Friday, 22 June 2018

Beware Shops Selling Swedes

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It’s easy to mock those Scottish nationalists who spend their time looking around supermarkets for Scottish produce labelled as coming from Britain. There are other Scottish nationalists who want various vegetables to be called by their Scottish rather than by their English name. I imagine some want to go round Tesco and have everything labelled in triplicate and translated into both Scots and Gaelic. Quite what would happen when the cost of all this translating was passed onto Scottish consumers is not mentioned, but perhaps English consumers could be forced to pay for the translations on the grounds that they had oppressed Scots and the various languages we tend not to speak that much unless we are particularly desperate to show that we are not English.

 Taigeis, sneap is buntĂ ta or Haggis neeps and tatties

It is of course incorrect to describe Scottish products as coming from England, Wales or Northern Ireland. No doubt mistakes are sometimes made. A carrot grown in England does not have a kilt round it and so might just be mistaken for a carrot grown in Scotland. There is not a red hand telling me that this potato is from Northern Ireland and so it might get mixed up with a Welsh potato which likewise is unable to breathe fire like a dragon.

Some products though are associated with certain places, but I find it hard to imagine that people from Melton Mowbray spend their time going round supermarkets hunting for mislabelled pork pies. They certainly wouldn’t object to the pork pies being described as British, for the simple reason that they are of course British.

Scottish nationalists do not like the truth that we voted to remain a part of the UK in 2014, but we did. The UK is a unitary sovereign nation state with powers devolved to some places but not others. But these powers are delegated and could be withdrawn. It would not require a referendum in Scotland or anywhere else to do this. That is merely a political convention. It would require an Act of Parliament and a majority of MPs. Scotland’s position in the UK is therefore not analogous to Luxembourg’s position in the EU. To suppose that Scotland is not a part of the UK as some Scottish nationalists do is to oddly suppose that we are already independent. But this is to fail to recognise that the words “country” and “nation” that are correctly used to describe Scotland can be used in different senses. They can be used to describe independent sovereign nation states. This is the typical usage. But they can also be used to describe places like Scotland. You cannot conflate these meanings and use them to deduce that Scotland is or ought to be an independent nation state, any more than you can deduce that Fife ought to have a king, the “Black Country” ought to have a seat at the United Nations and that you ought to be able to sail all the way round the Black Isle.

The national flag of the UK is the Union Flag and the adjective that is most typically used to describe people and things from the UK is “British”. So while it is incorrect to describe Malt whisky from Scotland as Welsh or to put a Northern Irish flag on the box, it is perfectly correct to describe it as British and to use a Union Flag.     

There is however a deliberate SNP tactic to change the reality that Scotland is part of the UK by pretending that we are not. It is for this reason that the pettiness over food labelling is both silly and slightly sinister.

There are two sorts of Scottish nationalists, the patient and the impatient. We all recognise the impatient. They want independence now. They want to repeat the independence referendum even when polls suggest they would lose. They reason that they were way behind the last time, but caught up and might have won. Maybe next time they could win by a neck. Maybe they could. I lack a crystal ball and politics is even more difficult to predict than it was a few years ago. But I like the Pro UK argument even better now than I did in 2014.

Impatience is rarely a good strategy. I worry far more about the patient Scottish nationalists. In the great scheme of things these people reason that it doesn’t much matter whether Scotland achieves independence soon. They are right of course. If an independence supporter is concerned only about himself, then he will worry that he won’t get to see the Promised Land. But an unselfish nationalist will not worry about what happens to him, but rather what happens to Scotland. Unselfish strategies tend to involve better planning than selfish ones. They also have more chance of success.

The impatient nationalist might lose a second independence referendum and set back the cause of independence for decades, perhaps forever. The SNP gradualist sees this and focusses instead on making little steps towards the eventual goal.

What are these little steps? First set up a Scottish Executive. Thanks Labour. Thanks Lib Dems. Next become the biggest party in that Parliament and immediately rename yourself the Scottish Government. Next centralise everything in Scotland so that it is under the control of that Government. Next take control of education in Scotland so that everything is taught in such a way that it helps the cause of Scottish independence and hinders the cause of the UK remaining intact. Next do everything you can to emphasise the distinction between Scotland and the other parts of the UK and do nothing to emphasise that we are all actually part of a single unitary and united nation state. Gaelic road signs are one more step along the road to the Promised Land. Removing Union Flags and the words United Kingdom and British from food stuffs in Tesco may seem petty and trivial, but it chips away at the idea that Scotland shares something with our fellow British citizens.

Each of these little steps may seem unimportant, but taken together the SNP hopes that in time children will grow up in Scotland with no sense of having a shared identity with people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. When that happens then independence happens as a matter of course.

