Sunday, 26 October 2014

Nationalism has turned Scotland into a place of whisperers.

All through the referendum campaign I’ve been working on other writings. However interesting the machinations of Scottish politics may be, it is after all necessary to think of other things. I sometimes write about philosophy/theology and Russian literature, I sometimes write a little fiction. It’s for this reason that I haven’t been able to write a blog for the past few weeks. We all need a bit of a break sometimes.

There’s been a lot of curiosity about me, some from friendly sources, some from less friendly sources. There will be the chance soon to find out some back story. Fiction is fiction, but it’s all grounded in experience. No-one makes anything up ex nihilo. So a little patience, nationalist friends, and you can dig around some more. One way to tell a story is to reverse everything and imagine what it would have been like from the opposite perspective. It’s quite an interesting experiment. Try to see things from the other person’s point of view. You often find out something interesting. Anyway, when my book is ready, I shall announce it here and those who want to read further may do so.

I know that it disappoints my nationalist friends that they have been unable to find me in the telephone directory. No doubt you intended to offer congratulations. It’s almost universally assumed that I write under a pseudonym. But this is not true. I was born with this name and still use it in everyday life. My father’s surname was Deans and my mother loved Walter Scott. They named me Effie because she was beautiful and flawed. We are all flawed. 

I also acquired a long Russian surname from my husband. I was married in the Soviet Union, and for the first few years I lived in a city where foreigners were not supposed to live. For complex reasons, that it is unnecessary to go into, we were given exceptional permission, but I could not obviously advertise myself as a foreigner. My Soviet passport had a Russian first name and patronymic that would not immediately tell people that I was from somewhere else. If you introduce yourself as Effie with a patronymic formed from a name like Alan it’s pretty obvious you’re not from Gorky. I used this name professionally in Russia and I do here. But friends and my husband have always called me Effie Deans. That’s also what’s still on my British passport. It’s one heck of a lot easier anyway to use that name here when phoning up for a hairdresser’s appointment.

I’m terribly disappointed to tell you, my dear nationalist friends. But no I’m not going to tell you my long Russian name. You may hunt if you please. But the creepiness of your hunting is a good enough reason for my coyness, don’t you think? Besides, I attended something as close as I ever thought possible to a Komsomol meeting in Aberdeen a couple of weeks before the referendum.

The Komsomol was the Soviet Youth organisation. As well as the Marxism-Leninism lectures, you had to attend meetings. I learned to keep silent and be very coy and shy while living in a land where you had to be careful what you said. People have the wrong idea of the Soviet Union. In some respects it was far better than Russia today. Most people were much better off then than now. There was much less crime and there were better opportunities for achieving success through study. But you had to tow the party line and I had to remain silent. As Wittgenstein put it “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Until my Russian was good enough, so that no-one could guess where I was from, I spoke as little as possible. I had a persona that was very, very shy, that hid in the corner at parties. Later people believed I was from one of the Baltic states and was speaking Russian as a second language. But still I remained silent about what I could not speak about. Everyone did. We whispered when we were very sure of who we were talking to. Even then we were careful.

Well, my Komsomol meeting in Aberdeen involved a planted question from someone who I strongly suspect is a nationalist, and a thinly veiled lecture on the merits of independence from someone very senior. This person had not been in Scotland very long and I doubt very much knew any of the arguments for independence a year or two earlier. But suddenly I was listening to an independence convert. Everyone in the room kept silent. No-one including me put forward a counter argument. We, too, knew when it was necessary to speak and when it was necessary to keep silent.

When meeting colleagues in the days before and the days after the referendum, we were careful to check that everyone was a known No voter. Then we supported each other. We had a celebration lunch on the day we found out that the UK was safe. But we were quiet about it. We hid our support for No. So did most of Scotland. When I stood at the bus stop with people who I didn’t know, no-one mentioned the most important event of Scottish history in 300 years. We all kept silent. We still keep silent. Don’t mention the referendum.

I heard a rather sad story recently of two friends who chose not to remain silent. They were both No voters, but one of them was convinced by the SNP lies about the NHS. She was scared because she wasn’t very healthy and would need treatment. She was so scared, she didn’t believe any arguments about how the NHS was in no way under threat and how it was devolved. SNP lies destroyed this friendship, and the two no longer speak to each other and look the other way when they pass in the street. Better by far to stay silent.

Now a few weeks later, it all still feels very Soviet. My husband’s relatives were harmed approximately equally by people on the far left and people on the far right. We find the far left no less offensive than the far right. It should be as socially unacceptable to say you are a communist as a fascist. If you consider yourself a Marxist/Leninist/Trotskyite, I think, you are a supporter of a political ideology that killed massively more people than Hitler. I think it shameful. It’s shameful because it is the root of what makes us have to keep silent.

