Friday, 21 October 2016

Let the SNP wait ....and wait....and wait

How do we respond to the latest threat from the SNP to break up our country? We must respond in a variety of ways. One of them is humour. The gorillas are on the loose again beating their chests and drinking epic amounts of Ribena. This naturally makes them a little hyperactive. We must laugh at the little gorilla that keeps crying wolf. We have always laughed at such people. And yet we also always take seriously threats to our country and act accordingly. Too few people in the Scotland and especially in other parts of the UK recognise what the SNP are trying to do. It may be a little paradoxical, but truth lies in the combination of opposites. At the same time as we laugh we must also stiffen our resolve and be prepared to counter all threats. This is the British way. This has always been how we see off such people.

It is vital to learn from mistakes, both those that were made recently and those that were made long ago. Britain made a long term strategic error in 1916 that is still with us today. It didn’t happen on the Somme, which, by the way, was neither pointless nor a defeat. Rather our error occurred a little earlier. In response to rebellion in Ireland we executed the rebels. We were quite justified in doing so. They were traitors. Any country has the right to fight rebellion especially during war time. The people who decided to use 1916 as the moment to stab Britain in the back when we were struggling desperately to liberate both France and Belgium were cowards and opportunists. I would not wish that my country had such founding fathers. But it was our error that made them such. They might now be forgotten if we had put them in prison for a few years and the incident might be a detail in history known only to specialists.

Nothing in history or indeed in the future is inevitable. There need not have been a First World War. The conditions that gave rise to it were already easing and by 1916 the world might have been safe. It was contingent and all the causes you learned about at school might have had a different outcome.

The British response to rebellion in Ireland was a long term strategic error. It is quite easy to imagine a scenario where Ireland remained a part of the UK. If I could go back in history, I would only have to change a couple of things to make that so. But it wasn’t only Britain that made an error. By rebelling in 1916 the Irish put themselves on a historical path that one hundred years later is not turning out so well. They divided their island. They had fifty years of poverty. One hundred years of continued emigration including my family. They had thirty years and more of terrorism. Worst of all perhaps, after one hundred years the English speaking people in the Republic of Ireland are going to end up in a different trading bloc to the English speaking people of the UK. Long term this is going to harm the Republic of Ireland. Choosing the Euro and the EU and people who don’t speak your language and who in the end are neither your friends nor your family looks like a long term strategic error which began in 1916 in Dublin. The Republic of Ireland strove to avoid precisely this fate when it joined the EU only at the same time as the UK did. But there is no use complaining about a potentially hard border and damage to trade between the UK and Ireland. When countries choose to have an international relationship they inevitably lose the benefits of being part of the same country. This didn’t have to happen. This is what you chose.

But it is crucial to remember that the loss of Ireland in the 1920s was not existential. We were the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. We remained a United Kingdom. What we lost was merely something following the word “and”. People who have read my work know that I have always supported the right of the British people in Northern Ireland to remain a part of the UK. I hope that they do so forever. But if history had turned out differently and Ireland had not been partitioned this too would not have been an existential loss for the UK. It would still have been something after the word “and”.

We in Britain care about our fellow Brits wherever they are from. We will forever defend Northern Ireland, Gibraltar and the Falklands. No sensible country wishes to lose territory. But when I see the leader of Gibraltar siding with Nicola Sturgeon I think it is worth reminding him that we would still be the UK even if Gibraltar once more became a part of Spain. The loss would no doubt be painful, but it would not be existential.

What is the UK? In essence it is the sovereign independent nation state that is situated on the island containing England, Scotland and Wales. To lose any part of this is to lose the UK. This would be an existential loss. Far too few people in the UK are aware that Scottish independence means the loss of our country and the loss of our flag. There could no longer be a UK without Scotland, just as there could no longer be a UK without England. We stand and fall together.

Algeria until 1962 was a part of France. But the loss of Algeria did not entail the loss of anything essential to France. There are still some faraway places that are treated as parts of France. But the loss of Saint Pierre and Miquelon (some islands near Newfoundland) would I imagine barely be noticed in France. Losing Burgundy or Brittany would be something else again.

No French person would contemplate giving up any part of French territory without a fight. It is therefore pure folly that some English people appear to welcome the loss of Scotland. What would you even call your country? You couldn’t keep calling it the Rest of the UK (rUK) because there wouldn’t any longer be a UK. Would you call it England, Wales and Northern Ireland? It doesn’t exactly slip off the tongue. What then? Who would take this rump seriously? What would happen to international confidence in the economy of such a place that doesn’t even have a proper name? Who would view its armed forces as being worthy of consideration. If you think Brexit will be a shock, try Scottish independence. Every citizen of the UK would lose his country. The flag that we have fought under for centuries would be no more. How could there be any blue in it? Wishing good riddance to Scotland is wishing good riddance to yourself. Scotland is just as much a part of what you are as it is a part of what I am.

We have always been willing to defend our country against existential threats. Why are we unwilling now? Even if we had lost in 1940, it may have been possible in time that the UK would have won in the end. After all France came through the years of occupation and remained France. But if Scotland ever became independent, the UK would be “no more than a dream remembered” something to be found only in books.

We must recognise the SNP for what they are. They want to destroy the UK. Don’t cooperate with them. Far too many political parties in the UK appear willing to work with the SNP. There is talk of progressive pacts. Let’s be absolutely clear. There is nothing progressive about trying to destroy our country. The SNP have one aim and one aim only. Only fools work with them. Nobody who cares about the UK should vote for such fools.

How should we react to SNP threats? The crucial thing is that we must do all that we can to nullify them. For this reason I believe Scottish politicians like Ruth Davidson have made a long term strategic mistake. After the EU referendum she argued that the UK Prime Minster should not block a second Scottish independence referendum. I understand why she is doing this. She doesn’t want to inflame the situation. She doesn’t want Britain to make the error that we made in 1916. She thinks that if Theresa May blocked an SNP request for a referendum this would increase support for independence in Scotland. All of these things are legitimate concerns. Nevertheless Ruth Davidson is mistaken. Nicola Sturgeon was delighted by her intervention. I have a lot of time for the Tory leader in Scotland, but she must remember above all the maxim "Always do what your opponent least wants".

