Saturday, 18 February 2017

Playing hardball with Mrs Angry

There’s a little woman I know who is from the Glasgow area and she always gets her own way. If there is a committee meeting she is aggressive. She interrupts. She tries to belittle the point of view of others. People avoid getting into an argument with her because rather than discuss calmly she gets emotional. She makes assertions which are really just her own opinions, but they are presented as truths. If someone crosses her she will bear a grudge, but at the same time she is a sycophant always trying to find allies and sucking up to superiors. I’m sure most of us know men and women like this in the world of work or elsewhere. The problem is that these tactics frequently work. Most of us want a quiet life. If I come across Mr Angry on the street I do my best to avoid eye contact. The problem in Scottish politics is that we are confronted with legions of Mr and Mrs Angry lead by the angriest woman of them all. The problem is that they have been indulged. They have been spoiled. No-one dares to stand up to them. It’s time we started daring.

We may have to face another Scottish independence referendum. I am sick to my stomach at the prospect. Must we really have to go through all that again? Only this time I suspect it would be much worse. The experience of conflict changes you. The first independence referendum divided Scotland in a way that I could not have imagined previously. The nationalists may enjoy this. They claim that they found the experience inspiring. I did not. There will come a point quite soon when the prize for either side will not be worth having. It will be a permanently divided country whether independent or not. We all learn from each other’s tactics. The SNP chose not to accept the result last time. They just kept fighting. I doubt they would accept defeat next time. Yet they appear to think that if they could win by one vote everyone who disagrees with independence would joyfully accept the result and come together united as one Scotland. This may have been the case last time, but we have learned. We too could campaign to overturn the result at an election or through the courts. But no doubt the SNP calculate that the disagreement of nearly half the population would not matter. They are becoming ever more centralist and authoritarian in government. This would be enough to hold Scotland together under all circumstances like it or not.

We do not ask for this fight. We thought that the last battle was decisive. That is what we were told. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes it is necessary to fight over the same ground twice before we can relax knowing our country is safe. If that is how it has to be, so be it. But for goodness sake make this the final battle and let us at least fight it on our own terms and on ground of our own choosing.

The reputation of David Cameron is looking worse and worse as time goes on. His greatest tragic flaw was overconfidence. He thought he would win a referendum on Scottish independence easily. After all the SNP were miles behind in the polls. He should never have granted it at all. It was the experience of the campaign that created mass nationalism in Scotland. Cameron should have simply told Alex Salmond that the United Kingdom like every other European country was indivisible and it could not be broken up by a vote. Our historical experience is no different from that of countries like Germany, Italy and Spain. They would not allow the formerly independent countries that make up their constituent parts to vote to break up their country. Why should we?

But this is a problem rooted in British history. We have allowed the constituent parts of the UK to continue to maintain a separate identity in a way that is quite uncommon in the world. We have for centuries indulged English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalism. France imposed a common identity, law and language on its parts. The United States made its children pledge that their country was indivisible, because the alternative was the bloodiest war in American history. In Britain however a combination of liberalism and overconfidence meant that we thought we could continue with a very loose sense of common identity. It worked, or seemed to. We didn’t experience the nationalistic revolutions of the 1830s and 1840s. But eventually nationalism always rears its head. It is always ready to take advantage of weakness.

David Cameron was too weak to stand up to the SNP. He should have simply said “No”. This is how the Spanish will see off Catalan nationalism. This is how Abraham Lincoln prevented secession. But even if Cameron was too weak to say “No” why on earth did he make the terms of his agreement with the SNP so beneficial to them?

The Edinburgh Agreement spoke of the result being decisive and that everyone would accept it. But has anyone tried to enforce this? The SNP considered the result of the independence referendum as decisive only if they won. When they lost it was no longer decisive. What’s more it cannot be said that they accepted the result as they immediately set about trying to reverse it.  How long did they wait. Was it a day or was it two? Why wasn't this challenged legally as a failure to follow the Edinburgh Agreement. Why could it not be challenged now? More importantly why didn’t David Cameron insert a clause stating that the SNP would agree that they couldn’t have another referendum for fifty years if they lost? Why did he allow them to set the question? Why did he allow them such a long campaign and to set a date of their own choosing?

The SNP’s tactics of playing Mr and Mrs Angry have been working up to now. We give in rather than confront them. This has to end. If there is to be a second referendum on Scottish independence, let the UK Government organise it, fund it and set the question and the terms. The UK Government should also massively financially support the opposition to the SNP.  After all the Scottish Government used all their power to help the Yes campaign. Apparently impartial Scottish civil servants wrote the SNP's White Paper. The UK Government must see any future referendum as an existential issue for the UK. Scottish independence would destroy our country and deprive us of our flag.  Why pay for a defence budget if you are unwilling to pay to stop the break-up up our country by the ballot box? The BBC should quietly be reminded that it would cease to exist if Scotland won independence and that its first duty is to defend the UK. They did not provide supportive coverage to our enemies in 1940 nor should they help people who hate Britain now. Those people in BBC Scotland who don't like working for an organisation that is British should perhaps work for someone else. 

Above all it is crucial that we make no more concessions to Scottish nationalism at the moment. A "Scottish Six" would be used to fuel the SNP's campaign. Broadcasting is a reserved matter not a devolved one. The UK Government must use this power if STV or BBC Scotland show signs that they are willing to give in to SNP threats or promises. There are far too few voices in Scotland that are willing to criticise the SNP. Let them increase rather than become fewer.

