Saturday, 26 December 2015

SNP threats over #Brexit are empty

William Hague has recently stated that although he dislikes much about the EU, he will be voting to remain. His arguments amount to the following. He thinks that we have to be in the single market to shape and benefit from it. He thinks that the EU despite its faults helps other countries to become and remain democracies. It is therefore, he thinks, not in the interest of the UK to weaken the EU and add further uncertainty into an already uncertain world. He furthermore thinks that the UK voting to leave the EU may lead to the breakup of the UK itself by encouraging the SNP to have another referendum.

The first thing to realise about the EU single market is that you don’t need to be in the EU to have access to it. There are presently four countries that have this access without being members of the EU. The idea that Britain would not have access if we leave is therefore strange. It’s in no-one’s interest to erect barriers to free trade. Everyone would lose out. It’s in no-one’s interest either to prevent free movement of labour. Imagine if suddenly the EU said that Brits could not live and work in Poland. Well this would affect few of us. I imagine some English language teachers might have to leave Warsaw. But we’d probably be able to survive that. On the other hand if Britain said that Poles no longer had the right to live and work in the UK, this would have rather more severe consequences, both for Poles and the UK economy. Far more Europeans want to live and work in the UK than the other way round. So the likelihood of Brits not being allowed to live and work in the EU after Brexit must be vanishingly small. This is not least because there is no reason to discriminate against Britain when the Swiss have access to the single market and can live and work anywhere in the EU they please. Of course, the EU could decide to take revenge on Britain for leaving. But really the UK and the EU have things that we want from each other, each side would lose out if we started playing tit for tat. This then would form the basis for a deal.

I think Mr Hague is really worried about not being able to shape the EU single market. Whenever there is a summit, he or his friends and colleagues would not be there. That’s tough for them, but I’m not sure it’s of much interest to the average Brit. The truth of the matter is that we have almost no influence as it is. Mr Cameron went to the EU with a list of reforms and has pretty much found them all rejected. There no doubt will be some token gestures, but nothing fundamental. We have minimal influence on the EU for a simple reason. We chose some time ago not to take part in the two key EU projects which would they hope lead to ever closer union. We decided not to join the Euro and we decided not to join the Schengen zone of passport free travel. The reality is that we are not going to shape the single market whether we are in or out of the EU. We are not going to shape anything much as we ceased being a core EU member long ago.

Would Britain leaving the EU damage the EU? The EU has had a pretty rough few years. The economies of the southern European states are in terrible trouble. The Euro far from fulfilling the dreams of its founders has turned into a recession machine. On top of that we have had a crisis in the Schengen zone, with members erecting barriers to prevent migration from outside the EU. Britain leaving the EU would certainly be a blow. We might well set an example to other countries to do likewise. But here’s the thing. If the UK left the EU, we would become once more a fully sovereign state. The UK Parliament would no longer be trumped by anyone else. Our MPs would be the final arbiter of our laws and we would be able to kick them out if we disagreed with them. The fundamental problem with the EU is that we are ruled by people we cannot kick out. We didn’t elect Mr Juncker and we can’t get rid of him. We don’t elect the European Commission. Its members are appointed. No one can kick them out. This is not much of an example of democracy for countries moving towards this path. A fully democratic UK with as much sovereignty as the USA would provide a far better example of democracy. The USA would not allow a foreign court to tell its parliament or its president what to do. Canadians wouldn’t allow this, nor would the Japanese. Each of these countries functions perfectly well without being ruled by a supra-national body. They have free trade and good relations with their neighbours. They are all better examples of democracy than the EU.

For years people have been predicting the breakup of the EU. Whenever there is another crisis in the Eurozone we wait with anticipation for Greece to get kicked out and for the whole house of cards to come tumbling down. If it was going to happen, it would have happened already. The EU and the Eurozone is for life, not just for Christmas.