Never tell your opponent anything. Why help them? It seems to me that Theresa May is doing well. She always argues that the issue of Scottish independence has been settled. She correctly points out that the SNP do not have a mandate, nor indeed do they have a majority. She reminds them that just over two years have passed since the last independence referendum. She is right not to refuse. Why refuse when you haven’t even been asked? But it is vital Pro UK Scots make absolutely clear that we think in the end Theresa May ought to refuse a second independence referendum so soon after the last one.

Strategically I think David Cameron made a major error in allowing a referendum on Scottish independence. He should have said to the Scottish nationalists, the UK is one nation and it is indivisible. In this he would have received the support of the whole world. This is exactly the line that United States would take with regard to secession. It is the line that is taken by every country in the European Union.  What is the point of fighting off existential threats to your country throughout its long history if you can be defeated by separatists? Which of our historical enemies would we give a vote? Would we allow Napoleon to vote on whether he could conquer Britain?

There is no universal right to secession. It is perfectly democratic for nation states all over the world to prevent citizens who wish to conspire in the destruction of their country from doing so. If blocking separatists is undemocratic, then Spain is undemocratic and so is the USA. If the SNP think they do have a right to secede, let them test it in the court of international opinion. How many members of the Security Council would side with secessionists? Russia has fought a war against secession, so has France, so has China and the USA. Why on Earth out of all the countries in the world does Britain alone allow these people to threaten us?

I am heartily sick of the continued threats from the SNP. Must we live our whole life continually in a state of anxiety about our country? What if the SNP had a second referendum, would that settle anything? No of course not. If they won, that would be it. We would never get a second chance. But if they lost within days they would want another go. Anyone who thinks that a second referendum would kill off the SNP is mistaken. What if they got the same result as last time? Do you really think they wouldn’t want still another chance? Anyone who thinks we would win easily is also mistaken. No-one can predict what would happen. Politics is very strange at the moment. Moreover in Scotland we are getting to the stage where we are beyond rational argument. Another campaign would just inflame passions still further. The SNP only have a fundamentalist argument. They want independence come what may. How am I supposed to argue against this? I might as well debate with creationists.

Scottish independence would destroy the country of 65 million people. Why should 5 million have the permanent right to do this whenever they choose? The concept of something being reserved means that there is the right to say “No”. There is a good reason why constitutional matters are reserved and that is what we voted for when we got the Scottish Parliament. The whole country voted on leaving the EU. But we can only make a success of Brexit if the whole country remains intact. We face a time of challenge when we must negotiate the future of all of us so that we get the best deal possible. Why should the SNP be allowed to continually interfere and make life difficult for the UK? Why should they be able to undermine the choice of millions of UK citizens just because they disagree with it? This is not democratic. A Scottish vote is worth no more than any other person's vote in the UK. Why should Scots think we have a right of veto?

The SNP would put Scotland at a long term disadvantage. They would partition Britain and put themselves in a different trading bloc to the other English speaking people on our island. There is no rational case for doing so other than identity politics, ancient history and a dislike of our larger neighbour. Theresa May must be careful. It is crucial that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. She must say to Nicola Sturgeon. I’m sorry Nicola but you will have to wait. When we have a new Prime Minister after Mrs May departs, he or she must likewise tell the Scottish nationalists that while there may be an other independence referendum some day in the mean time they should "wait in Edinburgh, and wait...and wait...and wait."  

Friday, 14 October 2016

It's Scottish nationalism that suffers from xenophobia

Whichever fat fingered BBC technician “accidentally” substituted some film of a psychotic rampaging gorilla for the latest film of Nicola Sturgeon making threats deserves some sort of award. Give that man a Nobel Prize for services to humour. There is a long history in Britain of turning people like Sturgeon into a figure of fun. Throughout our history we’ve been coming across little people who like to give us ultimatums.

They usually look rather funny even when they try to look stern and serious. They gesticulate as they whip up a crowd of adoring worshipers. Sometimes they bang their shoe on the table as they tell us that they will bury us. Other times they simply underestimate us. Britain will have its neck wrung like a chicken in three weeks said some little man who has now been forgotten by history. “Some chicken … some neck” said a man who hasn’t been forgotten by history.

Since June we have all been waiting for disaster. The least Polish sounding man in history Donald Tusk keeps making threats. Perhaps someone on the BBC could push the wrong button again and show a clip of a rampaging elephant in a kilt. EU politicians keep telling us how they will make an example of Britain by showing that anyone who dares to leave the EU will be punished. It’s like a re-run of the Grexit crisis of 2015. Stern Angela Merkel wasn’t willing to give anything to Greece and although the Greek people were brave enough to say No their Government wasn’t. But then Greece has a long history of being a vassal state and hasn’t done anything of importance since Aristotle. Somebody should remind these people that Britain in not Greece.

If the EU is a prison with guards who are ready to shoot anyone who dares to leave, this is not a reason to stay. This is a reason to start digging tunnels called “Tom”, “Dick” and “Harry” and once more show our European friends that there is a way to escape tyranny.

Nicola Sturgeon desperately needs taking down a peg or three. In my local SNP shop you can buy framed Sturgeon portraits to hang on your wall. The cover of the last SNP manifesto consisted entirely of a picture of her. This is outside the normal conditions of British politics. How many Labour supporters had posters of Harold Wilson? How many Liberals had posters of Joe Grimond? For goodness sake few indeed were the Democratic Unionists who had posters of Ian Paisley. A person with a framed picture of Margaret Thatcher would be considered an obsessive even by Tories. We laugh at such people. We prick their bubbles. No one but a deluded fool commissions a monument to themselves with one of their quotes attached to a rock that will endure forever. It won’t last by the way. It’s no more permanent than the Ed Miliband stone. These people always build monuments to themselves but they end up in the graveyard of statues. "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone". Nicola’s supporters may be tempted to rename Irvine Sturgeongrad, but these sorts of names don’t last.

How many of her red lines have been crossed since June? Firstly she was tempted to hold an immediate referendum on independence because Scotland voted one way while other parts of the UK disagreed. But she didn’t. Then she said if Scotland didn’t get to stay in the EU, she would hold another independence referendum. But she didn’t. Now she says if Scotland doesn’t get to stay in the single market she will hold another independence referendum. But she won’t.

