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Lily of St. Leonards

some thoughts mainly on Scottish politics

Last Build Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2017 00:24:17 +0000


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 that the right of Serbia to maintain its territorial integrity supersedes Kosovo’s right to leave.  Does Catalonia have a right to a referendum on independence? No. Catalonia is a part of Spain in the same way that Crimea is a part of Ukraine. It doesn’t matter if the[...]

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 think that marriage was ordained by God, but instead was created by human beings, why should you want to be part of it at all? Why not just live together?The whole point of marriage and the reason it developed in our country as it did is to regulate our natural instincts a[...]

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 writing about I have spent the whole summer trying to explore the fundamentals of politics. Our problem is that we have turned equality into a God that must be worshipped at all costs. It means that whenever we face a situation that requires discrimination we fail to disc[...]

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 as scary as possible. The worst thing about this is that it is all mere contingency. What if at some point Scotland had an economic surplus? Should we then all vote for independence? The "Better Together" strategy amounts to praying for Scotland to remain poor and depende[...]

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 order to trade freely with them. But here’s the deal. I would prefer not to trade with them at all than be forced to do bend to the will of the EU. I don’t think Brexit will be nearly as tough economically as some people predict, it may even be such that we barely notic[...]

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 adds to what we already know about the poet’s intention of working on a slave plantation in Jamaica. The hypocrisy of Burns is fully shown. While he was willing to write The Slave's Lament he had less than enlightened views about black people and used words about them th[...]

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 Union the Left everywhere has accepted that the economic battle was lost. The task was to modify the free market as much as possible so as spend as much of the proceeds of growth as you could. Meanwhile the Left put all its energies into the cultural battle, which can perhap[...]

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 countries of Eastern Europe. We know a smattering of history. A few tsars have filtered into Western consciousness. We are aware vaguely of Polish partitions and of good king Wenceslas stepping out. Not a few of us have read some Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. We watch Swan Lake and the [...]

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 anywhere it pleases to secede from its present nation state and join Russia? The answer to this of course is no. Whatever the history, whoever lives there, Crimea is part of the sovereign nation state called Ukraine. Only with the consent of the Ukrainian Government can par[...]

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 be that way, but EU attempts to punish Britain for Brexit are liable to end up punishing the EU. If Canada can trade freely with the EU while remaining a sovereign nation state, then so too can Britain. You either help that to happen or you don’t. I understand that the [...]

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 the Allies decisively defeated the German Army in the field. But they didn’t do out of the blue. They did so because of the battles that had gone before. Without these, there would have been no victory in 1918. I tire of commemorations that show zero understanding of the [...]

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 a thing by qualities that are merely accidental. Many subjects are filled with jargon and with theorising that pretends to explain but actually seeks to confuse. This is especially the case with economics. It is this above all that makes it so dismal. It is vital to strip[...]

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 being forced to share with those who are less talented, weaker and unintelligent. Some may choose to share, but the majority will not. It is human nature to seek advantage for yourself and your family. Human nature as it is will never lead to utopia. The Left therefore has to[...]

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 business of her employer. There was an element of risk in setting up her own business. There was the cost of equipment and the risk that she would not be able to find customers. She had to manage the accounts by herself and deal with some complex government rules and regulat[...]

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 that governed society were rather suddenly thrown off. The reason was that for the first time in history it was possible to have sex without having to worry about having children. This was the game breaker. Consensual sex between adults ceased to be a moral issue and beca[...]