Most countries that become independent don’t worry at all about what currency they will use or whether they will be financially better off after independence or worse off. They choose independence because of their identity and frequently their language.  No-one in Latvia or Ukraine worried about giving up the Rouble. They simply don’t care about the details.

The Pro UK task is therefore first to take back control of the Scottish Parliament from those who wish to break up the UK. Secondly we must with the help of the UK Government emphasise all that we share with our fellow British citizens. Then we must point out all the things that are truly great about British history, about life in the UK today and how we have a wonderful future to look forward to. Over time we too must make gradual steps to enhancing our shared identity.

In the end the argument is not about currency. Nor is it about what might or might not happen to the Scottish economy if we ever became independent. We are allowed to point out the disadvantages, but they were not decisive for other independence movements in the past and they ultimately will not prove decisive here. We are a family in the UK and over the centuries we have intermingled. It is perfectly reasonable that we have a shared identity and live in a single nation state. Scottish nationalism wants to destroy what we share and create a single Scottish identity that rejects our fellow citizens in England Wales and Northern Ireland. We must be wary of the impatient nationalists, but by far the greater threat comes from the patient ones.  We too must be patient and fight for the long term.  Only in this way can we defeat Scottish nationalism forever.

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Friday, 15 June 2018

Killing people is wrong

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Once again Northern Ireland in general and the DUP in particular are taking a bit of a bashing because the Republic of Ireland voted to change its constitution the other week. I doubt there would be any criticism of the DUP if Slovenia had chosen to make such a change. I doubt indeed that anyone would have noticed. But very strange logic applies in Ireland.

The first mourning by William-Adolphe Bouguereau 

Long term Northern Ireland’s future in the UK depends on two things. It depends on the UK staying intact, which means we must defeat Scottish nationalism decisively and it depends on Northern Irish Catholics voting for unionism. For this reason I tend to the view that it would be better for Northern Irish politics not to follow religious lines. It should be as natural for a Catholic to vote for the DUP as it is for a Catholic in London to vote for Labour the Lib Dems or the Conservatives. The DUP are the main Pro UK party in Northern Ireland. The key to maintaining a Pro UK majority in Northern Ireland is for large numbers of Catholics to be happy to be both British and Northern Irish and for them to vote for Pro UK parties like the DUP.

There is nothing inherently about being Catholic that means a person has to support a united Ireland, Scottish independence or not being British. There are nearly six million Catholics in the UK. The vast majority want to continue living in the UK and happily describe themselves as British. The debate about Northern Ireland should therefore have nothing to do with religion or demographics. It should be the same debate as everywhere else in the UK. Do you want to keep your country intact? Do you value being British?

Because I favour taking religion out of politics I likewise think it is mistaken to view the debate about abortion through the lens of religion. What has changed since Ireland voted in 1983 “to recognise the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn?” There has been a huge scandal involving child abuse in the Catholic Church in Ireland. Consequently many Irish people have ceased to have much faith in the Church and are less willing for the Church to tell them what to do. But to respond to child abuse by voting to kill them instead is a decidedly odd response.

 The problem with basing the debate about abortion on religion is that it then depends on faith. Christianity cannot be proved and whatever truth it contains cannot be demonstrated by science or reason. This is not a flaw. It’s a feature. If I could prove a religious claim it would not be possible to have faith in it, because instead I would have knowledge. This means that if someone uses religious reasons in a debate, these reasons will not be compelling to non-believers or those who have a different faith. Therefore as faith declined in Ireland so too the rights of the unborn declined. The reason for this is that those rights were grounded in faith.  But it is always a mistake to build a house upon foundations that may in time become eroded. At that point the house is liable to collapse.

The traditional Christian argument against abortion might go something like this:

Killing people is wrong,
Babies in the womb are people,
Therefore killing babies in the womb is wrong.

You really have two choices here. Either you can deny that killing people is wrong or you can deny that babies in the womb are people. The first option is unpalatable for obvious reasons. If killing some people is not wrong, where are we going to draw the line? Does anyone in our society have the right to choose who they kill? I would prefer not to live in such a society. So clearly we have to accept that killing people is wrong.

The problem with the babies in the womb are not people argument is that it looks awfully like the slaves are not people argument that meant that in the United States they could declare that all people are created equal except slaves. Why should we discriminate against these people who happen to be situated in a womb? Moreover if the unborn are not people what on earth are they and how do they eventually become people? 

I have a colleague who recently became pregnant. After the necessary scan she came to work and told everyone she was having a baby. She then passed round pictures pointing out the various features of the baby. Everyone gushed about it. She didn’t say she was having a foetus. She didn’t use language that would minimise the humanity of her baby. It was as much a baby there and then as it would be when it was born. But she could with ease have simply decided to kill it. Oddly however it would be grotesquely wrong if I decided to kill her baby in the womb. It would be something very like murder if I somehow deliberately caused her to miscarry. But the baby in each case would be the same. It’s a very strange moral situation when under one circumstance the exactly same sort of being is a human being to whom we have a duty, while in another circumstance it is nothing and can be discarded.