But the EU is going to change, no matter what the UK decides. There are going to be different classes of membership of the EU. There is going to be the core group of Eurozone members and then there are going to be the rest of us. The latter could even be called associate members and may well include those non-EU members of the single market and Schengen zone. There are going to be different rules according to these factors. Is a country a member of the Eurozone and Schengen? This puts it in the core. Is a country only a member of Schengen? This puts it in the associate members. Is a country neither a member of Schengen nor the Eurozone? This frankly makes it less of a member of the EU even than Switzerland.

The core EU countries are going to move towards ever closer union. The end point of this will be some sort of federal United States of Europe. But however we vote in an EU referendum, we won’t be part of this, not unless we choose to join the Euro and Schengen. Whatever happens we will end up an associate member like Switzerland and any other EU country that decides it doesn’t fancy joining the Euro or Schengen. In one sense, therefore we will leave the EU, no matter what which way we vote.  We’ll be like Switzerland, Norway, Iceland et al, or rather we’ll be less full members of the EU even than they, for they after all are part of Schengen. The reality is that we are this already.  In another sense we’ll remain in the EU whichever way we vote. We’ll keep some aspects of the EU, such as the single market and the rules that go with it and we’ll keep free movement of people, perhaps with some slight modifications. We’ll keep these things no matter what, not least because there isn’t a single country in Western Europe that doesn’t have them. Alternatively you can believe that voting to leave the EU casts the UK into outer darkness.

The issue then is how we get to this associate member status. This could also be described as how do we get to where we in fact are. Do we get there by a process of negotiation or do we get there by being told what the nature of our associate membership will be. If we vote to leave the EU, the end point will be some sort of associate membership the terms of which will be determined by negotiation. The only way to get any sort of renegotiation on the terms of EU membership is to ask to leave. Anyone who doubts this should read the Lisbon TreatyOnly when a country asks to leave the EU can negotiations even begin. Until then it’s just a lot of fluff as Mr Cameron is finding out.

So if we vote to stay in the EU we will end up with associate membership and if we vote to leave we will end up with associate membership. In some ways the referendum is about nothing. But what hand would you rather be playing? That’s the issue. That indeed is the only issue. 

What of Scotland? Well the SNP will want to hold another referendum on independence whether or not we vote to remain or leave in the EU. They don’t need an excuse. Their only reason for wanting a referendum last time was that they won a majority in the Scottish parliament. Even if Britain votes to stay in the EU, it may well be that in a few years that the SNP will want to have another go. The thing with nationalism is that you can’t appease it. You can’t say if only we do this or that the SNP won’t want another referendum. Whatever you do, they will want another referendum. Mr Hague might be better learning from how the Spanish deal with secession movements. It's very easy indeed to make their threats empty. You just have to say No. Sorry Nicola, the people said No. Bye. 

As I’ve long argued however, leaving the EU makes Scottish independence far less likely. It virtually makes it impossible. Membership of the EU is the condition for the possibility of sub-nation nationalism. All the things that everyone in Scotland likes about the UK, such as the pound, such as an open border, depend on Scotland and the UK having the same EU status. If the UK voted to leave the EU and Scotland voted for independence in order to stay, it would be impossible to argue that life would continue more or less the same. In these circumstances independence becomes a massive leap into the unknown. Given the nature of the Scottish economy at present, given our dependence on subsidy from the rest of the UK, the idea that a vote to leave the EU precipitates Scottish independence is very dubious indeed. Nicola Sturgeon would love Scotland to be independent, she will bluster and complain, but she knows in her heart that we cannot afford it. Until and unless that changes Scottish independence is a dead parrot. You can bash it all you like, it won’t wake up.

