Saturday, 21 January 2017

The front of the queue

One of the best bits from Tim Shipman’s book “All out War” is when he describes David Cameron’s attempt to negotiate some sort of deal with the other EU leaders. The account feels already like another country as if we could look back on those days from a perspective of centuries. But then “the past is foreign country. They do things differently there.” How transient are the political events of a year ago. I had forgotten many of the things that the papers thought at the time were momentous. But then the papers have forgotten them too. Can it really be less than a year ago that Cameron went to Brussels looking for a deal? He might as well have been wearing the clothes of his great grandfather. That world has gone. It is but a dream remembered.

The problem that David Cameron had is that he wanted something and others had to decide whether to give it to him or not. He carefully toured round all the various EU countries. But none of this actually mattered. At every point he had to ask the Germans.  There is an appearance [schein] about the EU, but there is also a reality [sein]. When you have to ask for something, what matters is whether the lady from Berlin says Ja oder nein [yes or no]. The Germans calculated that Britain would not vote to leave the EU and most importantly David Cameron would accept whatever they gave him. So they gave him more or less nothing.

This is the key lesson for our future relations with the EU. Don’t ask for anything. Luckily it looks as if Theresa May has learned it.

The world is different from how it was a year ago in other ways too. There is a long section in Shipman’s book describing how if Britain dared to leave the EU Mr Obama would put us at the back of the queue. Oddly huge numbers of British citizens cheered him on. Thank you Mr Obama. You are too kind. We want to be at the back of the queue.

No doubt some people at the time realised that Mr Obama himself would be gone by the time the issue arose, but then everyone must have calculated that the president spoke for all future presidents. It was after all long standing US policy to support the EU. Who could have guessed at the time that we would now have a president who likes Britain, who thinks of himself as in part British and Scottish, and who wants to put Britain at the front of the queue? But still some British citizens are complaining and are desperate that we should go to the back. Is this some sort of masochism or is it an inferiority complex? If you suffer from it I suggest you do what you can to get over it.

We all eventually revert to our historical roles. It is for this reason that you should read history. Not to learn from it. No one ever learns from history, but rather to understand where we all are now. Far from being an aberration, Trump is taking the United States back to its natural position. He is reasserting the Monroe Doctrine.

Both Franklin Roosevelt in 1940 and Woodrow Wilson in 1916 promised to keep the USA out of European wars. Wilson even used the slogan “America first”. Of course we all know that it didn’t work out that way. But this just expresses the tension in American history. Do we stick to our own continent or do we get involved? After a long period of interventionism the US is going to go back to its natural position. No doubt it will intervene again, but not yet.

This changes everything. It also provides Britain with an opportunity. Crucially when Theresa May goes to get her deal with the EU she is willing to walk away. We don’t particularly need anything from the EU. Imagine if we were asking for something. We’d then be in the same position as Mr Cameron. Oh please Angela let us stay in the Single Market. Oh please Angela we just won’t be able to get along without your help. Up against 27 other EU states, all of whom would want their pound of flesh, but most of all up against the Kaiserin [empress] or is that Kanzlerin [chancellor], we would once more get nothing. The price of leaving the EU under those circumstances would be to remain in the EU. This of course is what the opponents of Brexit have been hoping for. They wanted it to appear as if the UK left the EU, otherwise the peasants might revolt, but in reality we were to remain.

What we want from the EU is no more than we give. If you give us free trade we will give it back. We will let some of your citizens live and work here if you do the same. This is a prize worth having. But it is not worth being ruled by the Kaiserin.

The UK pays more into the EU than we take out, much more. But more than this, we pay more into the EU than we would pay even if we were to pay tariffs on everything we sell to them. It is this which makes our hand so strong as compared to the hand that most EU countries have. Even if, for example, Poland wanted to leave the EU it couldn’t afford to because it gets a subsidy from the EU.  

The same of course goes for Scotland. Even those Scots who dislike the UK have to calculate that leaving would mean giving up the subsidy that the UK gives to Scotland. It is this above all that makes Nicola Sturgeon’s hand so weak. Moreover, if the SNP ever won independence, which would destroy the UK, an SNP leader would still expect to go to London asking for this and that. Please let us keep the pound. Please keep the border open. Please let us have a social union and by the way we want to be best friends. How would you react to someone destroying your country? By contrast the UK doesn’t want to destroy the EU.  We are more than willing to help them achieve whatever goal they seek so long as it doesn’t involve us.

Even in a worst case scenario where the UK walks away from negotiations with the EU and gets nothing, we’d be absolutely fine. We would be no worse off than we are now with regard to our trade with Australia, New Zealand and the USA. We still buy Anchor butter and have done for years. It would be better if we had a trade deal with the EU than not, but then again it would be better if we had a trade deal with New Zealand. This is the prize that we can now get. We can get free trade both with the EU and with those countries that we at present can’t trade freely with because the EU won’t let us.

Why would the EU give us a trade deal? They may not. If they don’t it’s their loss. This again is crucial to the negotiations. Some of them want to punish Britain for leaving the EU. Good luck with that? The British people didn’t react terribly favourably to Mr Obama telling us we’d go to the back of the queue. We likewise have a long tradition of telling Europeans that we still have our two fingers.

Unfortunately for the EU, if they really tried to punish Britain they would end up punishing themselves. Many EU economies are not doing so well at the moment. Do they really want to sell less to Britain than they do at present? But it is beyond trade where the EU may find that it is in their self-interest to keep Britain as a friend.

Mr Trump is retreating into American isolationism. It’s not clear how much money he is willing to spend on European security. How many serious armed forces are there in Europe? I count three. The French, the British and the Russian. This was ably demonstrated during the war in Yugoslavia. Given the task of defending the population of Srebrenica the Dutch army preferred to surrender without firing a shot. This is not serious. My guess is that a regiment of French legionnaires or British paratroops would have done rather better. By making a stand they might have prevented a massacre occurring at all. 

The UK also has the best intelligence service in Europe and we have nuclear weapons. No-one else apart from the French has them. EU security looks like it depends rather crucially on Britain. Implicitly we bring this to the table of negotiations. Why would we be interested in the security of those who do not treat us as friends?