The SNP goal is receding into the distance

Sat, 01 Jul 2017 06:33:00 +0000

Did anything happen this week of consequence? Nicola Sturgeon turned up in the Scottish Parliament and said something about delaying indyref2. If this meant that we would have this referendum in a couple of years’ time, then what she said would have been of small consequence. What does it fundamentally matter if we have to go through all that divisiveness again in one year or two or even three? But the moment has passed when Sturgeon’s latest threat matters very much or indeed her withdrawal or delay of her threat. It is this that matters far more than anything she might or might not have said.The biggest problem we have in Scottish politics, apart from the continual threat implicit or explicit to break up our country, is that there is an almost complete lack of understanding on the part of the anti-SNP opposition of what helps us oppose the SNP and what hinders us. There is a lack of understanding of the fundamentals which means that even our success happens more or less accidentally. The Scottish establishment, which includes nearly all journalists and nearly all politicians, agree with Nicola Sturgeon about nearly everything. This is particularly the case with Labour. SNP and Labour supporters agree with each other on nearly everything apart from independence. They each want to spend more public money and give more power to Scotland. They each think that the root of all evil begins with T and ends with ories. Even Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives agree with Sturgeon about many things, but most especially about the EU.  Davidson apparently thinks that the increase in Conservative support in the past two years is due entirely to the outstanding nature of her campaigning and the fact that her Scottish Conservatives are far nicer than the English variety. There may indeed be something in this. She has her merits. But she is also missing something. Big changes in political support are not so much due to the personality of politicians as fundamental changes in society. Ruth Davidson still thinks that voting for Brexit was a disaster and if we really must leave the EU we must leave as little as possible. This means that she essentially doesn’t grasp why Pro UK support in Scotland has been rising and support for independence has been falling. The trouble is that hardly anyone else in the Scottish establishment gets this either. It is for this reason that much that is written keeps missing the point or rather is even unaware of the point that is missed. As I have been arguing since well before the EU referendum it is crucial to understand that Brexit makes the Pro UK argument easier and the SNP case harder. I have listed the reasons for this previously at some length. Really what else of fundamental significance has happened in the past two years? Do people think that all those SNP supporters just deserted their party because they got tired of them? No. Even if Scottish journalists can rarely see it, ordinary Scots came quickly to realise that leaving the EU was going to be one of those life changing events. It added uncertainty in a way that hardly anything else has done in the past decades. Well there is only so much uncertainty that most people want to deal with. How about adding the uncertainty of breaking up our country? How do you fancy both leaving the EU and leaving the UK? Scottish independence became “Operation Market Garden 2”. Nicola Sturgeon’s plan amounted to parachuting behind enemy lines, dodging crack SS divisions and capturing and holding a bridge while armed only with red berets. Sorry Nicola we tried that. It was called a bridge too far. Ordinary Scots now view indyref2 as something for fa[...]

We must learn to be British again

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 04:46:00 +0000

Something happened to Britain in the past fifty years or so. We were famous for not making a fuss no matter what happened and we were famous for not showing emotion. When Lord Uxbridge had his leg shot off at Waterloo, he is said to have remarked casually to the Duke of Wellington that it seemed he had lost his leg. The Duke equally casually agreed with him. Both were unruffled, neither showed much emotion.  It doesn’t matter if this story is true, because it used to express something about the British character that was true. Until relatively recently in history death was all around us. There was a fairly high chance that a woman would die in childbirth. If she did not die, a high proportion of her children would either in infancy or from a one of the childhood diseases that still had not been cured. There were also many killer diseases that could strike at any time in adulthood. Many illnesses that can be easily cured today were simply a death sentence even fifty or sixty years ago. British civilians and soldiers alike risked death in the two World Wars on a scale that few can even comprehend today. Most of them did so willingly and if asked how they were doing would say something like “mustn’t grumble”. We have access to this attitude in some of the films of the period. British heroes are depicted as downplaying any heroism. Death is taken in its stride and the only sign of emotion is a slight change in voice and just a hint of an alternation of expression. Grief was felt, but not in public. It seems like another world now, this Britain with its impossibly posh accents. But if you watch Celia Johnson in This Happy Breed (1944) you see how people used to be. It may seem callous. A mother informed of a death chokes up for a second and then thanks the person who took the trouble to tell her. She goes on as before and maybe offers to make some tea. Whatever she is feeling is barely shown. We can only guess at the depth.  But this was the British character. It was this that meant that we kept going when times were tough. Unfortunately it is something that many of us lost somewhere, or perhaps never even had.There have been rather a lot of terrible events recently. We have had terrorist attacks and now a horrible fire that has killed people in a cruel and unexpected way. Who thinks that such a thing is possible when they go to their bed?But some perspective is necessary. We have done much to make the world safer. One hundred years ago the world of work was much more dangerous than it is today. Our homes too were much more likely to kill us. We risked illness from unrefrigerated food. Quality control did not exist and health and safety was unknown. Life expectancy was massively lower than today. There have always been disasters. No doubt there always will be. Ships sink, planes crash, cars have accidents. We work hard to minimise risk, but we cannot eliminate it. Unfortunately mistakes are made. It is human to make mistakes. Which of us does not make many of them every day?Whenever something bad happens today there are two reactions, something must be done and someone must be blamed. The “something must be done” mentality usually leads to something being done quickly and without much thought. Often it therefore does not help, sometimes it makes the situation worse. The “someone must be blamed” mentality frequently leads to injustice.Who is to blame for the fire in Grenfell Tower? We don’t really know yet. There will be an inquiry which may or may not find out. It may turn out that a faulty fridge caused the fire. If the person had replaced this fridge or perhaps not bo[...]