The UK Government had the authority to organise the referendum on the Scottish Parliament. Constitutional matters are reserved. Why give the SNP power to hold a referendum at all? If they don’t like it, tell them that they need not have a referendum at all. If there is to be a question, make it a fair one. It was crucial, perhaps decisive that the EU referendum did not involve a Yes/No answer. A Yes campaign has an inbuilt advantage that may amount to 5% of the vote. Let the Electoral Commission come up with a fair question. It could be “Should Scotland leave the United Kingdom or remain in the United Kingdom?” There may be other alternatives involving different words than “leave” or “remain”. These should be tested to see that they involve no bias and no unfair advantage.

The question of who decides whether Scotland should remain a part of the UK must also be addressed. I would not expect to decide on such an issue in any other country. What right do I have to determine if Bavaria should revert to being a sovereign independent nation state? I am not a German, nor am I Bavarian. What has it to do with me? Someone who wants to break up my country while keeping his own intact is a hypocrite. We have defended our country’s territorial integrity against foreign armies. To allow them to vote us out of existence is perverse. Therefore only British citizens should decide. Moreover, it is unfair that Scots who happen to be living outside Scotland, perhaps for a short time, should have no say in our country’s future. For this reason I would argue that any British citizen who has been on the Electoral register in Scotland in the past twenty years should have the right to vote.

The franchise too on such an important issue should be exactly the same as during a General Election. It makes no sense to give the vote to school children as the issues involved are those that adults who work and have to run a house are more likely to understand as directly affecting their lives. If we are to give the vote to 16 year olds, why not 15 year olds? Why not 10 year olds? The issue concerns their future too. The SNP know that school children are frequently little nats because of football. They also know that they often grow out of it. The break-up of our country is an issue for careful thought and consideration. Let it be decided by adults.

Let us get this over with quickly. We must never again give the SNP a chance to build momentum with a campaign that goes on for years. The period from announcing a referendum to holding it ought to be no more than three or four months. “Twere well it were done quickly”

Finally and most importantly make it absolutely clear that this will be the last time that the SNP will be allowed to have a referendum on independence. Set a legally binding date far in the future. If we don’t do this, then they will want to hold another referendum in another two or three years.

I would much prefer that Theresa May simply says “No” you’ve had your referendum. But if she feels unwilling or unable to do that, then at least set conditions that will make the contest fairer than last time. It’s time that we stood up to Mrs Angry. If they want to boycott the referendum, then we will just have to take the result as more decisive than it otherwise would have been. We are all sick to death of Nicola Sturgeon. Let this be the final battle and if she loses, let her do the decent thing and retire from public life. 

Saturday, 11 February 2017

How to respond to Nationalist threats

Before finally deciding to campaign for Brexit, Boris Johnson prepared two articles for his regular Telegraph column. The first explained why he was choosing to vote Leave the other why he was choosing to vote for Remain. Many people would see this as a sign that his eventual decision was calculating and based on self-interest. I would hope that most of us make decisions by means of calculating the pros and cons and I would suggest that few indeed are the people that do not at least take into account self-interest when they decide to do anything. Moreover, as events showed the Theresa May route of backing Remain while not doing so enthusiastically was the path more likely to lead to the big prize. The important point however, is that on certain issues people are genuinely torn. I know I was. It is these people who decide elections.

The decision in the EU referendum was difficult because of our inability to see into the future. Many British people perhaps didn’t much like the EU, but they could see that there were risks involved in leaving. Voting to stay meant that things would go on more or less the same in the near future. If you thought life wasn’t so bad this had its attractions. What if all the horrible things the Remain campaign predicted turned out to be true? After a few months it is becoming clearer that the sky will not fall in. Of course, we haven’t left yet, but the predictions made by Remain were that the UK would immediately suffer from choosing to leave the EU. The reverse has been the case.

There is an important lesson here for Pro UK people. I do not agree with some Scottish commentators that it shows a lack of understanding of the Scottish people for English Tories to suggest that Theresa May should say “No” to a second independence referendum. I think these commentators misunderstand the risk of saying go ahead. Let Nicola Sturgeon have a tantrum. Let the Scottish Nationalists go on demonstrations. Let Scottish opinion be inflamed. So what? Like a toddler on the floor of a supermarket screaming its head off such actions have nowhere to go. If we hold firm, we can block the SNP indefinitely. If we don’t, we might lose our country for ever. Every single European country, plus each member of the Security Council would agree that Theresa May was within her rights to say “No Nicola, you have had your referendum and you will have to wait some years to have another.”

British Prime Ministers blocked the desire for an EU referendum for years even though they knew there was huge support for one. George Osborne thought David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum was foolish. Must we really live in a world where we are continually held to ransom by Nicola Sturgeon? If Theresa May has the legal right to say “No” then let her say “No”. The Scottish Parliament does not have control over constitutional matters and therefore cannot have a mandate over such issues. There is nothing remotely undemocratic about saying this is an issue for us not you. This is an issue that was settled decisively only a short time ago. Demonstrate and fume all you like.

But until and unless we hear authoritatively that there is not going to be a second independence referendum any time soon we must prepare as if there will be. Many Pro UK people are foolishly optimistic. It’s almost as if they are singing “We’re going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line”. Sorry folks you are completely deluded. We dislike the SNP. We dislike Nicola Sturgeon and think her arguments are poor. But if there were another General Election tomorrow the SNP would still win most of the seats. If there were another Scottish Parliament election they would still win a majority, perhaps even an overall majority. If there were a second independence referendum they would have to gain just a few percentage points to win it. At various points Leave was far further behind Remain in the polls. Who anyway can trust polls? The reality is that a second independence referendum would be a toss of a coin. We might have a slight advantage. But the SNP could well win. What’s more if they lost they would just dust themselves down and try again a few years later. After all we can’t inflame Scottish opinion and we couldn’t possibly deny them the chance.