There is something happening in Scotland that is fundamentally anti-democratic. People who intend to use illegal means to overthrow unwelcome democratic decisions are revolutionaries not democrats. Again this must be shamed and shunned. Using democracy to achieve undemocratic goals or to achieve revolution likewise is the tactic of the totalitarian.  What started out as a necessary grieving process, which we were all willing to indulge, has morphed into an attack on Scottish democracy.

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon agreed that the referendum would “deliver a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect.” Neither have respected the result. Instead they have talked in sometimes veiled words of revolution. Words like “decisive” and “respect” have clear meanings. You simply cannot try to overturn a decisive referendum in the space of a year or two and also respect the result. To try to do so is fundamentally undemocratic. It is absolutely shocking to me that with one or two exceptions there is hardly a Yes voter in Scotland who gets this.  

Scotland will never become independent. If we were destined to become independent, we would have done so a month ago. The UK has changed with the result. The British government consensus that Scotland had the right to secede no longer holds. This is not advertised very strongly so as not to inflame the situation, but it is most certainly the case. No UK government will ever grant a second referendum, and because constitutional matters are reserved, Scotland has no legal route to independence. If the SNP could persuade less than 45% to vote for negotiated independence, does anyone seriously think they can persuade more than 50% to vote for unnegotiated illegal independence? Sorry, friends, that way lies chaos, sanctions, closed borders, poverty madness and totalitarianism.

I would go back to Russia before enduring such nationalist nonsense. I have relatives in Russia and so follow closely what’s going on. For all Putin’s faults, and they are worse than most people here realise, Russia feels a rather freer society than Scotland does at present. They may have rigged elections, but at least I no longer have to remain silent. I can talk about anything I please in cafes and on the streets. 

If you like my writing, please follow the link to my book Scarlet on the Horizon. The first five chapters can be read as a preview.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Failing to move on after historical turning points leaves you on the wrong side of history

My earliest contribution to politics was destructive. Sometime in the 70s a friend and I went to the house of the local Tory MP and threw mud at the poster attached to one of his trees. Nearly everyone in my class at school thought the SNP were just wonderful. Of course it was Scotland’s oil. The boys supported the nationalists in the same way they supported Scotland at football, the girls thought they were the political equivalent of the Bay City Rollers. We all had tartan trimming on our clothes.

I remember rural Aberdeenshire before the oil came. My parents had good jobs, but we were much poorer than now. For holidays we generally visited friends and relations in Scotland or other parts of the UK and Ireland. There were four flavours of crisps, no such thing as diet coke and pasta was either spaghetti or macaroni. I’m not even sure if we had reached the word “pasta” yet. My mum knitted my jumpers and made my dresses. We had enough of everything and more, but the country was struggling. 

I was a bit older when we had a mock election at school. It must have been in 1979. I campaigned for Labour with a schoolgirl’s idealism and a crash course in socialism. The SNP won our mock election overwhelmingly. People grow up at different rates.  The Tories won our seat.

There are some key turning points in modern political history. Everything is different before 1979 after that everything is changed, changed utterly. But in Scotland we are intent on continuing to fight old battles whether they are in 1314, 1745 or 2014.  It’s like we’ve been transplanted from William Faulkner’s American south

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863.

We think of Thatcher as if she were Sherman marching through Georgia. I am not in the business of fighting old battles. There were difficult times in Scotland and all throughout the UK in the 1980s. But Thatcher transformed the economic and political consensus in the UK. By the time I voted for Tony Blair in 1997, we had a brand new world where everyone who was remotely serious accepted that socialism in the traditional sense was not the answer. We’d all seen the Wall come down. I’d been there when the Soviet Union collapsed and my friends and loved ones had cured me of any lingering romanticism about the far left. None of them wore Che Guevara badges and so neither did I anymore.

The Alliance that grew up in the 80s joining social democrats (SDP) and Liberals had been on the right side of history. New Labour was the Alliance in the 1990s and had stolen the Lib Dems clothes while they were off swimming somewhere. Sensible people in the SNP also realised that you had to get the economics right. Politics thus largely became a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Getting the economics right, basically means you have to follow the advice of central bankers who will all tell you fundamentally the same thing with variants. The only game in town is free market capitalism. You can tweak it a bit, but you’re then only really arguing about spending or saving plus or minus 5% of GDP. Should the state spend 40% of GDP (Conservatives) or 45% (Labour)? If we really had the guts, of course, we’d work towards the state spending 20% of GDP. That would really make the poor wealthier and everyone else too.  There is thus a left-wing argument for shrinking the state.