The frostbite of her hopes

Sat, 17 Jun 2017 03:48:00 +0000

In the aftermath of an election emotions are high, levels of spin even higher and judgement barely there at all. Politics in Britain has become uncertain. This is the third election in a row in which we have woken up to a surprise and not only one surprise but sometimes a multiple of surprises. There is a lot of noise. Everyone is trying to manoeuvre. Contradictory views are leaked to the press. Journalists are briefed behind the scenes and then when they write up the story, it is denied sometimes profanely. But no doubt the purpose is achieved by both the story and the denial. The Prime Minister receives messages of support that are not always sincere and may well be as dangerous as being called a “Dead woman walking”. In fact the support may well be far more dangerous because, after all,  George Osborne resigned his seat a few weeks ago and so is as much a figure of the past as David Cameron or indeed Harold MacMillan. Perhaps it is for this reason that he is being so nasty, or else maybe it is just because he is nasty. I always imagined poor George with a waxed moustache about to tie some lady to the railway tracks. He rather revelled in his nastiness just a touch too much. But for all her faults, the lady he wants to run over with a train actually became leader, won 42% of the vote and could still achieve what she set out to do, which is rather more than being editor of the London Evening Standard.Theresa May has been battered, but it is perfectly possible that she will be Prime Minister for the next four or five years and successfully get Britain out of the EU with a good deal. If she does that, she will have won two crucial battles decisively and will be closer to touching greatness than any Prime Minister since Thatcher.Two years ago the SNP won 56 of the 59 Scottish seats and 50% of the vote. It was the share of the vote that was most worrying. I can live with the SNP winning all the seats. So long as either Labour or the Conservatives win a majority at Westminster it matters little how many seats the SNP win. You can’t form a Government with 59 seats. But 50% of the vote turns an independence referendum into a coin toss.We know how the SNP play on the emotions of ordinary Scots, how they play the nationalist/patriotic card and exploit our sense of weakness as the perpetual victim of the wicked English. With 50% of the vote and another long independence campaign to look forward to in the next two or three years Nicola Sturgeon must have thought she was almost there.For any battle however it is necessary to have a strategy. The SNP developed theirs and it must have seemed certain to succeed. Sturgeon needed a reason to call for a second independence referendum and then she needed the support to force it through. The reason as always was a grievance. England would do something wicked, while Scotland would do something virtuous. Saint Nicola would then come to rescue Scotland from England’s clutches. I don’t think anyone really expected the UK to vote to leave the EU last summer, just as hardly anyone expected Jeremy Corbyn to win 40% of the vote and nearly become Prime Minister. Perhaps he will do it yet. But what sort of odds would you have got on this happening two years ago? Sturgeon though had developed a strategy to take advantage of the unexpected. She made it clear that she would consider a vote to leave the EU as justifying a second independence referendum. Scotland voted to Remain while England and Wales voted to Leave. I’ll always wonder how many of the SNP supporters who voted Leave actually wanted to ditch the EU. I’m sure some [...]