But you must take me seriously cried the little gorilla. This time I really did see the wolf. OK I confess the last few times I was making it up, but this time you I’m really, really serious. I imagine the wolf may struggle with actually swallowing this gorilla, but then again this isn’t actually a problem because there isn’t really a wolf. There never was a wolf, just a little gorilla that keeps crying "wolf".

There was quite a lot of rather ludicrous fuss on the news about Nicola Sturgeon’s latest threats. But what it amounts to is this. She is going to start consulting about a bill over which the Scottish Parliament cannot debate because it is outside its competence. The Scottish Parliament likes to have debates about things it doesn’t control. Just like Nicola Sturgeon it loves to wave its arms around making gestures, looking stern and talking big. The correct response to this is laughter. It is for this reason above all that Nicola the gorilla is the best peace of political journalism I’ve seen all year.

Figures of fun keep saying funny things. It is this above all that makes them figures of fun. But what is it that makes something funny. It is above all contradiction. The picture of a priest caught glancing back at a pretty woman in a mini-skirt is funny because of the contradiction between what the priest should be thinking and what he is actually thinking. The humour in Nicola Sturgeon’s speech is her portrayal of other people in Britain as xenophobes. The humour is the contradiction between her opinion of herself and her own values and what they are in reality. The essence of Scottish nationalism is xenophobic by definition. For a xenophobe to complain about xenophobia in other people is always in the end humorous. Once more the correct response is to laugh.

Nicola Sturgeon just like every other Scottish nationalist cannot bear to live in the same country as people from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. If this isn’t xenophobia what is? What is it about these people from England, Wales and Northern Ireland that she so dislikes that she cannot bear to share a country with them? It is that they are not Scottish. Again, if that is not xenophobia, what is?

What is the nature of Nicola Sturgeon’s complaint about the EU referendum? Essentially she is complaining about being outvoted. But this complaint only works on the assumption that the people in other parts of the UK are not like her. If Scotland became independent, I might be outvoted. The region in which I live, for example Aberdeenshire, might be outvoted. So being outvoted is not really Nicola Sturgeon’s problem. After all this is a feature of all democracies. Nicola Sturgeon’s problem is that Scotland should be outvoted. Why should this matter? The reason they always gives is that Scotland is my country while the UK isn’t. I am Scottish, but not British, they say.

The essence of Scottish nationalism is that people from other parts of the UK do not have a shared identity with me. If they were to accept that other British citizens had a shared identity with Scots, then there would be no more problem for Scots to be outvoted in a UK wide election than for Scots to be outvoted in a Scotland wide election. The reason that Nicola Sturgeon cannot bear being outvoted is because these people outvoting her are not Scots.

Moreover she is saying that she cannot bear to live in a country where these non Scots can outvote her. She would have no problem at all if only Scots could outvote her. Why do people like Nicola Sturgeon so dislike Westminster? The reason is because Westminster is elected by people from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Well what is the problem with that? The problem is that these people are not Scots. Again if this isn’t xenophobia, what is?

At Appomattox Court House in 1865 there was a famous conversation. Robert E. Lee on discovering that one of the Union officers present Ely S. Parker was descended from the Seneca tribe remarked “"It is good to have one real American here” to which Parker replied “We are all Americans”. General Grant forbade any cheering on the grounds that “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall”.

Perhaps it was this moment that lead to peace in the USA such that now it is unimaginable that there should ever more be secession. It is the refusal of people like Nicola Sturgeon to accept that she has a shared identity with her fellow citizens that means for her the war is never over. Imagine if she had another referendum on independence and she lost it again? Would she then accept that she had been defeated finally? How many days would it be before she was demanding another chance? Referendums only have a point if they can decide an issue once and for all. If they cannot do this, they only cause division. The UK has had far too many referendums. I voted to leave the EU, but I would gladly stay if the condition for doing so was that there would never be another referendum in the UK.

The UK is a nation state of around 65 million people. Scottish nationalists are saying that we want the nation state we live in to cease having a population of 65 million people and instead to have a population of 5 million. But this in effect is to deport 60 million people. Nicola Sturgeon in effect wants to banish 60 million Brits in order that she can only live with Scots. If this isn’t xenophobia, what is?

But why can’t she bear to live in a nation state with 60 million Brits. The reason is because they are Brits and she is a Scot. At bedrock this is Nicola Sturgeon’s problem with the UK. She is Scottish, while they are British. This is identity politics at its worst. But then all nationalism at root is always about identity politics.

Scottish nationalists like to try to hide the roots of their philosophy. They have all been carefully taught to describe themselves as civic nationalists.  But this is a mere fig leaf. It is very easy indeed to test the limits of civic nationalism.  How would it be if a few hundred thousand people from other parts of the UK decided to move to Scotland? By the standards of civic nationalism they would all immediately be Scots. But what if these people continued to feel British too? What if they opposed Scottish independence because they felt the same identity as people in other parts of the UK? What if these few hundred thousand people put Scottish independence beyond the reach of the SNP forever? Would you really still be so welcoming?

No-one became a Scottish nationalist because of the idea of civic nationalism. Scottish nationalists vote for the SNP because they feel patriotism only about Scotland and not about the UK. If you felt patriotism about Britain you thereby would not feel outvoted any more than someone from Vermont feels outvoted if he votes for one presidential candidate, but this candidate loses. You only feel outvoted if you think that these others who outvote you do not share your identity. If you thought that people in other parts of the UK were your fellow countrymen you would not complain about the EU referendum. It’s only because you think they are not your fellow countrymen that you complain. But what is someone who is not a fellow countryman. He is a foreigner. What is someone who complains about being outvoted by foreigners? He is a xenophobe.