It is perfectly possible to imagine that within a few years we will have more or less free trade with the EU and with countries like Australia and New Zealand. Imagine if we could come up with a trade deal with Australia that meant we could live and work in each other’s countries. My guess is that quite a number of Brits would be attracted to this prospect.

It is this positive story about Britain that we have to tell in order to see off Scottish nationalism. But there is something else as well. Tim Shipman tells a story of a UK Government department getting various edicts from the EU. One of the ministers objects to what he is reading and wants to reject what he thinks is a bad idea. He is firmly told that he can’t. In the end his only task and his only choice is to just sign it. 

But what goes for a department in Westminster equally goes for a department in Holyrood. Scottish ministers will find that in areas that are devolved they will have much more power than they did before. No-one in Westminster will tell them what they can or can’t do with regard to any devolved issue, but no-one in Brussels will be able to tell them either. The Scottish Parliament will be more independent than it was before. Also it will be more powerful than it would be if it left the UK and chose to join the EU. Nicola Sturgeon is blind to this. She only wants to complain and threaten. But the prize that awaits Scotland if we all embrace leaving the EU is not only improved trade with the rest of the world, but also more power over our own affairs. It is perhaps for this reason that so many SNP supporters voted for Brexit.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Sturgeon just revealed her hand

If you’ve ever played a card game that involves bluffing, you will no doubt be aware that it crucially depends on the players not being able to see each other’s cards. I can pretend that I have four aces only if my cards are hidden. This makes it possible for me to bluff. It also makes it possible for me to win even if I have a very poor hand. Indeed my hand may be worse than yours. It all depends on what I am willing to risk.

Nicola Sturgeon has continually been telling everyone for some time that she is not bluffing. But which card player would admit to bluffing? While piling my poker chips ever higher I may suggest that I am not bluffing, but it doesn’t mean that I actually have four aces. The confidence of a poker player may be in inverse proportion to the strength of this hand. The bluff only works because of the apparent confidence.

The difficulty with politics as opposed to cards however, is that we can all see each other’s cards. Every little detail is debated endlessly in the papers. During interviews politicians are asked about their intentions. Eventually a pretty clear picture emerges of the cards that are held.

Nicola Sturgeon gave the game away last week. Since last June she has been making threats on a daily basis. At one point apparently she contemplated calling an immediate second independence referendum in response to Brexit. But she didn’t. She waited for the polls to show an increase in support for independence. But they didn’t.

At first Sturgeon demanded that Scotland must be allowed to both stay in the UK and the EU or else she would demand another independence referendum. Now she demands that Scotland must somehow remain in the EU Single Market even if the UK leaves. But it is becoming ever more apparent that Scotland will not get a special deal and that the UK will not remain in the Single Market. In response to this Sturgeon tells us that there will not be an independence referendum in 2017.

I don’t think there should be another independence referendum ever. I don’t believe that the UK Government has an obligation to give in to SNP threats. They certainly don’t have to do so at the moment. The SNP do not have a mandate, not least because independence was barely mentioned during the last Scottish Parliament election. What’s more the SNP did not win an overall majority. But anyway constitutional matters are outwith the remit of the Scottish Parliament. You cannot have a mandate to do something that is outside of your control. Neither Scottish independence nor EU membership are devolved issues. They are therefore quite literally not the business of the Scottish Parliament, nor are they properly speaking the business of the SNP.

For reasons that are unclear to me in Britain we allow some people to threaten to destroy our country while spending vast amounts of money on armed forces to protect ourselves against others who want to do likewise.

I think Nicola Sturgeon has poor cards. My guess is that she thinks this too. But don’t let’s be overconfident. Her chance of winning is about 50/50. Support for independence rose from 25% to 45% last time. It could certainly rise from 45% to 50.01% if there were a next time. Let us do all in our power to prevent their being a next time. The future of our country cannot amount to a coin toss where we continually must get a head, but if it ever comes down tails we lose forever. No country in the world would accept these odds, nor should we. It is vital that Pro UK people work to change the assumptions that underpin Scottish politics. We must not play the game according to SNP rules.

Rationally the case for Scottish independence is continually getting worse. Nicola Sturgeon’s latest announcement makes it worse still. It is likely that Article 50 will be triggered by the end of March and the process of leaving the EU will take two years. But this means that Sturgeon has missed her window of opportunity. The SNP optimistically thought that leaving the UK could be achieved in the space between September 2014 and March 2016. But this means that even if an independence referendum were held in 2018, an independent Scotland would begin life both outside the UK and outside the EU. What this means is that we would neither be part of the UK’s single market nor a part of the EU’s single market. If the SNP had been granted an independence referendum last summer they might just have beaten the clock and been able to leave the UK while remaining in the EU. But that moment has passed. Now in order to join the EU an independent Scotland would have to apply in the same way as any other applicant such as Albania or Moldova or Ukraine. How long would that take?

As I have argued for some time, Brexit makes the case for Scottish independence much harder to make. It is vital that we use this opportunity to make this point ever clearer. If the UK leaves the EU Single Market then whatever trade deal the UK has with the EU and with anyone else in the world for that matter will depend on being a part of the UK. This means that if we have a deal with Australia or the United States, then Scotland would cease to benefit from this deal if we decided to leave the UK. The more Scotland depends on UK trade deals the better. This is the opportunity that Brexit gives us.

Lots of SNP supporters voted to leave the EU. If we can make a success of Brexit, then these people are more likely to support the continuance of the UK rather than Scottish independence which brings with it future EU membership. By being continually negative about the prospects of the UK Pro UK Remain supporters are liable to play into the hands of the SNP. If the UK can come out of the negotiations with the EU in a way that is both advantageous for the UK and for the EU we will have a good argument to make against Scottish nationalism. Future UK economic prosperity is our best argument against the SNP. Anyone who hopes that the UK gets a poor deal from the EU or that leaving the EU damages us economically should frankly join the SNP.