Bursting the SNP bubble

Sat, 10 Jun 2017 06:04:00 +0000

A few months ago there were two main strategic challenges facing Britain. How to leave the EU successfully and how to keep our country intact? There are in addition, of course, the usual challenges facing any government. How to keep the economy growing? How to earn more than we spend? How to keep our people safe? Other unexpected challenges will arise from time to time. But these challenges are different in kind from the two main ones. Leaving the EU and keeping our country intact are existential challenges. They involve the nature of our country's existence. Some people thought that leaving the EU might cause the break-up of the United Kingdom. Many Remain campaigners saw this as one of the main arguments for staying in the EU. Some apparently Pro UK writers have been terribly pessimistic ever since last June. Scotland voted to Remain, Nicola Sturgeon and indeed Alex Massie were very angry, therefore Scotland would soon be independent. We were doomed. I gave up reading this sort of stuff. It was all too depressing.The problem with most political journalism is that it is far too short term. It thinks that the day to day affairs at Westminster or Holyrood matter. They don’t. No-one much follows what happens and no-one much cares about the day to day trivia. What matters is long term strategy and getting to the essence of the issue. Leaving the EU is keeping our country intact. The threat from Nicola Sturgeon even two or three months ago looked real and imminent. The Scottish Parliament voted to hold a second independence referendum and if it had been held I have no idea who would have won. I think it would have been very close indeed. Campaigns are very uncertain things as we have just found out. A big lead can be lost. People get caught up in the heat of the moment. We might have lost in 2014. We might have lost in 2018. But the moment passed. The moment of greatest danger is already behind us. Whatever her faults, I will always be grateful to Theresa May for standing up to Nicola Sturgeon. If she had not done so, then I do not think we would have had the result we had yesterday. Nationalism in Scotland is probably always going to be with us. But it can be kept manageable or it can be unleashed with all its force. Now it looks to be going into a decline. Let us hope that this continues for Scottish nationalism has the power to divide not only the UK but Scotland too. I think it is this above all that the Scottish electorate sensed. The SNP are being punished for the fact that the 2014 was so unpleasant for so many of us. It was bitter and traumatic. The majority of the electorate will vote for anyone to avoid a repeat of the experience. But more than this it was voting the EU that concentrated minds. Scottish independence fundamentally depended on the UK remaining a part of the EU. Voting to Leave was the condition for the possibility of defeating the SNP. Paradoxically not getting what Scotland wanted in the EU referendum destroyed the SNP argument. The UK outside the EU looks an awfully lot more independent than Scotland within it. This is why so many SNP supporters voted to Leave. But they too misunderstood how this fundamentally destroyed their position. Scotland is tied to the other parts of the UK in terms of history, family, and economic relations. Brexit and Scottish independence would sever those ties and put us on radically different paths. It would put a chasm between Scotland and England. It made Nicola Sturgeon and all her threats look fanatical. She does not care whether Scottish independence would damage Scotland jus[...]