Scottish nationalism is grounded in xenophobia. Fundamentally it is grounded in dislike for our large neighbour. The UK in fact is one of the least xenophobic countries in Europe. We are not threatened by parties of the far right like those that exist in many European countries including France, Austria and Greece. Most Brits welcome people from elsewhere and we are willing to share our identity with them. It is not xenophobic of course to want to limit immigration, otherwise there would be no such things as borders. But like it or not ever Scot is a British citizen. To be unwilling to share your identity with someone who is a fellow citizen is clearly discriminatory. To act towards your fellow citizen as if he were a foreigner on the grounds of where he lives, or the accent that he has is clearly a form of prejudice. To make a speech describing others as xenophobes while leading a movement that is itself inherently xenophobic is comical. It’s really is high time Nicola Sturgeon became a figure of fun.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Gone, gone the damage done

There is a reason I’ve been writing so much since the EU referendum and with perhaps a higher intensity than before. I returned from holiday in early July only to find one of my friends and colleagues in absolute bits. I remember that whole period of uncertainty leading up to the EU referendum as a time of stress. I disliked the campaign that both sides were running. Remain ran Project Fear Two, which is why they lost and deserved to lose. But I thought some of the claims made by Leave were clearly ludicrous. I don’t expect the NHS to get much more money because we are leaving the EU. But then I don’t think the NHS should get more money. The problem with health in the UK is not lack of money. If you give the NHS more money it will go on inflated salaries for doctors, who now think they should be paid as if they were merchant bankers. It will go on administration and it will go on waste. We have a health service with a methodology from the 1940s and an ideology that has been discredited the world over. Is it really a surprise that it doesn’t work? Socialism doesn’t work and nor does socialised medicine.

I came out on the Leave side of the argument. This has partly to do with my contrariness. I have always been a Tory because in part it was so much more fun being a Tory in the 1980s when absolutely everyone I met just loathed Margaret Thatcher. Well this time around the whole establishment plus nearly all the academics, plus nearly all the students thought that voting to leave the EU was not only thick, but vulgar. This is especially the case in Scotland. So naturally I looked at the arguments and found myself coming down more and more in favour of Leave. Perhaps I will be proved wrong. No-one can predict the future. But I have not been proved wrong yet. My side keeps winning the referendums. Long may this continue. 

But have you noticed something. Britain is healing from the wound that was inflicted by the EU referendum. Most people have moved on. There is some debate about what sort of Brexit we should go for. But for the most part disappointed Remainers have come to terms with losing and are working with Leavers to help create a better Britain. Compare and contrast with Scotland.

My friend had along with the rest of us suffered a great deal of stress due to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. In the course of the next couple of years she became ever more worried about the downturn in Aberdeen. Her husband works in the oil industry. On top of this she was concerned about the economic consequences if the UK left the EU. What would happen to her investments? What would happen to house prices? The result of the EU referendum was a shock. I certainly didn’t expect Leave to win. I don’t think anyone much expected that. The polls got it wrong, the betting got it wrong, the markets got it wrong. But you know what she was fine. She was absolutely fine until the Scottish nationalists started making threats.

Suddenly Nicola Sturgeon was continually on television adding to the uncertainty. She was stirring up trouble, plotting away. It was too much. All of the memories of the independence referendum came back and my friend found it tough to take. She had something of a nervous collapse and had to have a couple of weeks off work. It wasn’t Brexit that caused this, it was Scottish nationalism.  

I was reasonably relaxed about the result of the EU referendum. Whatever happened I would not lose my country. But if the SNP ever won an independence referendum I would be homeless. The UK is my home and the UK would cease to exist if Scotland became independent.

It is for this reason that I write as I do. This is personal. I have seen the damage that Scottish nationalism does to Scottish lives. The SNP have kept us all in a state of permanent tension. Who can really relax when our country is continually threatened with destruction? Some deal with this stress by writing and by fighting back against the threat. Others find they don’t have this outlet and crack.

I don’t think there is quite this sense of trauma among the Scottish nationalists, though who can tell. I am fortunate in that I don't actually know any Scottish nationalists.  Until around twenty years ago, almost no-one in Scotland expected that there would ever be an independent Scotland. The only party that supported this was tiny and hardly got any votes. It is hardly then traumatic to remain in the country you were born in and to retain the citizenship you’ve always had.

I accept that there was great disappointment on the part of the Yes side. They came closer than they thought they would and for a moment believed that they had a chance, but when they lost they returned to the world they had always known.

But look what the campaign did. This is why it has been so damaging for both sides. Many Scottish nationalists have ceased to have any feeling whatsoever for the UK. Many of them are openly hostile to Britain and want nothing whatsoever to do with being British. They see themselves now as exclusively Scottish. It is for this reason that they get so worked up about flags on packets of strawberries. But we do continue to live in the UK. We are British citizens whether we like it or not. To not feel something that you are is strange. It is like saying I am cold, but I don’t feel it. I don’t think this is so much trauma as dissociation from reality. A German person who hates Germany because he feels exclusively Bavarian is rare indeed. A Catalan who hates Spain is more common. But the truth is that the Bavarian is a German and the Catalan is Spanish. Look at your passport if you are in doubt about this matter. So there is an element of self-denial even hatred of self in the response of Scottish nationalists. I don’t know how they feel about this. Perhaps some of them do indeed find it traumatic. Then again they all maintain how they found 2014 so joyful. So if it is a trauma it is a hidden and rather repressed trauma. That might explain quite a lot.

From the Pro UK point of view things have turned out to be rather different. When I began campaigning I emphasised that I was both Scottish and British and that there was no contradiction in being both. I still think this. I was born in Scotland (not that this matters), I went to school here. I spoke the local dialect fluently. My favourite author has always been Walter Scott. I would wear Tartan from time to time and in a vague way thought that the Jacobite cause was just and that the Hanoverians were usurpers. What this means is that I took the Tory side of history. I felt mild patriotism about Scotland and still milder patriotism about Britain. I dislike flag waving. I dislike flags.

But look at the result of the campaign. This is what the SNP have destroyed. They have taken away our peace of mind. They have also diminished our sense of Scottishness. I don’t know if this is how all Pro UK Scots feel. I think some have been stronger than me and have fully retained their sense of Scottishness. But for me it has diminished and become a diminished thing. The SNP were successful. They won the battle over flags. Now the Saltire is their flag, the Union Jack is mine. Whenever I see a Saltire I think Scottish nationalist. If someone has one in their button hole or on their Twitter profile I immediately assume that they are a Scottish nationalist.