Some folks may find me overly pessimistic. I would suggest they have short memories of the last campaign. Remember how our lead just vanished over the summer. One poor performance in a debate and the SNP had the lead. We spent the last week or two not knowing if we would win or lose. Never fight a battle that you might lose if you can avoid it. But above all else remember that Goliath thought he had no chance of being beaten.  

The best ways to avoid battle is to prepare for it. It is crucial that Pro UK people are aware of the strengths of our position and its weaknesses. The biggest weakness and the reason we are where we are is the nature of Scottish public opinion. The reason that Remain lost the EU referendum is that few British people much like the EU. We may have thought it was useful, but we never had much love for it. The same goes for the majority of Scots with regard to the UK. Hatred of the UK obviously corresponds to support for Scottish nationalism. Those people who deny their British citizenship (Scottish not British) are far more likely to vote for independence than anyone else. These people make up the hard core 25-30% of Scottish opinion. There are around 30-40% of Scots who think of themselves as British and Scottish. These people will always vote to preserve the UK. That leaves around 30% in the middle who can be persuaded either way. The trouble is that these people have little love for Britain. They might be bought off by thinking we are “better together” but if they thought they’d get a few hundred pounds a year extra they’d happily vote for Scottish independence.

The SNP have the patriotic Scottish card. It is about the only argument they have. But it is a very powerful argument. I sometimes think it is the most powerful argument in human history. In certain circumstances it trumps every other argument. The Pro British patriotic card is much weaker in Scotland because relatively few Scots feel particularly British. For the past decades there has been a concerted attempt to eradicate our feeling of unity with the rest of the UK and to erase our common identity. It has to a great extent succeeded. The SNP with their education policies are doing all that they can to increase the sense of being Scottish but not British. The Scottish establishment appear happy to help. Our Pro UK patriotic card is therefore much weaker than it ought to be. But we must play it nevertheless.

There is a reason why Remain did not run a positive campaign about the EU. There is far too much about the EU that ordinary British people simply don’t like. The core EU developments of the past decades are not going well. How are you supposed to run a positive campaign about Schengen, the Euro and Jean-Claude Juncker? It was for this reason that George Osborne and friends decided to go negative again. The trouble is they overdid it.

There came a point last spring when the succession of world leaders and economists producing ever more lurid stories about what would happen if the UK voted to leave the EU became counterproductive. When David Cameron suggested World War III might result the reaction from ordinary Brits was not fear but ridicule. It is this that we must guard against.

We have the chance to run both a positive and a negative campaign about UK unity. There are lots of things that Scots like about the UK. Even those Scottish nationalists who hate Britain were desperate that certain things we all like about living in the UK would continue after independence. The key Pro UK message is that the things we like about living in the UK may well depend on keeping the UK intact and that the easiest way to keep them is to stay. In this way the campaign is both positive and negative at the same time. Uncertainty is our friend. There is no need to say that you will definitely lose something if you vote for independence. It’s enough to say that you  might. 

The campaign must be rooted in our history and what we have achieved as the UK. But it must also look forward to what we can do in the future. I think leaving the EU gives Britain a new role in the world. We have the chance to increase our free trade relations with the rest of the world, while maintaining an excellent relationship with our friends in Europe. We have not been particularly happy in the EU. This has caused difficulties for them and for us. Let us instead be good friends and neighbours. This positive story about our Post EU future is crucial to defeating the SNP. Even if you voted to Remain, make a virtue out of a necessity and help us make a success of our post EU future. If it becomes ever more obvious that the UK is going to do well, then Scots won’t want to leave. 

The negative side of our campaign must focus on those swing voters who are persuadable either way. Don’t waste any time whatsoever debating with Wings and Co. Don’t answer them, don’t even talk to them. You will just get insults and abuse for your troubles. They are an asset to our campaign and hurt the nationalists. Who wants to vote for snarling losers?

A lot of former Labour voters have switched to the SNP because they hope that Scottish independence might bring them socialism/social democracy. These people believed SNP claims that independence would make them better off. This argument was false last time, but it is still more obviously false this time. The economic fundamentals are against the SNP.

Leaving the EU will made it much harder for the SNP to come up with a persuasive argument. The reason for this is that Scotland’s prosperity depends crucially on our relationship with the other parts of the UK.

The Republic of Ireland has a more important relationship with the UK than it does with Poland. The reason for this is that we have a shared language and history. Ireland joined the then Common Market at the same time as the UK for a very good reason. They waited for they knew it would damage their economy to be a in a different trade bloc to the UK. Unfortunately it will be hugely damaging to the Republic when the UK leaves the EU.  Some have gone so far as to suggest it might force Ireland to leave too.

What goes for Ireland obviously goes for Scotland. To suppose that leaving the UK’s single market would make Scots wealthier is going to be a very tough sell for the SNP. For this reason they have been scrambling around looking for a way to maintain both membership of the EU’s single market and the UK’s single market. The SNP have hinted that they might not even want to join the EU if they achieve independence. They might want to be like Norway.

The problem is that the Norway option doesn’t really help the SNP. Why has Nicola Sturgeon been complaining about Scotland’s Remain vote being ignored if she herself is willing to ignore it? 55% of Scots voted to stay in the UK, while 62% voted to stay in the EU. Scottish independence with the Norway option gives neither group what they wanted. It becomes ever clearer that it is Nicola Sturgeon who is ignoring the wishes of Scots.

If Scotland remained part of the EU single market while the other parts of the UK left, then Scotland’s trade relationship with the UK would depend on what the EU negotiated with the UK. If the EU chose to impose tariffs on UK goods then Scotland would have to do likewise. Furthermore membership of the EU’s single market means that Scotland would have to accept free movement of people. But it is exactly to avoid this that the UK is leaving the EU’s single market. The danger then for Scotland is that it might be necessary to show passports at the English border.