Tipping the SNP out

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 05:15:00 +0000

I’m a Conservative, but above all else I’m a Unionist. Party politics is a matter of ups and downs. Our country is a different matter. I would gladly accept any defeat for the Conservatives if it made our country safer. It looks as if the Conservatives are going to lose their overall majority. But the result in Scotland is beyond all expectations. I’ll take that. I’ve hardly talked about the SNP during the campaign. This was quite deliberate. Scotland’s place in the UK would only really be secure when we brought ordinary politics back to Scotland. Scottish Conservatives should be battling against Labour and the Lib Dems and vice versa. We should be talking of the issues that affect day to day life, not whether we want to break up our country. Perhaps we are now going to be able to do that. The SNP have lost their leader in Westminster (Angus Robertson). They have lost the former leader of their party (Alex Salmond). Big chunks of Scotland have turned blue. Scottish independence looks much less likely than it did a year ago. It looks much less likely than it did yesterday.I remember last summer how Nicola Sturgeon made threats after the EU referendum. Independence must have seemed so close to her that she could almost taste it. But in fact the moment had already passed. I had been arguing for some time that Brexit would make the SNP’s task harder. I think it has turned out to be the game changer. The UK is still going to leave the EU. All the attempts to stop it have failed. But the fundamental position is this. It makes no sense for Scotland to be in a different trading bloc to the UK. If the UK as a whole leaves, then Scotland must leave too. Moreover leaving the EU is going to be disruptive enough. No-one in Scotland apart from the fanatics wants to add further disruption. Sturgeon gained the adulation of her own party and was treated like a mini goddess. She gained the cheers and the tears of the faithful who wanted merely to touch the hem of her dress in order to be healed. But it went to her head. She confused the rapture she met from the devoted with support in the country at large. She promised more than she could deliver, she threatened more than was in her power. When she threatened she thought she was damaging the Pro UK cause, but in fact each threat amounted to her digging a hole that became eventually deep enough to bury her hopes. SNP support is now on the slide. We can expect this to continue. The next time there is an election in Scotland it will be a red/blue battle. The Conservatives and Labour are going to gain in strength over the next few years. It is hard to imagine that the SNP will gain another overall majority at Holyrood anytime soon. There is a tipping point in Scottish politics. Those Scottish nationalists who supported the SNP because they despaired of Labour winning a majority in the UK as a whole will begin to realise that their best chance of getting “socialism” is to vote Labour. The “socialism in one country” (Scotland) strategy depends on it being credible that the SNP will win independence. Once it becomes clear that voting for the SNP won’t bring independence, then it becomes obvious that Scottish voters hoping for left-wing politics must look elsewhere. It may well be that we have passed this tipping point. It will take a while for the nationalists to accept this. They may flail around for a while. But I would expect Scotland now to revert to normal politics. Do you want the Left the Right or the Centre? At that point we will be safe. Nationally the ele[...]


Sun, 04 Jun 2017 06:41:00 +0000

 I wake up once more to find that there has been a terrorist attack in Britain. It’s the second in a few days. Is it the third or the fourth this year? How many such attacks have taken place in Europe in the past two or three years? I’ve lost count. Events are unfolding. Perhaps I should say nothing. But now is not the time for silence. Now is the time for some clear thinking.This is not acceptable. The timing of these attacks is not accidental. They are an attack on our democracy. I have no idea what is going to happen next with our election, but I know what should happen. We should keep on campaigning and we should hold it on June the 8th.We must not accept these attacks as an inevitable part of modern life that we just have to get used to. We must do whatever it takes to stop them. Do not try to justify terrorism. The people who hate us do not need any more justification than that they hate us. It is vital that we start calling a thing what it is. It’s no good calling the same action terrorism if it happens in London or Manchester, but the actions of “militants” if it happens elsewhere in the world. The people who hate us have the same ideology whether the attack is in Syria, Iraq, Israel or France. Don’t side with people who hate us. The battle is the same battle everywhere. The terrorist who blows himself up in Jerusalem agrees with the terrorist who blows himself up in Manchester. The cause is the same. If you agree with either you are part of the same problem. We must invest more money in our armed forces and in our security services. The threat to the West is at least as great as the one we faced in the 1940s and during the Cold War. It is a different kind of threat, of course, but it must be treated just as seriously. It may require a combined and concerted effort by all countries which are threatened in order to defeat an ideology that wants to destroy our way of life.In the 1940s our fight was against Nazism, during the Cold War our fight was against communism. Our fight was not against the populations living under these ideologies, but against those who believed in them. We must make the same distinction today. Ordinary Germans were victims of Nazism. More ordinary Muslims have been killed by radical Islam than anyone else in the world. We share the same cause then and the same enemy. We must never support any form of terrorism. I don’t care what your cause is. I don’t care how just you think it is. If you blow yourself up or commit other acts of terrorism I oppose both you and your cause.  Terrorism breeds terrorism and it’s getting worse. While in the 1970s terrorists would hijack planes, now they seek to blow them up mid-air.  Where once terrorist groups took hostages, now they cut their heads off on YouTube. There is an escalation of depravity. If we don’t stop this soon, who knows to what levels these people will stoop?   At the moment the terrorists kill tens or hundreds and sometimes even thousands as was the case on 9/11. But in time they will want to kill still more than this. What if they used chemical or biological weapons? Could we stop such an attack? Can we stop one indefinitely if we keep on as we are?The nature of our response must change. We cannot keep going through the same old sequence of lighting up buildings with a flag, making up sympathetic hash tags on Twitter. People who normally never pray are too quick to offer meaningless prayers for Manchester, London, Paris, Nice, Berlin or wherever next. We need n[...]