I would never now show any Scottish symbol. They are all lost to me. I would not wear a tartan skirt. I would not go to a ceilidh. I would not go to a Burns supper. I have lost my flag and I have lost a part of my identity. Of course I do not deny that I am Scottish. But I think of Scotland now as the equivalent of Aberdeenshire. I likewise do not deny that I am Aberdonian. But I don’t wear any symbols of Aberdeenshire. I fly no Aberdeenshire flags or wear a Dons strip while walking up Union Street. I rarely now speak Doric. I hardly know anyone who does. It is something from my childhood that is gradually being forgotten. I remember that time when there was no division in Scotland. When we were all just Scots and our identities had not been politicised. The independence referendum changed everything. Before the rise of Scottish nationalism I didn’t question Scotland’s being a country, but I followed through the logic of the argument. If Scotland was indeed a country in the normal sense of the word then it ought to be independent, so I was forced to conclude that Scotland was only called a country. Thank you SNP. Not only did you threaten the UK, you caused me to lose my sense of living in a country called Scotland. 

So I too in a way am in the position of denying myself and denying what I am. Of course I’m happy to say that I am Scottish. After all this is where I was born, this is where I am from, this is the language I can speak and the accent that I have. But it is not something I anymore will ever emphasise. I would put North Britain on my letters if I ever posted any letters anymore. 

We have gone through too much in the last few years in Scotland. Not everyone feels it at all. The Scottish nationalists think of these years as a triumph of democracy and popular engagement with politics. The joy of it that Scotland has not been so divided since the Covenanters. But the Scottish nationalists are no closer to winning. In fact they may be further away. What happens when this mass movement actually realises this fact. How do you reconcile yourself to being British forever when you hate Britain?

The trauma on the part of the Pro UK person is I think greater. We thought for a moment that we would lose our country. We were at no point in the UK’s history closer to doing so than on that September night in 2014. I would rather lose a war than lose my country. And then we had no victory. All sorts of reasons can be given for this. Perhaps the upsurge in SNP popularity was simply because people thought something was possible now that previously they had thought to be impossible. The campaign for independence created a desire for independence that had never been there before. This was David Cameron's mistake. He should never have allowed the vote. But then we should never have created the Scottish Parliament. We should never have made concessions to Scottish nationalism by granting it ever more power. We are where we are. Neither side is happy. But neither side can win. Whatever happens Scotland is divided. Perhaps now we are divided for ever. I used to say that the only solution to the problems of the Soviet Union is to leave. Perhaps the same can be said for Scotland or perhaps we have already reached peak nationalism and now it is already in decline. We shall see. But I think it has become a frozen conflict. No solution is possible, but no peace either. It begins to be pointless even to write about such things. 

But the SNP should be made aware of the damage that they are doing. Neil Young once wrote “I’ve seen the needle and the damage done”. Well when I visited my friend who was struggling mentally because of what Nicola Sturgeon kept threatening I could say I’ve seen the SNP and the damage done. How many people in Scotland have been left traumatised by this never-ending struggle that we are doomed to fight continuously without a chance of reconciliation? How many of us have lost something precious “Gone, gone, the damage done.”

Friday, 30 September 2016

The great leap forward

It is only through writing that I can really know what I think. My views develop and change. The fundamentals don’t normally change a great deal, but the details do. My method is not scholarly. I find most academic writing to be desperately dull and pointless. I rarely now write footnotes. What are they for? I hardly ever read the books or articles that are cited, so all these little footnotes do is show that someone is a scholar and that they play this academic game with success. They are published in journals which no-one reads and write books that are unreadable.

Some good work is no doubt being done in science and medicine, but I rarely come across something that I find interesting in the subjects that concern me such as history, literature, philosophy and theology. The discussion is frequently very narrow and about something that doesn’t matter, an author who ought to have been forgotten, an obscure verse in the Bible or an academic dispute that concerns no-one else. I don’t do this. It is pointless. It is only about being employed and receiving money. I sometimes think that modern day universities have one purpose only and that is to employ academics. The quality of the teaching and the quality of what is written is a disgrace compared to how things were one hundred years and more ago. The reason is that everyone is constrained and dare not say what they think.

Gradually a creeping conformity has taken over nearly every subject that is not grounded in experiment. I refuse to read anything written by Americans. It is simply too dull and depressing. The most original thinkers are tamed and made to conform to the latest political view. The most important issue is not to give offence to anyone. The words and the issues that might cause offense keep growing.  Who knows what will be offensive next.

A person from 1960 would be in trouble if they arrived in the modern world. Much of what they assumed to be unquestionably true would have turned out to be false. Ordinary words that they would use and their beliefs about religion and morality would be considered to be grossly offensive today. An article that I might have published in a philosophy or theology journal in 1960 might get me sacked today. No wonder so much writing is dull and conformist when we are all scared that the western equivalent of the Komsomol will denounce us. They will arrive with their little red books demanding safe spaces and trigger warnings and if we are not careful we will end up in the paddy fields grateful still to be alive. There is a cultural revolution taking place on campus.  No doubt one day it will be considered to be a great leap forward.

At the heart of this revolution is falsity. As ever I return to Dostoevsky in or to explain this. (All quotes from Pevear translation p.44)

At the start of the Brothers Karamazov there is a meeting between the father of the brothers Fedor who is a buffoon and Zosima a wise monk. Fedor continually plays the fool and tells lies. Zosima tells him “A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others” Because of this such a person ceases to love both himself and others and falls into a degenerate state giving himself up to coarse pleasures and eventually reaches such an extremity of vice that it amounts to bestiality.

Why should this be so? I think it can be explained in Christian existentialist terms. Kierkegaard puts forward the idea that the self is relational. A self is a relation that relates itself to itself and in doing so relates to another. This other is God, but also other people. But if a person lies to himself, his relationship to himself is distorted and founded on falsity. This also prevents the person from relating correctly both to God and other people. Because God is the foundation of an objective morality, the person who lies to himself is left with being able to relate to others only in terms of law or in terms of inclination. Whatever feels good to me I will do so long as I can get away with it. The morality that everyone in 1960 took for granted has been undermined by our great leap forward to such an extent that I cannot even describe vice as immoral. If you have a different partner every night it is me that is wrong for being critical of you. I am a “slut shamer”, you are virtuous. People thus can interact in the way that animals do without respect and solely for the purpose of pleasuring each other. The truth that once was universally acknowledged that certain actions were immoral has been discarded. Even to suggest that certain behaviour is immoral is now condemned. The immorality is to suggest that something is immoral.