Leaving the EU gives us the chance to make the argument that in order for Scotland to become independent there would need to be a hard border between Scotland and England. If Scotland as a new EU member state had to sign up to Schengen, the Euro and free movement of people it is hard to see how we could avoid having a manned border. What would prevent anyone arriving in Scotland just getting on a bus to London? How moreover would it be possible to add customs duties to goods that were traded from Scotland to England if anyone could simply drive a lorry across the border? For this reason it is vital for the UK negotiating team to not give away anything with regard to the Northern Ireland border that might set a precedent with regard to Scotland. The Republic of Ireland may amount to a special case because it is not a member of Schengen, and this may allow a degree of leeway, but it is important that the UK does not lose the opportunity to show Scots voters that one of the things that independence gives you is an international border and international borders are not merely lines on the map. Better by far to man the Irish border than give the SNP an argument that they can use to break up Britain. This would also be in Northern Ireland’s long term interest as it is hard to imagine its present status continuing when Scottish independence would mean the UK ceased to exist.

At present the EU funds many things in Scotland. What this really means is that the UK gives the EU money and some of that money is given back to us. After Brexit it will be the UK Government that takes over the funding role. Well every time at present there is an EU flag, let that after Brexit be a Union flag. Make it clear to everyone who gets money for their farm or for their research grant or for anything whatsoever that the money comes from the UK. Those that can’t stand the UK’s flag, may decide that they don’t wish to receive the money.

The argument is going our way. Brexit is making the argument for Scottish independence harder to make. It is partly for this reason that support for independence has not increased and why Nicola Sturgeon is scared to play out the hand and show the cards she actually holds. The only card she really holds is nationalism. In a Scottish context nationalism is almost identical with victimhood and grievance. Those nasty English people voted differently from us nice Scots again. How dare they? With variants this is Sturgeon’s only argument. Unfortunately it is very persuasive to many Scots. 

We must be careful not to add to the grievance. You will have to wait Nicola, is better than "No", but it can amount to the same thing.  It is even more important to continually emphasise that most of the things that we like about living in Scotland depend on our being an integral part of the UK. The window of opportunity may have closed for the SNP. If we remain vigilant and if we accept the opportunities that Brexit gives us we may well secure the future of our country forever.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

A new Act of Union

Every now and again someone in Scottish politics pops up and mentions the word federalism. This has become even more frequent since the EU referendum. Apparently the fact that Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain in the EU, while England and Wales voted to Leave has caused a problem that is so enormous that we need to have a new Act of Union, still more powers for Scotland and the other parts of the UK and we need to call this new arrangement federalism.

Various models of federalism have been proposed. Some imagine that England ends up with its own parliament others that England is divided into various regions. It strikes me that if England can be split up into regions, then so too could Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  While Scotland has received a great deal of devolution from the UK in the past decades it has also seen a great deal of centralisation within Scotland. I would much prefer to be ruled by a local assembly based somewhere in Aberdeenshire. If it is correct to devolve power to Scotland, why not devolve it to the town level within Scotland?  

But it is entirely unclear to me how any of this addresses the issue of the EU. The threat to the UK comes from the SNP. As Scotland voted differently to the UK as a whole, the SNP think this justifies them threatening to leave. Would federalism alleviate this threat?

Ever since we began the process of devolution in Scotland we have been promised that giving more power to Scotland will eliminate Scottish nationalism. In fact quite the opposite has occurred. Scottish independence has gained in popularity the more power has been devolved to Scotland. A generation ago we had a constitutional convention that Labour and the Lib Dems promised would solve the problem. It didn’t solve the problem, but rather created it and then made it worse. Next Gordon Brown in response to higher than expected support for Scottish independence vowed to give the Scottish parliament still more powers. He no doubt expected that this too would see off Scottish nationalism. Now Kezia Dugdale promises a new constitutional convention giving Scotland still more powers. This too she, no doubt, hopes will diminish SNP support in Scotland and transfer it to her.

It really is time for a period of reflection by Labour. They have frankly done enough damage as it is. They were the first to play the nationalist card when the continually complained about England voting for Thatcher while Scotland voted for Labour. It was this and this alone that gave rise to the modern SNP and the loss of nearly every Labour MP in Scotland. It would be well if Dugdale, Brown and Co. first apologised for the damage that they have done before attempting to do more.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the idea of federalism. It works well in a number of countries. But it doesn’t really address the issue. Scotland already has a similar amount of power to a state in the United States. Would giving Scotland still more power satisfy Nicola Sturgeon? Scottish nationalists greedily gobble up ever little concession of power from Mr Brown etc., but do they ever make a concession in return? They would react in exactly the same way to federalism as they reacted to devolution and “the Vow”. They would take it, bank it, complain that they hadn’t in fact been given anything and then ask for more.

Devolution and indeed federalism depends on the idea that some issues are devolved while others are decided centrally. Some people seem to forget that while each state in the United States has a great deal of state power and local devolution within each state down to the town level, there is also a strong central government. There are things that each state decides for itself and things that are decided in Washington.  

Even if the UK were a federal state, there would be times when Scotland would be outvoted. This is not a problem with devolution. It is a feature of devolution. Perhaps Miss Dugdale thinks federalism would give Scotland a veto over leaving the EU or the arrangement that results from leaving. But then should London have a veto, or Yorkshire? Why should one grouping of five million people be more equal than others? Perhaps Miss Dugdale or Miss Sturgeon think that a Labour or SNP majority in Scotland should be able to rule over the whole of the UK. But all this shows is that they both have tendencies in the direction of Scottish nationalism.

It is crucial to realise that talk of federalism is to miss the point for even if the UK were a federal state matters to do with foreign relations would still be controlled by Central Government. So how would this arrangement help the present situation? Federalism just makes one more concession to the SNP without changing the fundamentals in any way whatsoever. Scotland and Northern Ireland would still have been outvoted even in a federal UK, because international issues would not and could be devolved. It is Washington that makes trade deals, peace treaties or war. Bismarck North Dakota may find itself outvoted.