A vote for which party helps the Pro UK cause?

Sat, 03 Jun 2017 04:54:00 +0000

There is only one thing in politics I really care about. I have lived under Labour Government’s, Conservative Governments and Coalition Governments. These things matter in the short term. But in the long term they don’t really matter. What matters is our country. Compared to the threat of our country breaking up it matters little to me who is elected. If somehow we could go back to the time when Labour won nearly all the seats in Scotland but the UK was safe, I would take that result in a second. If I thought that voting Labour or the Lib Dems was the best way to protect the UK, I would likewise do so without hesitation. If, on the other hand, I thought a Conservative Government would put the UK at risk I would urge Pro UK people to vote for anyone else. My politics is derived from my Pro UK position not the other way round. I have in the past voted Labour and for the Lib Dems. This is not about party politics. This is about protecting our country.None of us know what is going to happen next Thursday. I doubt that I will stay up as I have to go to work on Friday. But when I get up I will not know for sure what the result will be. I could be in for a surprise.It’s vital that we look at the possible outcomes from a Pro UK perspective. Which one of these will help the Pro UK cause? Which will hinder it?If the Conservatives win a reasonable majority it will give them the mandate to do two things that will greatly aid the Pro UK position in Scotland. It is crucial that the UK Government goes into negotiations with the EU with the ability to walk away without a deal. This perversely gives us the best chance of achieving the “Holy Grail” of free trade with the EU without having to pay massively for the privilege and without being ruled and controlled by Brussels. This prize is within our grasp if the Government is given a free hand, if it doesn't have to give a running commentary to Parliament and most importantly if we threaten to walk away and mean it. There are two possible outcomes then. Either we gain a bilateral trade deal with the EU or we trade with them using World Trade Organization rules. Both of these scenarios massively help the Pro UK cause in Scotland.If the UK gains a bilateral trade deal, then it is hard to see what Sturgeon can complain about. The difference between membership of the EU single market and bilateral free trade is minimal. But more importantly such a trade deal locks Scotland into the UK because Scotland’s trade with the EU would depend on membership of the UK. To become independent Scotland would then have to leave both the UK’s single market and the bilateral trade agreement with the EU. This doesn’t look like a very attractive option.Alternatively if the UK walked away from the EU without a deal, then if Scotland became independent and joined either the EU or even if we joined only the EU’s single market, there would be trade barriers between the Former UK and Scotland. This too looks unattractive. It is for this reason above all that I argued that Brexit would make the task of achieving Scottish independence much harder. This too is the reason that I supported us leaving the EU. It is not accidental that support for independence and the SNP is falling. It is not despite Brexit, but because of it. When I predicted this sometime before the EU referendum hardly anyone believed me. Most experts thought leaving the EU would increase SNP support. But really it is simple logic. Leaving the EU makes Scottish independenc[...]