Almost no-one in Scotland wants to join Schengen and almost no-one wants to join the Euro. A few may fancy being an independent Scotland within a United States of Europe. But small countries with struggling economies are not treated very generously by the EU. In the end no-one in Scotland will object if we end up with associate member status of the EU. Access to the single market plus free movement of people is all pretty much anyone in Britain wants.  How many voters in Scotland are going to climb the barricades for the sake of the Common Agricultural Policy or the latest regulation from the European Commission about light bulbs? There are no grounds for the SNP complaining, though they will of course complain. Scotland as a part of the UK is going to end up with associate membership of the EU, no matter what. But really we have that already, the issue is simply whether we get to renegotiate the terms of our membership. That’s the choice. The SNP do not need a reason to seek divorce from the UK, but even they might realise that these are not grounds, not least because this sort of semi-detached relationship with the EU will be just as popular in Scotland and within the ranks of the SNP as it will be elsewhere in the UK.

Leaving the EU is really just about renegotiating how we relate to this group of countries. You can call this staying in the EU if you like. The difference is as much linguistic as anything. In many ways Switzerland is already more of a member of the EU than the UK is. The same EU single market rules apply to them, plus the additional rules that govern Schengen. The only issue that matters is how best the UK can get the relationship with the EU that most of us whether Europhile or Eurosceptic, or somewhere in between want. Unless you want to join the Euro and Schengen, you want a different relationship to the EU than that which Germany or France has. In that case you want membership terms that reflect this difference. But it is now obvious that nothing whatsoever will change until you vote to leave. At that point we can renegotiate a relationship that reflects the long term fact that we are not a part of the core EU. The rules and duties that apply to Eurozone/Schengen countries as they move towards a United States of Europe ought not to apply to us. It’s not fair that at present many of them do. Mr Cameron has been asking for some of these rules to change. No-one wants to listen. The only way they will listen is if we vote to leave. 

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Independence supporters should vote for Ruth Davidson

It’s odd to think that in a little more than three months we might have been arriving at Scottish Independence Day.  It doesn’t seem that long ago since September 18th 2014. I wonder if we would have been ready.

Of course, countries can become independent more or less instantly. Look at the history of Europe in the past thirty years. Many places woke up almost by surprise to find that they were independent. Sometimes this was by choice, sometimes by means of conflict, sometimes pretty much by accident. So clearly it’s possible.

Yet I don’t think a vote for independence in September 2014 would have led to independence in March 2016. The reason for this is that almost no-one in Scotland wants independence.

When Eastern bloc countries suddenly found themselves to be independent in the early 1990s, they didn’t get a pick and mix form of independence, they got the full on form and they got it instantly. There were border controls, there were new currencies and there were frequently poor relations with neighbours. Not one of the newly independent countries in Eastern Europe gained a form of independence remotely resembling the one that was promised to people in Scotland. What we were promised was a sort of interdependence. We were promised that life would go on more or less the same only instead of sending MPs to Westminster we’d have them all in Holyrood. But nothing very much else would change at least not for the worse. All of the things we liked about the UK would continue. Nearly every independence supporter I’ve ever come across wants this. It’s for this reason that I don’t think we’d ever have got close to Independence Day in March 2016.

What have we learned since September 2014? We’ve learned that referendums are pointless. If a referendum does not decide a question decisively what is it for? Given that a referendum doesn’t decide a question decisively one way, why should it decide it decisively another way? Neither side needs to cease campaigning if it loses a referendum. The idea then that the whole population of Scotland would get behind the result of a pro-independence vote is preposterous. In this sense it matters little who wins, we still remain more or less divided equally. This feels more like Ukraine than Scotland.

We’ve also learned that SNP promises and the promises of influential independence supporters have not come true. The optimism of the Yes campaign was very powerful. In a similar way to Mr Obama’s statement “Yes we can” won him huge support. It made everyone feel so good to proclaim that we can. But being a president and being an orator are rather different matters. It frequently has turned out in fact that he can’t. The world is a worse and less safe place now than it was when Mr Obama became president. He is in part responsible for this, more because of his inaction than his action. History will remember him, of course, but only for something that he was born with, rather than anything he achieved. A nice man, but one of the poorer presidents. So too likewise I suspect Mrs Clinton would be remembered only for what she was born with. But neither the world nor America need still more inaction. 