But what about the rights of a woman to do what she wants with her body? Indeed these rights must be taken into account. But which human right gives me the right to kill another human being? Self-defence perhaps gives me that right. But babies in the womb are only rarely a threat to a woman’s safety. The law can easily protect the lives of women and can be worded to avoid those unusual cases where a pregnant woman’s life is threatened by her pregnancy.

But doesn’t a woman have the right to do what she pleases with her own body? Even if she does it is worth reflecting on whether there is someone else’s body inside her when she is pregnant and whether that someone else might reasonably limit her right to do as she pleases. After all I don’t have the right to do exactly what I please with my body when I’m driving. I can’t for instance use my arm to turn the steering wheel of my car so that it crashes into someone else. If I do, I am liable to prosecution. Likewise if I neglect an infant who is dependent on me so that they die I will be prosecuted. I will probably even be prosecuted if I fail to look after a dog. In that case why do I not have an obligation to look after a human being who temporarily is located in my womb?

In the end if babies in the womb are people, we can reasonably expect women to respect the rights of those people just like any other people on the planet. This may involve some inconvenience for a few months. But do we really want to go down the route that I can kill people when they are inconvenient. Old people are frequently inconvenient. The location of a human being, inside a womb or outside a womb, does not change its moral status.

This has the following consequence. It cannot be grounds for killing a human being that he is the result of rape or incest. If I were teaching in a school and discovered that one of the children in the class was conceived as a result of rape or incest would I be morally justified in killing it? Obviously not. But why should I be justified in killing it because it is situated in a womb rather than a classroom?

The pro-abortion argument then is left with having to deny that babies in the womb are people.

The babies in the womb are not people argument is faced with the difficulty that we all accept that babies outside the womb are people. Killing babies which have been born is liable to lead to a murder charge. But then if we wish to maintain that babies in the womb are not people, we are forced to say at what point they become people.

Many Christians think that the moment of conception is the point at which life begins. For this reason they think that all abortion is wrong.  But why should the moment of conception be theologically significant. I think this is to mix up science (the moment of conception is only known about because of science) with theology.

Traditionally the Church knew no more about the mechanics of conception than did anyone else. A few hundred years ago no-one knew that a sperm entered into an egg. They didn’t have microscopes that were powerful enough. When did the Church think life began? It thought that it began with quickening or the moment when the woman first feels the baby in the womb. The Church traditionally treated this moment as the moment when the baby gains a soul.

And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.

 Elisabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, is filled with the Holy Spirit at the point when she first feels her baby moving. The baby gains a soul at this point not before.

For this reason it is not necessary to believe that all abortion is wrong from the moment of conception. It is perfectly possible to say we have an actual person when it gains a “soul” but prior to that we only have a potential person. But two people who first meet and think about marrying have in them any number of potential persons. Their failure to marry and have sex may prevent one of these potential persons from becoming an actual person. But there is clearly nothing wrong in this. If there were, a man could demand sex on the grounds that it makes a potential person actual.

From this we need not be quite as strict as some opponents of abortion. There is a window of opportunity where it is possible to abort babies without doing anything seriously wrong. Quickening occurs between 15-20 weeks after conception. What matters however is when the baby begins to think and feel and when it is conscious of itself. This does not require that you actually believe in souls.

Rape victims and victims of incest ought to be able to have an early abortion. Other women too who elect to have an abortion as soon as they discover that they are pregnant need not feel that they are doing anything particularly wrong. A cluster of cells that is neither conscious nor self-conscious may or may not become a human being, but it is not a human being yet. A potential thing is not the thing it might become. An acorn is not an oak and therefore while chopping down an oak may be wrong throwing an acorn on the fire is morally unproblematic.

The argument about abortion must be grounded not in theology but in what we think a human being is. It is not primarily about women’s rights, because those rights cannot extend to killing other human beings.  But it is not necessary to argue that actual human beings begin to live from the moment of conception. The potential is not the actual.

In limiting abortion to the first few weeks of pregnancy Ireland may have found a stronger foundation for protecting the rights of the unborn than it had previously. Rather than criticise Northern Ireland for not immediately imitating the Republic, why not instead criticise the UK for not immediately following Ireland’s lead by lowering the current abortion limit from 24 weeks to 12. If the UK were to do this, then people in Northern Ireland might in time decide that they would like to follow suit. That would be up to them.

We ought to be living in a free society which is tolerant of the views of everybody whether religious or not. Religious views ought not to determine at what point abortion is legal or illegal. We do not, thank God, live in a theocracy. But I am free to think that early abortion is morally and theologically unproblematic while also maintaining that late abortion is a form of legalised murder. You do not have the right to choose to murder. Killing people is wrong.   