Don't wake up to a nightmare

Sat, 27 May 2017 05:27:00 +0000

I don’t feel much like writing about politics at the moment. We all stopped campaigning. We did so for a good reason. How do we start up again? There is only one thing on all our minds. But no-one wants to score cheap points. Yet the alternative is to remain silent. That isn’t right also. The country needs unity, but we are in the middle of a General Election campaign and elections are about alternatives and making a choice. To make a good choice you need to think clearly. In the UK as a whole we have a close race. When we began the campaign many people thought that the election was already over. But this, of course, is not how democracy works. It doesn’t matter how far ahead one party is in the polls, it is always possible that you get a surprise. The latest poll I have seen puts the Conservatives on 43% and Labour on 38% with the Lib Dems on 10%. What this means is that Labour could well win the General Election. It is perfectly possible that we will wake up on Friday June 9th to find that Jeremy Corbyn is the next Prime Minister. In Scotland we also have a two horse race. We know from the local elections in May that Scottish Conservative support is rising. Many Pro UK people are switching to the Conservatives as the best chance we have of defeating the SNP. It is for this reason that I have been advising Pro UK people to vote Conservative everywhere.In my local constituency of Gordon I received a leaflet from the Lib Dems which argued that only they could beat the SNP here. But this was to ignore the fact that the Conservatives were the clear winners in May. This illustrates the whole problem with tactical voting campaigns. Some people will use one tactic, others will use another. The end result is a confused message and a divided Pro UK vote. In most constituencies in Scotland we simply do not know about present voting intention. It may well be very different from the General Election in 2015. What we do know however, is that the Scottish Conservatives are in second place in Scotland. This was the case in the Scottish Parliament elections last year and in the local elections. Support for the Conservatives in Scotland is rising while it is falling for everyone else. Support for Labour and the Lib Dems is such that they can only win two or three seats between them. This will change nothing. On the other hand adding just a few percentage points to the Conservative vote could lead to them winning a large number of seats from the SNP. Even so it is almost certain that the SNP will comfortably win the majority of seats in Scotland. They won 56 last time. If we could limit them to 40 this time it would still be an amazing result. But this means that the electoral arithmetic at Westminster means that SNP votes will be necessary if Jeremy Corbyn wants to form a government. Until recently Labour routinely won nearly all the seats in Scotland. This is not going to change any time soon, because left wing Scots pretty much deserted Labour en masse. They preferred the idea of creating “socialism in one country” (Scotland) despairing of creating it in the UK as a whole. But for Labour to rule in the UK as a whole it still needs to replace the Scottish MPs it lost. It can’t very well replace them from the other parts of the UK. That would require Labour to win an overall majority in England and Wales alone. This would require the equivalent of a Labour landslide. Simple arithmetic therefore tells us that for Corbyn to be Prime Mini[...]

Changing the conventions of Scottish politics

Sat, 20 May 2017 05:47:00 +0000

British politics is about conventions. One of the most important of these is the one about a political manifesto. Few of us read manifestos. But this is not really their point. A party does write a manifesto to persuade people to vote for it. How many voters read manifestos? Rather a party uses the manifesto to justify what it hopes to do in the future. This is really why we are having a General Election at the moment. There is a convention that if something is in a party’s manifesto, then the House of Lords will not block it. The British public by voting for a government shows that it gives its consent to that party’s manifesto. It does this even if almost no-one reads the manifesto.The fact that something is in a manifesto then has a peculiar force. It turns it into government policy backed by the electorate. It is for this reason that it is usually worth digging around a manifesto to see if there is anything of importance.In the present Conservative Party manifesto there are some sentences that I think are of crucial importance.We have been very clear that now is not the time for another referendum on independence. In order for a referendum to be fair, legal and decisive, it cannot take place until the Brexit process has played out and it should not take place unless there is public consent for it to happen. This is a time to pull together, not apart. (p.32)This might seem just like a repetition of what Theresa May has been saying since the SNP said that they wanted another independence referendum. But remember this is now not merely a Prime Minister expressing an opinion this is a manifesto commitment that will be backed by everyone who votes Conservative. If Sturgeon later questions Theresa May’s right to say “not yet”, then May can simply point to her manifesto and the backing of the British people.It’s worth looking in some detail at the wording of these sentences. The phrase “fair, legal and decisive” has been heard before. It is from the Edinburgh Agreement of 2012. At this point the SNP and the UK Government agreed that the independence referendum would deliver a “fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect”. The Conservative manifesto is reminding us that crucially we have already had an independence referendum. The result was decisive. What does this word “decisive” mean? It means that the independence referendum of 2014 settled the issue. It was final. It was conclusive. If you disagree I suggest that you get hold of a dictionary and look up the meaning of the word “decisive”.What the SNP frequently fail to realise is that having the referendum of 2014 changed the convention. Until that point no-one had ever asked the Scottish electorate whether we wanted to stay in the United Kingdom. Our saying that we did want to stay changed the political convention in Scotland.At some point in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher said that if the SNP won a majority of seats in Scotland they could have independence. David Cameron thought that the mere fact the SNP had won a majority in the Scottish Parliament was enough for him to have to give in to SNP demands for an independence referendum. But conventions change. It may seem unfair that this is so, but this is how British politics works. The convention about when and whether Scotland can have an independence referendum has changed. It has changed because we have alre[...]