It is vital that Scottish politicians cease helping the SNP. They all, including Ruth Davidson, think that it is a problem that Scotland voted one way while the UK voted differently. It is not a problem it is a feature of us all living in a single sovereign nation state called the UK. Devolution and federalism can give the parts of such a country a degree of power, but they cannot make a part always vote the same way as the whole. In no country in the world is there such an arrangement. On certain issues parts are always going to be outvoted.

There is no level of federalism that will satisfy California if it is determined to leave the USA because it doesn’t like President Trump. Federalism does not guarantee that there is not going to be secession. The USSR was a federal state. So was Czechoslovakia. The United States itself was threatened by secession. Its federalism did not save it.  It was instead saved by the United States Army.

The crucial point is that even if the UK were federal the parts would be subordinate to the whole. No amount of devolution will change this. But it is this that Scottish nationalists will not accept. But to grant them what they wish is to grant them independence. There is only one lesson to learn in Scottish politics, but no-one seems to be able to grasp it. You can do nothing to satisfy a Scottish nationalist, so don’t try.  Give them nothing.

Devolution or federalism only works when it does not give rise to nationalism. If the parts of the federation continually think of themselves as independent then they will continually be insubordinate. This is what is happening in Britain at the moment. We do not need to have a constitutional convention. All we need is the acceptance by everyone that devolution involves the fact that certain decisions are taken centrally. It is this after all that we voted for when we voted for a Scottish parliament. When this is not accepted then logically devolution subverts. When this happens it would make more sense to take away the source of the subversion rather than allow it still more power to continue to undermine the unity of the United Kingdom.

There is no need for yet another constitution convention. The issues are already clear. But it might indeed be well to have a new Act of Parliament, call it a new Act of Union if you will. The Act should state that the United Kingdom is permanent, that its parts are subordinate to the whole and that the UK Government will not tolerate attempts to undermine our nation state from within. No power either foreign or domestic may be allowed to do this. The Act should furthermore state that the United Kingdom’s experiment with referendums has now ceased and that all future decisions will be made by Parliament. It doesn’t require federalism to pass such an Act. It only requires a majority of MPs.


Saturday, 31 December 2016

The Turning Point

Certain people I know and certain people I read have been describing the past year as something horrible. You only have to go back one hundred years to see how foolish this assessment is. Imagine you had just celebrated Christmas in 1916. There is every chance you would have lost someone during the previous years fighting. What would you have to look forward to in 1917? Well there would be further stalemate on the Western Front. The French Army would reach the limit of what it could take on the Aisne and come quite close to revolution. The Russian people would overthrow autocracy only to have it reimposed in a worse form than before. The British Army would spend all summer and autumn trying to capture a little Flemish village called Passendale and in doing so perhaps reach its lowest point in history. So no, let’s have a little perspective, 2016 was not such a bad year after all.

I don’t follow the day to day events at the Scottish Parliament with any real closeness. If I see Nicola Sturgeon on television I have the immediate urge to either turn it off or throw a brick at it. Given that it would be wasteful to destroy televisions, I opt for the former alternative. There was an election last May. The SNP did worse than before. They no longer have a majority. No-one expected this result. We have a long way to go before Scottish politics gets back to normal. But this is the starting point.

Far too many Scots at present vote because of identity issues and because they think it is patriotic and Scottish to vote for the SNP. So long as this continues we will have permanent SNP rule. Along with it we will also have corruption and incompetence. Good governance depends on kicking out your rulers from time to time. It also depends on voters choosing one party as opposed to another because of ordinary political issues. So long as the Scottish electorate votes for a party that is only concerned with independence, Scotland will be run poorly. It is becoming ever more obvious that many SNP MPs and MSPs are simply not up to the job. They would never have got near a Parliament if it hadn’t been for their involvement with the independence campaign. Well what do you expect when an electorate elects poorly qualified nobodies?

What Scotland desperately needs is an ordinary political debate that is balanced between the moderate centre left and the moderate centre right. At that point we can debate about the economy and how best to make that economy work to the advantage of all of us. We are a long way from this. But the path towards it does not go through continually talking about independence. In time as SNP incompetence becomes ever more apparent we can hope that the Scottish electorate may realise this. Until then we have reached stalemate. Each side faces the other across no-man’s land and there is no end in sight. But just as 1916 was the turning point, so too 2016 may turn out to be the year that in the long run defeated Scottish nationalism.

The thing that disappointed me most about 2016 was that we have reached the stage where it is routine for politicians and voters to not accept the result of elections. I thought this was a purely Scottish phenomenon. The SNP were bad losers right from the moment they lost the independence referendum. They campaigned to overturn the result immediately. I thought this was an aberration. But no. Exactly the same thing happened after we voted to leave the EU. Suddenly people who didn’t like the result were trying to find ever new ways to overturn it. Some wanted a second referendum. Some wanted courts to get involved. Some wanted Parliament to say No. This was exactly the same sort of response to a referendum result as that of the SNP. This is dangerous folks. If you give the people the chance to vote in a referendum and then ignore what they say, the people are justified morally in treating Parliament as an autocracy. This is a lesson that must be learned in 2017 when we approach the anniversary of the most dreadful revolution in human history bringing with it terror that the French could not even imagine.

The disease of not accepting election results is not even confined to Britain. I can’t imagine that it is spreading because of the SNP. They are too obscure and unimportant to even be known about in the USA. But somehow we have reached the stage where large numbers of Americans somehow think that the correct response to an election is to refuse to accept the result.

2016 looks like the year that changed everything. We don’t know where this will lead. The future is undetermined. A hopeful positive attitude has the best chance of bringing us benefits, pessimism guarantees failure. It is necessary to recognise and accept that electorates in Britain and the United States voted for change. Given the chance I suspect many more voters elsewhere will vote for change in the coming year. Far from being stupid, the American electorate knew that voting for Hilary Clinton meant voting for more of the same. It was this that they didn’t want.

Much of where we are at present in the world has happened because of the shared assumptions of most western politicians. David Cameron, Hilary Clinton, Angela Merkel all have basically the same ideas about everything. They are unwilling to change their assumptions, but their assumptions are leading the West into an ever more dangerous position.