The SNP argument always turns on the relationship of Scotland with the other parts of the UK. There are lots of things even Scottish nationalists like about being in the UK. They like free trade, they like an open border and the fact that it is easy to do business and move about our country, live and work where they please with no trouble and no form filling. But it is becoming ever more obvious that the easiest perhaps the only way to maintain these things is to stay a part of the UK.

Leaving the EU is going to make it much harder for the SNP to convincingly argue that life would continue as before. The EU guaranteed that citizens would have more or less the same rights in each other’s countries. But when the UK leaves the EU, the rights of Scots with regard to the UK would depend on negotiation. The UK would cease to exist if Scotland became independent. The Union flag and a name involving the word "United" could not continue. The citizens of the former UK might not see this as a particularly friendly act. They might not be inclined to allow Scots to maintain their British citizenship and they might not be inclined to be particularly helpful. If you think this is fanciful then you only have to look at the relation between Ukraine and Russia.

I hope there is never going to be another Scottish independence referendum, but if there is we must be ready with a positive story about the UK’s future. We must also recognise that negative campaigning that is grounded in fundamentals and in truth is effective. Those swing voting Scots who might think that independence would bring them a little more prosperity must be asked the following questions. Do you really want to live in a Scotland where we no longer use the pound you have used all your life. A Scottish currency might be pegged to Sterling, but what would happen to your mortgage if that peg broke? Would you be pleased if the relationship between Scotland and the other parts of the UK became much worse and much less friendly? How would you feel if you had to show your passport to visit relations in England? What if you had to gain permission to live and work in Wales? We don’t know what would happen if Scotland voted to leave the UK. But now that the UK is leaving the EU there are no more guarantees. Do you really think you’d be better off?

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Theresa May makes Sturgeon look petty and foolish

There is developing an extraordinary difference between Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon. It is impossible to imagine Nicola Sturgeon going to Washington and charming everyone she meets. While May has dignity, character, politeness and obvious intellect, Sturgeon simply doesn’t. May puts her points with force, but not with anger. She is subtle while Sturgeon has the subtlety of a Glasgow handshake. I can’t recall hearing Theresa May make an overt threat. I can’t recall hearing Nicola Sturgeon have a conversation that doesn’t involve a threat. I can’t remember Theresa May ever saying something that could be described as a grievance. She suggests the motto “Never complain, never explain”. The force is in what she doesn’t say. I can’t remember Sturgeon saying anything that didn’t involve a grievance. It’s always someone else’s fault (this is why she is mocked as Elsie).  She is incapable of taking responsibility for anything.

It must be tough for Sturgeon to see how Theresa May is doing so well. I don’t remember particularly rating May prior to her becoming Prime Minister. She was just another Tory minister who had not achieved particularly much as Home Secretary. She set out to limit immigration to the tens of thousands and then didn’t campaign for the only method which she knew would achieve that goal. I found her decision to back Remain, but then hardly campaign for it to be lacking in conviction. I would have chosen someone else to be Prime Minister.

But May has done much better than expected. Her speech when she became Prime Minister set the tone. Her defence of the UK was most welcome. Her answer to Nicola Sturgeon that the question of Scottish independence has been settled was perfect. She didn’t get angry with Sturgeon. She went up to Edinburgh and didn’t complain when she was made to sit in front of two Scottish flags. It was a matter of indifference to May, something trivial, while the fact that it was so obviously crucial to Sturgeon showed that the SNP leader was trivial, concerned more with appearance than substance.

During the EU referendum the Tory party was at war with itself, but May brought peace in a way that perhaps no-one else could have. The Brexiteers were given high ranking positions, the Cameroons were driven into the wilderness and Remain supporters like Philip Hammond and indeed May herself worked hard to make Brexit a reality.

While some Remain supporters fought a rear-guard battle to prevent us leaving the EU, May didn’t throw a tantrum à la Sturgeon. Instead she gradually made it happen. Now the rear-guard looks like noise, the sort of thing that is forgotten by history. There was a Supreme Court judgement the other week, but it no longer mattered.

Theresa May has turned out to be a lucky Prime Minister. Who could have guessed in June that Winston Churchill’s bust would be back in the Oval office? Who could have guessed that the President of the United States would actually like Britain and would offer us a trade deal? It looks very much as if Theresa May is able to do business with Trump. Her quiet manner works. She doesn’t set out to offend him. Rather she quietly fulfils her diplomatic mission.

Trump thought NATO was obsolete, but after a short conversation with Mrs May he is 100% in favour once more. Some European leaders ought to be grateful that a British Prime Minister has been so helpful with their security concerns. It may be that the UK can take on the role of go-between.

Could Nicola Sturgeon have achieved so much? Obviously not. What May has demonstrated is that the UK is respected in the world. We have allies. We have a role. Scottish nationalists naturally will be fuming about this. They universally hate the UK or at the very least dislike it. Why would you want to destroy something that you like?

What they forget is that our allies in the rest of the world would very much prefer that the UK continued. People in the whole of the UK must realise that our place in the world depends on our remaining united. There will be no “special relationship” if the UK ceases to exist. At present we punch above our weight because we have been doing so for centuries. Who would listen to a country that couldn’t even keep itself together? With our armed forces split and no place to moor our nuclear submarines why would we continue to merit a place on the UN Security Council? What would the UK even be called if Scotland left? It could hardly be called United.

English nationalists who owing to Sturgeon’s threats and petulance have become indifferent to the fate of the UK should think again. Scotland’s departure would damage you as well. No sensible country looks on the loss of a third of its territory as something to be welcomed. The Spanish don’t think like that, nor indeed do the Americans. It’s not serious.