People who think we can go in the other direction are frankly dinosaurs. They want to go back to the time before 1979. The idea that the UK government could spend 55% of GDP or 60%, the idea that Scotland could do this while the other parts of the UK went in the other direction shows a profound lack of understanding of even basic economics.

Blair is not going to be remembered well by history. It is not so much that he fought a war in Iraq which was founded on an untruth; it’s that he fought that war so badly. If Iraq was a peaceful, prosperous democracy today, we would all have forgotten how it started. Wars have been fought for far worse reasons than toppling dictators. But our armed forces are not allowed to fight wars in the only way that ever made sense. The purpose of war is to defeat the enemy as quickly and with as little cost to your own side as possible. If we had fought the Germans as we fight modern wars we would probably have lost and if by some chance we had won we would have ended up with a chaotic Germany rather than a peaceful prosperous liberal democracy. Until we learn this lesson we really have no business fighting anywhere as we will only make bad situations worse.

Political choice now is largely meaningless. What matters is economic competence. Each and every party want in some way to redistribute whatever growth our economy achieves. It wasn’t Labour’s fault that we had an economic crisis in 2008. The crisis hit the whole world. But they contributed to the fact that it was worse in the UK than it needed to have been because of mismanagement to the economy. The other parties however are equally guilty because they acquiesced in the increases in public spending during the Blair/Brown years and would probably have spent similar amounts as Labour. Almost no-one said we are living beyond our means, until it was too late. Alistair Darling did a great service to our country by taking the necessary action to prevent collapse. Like everyone else he made mistakes, but rectified them and had a largely sound plan thereafter. If a Labour government had been elected in 2010 and had followed Darling’s plan, things would have turned out much the same as they have.

The Conservatives and Liberals have done many things well. The economy is recovering and that is a major achievement. The Liberals in my view made one of the most principled contributions to government in this country for decades. They put country before party and undeservedly have suffered ignominy and loss of support for enabling the economic policies necessary for recovery to occur.

All I’m interested in is whether a political party has a sound economic plan. I hope they all will have one. In that case we can discuss what to with the money our economy earns so that everyone’s life gradually improves, most of all the poorest. But parties or political movements planning spending sprees with public money when we are 1.5 trillion in debt simply don’t get what happened in 2008 and that it too was a turning point.

Independence movements in Scotland and the UK are missing the point. If the UK could have a similar relationship to the EU as Scotland does to the UK, we would have the best of both worlds. We must fight for devolution for Scotland and the UK. I very much doubt that Scottish independence from the UK is even possible without doing massive damage to the UK/Scottish economy. I similarly doubt that UK independence from the EU is possible. The EU has faults and I am concerned about trying to deal with them. We must not end up in a nation state that is ruled by unelected bureaucrats and if that is what is on offer I will vote to leave. But this would, of course, be going in the wrong direction and putting ourselves on the wrong side of history. I hope there is a referendum on this matter, but it is a distraction just as our referendum in Scotland was a distraction. Sometimes however it is necessary to decide these matters once and for all.

For the moment we are dealing in Scotland with people who don’t understand the economics and who don’t understand the politics. Some of them are trying to take us back to 1979, some to 1745, still others to 1314. There is something dreadfully ant-intellectual about this movement, something profoundly undemocratic too. We had a free, fair, decisive referendum, but huge numbers of people think we should vote and vote again until they like the result. The pity is that they can’t even understand why this is undemocratic. Be careful Scotland. This is where nationalism leads.  

Each of the main UK parties is capable of governing in the national interest, the differences in their policies is often little more than froth and bubble when you come down to it, but that does not matter so long as they are competent. It is vital that we who believe that the UK is better together put aside party differences in Scotland to continue to fight forces that threaten our country’s unity and even our status as a full democracy rather than a flawed one. If you live where Labour has the best chance of defeating the SNP it is your duty to vote for Labour. The same goes for if you live where the Liberals or Conservatives have the best chance of defeating the SNP. Above all we must get over our obsession with Thatcher and the 80s. Life is much better now, we are all, including the poorest, much better off in 2014 than the 1970s. This is in part because of the transformation that occurred in the 1980s. This isn’t a party political point in favour of the Conservatives. It is an historical point looking back on a time that is now quite distant. We cannot continue to fight old battles. We must move on. 

If you like my writing, please follow the link to my book Scarlet on the Horizon. The first five chapters can be read as a preview.