The world economy has not properly recovered since 2008. It is no longer on life support, but interest rates have hardly risen for years, central banks still pump in money created from nothing into the veins. Meanwhile debt keeps rising beyond the point that it can be repaid.  Who can say what will set off the next crisis in the markets. Perhaps the Euro will blow up again. Perhaps the French or the Italians will call time on the whole project. Monetary union without political union looks like one of the worst ideas in modern history. Is this still what the SNP wants? I’ve rather lost track of what money the SNP expects us to spend in their Brave new Scotland.  

Beyond economics the two main dangers to the West remain Russia and Islamic fundamentalism. The assumptions of most of the West’s politicians are that we must confront Russia and deny that terrorism has anything to do with Islam. Because terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, Angela Merkel assumed that it was perfectly safe to allow millions of people from Islamic countries to come to Germany. Her assumption was that this would in no way make Germany more dangerous. How’s that working out for you Angela?

Donald Trump does not share the assumption of Hilary Clinton, David Cameron or Angela Merkel. Some of his ideas may turn out to be stupid, but it’s not as if the assumptions of the establishment politicians have been doing all that well.
The West needs to make peace with Russia. It is too dangerous for us to be enemies, not least because we have a common enemy who we can only defeat together. 

There is just a chance that Donald Trump might be able to do what Ronald Reagan did with Gorbachev. At least he is willing to try. Give him that chance at least.  The mockers of Reagan ended up looking rather foolish when he won the Cold War, but then if those on the Left were any good at learning the lessons from history, they wouldn't be on the Left.

We need to prevent the spread of Islamic terrorism. This means defeating it in Syria and Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. We are closer to this than we were a year ago, because of what Russia has been doing.  Russia has been winning a war, because it chose not to fight in the western way that guarantees defeat. For this they have been condemned by a western media whose assumptions and coverage would prevent any troops from defeating any enemy. This is to forget the lesson that we could only defeat German and Japanese militarism by making a war that was so terrible that the people of those countries wanted never to experience it again. 

We face a similar threat today, but the BBC will not even call it what it is. It is a so called threat from a so called state. In fact Islamic fundamentalism is if anything a more dangerous threat than the ones we defeated in the Twentieth Century. It has reached such levels of depravity that it is hard to find comparable examples in history books. Worse than this it is irrational, suicidal and spreading. There is a chance soon that this ideology will be defeated in Syria, but for some odd reason the BBC is unhappy.

Syria used to be a perfectly safe country. It wasn’t a democracy, but then the only democracy in the Middle East is Israel. There is a chance that if all terrorists and rebels are defeated in Syria and Iraq then these countries can go back to being what they once were. Their rulers will not be ideal, but it is better than the alternative.

I refuse to accept that it is normal that in western cities there should be the continual expectation of terrorism. I think we should do whatever is necessary to prevent such attacks. Why should we all have to live in fear that in European cities someone will blow himself up or drive a truck into a crowd? The establishment assumption is that nothing can be done. We can’t possibly prevent ISIS fighters coming home to the UK. After all they have rights. There is nothing that we can do to prevent mass migration even though we know that a proportion of those who arrive hate us and would like to kill us. These are the assumptions of the establishment. No wonder voters rejected these assumptions. It is the rejection of the establishment that gives us hope for 2017.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Simple gifts

We know what it is like to be divided in Scotland. It is hard even to remember that time from our youths when these divisions did not exist and could not even be imagined. “O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.” Now we have gone through a year of division in the whole of our country. I never thought I would see the day in Britain where people tried to block the result of an election. But it shows how deeply they feel about the loss. So too in Scotland. It’s all too deeply felt, if not always on the surface, then bubbling below and waiting always waiting. Sometimes there cannot be a political resolution. This is the fault of politics. We expect too much from politicians. We somehow think that all will be well if my side of the debate wins, or if my party gets more votes than your party. But none of these things matter. Not really.

What has given you the most happiness in the past year? What has caused you the most grief? Think about the people that you know. Someone will have lost a wife or a husband. Someone else will have had a child. Someone got married or met someone special. Someone passed their exam or got the job that they were looking for. Someone else failed. All of the ordinary events that affect our lives have much, much more importance than the result of elections. This is not to be selfish. It is to be human. Our small circle of family and friends are what bring us the gifts that we value. But none of these gifts can be bought.

Where I used to live Christmas was more or less ignored officially. The day where everyone celebrated was New Year. The 25th of December was just another working day. New Year had been turned into Christmas except Father Frost was blue and Snegurochka was cold and found it impossible to love without melting. There were New Year trees and there were New Year presents. People had a large New Year meal and sent New Year cards to their friends and acquaintances.

I much preferred this way of doing things. Those of us who wanted to mark Christmas did so on the 7th of January (Orthodox Calendar) and this celebration was small scale. No-one made much of a fuss. No-one would be involved except close family. If there were gifts, they were simple gifts.

I wish it were that way here. When I walk to my bus I see some houses put up flashing lights from late November onwards. They put them up too early and take them down too early. They have no conception of the twelve days of Christmas, because they think that Christmas starts sometime in late autumn. Why is there a need to demonstrate that you are celebrating Christmas? I think it is because you are not celebrating Christmas at all. The more lights on the house the less thought and feeling there is about what is actually being celebrated.

The shops are now shut for one day only. Early on Boxing Day morning you will be able to go to the supermarket again. Yet people will go around the shops on Christmas Eve as if they have to survive a nuclear winter in a bunker. How many times your normal calorie intake can you actually eat without becoming ill? If you start at ten in the morning and keep drinking until midnight how big a headache can you actually create for yourself the next morning? How many people who you only see once a year can you fit into your house? Everyone feels they ought to be having the best time of the year. The duty to be merry is overwhelming. Merry Xmas. The X marks what is missing.   