The power that we have internationally, which itself gives us the influence which will enable us to trade freely, depends on our unity. This is the lesson from the three hundred and more years in which the United Kingdom has existed. You’d throw all that away because you are annoyed at having to listen to Sturgeon? That’s what she wants by the way? We stuck by Northern Ireland when it was threatened by those who hated Britain. We didn’t give up on Northern Ireland because we became sick of listening to Gerry Adams and friends. The same British grit is needed now. Sturgeon does not speak for Scotland. She speaks for her supporters and they are a minority. The majority of Scots just like the majority of people from Northern Ireland wish to remain British. We need the support of all British people. So please never do Nicola Strugeon’s job for her.

Theresa May has shown that we have a bright future together. It is obvious that Brexit is going to work. If dreadful things were going to happen to the economy they would already have happened. They didn’t.

We will need to adjust to find our new role in the world. We will need a leader to guide us on that path. Luckily we have found one. It would have seemed impossible a year ago, but Theresa May has a chance to reach greatness. If she can successfully negotiate a beneficial exit from the EU, if she can keep our country united and if she can establish us as a free trade society that is open to the world, her place in history will be assured. If we unite behind her she will succeed and so indeed will we all.

How Donald Trump could limit migration more fairly

Most people in modern Britain have little or no experience of visas. Either we don’t need a visa or else it’s straightforward to obtain one by spending a few minutes on a computer.  Most people don’t want to go to the places, like Russia or China, which require visas you have to send away for, but with a little trouble, expense and form filling it’s not that difficult to go to Moscow, Beijing or even Minsk. There are some places that are genuinely tough to visit. Bhutan in the Himalayas makes you pay a $250 tax per day just to go there. They have only relatively recently opened their country to the world at all. They don’t want to be overwhelmed by the modern world and its people. Still with a few exceptions if we have enough money we can visit almost any country in the world. Money opens doors.

What we frequently forget in Britain is that huge numbers of people in the world cannot travel where they please for the simple reason that they don’t have enough money to do so. It’s difficult if not impossible for all but the wealthiest Russians to come to the UK. In order to obtain a tourist visa to visit the UK you have to demonstrate that you have enough money to take care of yourself and stay in hotels for the duration of your stay. You have to show that you have a job and property in Russia and that it is likely that you will return. It is easier if you have a UK resident who can sponsor your trip, but the process of obtaining a visa is still expensive, time consuming and far from guaranteed. For the most part it is practically speaking impossible for the average Russian citizen to come to live and work in the UK unless they marry a Brit.

Are we then discriminating against Russians? Yes we are. Someone who was born in a part of the Soviet Union that is now Latvia has the right to live and work in the UK by virtue of Latvia being in the EU. Another person who was born a Soviet citizen doesn’t have that right. This might seem unfair, but this is the nature of the world. We don’t allow everyone from the world even to visit the UK because we think that if we did a proportion would overstay or in some other way abuse their visas  

We make a distinction between people from some countries who find it easy to visit Britain and people from other countries who find it hard or even impossible to visit. On what basis do we do this? Well generally we favour people from friendly nations and allies. We also favour people from countries with standards of living which are similar to ours. Few Japanese people would want to work illegally in the UK, but lots of Russians would. This is because the standard of living in Japan is similar to the UK, while in Russia it is much lower. The likelihood of someone abusing the visa granted to them is a key part of the calculation of whether the visa is granted or not.

We are then already discriminating against the vast majority of citizens in the world. Every Western country does the same. Unless you favour a world without borders, which is very noble of you, but not very practical, then it is necessary to accept that we have to limit the right of most people in the world to travel to the UK.  

The Conservative Party for some years has wished to limit immigration to the tens of thousands per year. One of the reasons why the British people voted to leave the EU is that it became obvious that the only way to limit immigration was to leave. You might disagree with attempts to limit immigration, but this in effect is to get rid of borders. Campaign for that if you will, but you will find that the majority disagree with you, not least because our health and welfare systems would collapse.

It is practically speaking much easier for someone from the First World to visit countries like the UK, Canada and the USA. Every First World country discriminates against people from other parts of the world. We also have for many years made it more difficult for people from some countries that are considered to be dangerous to come to here. It may be difficult for a Russian to gain a visa to travel to the UK, but it is still more difficult for someone from Afghanistan. We discriminate against the citizens of certain countries still more than we discriminate against others. There comes a point when practically speaking it is almost impossible for the average citizen of some countries to come here legally.

The principle of preventing people from one or more country travelling is not new. There are a number of countries that have travel bans against citizens of other countries. People from parts of West Africa were banned from travelling during the Ebola epidemic. Israeli citizens are banned from going to many countries.
In times of war it has sometimes been felt necessary to arrest citizens of other countries and intern them. No doubt this was unjust to many innocent people. But the fear of allowing a few spies to live at large meant that both the innocent and the guilty were punished.

We must accept then that the process of allowing people to visit our country involves discrimination. Why then has the action of the United States President caused such uproar? The reason is that Trump implemented his policy in the worst possible way.  
It was unjust to detain visa holders and people with Green cards. If you apply for such a visa and it has been granted then you should be allowed to proceed about your business unless there is a good reason to prevent you doing so.

There was no need whatsoever for Donald Trump to provide a blanket ban on travel for people from certain countries. All he needed to do was to advise the embassies in these countries that they should make it more difficult for people to obtain visas. We already accept the principle that it is more difficult for citizens of some countries to travel to the UK or the USA than certain other countries. The reason for this discrimination is based on the policies of the Government of each country. They don’t have to justify their reasons.

At various points in the past decades a US President has made it difficult if not impossible for citizens of Iran and Iraq to obtain visas to go the USA. The problem then with Trump is that we went about his attempt to limit the travel rights of people from various countries in a way that was arbitrary, unjust and contrary to the normal rules by which Western countries act.