And there's another country

I supported Brexit for these reasons.

1. I thought the UK could in the long term be more prosperous if we could trade freely with whomsoever we chose. The EU runs a club that allows us to trade freely with other members of the club but imposes a common external tariff on all those not in the club, i.e. the rest of the world. We have to pay to be a member of the club, which means not only that we do not have free trade with other EU members, we don’t have it with anyone else either. This always struck me as a bad bargain. Let’s instead not pay the fee and seek as much free trade as we can get.

 2. Any idealism that I once might have had about the EU was gradually lost. France and the Netherlands voted against the proposed EU constitution in 2005, only to have those votes ignored. Ireland voted against ratifying the Lisbon treaty in 2008, but then later under pressure had to change its mind. Greece for me was the final straw. It became clear in 2015 that it didn’t matter which way the Greek people voted. The birthplace of democracy had become its tomb. That was enough. I was going to vote to leave the EU.

3. I wanted UK laws to be determined in the UK.  I didn’t want unelected judges or bureaucrats to tell the Parliament we voted for what to do. Whatever else the EU did for us it wasn’t worth losing our sovereignty to get it. The Americans wouldn’t trade their sovereignty for a mess of potage, nor would the Australians. Why on earth should we?

4. I realised that the biggest danger to the unity of the UK was Scottish independence, but that Scottish nationalism depended on the EU acting as guarantor that relations between the UK and Scotland would carry on more or less the same after independence. If we could just get out of the EU, then no rational Scot would vote for independence.

I didn’t vote for Brexit because I thought it would give the NHS £350 million a week. The NHS needs reform far more than it needs extra money.

I didn’t vote for Brexit to stop immigration from the EU. We should get down on our knees and thank God for ever Pole and Czech who decides to come here to live and work. But we should be able to control who arrives from both inside and above all from outside the EU and we should be able to limit the numbers.

The idea that the fifth largest economy in the world couldn’t manage outside the EU is simply preposterous. If tiny New Zealand can manage to trade with the rest of the world without being ruled by anyone else and without being part of any Australasian Union, then clearly the UK can do something similar too.  

There would be difficulties in leaving the EU in the short term. There might even be costs. But so what? It would be worth it.

Are we going to get a clean Brexit? Your guess is as good as mine. The way in which Parliament is leaving the EU is both boring and infuriating.

Last week there were various votes in Parliament, various back room deals, but we are no closer really to getting out of the EU. It’s all just a tangled web and I’m afraid there is a fair dollop of deception. Some of it is self-deception.

Ludicrously the SNP walked out because there wasn’t a long enough debate about EU powers that might be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. There would have been more time if they hadn’t walked out.

The reason that this latest SNP stunt is ludicrous is that the SNP would prefer that these powers remained with Brussels. If Scotland ever became independent moreover the SNP would immediately give them back again. The SNP’s position becomes still more ludicrous when we reflect that if they had anything to do with it very few powers indeed will be repatriated from Brussels. They would like Brexit to involve Brussels continuing to control most of the powers that Scotland might gain back if we were able to leave the EU completely. The SNP would prefer that Brexit Britain remains in the Customs Union and the EU’s Single Market. This pretty much amounts to remaining in the EU. We’ pay more or less the same to do so, but without having any say whatsoever on how the EU is run or what laws it passes. A few powers may eventually be repatriated back from Brussels, but is it really worth walking out for powers that you don’t want in the first place? Or is it just a matter of Brussels good London bad, because anywhere but England.

What sort of Brexit are we liable to get? It isn’t entirely clear yet. But my guess is that we are going to be part of “A customs union” which will be indistinguishable from being in “The Customs Union”. We are going to be so closely aligned with the Single Market that our position will be indistinguishable from being in it. The Prime Minister might call this Brexit, but it will amount to EU membership without the voting rights. This clearly will be worse than if we had voted to Remain.

Why are we where we are today? Two reasons. Michael Gove lost confidence in Boris Johnson and tried to stab him in the back. This was a mistake. With Boris as Prime Minister and Gove as his second in command, we could have had to the two main Brexiteers leading the charge. Instead we ended up with Theresa May who lacks both the personality and the intellect to lead anything. The second reason we are where we are is that she believed that she would win a landslide victory and lost her majority instead.

What is to be done? It is worth pointing out to Remainers that theirs is a very risky strategy indeed.

The British public were not told during the EU referendum campaign that the referendum was merely advisory and that Parliament could ignore their 17 million votes if it so chose. Once you go down the route of ignoring voters, you have to be very careful that it doesn’t become a habit.

As I have pointed out before, this stuffs the SNP’s second referendum strategy on independence. Why should anyone suppose that Parliament would feel forced to implement the result? Parliament could instead say that clearly the Scots didn’t understand the implications of independence.