How many people are there in Britain who dread the approach of Christmas? They feel the demand to spend more than they can afford on presents and on excess. How many of us sit down to the task of writing Christmas cards with pleasure. For most it is simply an obligation, a task and something of a burden. I don’t want your card and you don’t want mine, but we feel we have to waste our money on the card and the postage. For what? Who invented all these things that we must do in December? Was it a baby boy who was born some two thousand years ago? No. It most certainly was not. His message was rather different. The message of Christmas is not about eating to excess. It’s about not being able to find a place to stay. It’s not at all about spending large amounts of money, because there was in fact no money to spend. The only gift of importance that was received on the first Christmas day was the gift of life.

It isn’t something expensive that your loved ones want from you. It’s something free. They want your love and your kindness. Every child would prefer this to the latest toy. They might not realise this fact, but they would. Of course we should give gifts. But is there a need to do so to excess? We should indeed have a special meal at Christmas, but is there the need to eat quite so much. Do you even like Turkey?

Christmas today has become the antithesis of the first Christmas. Worse than that it causes suffering and causes people to forget what is important in their continual attempts to spend more, eat more and drink more. It’s a free country you can do what you like. But there is an alternative.

In O Henry’s “The gift of the Magi” a couple realise that they don’t have enough money to give each other gifts. The man sells his watch to buy his wife a hair piece, while his wife sells her hair to buy her husband a watch chain. Both end up with something that is now useless. But what they really give has a price beyond rubies. They give love.

This is the simple gift that you should try to give this Christmas. It doesn’t matter if you think that the first Christmas never happened or that it happened rather differently from the way that it is told. But let us try to at least not do anything contrary to the message of the story. Otherwise we profane it.

Make your gift simple this Christmas. Give something priceless. But such things are not made of gold, frankincense or any other substance that is useless to a baby. They are quite free and they are made only of love.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Game over for the SNP

To give Scotland a different EU status to any other part of the UK would in effect be to give it independence.  It might be the case that the UK would continue to exist in some odd way still technically united, but for how long could such an arrangement last? There may be examples of tiny parts of EU member states having a separate status. You can find an anomaly to cover every situation. But this is all beside the point. The SNP’s argument remains give us a status that amounts to independence or we will ask for another independence referendum. But what is in it for anyone who wants the UK to stay united? Nothing whatsoever.

No matter what you give the SNP, they will still want independence. So what has your concession bought? Nothing of substance, only a little time perhaps. Meanwhile by making the bonds of the UK ever looser you have simply made it easier for the SNP to achieve independence in the end. A Scotland that remained part of the Single Market would in time become a rather different place to those parts of the UK that were outside. Different rules would apply in Edinburgh from those in Newcastle. Would it even be workable without monitoring the flow of goods and people at the border? It isn’t even worth looking at the complexities involved as the whole thing is obviously unworkable and designed to be impossible. The SNP just like Austria-Hungary in 1914 have given an ultimatum that they know will be rejected.

We don’t know what sort of trade arrangement the UK will have with the EU after Brexit. Whatever we want will depend on the agreement of the EU. Donald Tusk has suggested that being part of the Single Market requires being a part of the EU. This may be contradicted by the example of Norway, but who is to say that the Norway option is even open to the UK. The EU may not wish as large an economy as the UK to have such an arrangement. We just don’t know.

It should be possible to trade freely with other countries without being ruled by them. Free trade is in everyone’s interest. We are asking for no more than we are willing to give, but the EU is determined to punish us because we reject their rule. But the whole flaw of the EU, that is becoming ever more apparent, is that it went beyond trade and attempted to join hugely different European countries politically.  

It should be possible for similar numbers of Europeans and Brits to live and work in each other’s countries. Again we are asking no more than we are willing to give. But the EU wants to punish us because we think it is unreasonable to give every one of five hundred million EU citizens the automatic right to live in the UK. Moreover, given that the EU has no effective border control with the rest of the world, they want us in effect to give unrestricted rights of migration to practically everyone who can get into Europe. With regard to both trade and immigration the EU wants much more from us than we want in return.

Owing to the fact that Britain wants relatively little from the EU, it should be possible to come up with a deal that is in the interests of everyone. But the EU is determined to make an example of Britain, otherwise everyone would want to leave. It is for this reason that it is folly to tell the EU that we want this or that sort of deal, because they would immediately attempt to exact a high price. The only way to get what is best for the UK is to be willing to walk away entirely. If the EU knows that we are perfectly happy not to buy German cars and Italian prosecco and that the City of London would be perfectly happy not to provide the finance necessary for the Euro to keep stumbling along, then it is just possible that we may be able to find a compromise. In this way we might be able to keep trade more or less free and allow relatively unrestricted movement of people between the UK and the EU.

The attempt to make Theresa May tell us in great detail how she will negotiate simply undermines her ability to do so. It is as if Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP are determined that a general reveals his plans to the enemy. Hardly a single battle in history would be won under those circumstances. But then these parties have become so unpatriotic that they would prefer the UK to lose.

Gaining the best deal for Britain depends on secrecy, but it also depends on the whole of the UK leaving. We cannot take back control over UK immigration policy if a part of the UK allows unrestricted immigration from the EU. We cannot bring back power to the UK Parliament if a part of the UK still remains subject to EU control. For the UK to be able to make trade deals with countries all around the world, it is necessary for the whole of the UK to leave the Single Market.  How could the UK make a trade deal with the United States if it didn’t apply to the whole of the UK? If goods were freely shipped from New York to London, how would you apply tariffs if someone wanted to put them in a lorry and drive them to Edinburgh? This is not an arrangement that is compatible with Scotland being a part of the UK. It is an arrangement that amounts to independence in all but name.

The SNP think that the Scottish electorate has the right to undermine the choice of the UK electorate as a whole. It is vital that we put a stop to this once and for all for it is becoming ever more clear that people throughout Britain are getting thoroughly sick of the SNP and with it Scotland. If we are not careful, the ties of sentiment and family feeling in the UK will be undermined by the SNP’s deliberate attempt to act in a way that is intolerable to the majority.