The problem with Donald Trump is that he wants to shout from the roof tops something that would be far better to be implemented quietly and without fuss. He could have made it practically much more difficult for the vast majority of the citizens of the countries he wished to exclude simply by setting conditions for their visa applications that they would be unlikely to be able to fulfil. The United Kingdom already does this with regard to citizens of Russia and many other countries. The United States clearly would have the same right to do likewise. We are allowed to discriminate on the grounds of wealth. If this were not the case we could not even ask a visa applicant if they had enough money for their trip. All President Trump then needed to do was to set the financial requirement for obtaining a visa high enough that it would achieve the limitation he was looking for. This need not only have applied to countries from one region of the world, such as the Middle East but could have applied to a number of others. In this way there would be no question of discrimination apart from financial discrimination.

Trump’s blanket ban was foolish also because it did not take into account other circumstances. There ought to have been exceptions for people who were highly skilled and had job offers or university places. People with family members in the United States ought also to have been given preferential treatment.

It is not wrong to wish to limit immigration. It is also not wrong to wish to limit immigration from certain countries. If this were not the case it would be wrong for us to have visas at all. We are after all limiting the rights of Russians to come to Britain, while not limiting the rights of people from the Republic of Ireland. We accepted that it was right to limit the freedom of Germans in the UK in 1939, because we could not tell who was dangerous and who was not. For the same reason it is not unreasonable to limit the rights to travel of people who come from countries which at present are full of violence and terrorism. We cannot tell who is innocent and who is guilty.

But in trying to protect ourselves we ought not to behave in a way that is arbitrary and unjust. We should be open and we should also welcome people from all countries, cultures and faiths. But we do have the right to limit who can come. By setting the requirement for obtaining a visa high enough such that we favour those who can invest in the UK, have family members here, or are highly skilled we will be not be discriminating against anyone. The reason someone cannot obtain a visa will be objective. It will be because they do not meet the conditions we have chosen to set. In this way we will succeed in limiting immigration, while minimising the risks of allowing people to arrive here who may pose a threat to our security.

Donald Trump has a right to do what he thinks is necessary to protect the United States. We have the same right here in the UK. But the way in which this is done must not be perceived to be grounded in prejudice. A heightened level of security can be obtained without causing resentment and anger simply by quietly changing the rules by which visas are granted. Trump could have achieved exactly the same result without any demonstrations if he had just acted in a way that was more subtle and if he had thought through his actions more carefully. This unfortunately is not his nature.

It would be wrong to discriminate against people who follow the Russian Orthodox faith, but in practice we do make it very difficult for them to visit the UK. We do this because the UK doesn’t have very friendly relations with Russia and because Russians are poor. If a large number of Russian citizens came to Britain and poisoned our tea with polonium or carried out other terrorist acts we might make it still harder for Russians to travel here. We would be doing so however not because they were Orthodox, but because a proportion of Russian citizens were dangerous and we couldn’t tell who was innocent and who was guilty. There would be nothing unjust about making it much more difficult for Russians to obtain visas. Indeed it would be prudent.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Learning from Leave

In Scotland it’s important that Pro UK people move beyond our disagreements.  Keeping up the pressure on the SNP requires us not to squabble among ourselves.  Whichever way we voted in the EU referendum it’s crucial that we learn the lessons of that campaign. Obviously Remain had good arguments that can be adapted to persuade Scots of the benefits of remaining in the UK, but what may be less obvious is that so did the Leave campaign. We must think clearly about past campaigns and focus on what works.  In this way we will be able to develop arguments that may prevent a repeat of the Scottish independence referendum, or alternatively if the worst happens, to win it.

I have made clear on a number of occasions that I don’t think the SNP have a right to break up our country. The issue has been settled. But I am one voice and others such as Ruth Davidson disagree with me. Nicola Sturgeon may ask and she may get. In that case we would have a fight on our hands. Never underestimate your opponent.  History is littered with the example of complacent generals who lost.

Campaigns are won with simple messages that are believed. Not everyone follows politics as closely as you do. Not everyone understands every detail. I’m certainly hazy about certain aspects of Scottish devolution, international law and how the EU works. But a Nobel Prize winner in economics gets one vote just the same as the rest of us.

During the EU campaign the Leave team realised that detailed discussion of the Single Market baffled most voters. Even most MPs were unclear about the various distinctions between the European Economic Area (EEA), the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) and the EU Single Market. A campaign that got itself bogged down in a debate about the benefits of these various options would be followed only those who already knew about the issues and who had probably decided how to vote already.  What matters in any campaign is to target the message at those who are undecided and who are persuadable. These are people who usually don’t follow politics closely.

It was for this reason that the Leave campaign had relatively simple messages:

Leaving the EU would mean that we would take back control. Parliament once more would decide everything rather than Brussels.

Leaving the EU would save us money. We would no longer have to pay the subscription fee. This was said to be £350 million a week (the gross figure before any rebates and before anything we got back). This looks like a lot of money to most people.

Leaving the EU would mean that we could control the level of immigration rather than leave it uncontrolled.

These issues were the ones that decided the EU referendum. They were simple and for the most part they were believed. That is why Leave won.

Crucially these three issues work for Pro UK people in Scotland. It is, of course, the case that Scotland voted to Remain in the EU. But this has more to do with the political circumstances of Scotland rather than genuinely different attitudes about the fundamental issues. It’s hard to think of a mainstream Scottish Politician living and working in Scotland who voted Leave. Scotland has a far smaller population that England does. Imagine if three new towns were planned in Scotland to take some of the strain from England. Imagine if tax breaks were given to encourage English people to move to these towns. How would the SNP react? Half a million new Scots with English accents might well change the electoral arithmetic. No doubt Nicola Sturgeon would be most welcoming.

But what is more important is how these three key messages could work in the context of independence.