In what does the lie consist? In my view it consists in denying that the person has a relationship to God and that he has a soul. Each of us feels free and unconstrained when we act in our daily lives. But the foundation of modern science is to suggest that we are all in essence animals. The great leap forward is the attempt to explain and reduce human nature to biology and the universe to atoms. This is not how I experience the world. The basic feeling I have is that I am free. But science would tell me that this feeling of freedom is an illusion. All is determined. But my ordinary consciousness tells me that I am not matter and atoms causing each other to do things. It tells me that I am something qualitatively different. Science’s attempt to deny my most basic experience means that if I accept this reductionism, I am forced to deny the foundation of my existence. If science is correct, then everything I know about myself is untrue. But this requires that I deceive myself and lie about my everyday experience of freedom. The conflict between the scientific world view about my existence and my own everyday experience means I must either be authentic as a free spiritual being or else lie to myself and deny that I am what I am. It is a desperate situation if a person’s whole existence is founded on a lie. The reason for this is that I lose the authentic relationship I have with myself. I lose the grounding for any sort of objective morality which depends on God (if God does not exist everything is permitted) and I treat everyone else in terms either of what I am legally obliged to do or in terms of my own self-interest. No wonder this ends in bestiality because science tells us we are indeed beasts.

There is something else on which this whole lie depends. Let us return to Zosima. He says “A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. It sometimes feels very good to take offense. Doesn’t it?” The whole essence of our great leap forward is that we take offence. When I was a student in Cambridge no-one even noticed the old statues. I didn’t know who they were and I didn’t care. I had more important things to concern me. But now someone somewhere takes great pleasure in being offended. First they object to a statue of Cecil Rhodes. If this succeeds they take pleasure in objecting to someone else. Likewise someone finds that a novel from the past has ideas or words that are not current today. Someone must be offended. There are whole industries devoted to people being offended or alternatively to those who want to show that they are so liberal that they always use the currently fashionable term.

I write in a provocative fashion, because it is how I develop my thought. I want to write original articles that contain challenging thoughts. I will no doubt sometimes offend. But the Christian message itself is “offence to the Jews and folly to the Greeks.” This is the nature of truth. The deepest truths cannot be thought. They involve going beyond the bounds of reason. You climb up the ladder and then you throw it away. Truth therefore is folly. Moreover, telling someone he is wrong will always lead to him finding it offensive, especially if he wishes to remain in the wrong. In order to challenge the established way of thinking I therefore have to write things that will sometimes appear strange, (folly), and may also appear to be offensive. This is especially the case if I argue well.

But what we have above all is manufactured offence. Again Zosima describes the person who lies to himself “And surely he knows that no one has offended him, and that he himself has invented the offense and told lies just for the beauty of it, that he has exaggerated for the sake of effect, that he has picked on a word and made a mountain out of a pea”. I come across this so frequently that it has become the essence of our great leap forward. Someone picks out a word in one of my blogs and shares it on social media. Suddenly hundreds or indeed thousands of people tell me how offended they are by this word. They describe me in the worst possible terms. They find ever more innovative ways to show how much they hate me. But not one of them is really offended. It’s all completely inauthentic and false. They want to score points. They dislike my politics. They want to find a way to stop me writing. But not one of these people is really, genuinely offended. They are all the equivalent of the five year old who tells teacher that little Johnny was doing something wrong. The five year old is not offended by Johnny she just wants to suck up to the teacher and get Johnny into trouble. This is the essence of lying to yourself. It is self-deception. It damages you. It doesn’t touch me.

How many words have I written in my 200 plus blogs? Perhaps half a million. Yet still someone may point to a single word that I wrote two years ago and try to use it to condemn me. He only condemns himself.

We have reached the stage where the slightest slip on social media can lead to a storm of protest. But this inhibits all of us. We each have to watch what we say in case we say the wrong word. Suddenly a word that all of us have used without a problem becomes problematic. Who knows what it will be next week. I never once thought the word “Jock” was offensive. But now it may be added to the long list of words that cannot be said. But this is all founded on a lie. The person who objects to the word “Jock” doesn’t really do so. He just wants to be offended.

Whole areas of academic life are now controlled by this false sense of offence and it makes it almost impossible to write freely. It is such good fun for an 18 year old student to scare an elderly professor half to death because he fails to use the latest term for something. Fifty years ago nice people described black people as “coloured”. But that term is no longer fashionable. Fair enough. I too can see the problem with it. We all have a colour after all. But if someone who has not kept up with the fashion inadvertently uses this obsolete term is there any reason to take such an offence? Of course not, but it gives people such a warm feeling inside to condemn others. Look at how they apologise and abase themselves because they made a mistake. There is no greater joy than seeing a sinner repent.

The person who feels continual offense “likes feeling offended, it gives him great pleasure, and thus he reaches the point of real hostility”. The hostility is this. There are lots and lots of people who go about trying to ruin other’s lives because they happen to say something that they pretend offends them. An academic may be sacked for the slip of a tongue. An off-colour joke may lead to a criminal conviction. An argument that contradicts the established orthodoxy may lead to a visit from the police. Someone may be banned from speaking publically at a university because he holds a view that was common place in 1960. No wonder so much writing is dull when the consequences of writing in an interesting way can be so devastating.

This is all founded on a lie. First we lie to ourselves. We lie about what we are. We deny our experiences and we reject what is evident to our senses. We reject 2000 years of religion and 2000 years of moral tradition and in the space of 60 years we construct a worldview that would baffle our grandparents. This too is a lie. Then we say that anyone who does not accept our modern world view must be condemned. They are not even allowed to think that this world view may have flaws. Anyone who does so will find themselves out of a job or in jail. We then call this state of self-censorship “freedom of speech”.

