The reason for the surge in SNP support was because the nationalist genie had been let out of the bottle in Scotland. Ordinary Scottish patriotism that has always existed was turned into the desire for independence by the campaign. This is the strength of the SNP’s argument.For all of my life most Scots were perfectly content to express our Scottish patriotism within the context of being a part of the UK. No-one much thought there was anything odd about this. We might cheer on Scotland at rugby or football. We might sing Scottish songs or recite Scottish verse. It wasn’t political. Now it is political. The Scottish independence campaign gave those Scots who came to support independence a taste for something quite different. Now their patriotism was not merely about cheering Scotland from the terraces though it still included that, now it was something much more substantial. They say that once someone has discovered the delights of ἀνθρωποϕαγία [anthropophagia] everything else tastes bland. Well so too with patriotism. Why settle for Scottish country dancing when you have tasted the forbidden fruit of nationalism. This is why nationalism is the most powerful card that can be played in politics. If I am patriotic about Scotland and I have glimpsed just over the horizon the promised land of independence, why wouldn’t I desire it with all my heart? Why would I settle for anything less? Any other food will have lost its savour for me.But this is where the SNP have a problem. Their supporters especially those with the zeal of the convert continually require red meat to be thrown to them. They have eaten it. They came so close they could taste victory. It was theirs. It was within their grasp, just one more heave and they were there. But what if they were not destined to see the promised land? What if it wouldn’t be for another ten years, another twenty? What if it wouldn’t be for ever?There is an inherent impatience in Scottish nationalism. We came so close. In fact it really wasn’t that close, but we can allow them their little self-deceptions. They can’t bear the idea that they might have to wait even another five years, let alone a generation. This is not because they are so desperately concerned to start beginning the fairer, gentler Scotland that they all pretend to dream about. Scottish nationalism has little indeed to do with creating any sort of Scotland other than a Scotland that is independent. If I said to Nicola Sturgeon that she could have her independent Scotland, but it would be ruled by Donald Trump's son for the next fifty years, she would grab it in a second. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Scotland voting one way and England voting another way. Scottish nationalists would want independence eve[...]

A refusal to mourn

Sat, 12 Nov 2016 06:17:00 +0000

This week we remember in particular the dead from the two World Wars. It is right and proper that we should do so. We must always remember that they died for Britain. If we do not remember what they fought for how can we really remember them. If we know nothing of the conflicts in which they fought how also can we remember? Where then would be the substance of our memory? We would not really then be remembering them, but rather indulging in something that was merely about us. Please wear a poppy with pride, but it would be better to read a book about the First World War than to wear a poppy commemorating a conflict you know nothing about except clichés. I remember, but I refuse to mourn. Every soldier who took part in the First World War would be dead now anyway.  What have they lost? They lost some years of life. But are those years of real consequence? Does it really matter if a soldier died when he was twenty or survived and lived to be ninety? The result is the same. I have followed the anniversaries of the First World War in real time. In 2014 I went through the July Crisis. In September I reflected on the Marne and how the Germans just might have won if they had gone for it. In 2015 I paused at Neuve Chapelle and then again at Loos. This year I spent time thinking about Verdun and on July 1st I found myself crying because of the Newfoundland Regiment and how there were no more young men left in Newfoundland after that day. But still I refuse to mourn. There is a difference between how those young men died and how most of us die today. There is a difference between the morality of today and that morality that nearly every soldier took for granted one hundred years ago. The way they fought and the sacrifice they made depended on what they believed. But most of us no longer believe.Faith in Britain has collapsed and has been replaced with a new religion. We worship in surgeries and in hospitals and our gods are called doctors. What matters to us is longevity. If only I can put off death for as long as possible. I will do exercises. I will have check-ups. I will not smoke nor will I drink to excess. By giving up everything I may live to be one hundred. But for what? For pleasure? Simply for the years stretching ahead? Just to avoid the alternative?In 1950 medicine was not so accomplished. I may have smoked and drunk, I may have eat pretty much what I wanted. With luck I would have lived to be seventy. On average I could have expected those years. But lots of people still lived to be eighty or ninety, some even more. So with all our advances in medicine since 1950, what really have I gained? A few more years. Those years I may spend alone, or in a nursing home or having lost my mind to Alzheimer’s. Our new religion gives us longevity. The high priests tell us what to give up and what to do, so that we can dribble while not even being aware of who we are. This is a religion without a purpose and without a point. No-one wants to die. The soldiers of the Great War did not want to die, but they were willing to make their sacrifice because in the end there was no loss. Now when someone loses their life they lose everything. Clint Eastwood puts it well “It's a hell of a thing, ain't it[...]