So too the optimism of the Yes campaign and the predictions they made about an independent Scotland have been shown to be wildly optimistic. They would have been unable in the short term to create the independent Scotland that they promised their supporters. Many of those supporters do not believe this, but this is mainly because they have chosen to read only those accounts that support their beliefs rather than challenge them. When you go down this route of not thinking objectively and ignoring inconvenient facts, don’t be surprised when bridges begin to fall down.

Imagine if Yes had won by a whisker and throughout the next year or so we had all begun to realise quite what independence would have entailed. It would have rather concentrated minds. Imagine if we had realised that an independent Scotland would be significantly poorer than a Scotland within the UK. We would all then begin to make personal calculations about our wages and about the amount of tax that we would have to pay. Imagine if the result didn’t make for pleasant reading. What would have happened?

My guess is the following. Scotland would have become “independent”, but some sort of deal would have been made that also kept us in the UK. There are a few countries like this in the world with interdependent relationships with others. The result of the referendum would have been respected, but in reality most things would have remained the same. This after all is what everyone in Scotland wants.  Scotland could have become a sort of Hong Kong to the UK’s China. Call it “independence” if you like, but really its interdependence.

This is in fact something similar to what has actually occurred in Scotland. We have become a sort of semi-detached part of the UK. The Scottish Parliament now has considerable powers and many more than it did a few years ago. Why did these happen? They happened because Yes did so well in the referendum. If Yes had only won 30% there would have been no extra powers. We don’t know how these extra powers will work out. At the moment the SNP appear disinclined to use them. They seem most concerned of all that the UK as a whole continues to subsidise Scotland. This means that they are unionists at heart as people like me are likewise concerned that we keep the benefits of the UK including the fact that we receive a subsidy. Hardly any Scots except a few fundamentalists want to be poorer. They think a poor and fully independent Scotland would be worth it. But apart from these few brave hearts, there are few enough Scots who find virtue in a diet of oats and salt. I don’t think Nicola Sturgeon wants this, which may make her a closet unionist too.

Until and unless Scotland ceases to dependent on UK subsidy, independence is off the agenda. That’s the reality. If the SNP dare not even raise income tax, they are not going to dare to actually vote for Scotland to become independent and poorer. They are so desperate to keep the subsidy that they are even threatening not to accept additional powers. What does this tell us then really? It tells us that even if they had won a vote on independence they would have gone to David Cameron threatening not to accept it.

Unfortunately nearly everyone in the Scottish Parliament has more or less the same solution to every problem. Ever more public spending, plus freebies for the middle classes, plus centralisation kills all known germs. There is though no reason whatsoever why Scotland could not be much better off than we are at present. But the way to get there is to lower public spending, lower tax, decentralise within Scotland and to accept that free markets bring wealth. If we all voted for a party that implemented such policies we would be ready for independence in next to no time. I therefore suggest that independence supporters vote en masse for Ruth Davidson.

The SNP are the best friends the Union ever had. It is their policies that keep Scotland dependent on the UK. It matters little to me therefore if they win every seat in the Scottish Parliament, it only makes their goal recede further into the horizon.

We have learned recently that referendums don’t necessarily lead to the intended result. Greece was told that if it voted No, it would cease to be a part of the Euro and indeed would probably have to leave the EU. Did any of these things happen? 

Likewise a vote for independence would not I believe lead to independence, unless and until the majority of Scots were willing to take a massive pay cut or until the Scottish economy is more or less breaking even. Given the way Scotland votes neither of these circumstances is likely to happen anytime soon.  