Moreover if it ever got to the negotiation stage those Scots who tried to negotiate a post-independence trade deal with the UK might find that they had to pay £38 Billion just to start the negotiations and that the price of free trade with the UK was that Westminster had the final say on all Scottish laws. They might find that “independence” was in name only and that Scotland remained a part of the Union, had to pay for the privilege, but didn’t get to vote.

There are stories of vague plots to prevent Harold Wilson coming to power, but he looks positively cuddly compared to Jeremy Corbyn. Who knows what Corbyn did or didn’t do in the 1970s and 1980s? Who knows what M15 or M16 might know about him? We already know enough to suggest that he is completely unfit to be Prime Minister, what might the police know that they haven’t told us?

Well in his landslide victory of 1997 Tony Blair won just 13.5 million votes. So even if Corbyn did rather better than this he is unlikely to top the 17 million who voted for Brexit. So what if a Whitehall mandarin came along and suggested that it really would be a bad idea to have a communist as Prime Minister. It would hurt the economy far more than Brexit after all.  Wouldn’t it be safer if the Conservatives just continued anyway at least for a transition period while we had time to organise another election. Are you really certain now that this could not happen?

Our democracy is in great peril. The inconceivable is now possible. We could join the long line of countries that voted the wrong way only for the EU to force us to change our minds. If Brexit turns out to be an illusion and amounts to staying in the EU but without any of the rights, then the result of the 2016 EU referendum will be still more farcical than the SNP walking out of Parliament.

What seems strange to me is that the Remainer MPs don’t realise that there will be a cost. I don’t know what will happen.  But this will change everything. All that ever fought for. It will be as if we don’t live in Britain anymore.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Fighting on the ice

In 2014 when I was campaigning for Scotland to remain a part of the UK it never occurred to me that the result of the referendum might be ignored or obstructed. If the Yes side had won, I fully expected that in a short time Scotland would become a fully sovereign independent nation state. I might not have liked this, but I had no intention of doing anything to prevent it. I might even have been willing to lend a hand. It’s impossible to know exactly how you would have reacted to something that didn’t happen. It would depend on all sorts of things that are unknowable. But things have changed. Most of all everything we have learned since 2014 makes a rerun of indyref completely pointless.

Alexandr Nevsky (1938) the Battle on the Ice 1242

 Scottish nationalists continue to think that we live in the days when an independence referendum in Scotland could be just like last time except this time they would win. But two things have changed Scottish and British politics decisively since then.

The first thing that changed is the idea that everyone would accept the result of a referendum. We learned in 2014 that immediately after their disappointment the SNP and the Yes movement in general started to try to overturn the result of the independence referendum. They didn’t wait for a year, they didn’t wait for a month, they didn’t even wait for a day. It was full on campaign mode from day one.

That’s fine. But how do they expect us to behave if there were ever to be a second independence referendum.  Pro UK people would overwhelmingly try to overturn a vote for Scottish independence by campaigning in whatever Scottish or UK wide elections were to take place between a vote for independence and independence actually taking place. If somehow independence did happen I imagine some present day Pro UK parties and perhaps some new ones would campaign for reunification of the UK. Under those circumstances I imagine Scotland might end up being even more lacking in peace and harmony than it is now. There might be a few tough early years for Scotland if only nationalists were onside and the rest of us remained sullenly delighted to see the whole thing go wrong, cheering on each set-back, siding with the UK at each point in the divorce negotiations, unwilling to help in any way and telling the nationalists that we told you so, but you wouldn’t listen.

We are already today in Scotland more divided than at any point since the eighteenth century. Scottish nationalism has set Scot against Scot. Can you imagine what it would be like if we carried on a Pro UK rear-guard action because we refused to accept the result of a Scottish independence referendum. But that is just what the nationalists are doing now.

What have we learned since the EU referendum in 2016? This is the second thing that has decisively changed British politics. We have learned that the Remain side have done everything in their power to frustrate what the electorate voted for. They have gone to the courts. They have used the House of Commons. They have used the House of Lords and they have cooperated with the EU negotiators so as to make it as difficult as possible for the UK to actually leave the EU. It may reach a point when we leave in name only.

My guess is that the Remain rear-guard action was in part inspired by the SNP’s refusal to accept the indyref result. In the short-term at least the SNP prospered from this.  But who knows perhaps Remain would have fought to keep the UK from leaving in a meaningful way even without the SNP example.

But what if there were to be another Scottish independence vote. For a start why do Scottish nationalists suppose that the question would be Yes versus No? The Electoral Commission ruled that Yes had an advantage. So we should expect the question instead to be something like “Do you want Scotland to Remain in the UK or do you want Scotland to leave?” There are other ways of phrasing the question, there are other words instead of “Leave” and “Remain”, but clearly no-one is going to be campaigning for “Yes” or “No.”