Leaving the EU is going to bring back to the UK control over a number of issues including fisheries, agriculture and all the rules and regulations that currently govern our membership. People in the UK are going to control these issues. Many of these people are going to be in Scotland.  While at present issues that the Scottish Parliament controls can be overruled by Brussels, soon Scottish politicians will have the freedom to do as they please. This automatically will make these politicians more powerful and more able to control how they run Scotland.  Voting for Scottish independence will on the other hand mean losing control over whole areas of Scottish life, because it will first be necessary to check what Brussels thinks. After we leave the EU someone in the Scottish Government will end up deciding how we fish in the waters around Scotland and how we farm our land. Massive areas of ordinary life that are now controlled by the EU will instead be controlled in Scotland. This is real power and real control.  If on the other hand, Scotland were to leave the UK and join the EU we would, of course, lose control.

Scottish nationalists might argue that by leaving the UK Scotland may gain control over some issues that are now controlled by the UK such as macroeconomics and international relations, but ultimately the Scottish Parliament having become “independent” would have to vote to make EU law supreme. So how much control would independence bring you? We know how little control small EU countries like Ireland and Greece have ended up with. Scotland has a bigger deficit than either of these so what would prevent the Troika of the European Commission, IMF and European Central Bank running Scotland instead of the SNP? Independence then could well involve a loss of control.  

The UK will save some money by not having to pay the EU membership fee. A proportion of this money will go to Scotland.  Scottish independence would mean losing this saving and losing the money that Scotland at present gets from the Barnett formula. It would also involve paying money to the EU. Scotland would be expected to pay proportionally more than the UK does at present. There is going to be a bit of a hole in the EU’s budget now that the UK has decided to leave completely. Someone has to fill the gap.

It is not at all automatic that an independent Scotland would even get into the EU. Catalonia is once more trying to break away from Spain. It only needs one EU member to say “No” and Nicola Sturgeon would be sent homewards to think again. It’s hard to imagine then that the EU would vote to allow Scotland a rebate on EU membership fees.

It will be difficult therefore for the SNP to convincingly argue that leaving the UK will save us money. This is not least because we do far more trade with other parts of the UK than with the EU. Depending on how UK/EU negotiations go, Scotland could end up having to pay tariffs on our trade with England. In five years’ time England, Wales and Northern Ireland might have trade deals with India, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. We might be able to live and work in some nice warm places that speak English. Scotland though in voting to leave the UK wouldn’t have a share in these deals. We would quite literally be left in the cold.

Immigration is a controversial issue. No-one should be nasty to anyone who has chosen to live in the UK. But the argument was never about that. It is perfectly possible to be in favour of immigration, but want to limit it. After all there are billions of people in the world. They can’t all have the right to live here.

Again the choice for Scotland will be to be in a UK that can limit immigration or an independent Scotland that can’t. When the UK leaves the EU we will be able to choose who from the EU and elsewhere can come to live here. Perhaps we will have a points system or develop some other method. But it will be Parliament that decides. Those who wish to increase immigration can vote for a party that argues for that. Those who wish to limit immigration can make that argument. But it will be the UK electorate who decides, because the UK electorate will now be in control.

Alternatively we can choose to live in an independent Scotland that will have to be a member of Schengen. It is a condition for joining the EU. This means that there will not even be passport controls between Scotland and the other parts of the EU.

Unlimited immigration into Scotland however would logically mean that England would have to set up border controls between Scotland and England. How else could they control who came over the border. A passport has to be shown somewhere or else the UK will not be able to limit immigration.

The Republic of Ireland is not a precedent here for Scotland as Ireland has an opt out from Schengen. Even then there is likely to be some sort of border checks at the Northern Irish border as the UK will not be in the EU’s customs union while Ireland will be.

Who knows which countries will be able to join the EU in the coming decades? Perhaps Albania will be able to join, perhaps Serbia, perhaps Turkey. We just don’t know. The choice for Scotland will be between limited migration if it remains in the UK or unlimited if it leaves to join the EU.

Of course Scotland could decide to leave the UK and not join the EU. But this would make Nicola Sturgeon’s grievance rather empty.  You can’t very well vote to leave the UK because it left the EU and then decide not to join yourself. That looks like hypocrisy. What’s more you would then have to negotiate from scratch a trade deal both with what remained of the UK, with the EU and in fact the whole of the world. It’s hard to imagine that leaving Scotland more prosperous.

The key lesson in the weeks and months ahead is to think about the new situation that Brexit has given us. We can turn it to our advantage by developing arguments that show how leaving the EU makes Scottish independence harder. This is how we will keep the UK united and see off the threat from the SNP.  

Friday, 27 January 2017

Boats against the current,

I can’t remember the last time I bought a newspaper. Perhaps it was when I went on a long train journey. But when was that? Trains have become so expensive that it is nearly always cheaper to fly. I have a picture of myself at various points in time reading print newspapers and getting ink on my fingers. I remember how newspapers were enormous and how there was a knack to folding them so as to make reading manageable. But it isn’t as if I have stopped reading newspapers. I have a series of bookmarks on my browser. Each morning there are a few sites I go to. But when did I last pay to read anything?

There was a time a few years ago when nearly every newspaper online was free. It all happened rather quickly. Suddenly something we all used to buy without much thought was free. Perhaps we didn’t buy a newspaper every day, but we did sometimes. But why pay for something that is free? It must have been at this point that I ceased to read newspapers made of actual paper.

But this is our problem really, because nothing is free. Neither baby boxes nor newspapers are free. Someone has to pay.

Newspapers are companies that pay staff to write. The people who write are called journalists. This is a job just like any other job. People may write for a living because they like writing, but they need to live just like everyone else. Would you do your job for nothing? Perhaps you would. But could you? How would you pay your bills?