But there may be hope. Ordinary people in Britain rejected this whole modern worldview when they voted for Brexit. No wonder the Stepford Students were so angry. It was a step. A first step. We must cease lying and start telling the truth. God help us if we don’t.

Scottish nationalism has reached the fundamentalist stage

When I stand at my bus stop waiting to go home I watch the lorries pass by. Nearly every single one has a combination of Scottish flags somewhere in the cab. There is usually a phrase about Scotland being bonnie or being forever. Sometimes there are bits of tartanry dotted about, pictures of men in kilts or pipers piping. I don’t believe I have ever seen a lorry in Aberdeen which expresses the fact that it is from Britain and likes Britain. Are these lorry drivers all Scottish nationalists? Possibly they are. However it is statistically unlikely. But then this is our problem really. Vast numbers of Scots may vote to remain in the UK, but their identity is exclusively Scottish. Their allegiance is weak and their support temporary. It is for this reason above all that we have a problem in the UK with Scottish nationalism and why it remains a threat.

It’s worthwhile trying to understand the nature of your opponent. The SNP are consummate liars or else perhaps they deceive themselves. It’s not always easy to judge from outside. For years they argued that the reason they wanted independence was that Scotland voted Labour while the rest of the UK voted Tory. Vote for independence because then you will get what you voted for. Having used that argument to destroy Labour in Scotland, they then argued that we shouldn’t vote for Labour because it isn’t really a left-wing party. Labour were really “Red Tories”. Well any left-winger could hardly wish for a more socialist leader than Jeremy Corbyn. How many SNP supporters are now going to switch back to Labour because now we’ve got the real deal? How much more left-wing do you want Labour to be before it once more is worth your vote? But now it turns out that Scottish nationalists don’t want socialism after all, they just want independence. So their whole argument has turned out to be founded on a lie.

Nicola Sturgeon is very good at appearing on television and pretending how progressive she is. She may well be sincere. But it is beside the point. When we had a Labour Government under Blair and Brown, the SNP wanted independence. If we had a one with Jeremy Corbyn, they would likewise want independence. If we had voted to stay in the EU they would want independence. Now that we are leaving they will want independence if there is a “Hard Brexit”, but if there is the softest of Brexits they will also want independence. The SNP argument is fundamentalist. It is always fundamentalist. The rest is noise, just bells and whistles to try to win the argument. Everything Nicola Sturgeon has said and done since she was a child has been to achieve one goal and one goal only: Scottish independence.

There was some shock the other week when she wrote something about Scottish independence transcending other issues. But of course she is right and she is being honest. As I have long argued, there is only one argument for Scottish independence, but it is a good one. People who feel patriotic about Scotland and who feel that Scotland is their country ought to want Scottish independence. This is exactly the same argument that people have used through the centuries to achieve independence. Norwegian patriots wanted their country to be independent, as more recently did Latvian and Estonian patriots. This appeal to patriotism is very strong and powerful. When it becomes strong enough it does indeed transcend other issues. No-one can predict what will happen to an economy. Who can really weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of political action? No-one can pretend to guess what the UK will be like in twenty years’ time because of Brexit. Nor can anyone predict what Scotland would be like in fifty years’ time if we voted for independence.

Crucially however as I have also frequently argued the nationalist argument is circular. Nicola Sturgeon and others always argue that it would be better for decisions about Scotland to be taken by people in Scotland. But this argument is equally valid if I say either that it would be better for decisions about the UK to be taken in the UK or alternatively it would be better for decisions about Aberdeenshire to be taken in Aberdeenshire. The standard response from Scottish nationalists is that neither the UK nor Aberdeenshire are countries. What this amounts to then is that a country ought to be independent because it is a country. It is only because they always assume that Scotland already is an independent country that they can argue that it ought to become one. What this circularity means however is that for Scottish nationalists the argument is fundamentalist. They may pretend that they want independence in order to obtain something, but this is not true. They want it in and of itself.

The mistake that everyone has been making for the past twenty or thirty years is to fail to realise that we are up against fundamentalists. There is nothing whatsoever I can do to persuade Nicola Sturgeon to give up her goal of Scottish independence. She will want this all of her life. She was, no doubt, brought up this way. She will live this way and she will never change. Such an opponent is powerful. John Wayne in the Searchers called it a “critter that'll just keep comin' on.” If you’ve seen that film you’ll realise the power of obsession and how it can be dangerous with a touch of madness in it. Beware the fundamentalist. They are capable of anything.  Look at the news if you need any help with this idea.

Given that people like this will not change, it is futile to make concessions to them. Nicola Sturgeon wants Theresa May to tell her all about the Brexit negotiations. Why help your opponent? Tell her nothing. The SNP want the softest possible of Brexits. Why give your opponent anything. Rather if they want this, do the opposite. Some people think if only we have a soft Brexit then the SNP will have no reason to ask for independence. But this is to misunderstand the nature of our opponent. They are patient. They will wait and use this concession to achieve their goal.

How do we fight fundamentalism? The first thing to realise is that you cannot change the minds of fundamentalists. So don’t try.  But also we must realise that a utilitarian argument against a fundamentalist argument is always liable to lose. It's like taking a knife to a gunfight.  If enough Scots become fundamentalist Scottish nationalists, it will not matter about the economy and it will not matter about the oil. The issue will transcend all others.

This is our problem. The vast majority of Scots are like my lorry drivers. They already have one foot in the Scottish nationalist camp. If you have been brought up to think of yourself as exclusively Scottish then it is an easy thing to persuade you to join those who want independence. How else was it possible for Labour to lose most of its support? They already were Scottish patriots, it was a small step indeed to turning them into Scottish nationalists.  A patriot ought not to give a damn about the price of oil or whether independence would make you poorer.

The reason though that Nicola Sturgeon is going down the fundamentalist route is that she realises that after Brexit she has no other argument. It is a sign of  her strength but it is also a sign of her weakness.

How many Scots are fundamentalists about Scottish independence? It’s very difficult to judge, but it is certainly not fifty percent at the moment. But how many Scots are like my lorry driver? I think that is a much higher percentage than fifty percent.