But the most important lesson that we have learned since 2016 is that referendums are advisory. You campaign for months and 17 million people tell you to leave, but you don’t actually have to leave. You can tell them that all of that effort and all of those crosses in little boxes were pointless indeed meaningless, just a long string of xxxxxxxs going up to 17 million.

Well Scotland can only legally achieve independence in the following way. There has to be a legal referendum. This means that the UK Parliament has to agree to allow such a referendum. It doesn’t have to. Spain has shown that it is possible to block separatists from legally seceding. An illegal referendum or a declaration of UDI didn’t lead to Catalonia gaining independence. It led to criminal charges against the leaders of the secession movement, exile and jail.

But Britain is not Spain. Who knows the UK Government might at some point in the future allow a second independence referendum. But if Scotland voted for independence there would still have to be an Act in the UK Parliament and votes won in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Well what is stopping a disappointed Pro UK Scot, call her Effie Deans from going to the High Court to try to prevent Scotland actually leaving the UK. What is preventing Pro UK Scots campaigning for the UK Parliament to treat the vote for Scottish independence as merely advisory? It is impossible, unless they start campaigning throughout the UK, for the SNP to have a majority at Westminster. So what would you do if Westminster simply voted for Scotland to Remain the UK? You could of course revolt. You would be justified in doing so. But that really is to say that democracy hasn’t worked. Instead of using the ballot box to settle disputes we will instead use clubs.

It might be that the UK “leaves” the EU only in name. But then it might be that a Scottish vote for independence had the same result. If the biggest vote in UK history doesn’t actually really lead to the UK leaving the EU, why should Scottish nationalists expect that they would be allowed to leave? Why should anyone obey the result of indyref2 if they don’t obey the result of EUref1? Why obey the result of any referendum or indeed any election?

This state of affairs is in fact is the natural and entirely just consequence of the SNP’s failure to accept the result in 2014. None of us are going to accept the result if you ever win a referendum. But there isn’t going to be another referendum, because we have discovered since 2016 that referendums are merely advisory and Parliament and indeed everyone else is free to ignore the vote.  

Scottish nationalism since 2014 has depended on the idea that if we lose the loss can be ignored, but if we win our opponents will say well done let’s all join together to create an independent Scotland. But we won’t. We will ignore the result too. We will fight you in the courts, in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords. As a unionist said in 1863 we “will fight until Hell freezes over and then fight on the ice.” So what on earth would be the point of having a second referendum? What would it decide? Now do you understand what your failure to accept the result in 2014 has cost you? It has cost you a second change and at the same time it has cost all of us our democracy.      

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Friday, 8 June 2018

Realms of Gold

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I imagine sometime back in the late 1690s there were broadsheets handed out in Glasgow and other parts of Scotland promising “realms of gold”. Perhaps our ancestors studied all 354 pages of the scheme. Maybe they studied in detail the cunning plan to turn Scotland into a great economic power. The whole world would be faced with the same dilemma: either pay us and take the short route or face the dangers and delays in going the long way round. How could it fail? We would all be at least four thousand pounds a year richer.

So get rich schemes are not new. Today they pop up unwelcome in your email inbox. They promise that you can make a good living by staying at home and doing nothing. All you have to do is send off for the following ebook. Please send ten dollars and hope that no-one steals your credit card details. At other times get rich quick schemes promised that Greenland was green and that Newfoundland (Vinland) grew grapes or is that a mistranslation? Who knows? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that whoever was fooled into travelling to either place because of promises of riches found instead somewhere that did not quite live up to expectations. Norse settlement in both places eventually died out when the world turned colder.  No doubt this was because they didn’t drive enough motor cars or is it that humans can only make the world hotter? Global cooling is never our fault but always because Thor is angry.

The gullible and the desperate believe that you can get richer by putting a cross in box and saying that you are independent. They read a headline promising that they would get four thousand pounds if only Scotland were like Finland. But let’s test this? Every single Scot has the right at present to live and work in Finland. So if you move there, do you get four thousand pounds? Luxembourg and Switzerland are also very rich countries. They have GDP per capita that is much higher than in the UK. There is nothing stopping anyone from the UK moving to these places. Does the fact that they have high GDP per capita mean that I personally get a share of this money just by living there? Unfortunately not. The streets of LĂ«tzebuerg are not actually paved with gold and Scots who move there don’t actually get to pick them up and put them in their pockets.

There’s a relatively simple idea that some independence supporters struggle to grasp. It is this: People get wealthy by working. Even if you could increase the GDP per capita of Scotland, it would not mean this increase was just handed out to everyone in their baby box.