May points the way

Sat, 13 May 2017 05:05:00 +0000

Recent experience has taught everyone with an interest in politics not to rely too much on opinion polls. However, the present General Election campaign is unusual because there has been an actual poll which has acted as an hors d'œuvre to the main course on June 8th. We don’t know if the May 4th Local Election results will be completely mirrored in a few weeks’ time, but it is unlikely that they will be overturned. Of course, this is no time to be complacent. Much can still happen in the weeks ahead. But it is sensible to use the Local Election results to develop strategies. It is becoming ever clearer that Brexit negotiations are going to be difficult. This need not be the case. It is perfectly possible for both the UK and the EU to reach a deal that is beneficial to both sides. The UK wants very little indeed. We want something close to free trade. We’d like a reciprocal arrangement about the right to live and work in the EU and the UK. There’s nothing much else we want. There’s indeed nothing much else we’ve ever wanted. We don’t want to be ruled by the EU but we’d quite like to continue trading freely with them.Unfortunately it is becoming obvious that the EU is seeking to punish Britain in some way. This is in part psychological. It is the sort of behaviour that happens after a divorce. The EU also worries that if Britain succeeds in leaving and all goes fairly well, then this will encourage other countries to leave. We don’t know how these negotiations are going to play out. Maybe the EU position will soften behind closed doors. But it’s always best to take people at their word. At the moment the EU is acting as an unfriendly power. They don’t wish Britain well. On the contrary, they are trying to harm our position economically. They wish to damage us diplomatically and harm our   international relations. If that is not unfriendly, what is?The EU is taking positions that could potentially injure the UK with regard to Gibraltar, Northern Ireland and perhaps Scotland. They would like to see our economy hurt by their demands for ever higher exit fees. They think it would be worth it if UK trade with the EU was decreased even at the expense of their own trade.  It may be that the EU is not interested in mutual self-interest, but only in how best to punish Britain.  This is the mentality of a wife wrecking her ex-husband’s car. We shouldn’t exaggerate this situation, but nor should we underestimate it. The EU has shown itself to be what it always was. Thank goodness we are leaving. Who wants to be in a group that is held together by threats, extortion and bully boy tactics?But then this is a time when we are going to need strong leadership. Theresa May has been nothing if not polite to the EU. She has made it clear that Britain wants to maintain a friendly relationship. But even she has been frustrated by the negativity and hostility coming from the EU. The next few years are going to crucial for the UK. We will either come to a mutually beneficial arrangement with the EU or else we will have to walk away from the negotiations with no deal and carve out a new path on our own. Theresa May realised this and for this reason called an election. She knew that her majority was not going to be enough to make the crucial decisions that she would need to make. It was EU intransigence that forced her hand.Can you imagine the alternative to[...]

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