It is not necessary of course for any of us who feel British to give up our Scottish identity. We can be both. But we must learn to express both. The key to defeating the SNP long term is to increase the sense of British identity throughout the UK.

Nicola Sturgeon says that she feared that the No campaign would be positive and Pro British telling us about all the wonderful things the UK had done in the past and would do in the future. She is right. You can only fight patriotism with patriotism.

We must keep the utilitarian arguments in the background. Everyone knows already that Scottish independence would make you poorer. But this argument does not help us and sometimes hinders us. We must never be negative about Scotland, but only positive about the UK. We must also start flying our flag, which after all contains the saltire. Only when I start to see Scottish lorry drivers with union jacks in their cabs will I feel that our country is truly safe. 

Friday, 23 September 2016

"But he hasn't got anything on at all"

As I frequently say I am in the business of questioning assumptions and I don’t think there should be things that cannot be said. This must be said. So let it be said.

At some point in the past fifty years or so someone decided that there was a thing called gender that differed from biological sex. From this all sorts of unlikely thinking has arisen. As with everything else it is necessary to go back to first principles and question everything. 

In the 1940s John Steinbeck wrote his novel East of Eden. At one point a little girl tells her uncle that she would like to be a boy and could he help her become one. The uncle points out to her that it isn’t possible for her to be a boy and she has to accept what she is. Over time she does so. She grows up and becomes a woman.

Imagine this same conversation today. I still think most parents would try to convince their little girl that it wasn’t possible for her to become a boy. But there is always the chance that someone would eventually agree with the little girl. They would take seriously the idea that she felt that she was really a little boy and they would set about making her dream come true. Would this story have a happy ending?

Let’s look at the ideas involved in modern day assumptions. It is assumed that gender can be different from biological sex. The little girl’s biological sex is female but her gender is really that of a boy. But how do we determine this gender? Is there anything empirically that we can point to in order to determine if it is true? All we have is the little girl’s statement that she feels like a boy and wants to become one. But how does she know that she feels like a boy? How does she know what being a boy feels like? I do not know what it feels like to be any other person. I only know what it feels like to be me.

Moreover, if what matters is that someone says they feel like something else, what if the little girl had said I feel like a cat and want to become a cat? Should we take that statement seriously and set about turning her into a cat? Why can’t we make a similar distinction between our biology as homo-sapiens and our feelings that we are cats? This is clearly analogous to the distinction between being biologically a little girl and feeling like a little boy. It may not be technologically possible to turn people into cats, but this is a mere medical limitation. One hundred years ago no-one thought it possible to turn a girl into a boy. So we could work towards a time when we could fulfil the little girl’s desire to be a cat, meanwhile accepting that although she is biologically a human being she is really a cat.

If however we accept that there is a distinction between biological sex and gender why ought there to be a need to change biological sex. If gender is determined by how someone feels, why not say you can feel as you please, no-one is stopping you. But why then do you feel the need to change your biological sex? There is a contradiction here. Either whether someone is a girl or a boy is something objective or it is not. If it is a matter of how someone feels, there need be no need to get medicine involved. If on the other hand it is something objective, then it ought to be determined objectively. But how is it that we determine the sex of infants? This is either the criterion of who is boy and who is a girl or it isn’t. You can’t have it both ways.  There is nothing hindering you being subjectively a little boy even if you were born a little girl. But subjectivity is not truth and ought not to determine reality. Once you go down the route of making subjectivity the master of thought then you can quite soon believe absolutely anything, no matter how unlikely. This unfortunately is the case throughout much of the Western world. We have reached the stage where “black” will soon mean “white” if that is what the latest PC fad suggests. Moreover we all must conform or else face censure. Soon we will be commanded to believe that 2 + 2 = 5 and we will all do so willingly. 

With regard to the sex that someone is assigned at birth, there are no doubt instances of people who have a medical condition that requires intervention, but these are few and far between. However, in the vast majority of cases it is simply unhelpful to make a false distinction between gender and biological sex. In the world we live in today I suspect 99% of the population understands sex as an objective matter that is almost always determined at birth. Only in the West have we got ourselves into a terrible muddle by making a distinction where there is no difference. The correct response to someone who says they were born with the wrong gender is to point out that they are simply mistaken. You may feel like a boy, but you are not a boy. You may feel like a cat, but you are not a cat. It is better to be what you are than to try to be what you are not and can never become. That way only lies unhappiness, because it is to try to build a house on the foundations of falsity.

It is unreasonable to base our whole theory of identity on a few people who describe themselves as transgender. The norm for nearly everyone is that there is no distinction between sex and gender. Creating a distinction where there is none because of a small group of people who are objectively mistaken is clearly odd and lacking in logic. Moreover it is I believe harmful. Many little girls who would grow up to be women and little boys who would grow up to be men are being confused by an assumption which has no evidence behind it. It is quite simply something a few academics made up out of their heads mainly because they are sophists who have fallen for the old lie that “man is the measure of all things”.  Plato showed the folly of this position thousands of years ago. There is truth and it is objective otherwise what I am writing right now would be self-defeating and pointless.

There are objective qualities and there are subjective qualities. For the vast majority of us it is simply a fact that we are male or female, black or white. I cannot say that I feel like a black woman and therefore I am a black woman. This quality of being black is objective. To fail to realise this rapidly leads to the nonsense of someone pretending to be black even though their parents were white.  For the self-same reason I cannot say that I feel like I am a man, therefore you ought to help me become a man. It is more correct to simply say to me, “I’m very sorry but you are mistaken. You are a woman. Accept it for this is something you cannot change.” If we really thought that the idea of someone being a girl or a boy was subjective we wouldn’t determine it in the way that we do at birth, but rather we would wait for every infant to become eighteen before giving it a name or deciding what sex it was.  

There are exceptions to every rule and we must be kind and understanding. But we do not define words by how they are used by a tiny minority. The fact is that for nearly everyone in the world there is no distinction between sex and gender. We determine both by looking at someone when they are naked.  The whole theory of gender being distinct from biological sex falls down upon a simple examination. It’s a wonder that so many people believe in it. But then there is a lot of pressure on them to do so. But I’m very sorry, I may be something of a lone voice here, but I feel the need to point out that the emperor has no clothes on at all.