If increasing GDP per capita were easy why doesn’t everyone do it? If independence were the route to prosperity, why isn’t South Sudan as wealthy as Norway by? After all they have been independent for 7 years.  Doesn’t independence kill all known germs and cure all diseases? How can it be that poor South Sudan still has a GDP per capita of only two hundred and twenty eight dollars a year? They too had a detailed plan set out by a Growth Commission. No doubt someone promised them that they too would get four thousand pounds a year if only they were independent.

Increasing prosperity in Scotland requires that we have sensible economic policies and for individual Scots to increase their productivity and help create businesses that make a profit. The easiest way and probably the only way for each of us to make an extra four thousand pounds  a year any time soon is to get a job that pays that amount more than we earn at present. Just working rather than living on benefits is far more likely to lead to an income gain of four thousand pounds than voting for the SNP. If independence supporters put as much effort into working as they do into marching they might find they didn’t need the SNP to give them money, they could earn it by themselves.

The SNP’s latest scheme depends on all sorts of ifs and buts. Their four thousand pounds headline figure depends on growing the Scottish economy over a few decades. With good policies this is indeed possible. But then again with good economic policies the Scottish economy could equally grow as part of the UK. It is pure guess work to suppose that we would be four thousand pounds better off if we were independent. After all it isn’t as if the UK economy would stand still.  What if they grew more than Scotland did. Then we would be worse off. Who is to suppose that this couldn’t happen? Do the SNP have a crystal ball?

The biggest problem with the SNP scheme however, just like the one that was developed in the 1690s is that it depends on everything going right and nothing going wrong. There is a fatal flaw in the plan that makes it as risky as any scheme in Scottish history.  The SNP intends us post-independence to use the pound unilaterally.

It is not uncommon for certain countries to use the currency of someone else. This is usually known as dollarization. Many small countries use the US dollar.   Panama is a good example. Some tiny islands use the Australian or New Zealand dollar. Other countries like Zimbabwe use the dollar because their own currency had a serious inflation problem. For these sorts of places there are advantages that outweigh the disadvantages. But does Nicola Sturgeon seriously think that Scotland should go down the route of Pitcairn Island and Tuvalu?

Using Sterling outwith a currency union with the other parts of the UK is perfectly possible. No-one could stop an independent Scotland doing this. But why would we want to? The main advantage of having your own currency is that you have a central bank that underpins the whole economy. It acts as a lender of last resort. The Bank of England as we have seen in recent years can print money, engage in quantitative easing (QE) and keep interest rates very low indeed so as to encourage growth. In difficult economic circumstances the exchange rate adjusts. This might make it more expensive for us to go on holiday, but it makes our exports cheaper and encourages people from other countries to spend their money here.

Using the pound unilaterally would be possible, but it would hardly be desirable. Scottish banks were bailed out in 2008. Who would bail them out if such a crisis were to occur again? There is nothing wrong about being optimistic about the future, but we have to be prepared for things to go wrong, especially when they did go wrong ten years ago.  

If an independent Scotland were to face a financial crisis while using someone else’s currency we could not print money, we could not use QE, and we could not lower interest rates. If a Scottish bank failed, this could potentially mean that everyone with any money in that bank would lose it. Who would bail out the savers?

But under those circumstances who would put their money in a Scottish bank? Who would use financial services based in Scotland? Who would insure their house with a Scottish firm?

So if things went wonderfully well the Scottish economy might after some decades be a few thousand pounds per person better than it is now. It might. But each of us if we faced a rerun of the crisis of 2008 could lose all of our money.

This I’m afraid is a rerun of the Darien scheme.  In the 1690s absurdly optimistic Scots put all their money in the idea that we could control the Isthmus of Panama. They ignored the fact that Darien was disease ridden and that anyway it was a Spanish colony that the Spanish might fight for. Even if the scheme had succeeded and Scotland had established a successful colony in Panama is it really likely that larger powers than ours would have meekly handed over their money for ever? What would have stopped them seizing it just as we did?

Anyway as we all learned in primary school the Darien scheme failed and bankrupted Scotland leaving many wealthy families bawbeeless.  The Panama pound could have exactly the same effect on Scotland. We are promised riches, but we just as before we ignore the risks. A crisis no-one can dream today may arrive a few years from now, but unfortunately our cunning plan lacks a lender of last resort. I am forced to conclude that the major problem with Scottish primary education is that no-one ever learns from it. Next we will challenge England to a rerun at Flodden.

It might be that even if Scotland were independent the Bank of England would still be forced to bail us out. But this too is a repeat of the Darien scheme. English money bailed out Scotland in the early eighteenth century, if it had to bail out an independent Scotland the result would be the same.

Roll up, roll up, the SNP have a new Panama pound scheme. Get rich quick. Put everything you have into Darien. There are realms of gold there.     