As always the Scottish electorate must be treated with care. We are delicate and we don’t like people saying “No”. This strikes me as rather infantile, but fair enough we must do what we can not to inflame Scottish public opinion. It wouldn’t do to give us another grievance we haven’t got over the poll tax yet and the closing of Ravenscraig some of us haven’t got over the execution of William Wallace and the rough wooing of Mary Queen of Scots.

But it is vital for all our sanity over the next few years that somehow SNP threats whether empty or not should be nullified.

The best thing to do with the SNP’s demand for a special EU status is to look at it carefully, put it before committees, show it around the crowned heads of Europe and promise to do our best to reconcile Scottish wishes with EU and UK needs. Meanwhile, when we actually get down to negotiations with the EU we may find that we have rather more important issues to deal with than Scotland’s wish to be turned into Greenland.

The deal with the EU is going to be a UK deal. Let’s hope that it is one that satisfies both the EU and the UK as much as possible. But it will be the only deal available. Scotland can frankly take it or leave it.  Future trade with the EU will depend on the deal that the UK makes with the EU. If Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t like it, she can try to do better by herself. But she would have to wait until and unless Scotland actually became independent.

We have nothing to gain from making concessions to Scottish nationalism and everything to lose. But let us do so quietly and without fuss. Promise to look carefully at what they suggest and then quietly find that no-one in the negotiations was much interested in the status of the regions of the UK.

What are we to do about SNP threats? I think Theresa May is doing very well here. The issue was settled in 2014. But in the end she has to be willing to say “No”. It isn’t necessary to actually say “No”, but she must tell the SNP they have to wait. There need be no definition of how long they must wait.

No country can long endure with a continual threat to its existence from within. Make no mistake, the United Kingdom would cease to exist if Scotland became independent in just the same way that the United States would have ceased to exist if the Confederacy had won the Civil War. You could hardly have called it united. The UK would be supported by the vast majority of members of the international community if Nicola Sturgeon was quietly informed, unofficially of course, that there is no point her making any more threats because they will never be listened to. She has made enough mischief in the past few months. It is undermining the UK’s unity, which is vital to our long term national interest. In the present circumstances at an important historical junction this is quite simply unacceptable. Nicola Sturgeon struggles to understand long words so a short one must be repeated until it is understood. We told her it in 2014, but it hasn't yet penetrated. I'll spell it out for you Nicola. It begins with an "N" and it ends with an "O".

The SNP cannot complain about our being undemocratic, for that would be to suppose that the foundation of Western democracy “the GettysburgAddress” is undemocratic and that there is hardly a democracy in the Western world. There is scarcely a nation state in the world that would allow itself to be dismembered from within. It is precisely the fight against secession that means “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The task for the UK Government must always be to do what the SNP least wants. We must hinder them and do that which makes their goal of achieving independence as hard as possible. The SNP wants the UK to stay in the Single Market because that makes Scottish independence possible without damaging trade between Scotland and   England.  It also guarantees an open border and a lack of customs controls. Leaving the EU’s Single Market means the SNP would have to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom’s Single Market, while at the same time at least initially being outside of the EU’s Single Market.

The UK Government should explain carefully to Nicola Sturgeon, that she will never gain independence with the permission of the UK Government and that the UK Government would do all in its power to hinder such a goal diplomatically. All of our allies would then be against the SNP and most of the rest of the world too.  Of course this message can be conveyed with nuance and with subtlety and without quite saying it. But it amounts to saying the issue has already been decided and your threats are as nothing. We will not allow another referendum. You agreed that the last one was decisive and when something is decisive it decides the issue. That's what the word "decisive" means. We do not have to play the SNP’s game. It is time to tell them that the game is over.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

We have the chance to kill off Scottish nationalism

Just after the Brexit vote I came back from holiday and found a string of messages from Pro UK people. They were worried. Nicola Sturgeon was continually on the television complaining about something or other. Far from encountering systematic bias from the BBC, she was getting encouragement. At least she wasn’t one of those dreadful Brexiteers.

People were asking me where have you been. Some were angry that I had encouraged them to vote to leave the EU. Look what you’ve done. The pound will soon be worth nothing. The markets are going to crash. We’re all going to lose our jobs and we’re not going to have a Prime Minister for months. Nicola Sturgeon is going to call a second independence referendum and she’s going to win it. It’s all your fault.

There is something feverish about news at the moment. It must be to do with it being on all the time. They have to fill up the time with something. When there is a plane crash there are endless interviews with experts who know absolutely nothing about what has happened. When there is a budget there are continual speculations about what will be in it. Why not just wait a few hours and find out? Well so too with the EU referendum. There was endless noise. Much of it was just people complaining about the result and signalling that they were not and never had been a Brexiteer.

Scotland didn’t vote to stay in the EU, nor did England and Wales votes to leave. None of these places are members of the EU. Try counting the members if you are unsure. Scotland is no more  a member of the EU than is Aberdeenshire or Antrim. When the Scottish Assembly was established it was on the basis that it had power over certain matters and didn’t have power over certain other matters. That is what the majority of people in Scotland voted for. Foreign affairs have never been devolved. International relations take place between independent sovereign nation states. Many people in Scotland would prefer that Scotland was such a state. But again we had a vote on this and they lost.

The endless noise from Nicola Sturgeon is based on a simple mistake. It is of course a deliberate mistake. She thinks that if she acts as if she were the leader of a sovereign independent nation state she is more likely to become one. But really Scottish nationalists ought continually to be reminded of a simple matter of logic. You cannot become what you already are. If you already are independent, why are you campaigning for it? But then Sturgeon’s grievance collapses. She is complaining about something that was never within her remit and which the electorate in Scotland has more than once decided not to give her the power to control. Until and unless Scotland becomes independent it will not be able to have foreign relations with other sovereign independent nation states.  

Most news and most comment about news is trivial. The reason for this is that most news will be forgotten a year from now. Political comment likewise is usually of no consequence. There was endless comment during the last General Election about what would happen if there were a hung Parliament. Today there is a lot of noise about Theresa May’s trousers. Nicola Sturgeon’s talking head after the Brexit vote was of no more consequence than these lederhosen. It is vital to see through the day to day noise and try to think about long term consequences. What matters is not that an argument works today, but that it works a year from now.