But how do free newspapers make any money to pay their staff? Well there are adverts. You may notice those things along the top of the page or down the sides. Perhaps you don’t notice, because you’ve got some sort of add blocker installed so that you are not bothered by ads. What a clever idea that is. It’s almost as clever as never watching the advertisements on free television.  Above all we must make sure that we never pay for anything. That way it’s bound to stay free forever.

Have you noticed how fewer and fewer online newspapers are free now? The Times hasn’t been free for quite a while. I can only read the odd free article, before they start asking me to pay. Fair enough. But do I pay? No I just don’t read the Times anymore. The Telegraph now has a subscription model too. I can read quite a bit on the site, but most of the comment section is behind a paywall. It’s a pity. I rather miss reading some of my favourite journalists, but do I pay? No. It wouldn’t really be sensible for me to pay, because I can find more than enough alternatives.  

Just occasionally I have a look at the Guardian. They don’t have a subscription yet, but they have a begging message at the bottom of each page. No doubt if that doesn’t work they will either go out of business or find some other way of getting readers to pay.

The problem is that unless it is absolutely vital to me to read a certain newspaper or commentator I can always find more than enough alternatives. The BBC will always give me the basic news, dull and worthy, but more or less accurate. For comment I can go to sites like The Spectator or Reaction Life. If they started to charge, I could find any number of other sites.

The begging bowl approach seems to work best where readers are committed to a cause. I think it must be for this reason that people sometimes make contributions to Bella Caledonia and Wings over Scotland. What are they paying for? What would happen if readers didn’t pay?

The great thing about writing for the Internet is that it is completely free. Anyone can decide to set up an account for nothing. All they have to do is write. I have not paid one penny for any of my articles to appear online. Of course some people want to have a more special web address and that might cost something. But it isn’t necessary. So what are readers paying for?

The begging bowl approach contains an implicit threat. If you don’t pay, then I will stop writing. But why should this motivate me to pay. If the best journalist in Britain told me that if I didn’t pay he would stop writing, I still wouldn’t pay. I’d just read someone else. Are Wings and Bella really the best journalists in Britain?

What if there were no-one else who could possibly match the quality of the journalism written by the journalist asking me to pay? Under those circumstances I might think of opening my purse. But while I miss reading, for example, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and consider him to be uniquely talented in his account of economics, I can make do without him. Could it be that Wings and Bella are more unique than him?

I think readers to Wings and Bella are paying because they think it brings their cause closer. They are paying for independence. It’s a sort of instalment plan. Keep paying Wings and Bella and in time the cause will win.

It must be something to do with the way they convert Pro UK people to support independence. Every time I read the intellectual heights that Bella reaches I find myself teetering on the edge of joining the SNP. If only Wings could write more than a paragraph, I would long since have painted my face blue. Just think I too could be soaring over Scottish politics. You only have to pay a small subscription and then there are the endless delights of joining that brave band of winged freedom fighters who bring independence ever nearer by their moral example.

There is a certain objectivity about Wings over Scotland. The main task, of course, is to teach readers to think for themselves and without prejudice. Only in this way are they able to see through the veil of illusion that is spread by those who are conspiring against Scotland. If only there had been Wings at each crucial point in Scotland’s history, just like Blackadder, there would never have been a defeat at Flodden, the Darien scheme would have been a success and above all there would never have been those rogues joining us together with the Auld Enemy. Not that we have anything against this enemy of course. In fact he is our dearest friend and kind neighbour.

Is it any wonder that people are willing to pay to see the truth. No-one else is offering this purity of reality. It’s yours for only a token gift each year. Not only do you get unique wisdom backed with the most prestigious qualifications, you get hope. It’s almost like going to church. There is the sermon and then there is the collection. Everyone leaves with a sense of belonging. Soon we will all reach the Promised Land.

But for how long can all this be kept going? There is some uncertainty at the moment. I would pay quite a lot to know what Nicola Sturgeon really thinks and intends to do, but I doubt I will get that even if I were to read the Daily Record. I would like to know for certain that Theresa May will maintain the firmness of her response to SNP threats. I might even pay for that knowledge if you had an article beyond the paywall. But again like everyone else I will have to await events. Newspapers are no better at predicting the future than anyone else. 

If it becomes clear during the next year or two that there isn’t going to be Scottish independence any time soon, what happens to those to who pay to keep the dream alive? What indeed happens to SNP support in general? Does it depend on the emotion generated in 2014? When you huff and puff into a yellow balloon with a creepy looking thistle on it there is liable to come a point when it goes pop.

I’m finding that there is less and less to write about Scottish politics. We are a single issue sort of place dominated by a single issue party. We wait for the electorate to tire of the SNP and become bothered once more with day to day boring issues. It looks as if Bella recently looked down into the begging bowl and found it looked back at her. It must have seemed too to those given the gift of flight that the dream was so close that they could hardly fail to touch it. "Wings believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us." But then so did Icarus. 

I have no special ability to predict the future and so have never expected my palm to be crossed with silver. I am pleased that my job is not journalism. When readers mostly expect to read for free it is unclear to me that such a profession has a future. It is better to have a job that doesn’t depend on generosity, but rather on necessity. It’s more secure to do something that people cannot do without. There will always be new computer games and the necessity for someone to tell the rest of us what they are like. If that doesn’t work out I recommend living in a place where the plumbing is rather old fashioned and the baths so ancient they might have been used by the Romans.

Keep reading for free. That’s what I do. But if you like to read good journalists its worth remembering that someone somewhere has to pay something. I don’t pay to read newspapers. I don’t expect anyone else to. But it might be worth occasionally clicking the adverts. You don’t have to actually buy anything, but without the clicks, eventually all newspapers are either going to end up behind the paywall or else nowhere.