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Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Ups and downs

It takes a long time to build a site. I’ve been writing on my present site since around 2012. I’ve written over 300 articles. Each one usually takes between two and three hours to write. Sometimes it comes easily, sometimes it doesn’t. Some things that I spend quite a bit of time on I decide to discard. I try always to say something original. There is simply no point repeating what you read in the papers.

Why write at all? I frequently ask myself this question. My main motivation is that I built my site from nothing. For the first year or two almost no-one read what I wrote. But gradually I built a site which was first read by thousands and then by tens of thousands. More people have read my articles here than anything else I have ever wrote. That’s quite something.

But after years of effort suddenly I find I can’t share my articles on Twitter. I have a number of ways of sharing. I share on Facebook. I share on Google Plus, I share on the Daily Globe site every Monday. Sometimes what I write is good enough to appear on Think Scotland. But Twitter is absolutely crucial to building the momentum that sometimes means one of my articles gets a lot of readers.

I have no idea why I can’t share links from my site on Twitter. It may simply be chance. I have written to Twitter using the following link:

Perhaps others could do the same on my behalf. If there are enough voices, it might make a difference.

My whole motivation comes from writing for my own site.  I’m always happy to share with anyone so long as it doesn’t involve too much work for me, but my goal for a long time has been to reach one million readers. That may not seem much to some, but it is a lot to me. So I don’t want to move to another site. I want to keep my own site.

Here is what I plan to do. I have a new Blogger site. I am going to use it to show the link to my site. That will be all that it will show. So anyone clicking on a Twitter link will only have to click twice to get to my site. Likewise if they wish to share one of my articles, which by the way is massively helpful, all they will have to do is to use the Wordpress link in their Tweet.

There are a few more things that might help. You might consider friending me on facebook.

I post all of my blogs there.

You can also consider following me on Google plus

Finally do please follow me on Twitter. I’m sorry I don’t always follow back. It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between genuine followers and spam ones. But I will try to follow back more.

The key to building an audience for an article is the comment Tweets and Retweets from readers. Without them I am writing to myself.

I have been trying to take my site in a different direction. I can’t write about Scottish nationalism every week. Besides I think sometimes we help the SNP if we spend too much time analysing there latest reasoning for why it would be a good idea to partition Britain. We know their real reason.  

What I am trying to do is to develop a form of politics that lacks a voice in Scotland. I’m Pro Brexit, Pro UK. I would like lower taxes and for public spending to form a lower share of GDP. I am sceptical about much of what the Left has been up to in the past thirty years not just in terms of politics, but in terms of Western culture in general.  I am fairly socially conservative and moderately Christian. I think it is important that the UK Government takes control of our borders so that we can control who arrives here and who can fish in our seas. But I think it is vital that we are kind to everyone who lives in Britain and that we treat everyone who lives here as equally British. If conservatism is to succeed we have to be attractive and we will never be attractive by being nasty about other people.

My hope is that there will not be another independence referendum. But sites like mine may well be useful in the future. This is why I intend to keep the site ticking over with articles about matters other than Scottish politics. We don’t know what the future will bring. I am optimistic. The key is to get the UK out of the EU as completely as possible and then deprive the SNP of their independence supporting majority in the Scottish Parliament. If we can do both of these things, we will be more or less safe. Until then we must be vigilant.

The biggest flaw in the Pro UK mind-set is that while the Nats beaver away and go on marches and pay their charlatans to write about secret oil-fields, we go to sleep as soon as we begin to feel a bit safer.  

What I write is frequently controversial. Sometimes I set out deliberately to provoke. I want to tackle difficult topics using reason, but also by using my ideas about morality and philosophy in general. I like to mock things that I find ridiculous, but I don’t want to be unkind to anyone. There are good people who support Scottish independence and good people who support every mainstream UK political party.     

I hope that it wasn’t a Scottish nationalist tried to prevent me Tweeting my articles. I find some of these people to be very angry indeed and a little bit desperate. It’s worthy of pity and not much more than that.

So I will keep writing so long as enough people keep reading. I may take a break from time to time. Writing can be tiring. Share what I write as much as you can. Tell friends. Post on forums. Tweet and Retweet.

There aren’t that many Pro UK writers in Scotland. We all have our talents and our flaws. We are all needed. Someone really should tell Twitter that it can’t simply prevent me sharing my site without realising that it might have a potential consequence. What if there were ever to be another independence referendum and all it took was for one Scottish nationalist to complain to Twitter about my site or someone else’s? There is an important issue of impartiality at stake.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

I am having trouble Tweeting

I am having trouble tweeting the link to this week’s blog. It may be just a Twitter glitch, then again it may be some form of censorship. Who knows?  But it is frustrating as without Twitter there is no point in my writing for I have no other way to share.
Anyway you can help by helping me to share what I write. You can find this week’s blog here.

If I can’t tweet I may well need to take another social media break.