Nicola Sturgeon talks about all sorts of conditions that must be met or else she will call an independence referendum. This is all noise. There is only one condition. Can she win it? 

The whole narrative is ludicrous. Supposedly the UK Government has to make all sorts of concessions to the SNP or else Nicola Sturgeon will do what she wants to do more than anything else in the world, i.e. have another independence referendum. But let’s say the UK Government gave the SNP everything they could possibly dream of. Imagine if the Scottish Parliament was given even more powers, and even more money. Imagine if there was another Constitutional Convention and Gordon Brown made another vow. Imagine if the UK became a federal state. Imagine if all these things happened would it kill of the hydra of Scottish nationalism. Would the SNP cease to want independence?

All sorts of weird and wonderful schemes are dreamed up by which Scotland somehow gets to stay in the EU or the Single Market. These are then presented as the condition for the SNP not calling a second independence referendum. But what if Scotland were given this special status? Would this mean that we wouldn’t have a second referendum five years from now or ten years from now? Of course it wouldn’t. So why bother. We have to learn the lesson that there is no appeasing nationalism. There is nothing the SNP wants except independence. So no more Constitutional Conventions please, the last one has done enough damage. The UK needs more unity. We need to go in the opposite direction to the one in which the SNP wants to travel.

So cut through the noise coming from Nicola Sturgeon’s mouth. Jabber, jabber, jabber Scotland … jabber, jabber, jabber … independence. The only thing that matters is whether what she wants is what the electorate in Scotland wants.

Again it is important to look at matters from a more long term perspective. There were a few opinion polls in June and July that showed support for Scottish independence had increased. This was one of the reasons why people were writing to me in a panic. But polls go up and down and anyway they are wildly inaccurate. What matters is the fundamentals. Leaving the EU makes Scottish independence harder.

Voting for Brexit in the short term angered quite a lot of Scots who found themselves on the losing side of the argument. It angered a lot of people in the rest of the UK too. Naturally this had a short term effect on opinion polls. But just like news, these day to day emotions are trivial. This is human nature. We get angry, but then we get bored. Each of us had a huge emotional reaction to Brexit, but it was also complex. I was pleased, but scared and uncertain. Would the scare stories come true? For the first month I read everything I could about Brexit, but then I got on with my life. I stopped following every detail. Above all I stopped listening to Nicola Sturgeon.

The last six months hasn’t been a disaster for the UK. Perhaps next year will be. Lots of people seem desperate for leaving the EU to go as badly as possible. It’s a peculiar sort of masochism. Above all it’s peculiar if you want the UK to remain intact.

Most Scots just got on with their lives in the past few months. Whichever way we voted in the EU referendum we got on with daily life. We put the debate behind us. It is for this reason that support for Scottish independence has not increased and instead has fallen. I didn’t take part in the SNP’s national survey. But then I don’t know anyone else who did. Apparently SNP activists were going to ask all their friends. That seems an excellent method of coming up with an unbiased sample. I’d love to know what the results were, but the SNP won’t tell me. But then again I don’t need them to tell me. Imagine if two million Scots had told the SNP that they were desperate for another independence referendum. Would the results be secret under those circumstances?

Some disappointed Remainers will continue to try to prevent Brexit or to turn it into leaving in name only. They will fail. But they might help the SNP. 2016 was a year of revolutions and the momentum from this is liable to continue into 2017. The UK electorate is sick of an establishment that has ignored its legitimate concerns for decades. That is the fundamental thing that happened this year. That is the thing that will remain news a year from now. In time it may even topple the Scottish establishment. Who are they? Well they have been in power for quite a long time now.

The EU apparently wants to be as nasty to Britain as it can be. Again some Remainers will cheer them on. They will be delighted that the EU wants to make leaving as unpleasant as possible that it considers those who attempt to escape as deserving severe punishment. I get the impression some Remainers think that the EU is really called Stalag Luft III and that Brexiteers deserve to be shot by machine guns in order to discourage the others. But this too won’t work. Once you have turned your beloved EU into a prison, you have lost the argument. What’s more the revolution is contagious.

We have seen off worse than the EU and we have also been isolated before with the whole of Europe against us. This just helps British unity.

The SNP thinks that Scots prefer the EU to the UK but they are mistaken. We all want free trade and we all want to be able to live and work in Europe. But few indeed of us want more than this from the EU. When did you last watch a debate in the EU Parliament? Some of us vaguely think of ourselves as internationalists. But Scots who want to create a border between England and Scotland are a peculiar sort of internationalist.

What we want from the EU is no more than we are willing to give them in return. If they allow us to live in their country, then we will allow a similar number to live in ours. If they trade freely with us, we will trade freely with them. That is the essence of the matter. The rest is noise. You should not have to be ruled by someone in order to trade freely with them. Moreover you shouldn’t have to pay to do so. Paying for free trade means that it is not free.

Brexit makes the choice for Scottish nationalists particularly delightful. Do you want to live in a Britain that is not ruled by the EU or do you prefer to be an “independent” Scotland subject to ever closer union more and more ruled by Brussels and ultimately by Berlin? Do you want to end up in a different trading bloc to your closest trade partner? Do you think a place with five million people will get a better deal from our European neighbours than a place with sixty five million people? Do you think that the UK leaving the EU makes it more or less likely that they would share a currency with Scotland? If Scotland were in the Single Market, but England was not would there have to be customs at Gretna? Do you know that the EU countries that want to discourage secession will even allow Scotland to join in the short term? How sure are you that the EU will even exist in ten years? The Visegrád Group don’t seem very keen on being bossed around and Italy has become the new Greece.

Brexit forces Scottish nationalists to choose. It makes the disadvantages of Scottish independence more acute. It makes any split from the other parts of the UK more fundamental and deeper. If we can make Brexit work, if we can show that prosperity awaits the UK outside the EU, we have the chance to kill off Scottish nationalism. So all Pro UK people should work together to get the best Brexit deal possible. The Scottish nationalists would love it if Brexit were to fail. They have the excuse that they hate Britain. Do you?