There is a final moral to this story however. We are soon going to have a vote on leaving the EU. If we vote to remain, our relationship with the EU will be more or less the same. But if we vote to leave, it doesn’t follow that we will actually leave. Suddenly there will be panic at the heart of the EU. After all the recent troubles, could they really afford to lose Britain? I rather think they would be somewhat more willing to accommodate a semi-detached Britain.  I think indeed they might even be willing to accept the sort of relationship we had when we joined, a common market, a free trade zone and not much more. Whatever happens our relationship to the EU is going to be one of interdependence. This semi-detached interrelationship could still be called leaving the EU. But really we can no more leave the EU than we can leave Europe. We are always going to trade with our European friends and be interdependent. But here’s where it is important to do a calculation. If we vote to stay in the EU, we will get nothing whatsoever, but voting to leave sometimes gets rewards. 

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Sorting the sheep from the goats

Until relatively recently most Christians in Europe thought that their beliefs could be imposed on others. There were religious wars between Catholics and Protestants in order to do this. At times the law said I had to practice Christianity in this way, at times it said I had to practice it in that way. There were fanatics who were willing to burn at the stake someone who disagreed with them over matters which today seem trivial. What does it really matter if there are bishops or if there are not? What does it matter how you interpret a clause in the Nicene Creed, given that the whole matter is impossible to determine one way or another?

Imagine if there were in the world, once more, Christian fanatics, who wished to impose their religious views on other people. Imagine if they described ordinary Christians like me as being apostates for failing to live up to the true ideals of Christianity. Imagine if they wanted to rule Britain such that everyone had to follow their way of living a Christian life and wished to persecute those they disagreed with. They might, for instance, argue that homosexuals had to be punished. They might consider that adultery should lead to prison or worse. They might think that women should be condemned for dressing immodestly or not having their head covered in church. This is not so very far-fetched. The vast majority of Christians thought like this only a few centuries ago. Most Christians until very recently favoured some form of theocracy. They thought that everyone should more or less be compelled to go to church and that the law should reflect their interpretation of Christianity and this should be imposed on everybody.  

How would I as a Christian respond to such people if they existed today? I would respond in exactly the same way as I respond to the existence of Christian fanatics in the past. I would say that they have misunderstood the Gospels. The Christian Kingdom is not of this world. To try to impose it is simply to misunderstand it. Christianity is not a religion of law. Christ came to this world to break the law. He did so frequently and for this reason he was killed. Christian faith is a matter of choice. It has nothing to do with numbers. It matters not one little bit if only one person believes the truth. Truth, after all, is not democratic.

But imagine if somewhere in the world today there were a country that had a medieval, fanatical view of Christianity. Imagine if that country wished to expand and spread its version of Christianity. Imagine if it were called the Christian State. How would I as a Christian respond?

If this Christian State were willing to remain within its own borders, if it were no threat whatsoever to my way of life, or the life of my friends and allies, I might be inclined to leave it alone. But what if the Christian State used its fanatical version of Christianity in order to take over other countries? What if it used this form of Christianity to do great evil both in its own country and elsewhere? What if it encouraged moderate Christians all around the world to be fanatics? What would I do then?

Imagine if virtually every terrorist act around the world was done in the name of Christianity by people who thought of themselves as Christian to the highest degree possible. Would I as a Christian say that this has nothing to do with Christianity? No, for that would be to deny that a problem exists and that this problem concerns me? If Christianity is not about truth, then what is it about? Instead of living in denial I would instead use Christianity as my weapon of choice to attack those who misrepresent the Gospels. But above all else I would no more deny that these fanatics were Christians than I would deny Tomás de Torquemada was a Christian or that Rodrigo Borgia was a Pope.

How would I respond to this Christian State that exported terrorism.  I would firstly recognise that the Christian State was Christian. I would not try to come up with ways of disguising this fact, because I would recognise that facing up to facts no matter how unpleasant or uncomfortable was the only way to address the problem.  To deny that the Christian State was Christian would mean that I would logically have to deny that Spain, or Britain or France had been Christian during the Middle Ages when they too at times had behaved in barbarous ways. Only by understanding that the Christian State is Christian, could I point out that it is a version of Christianity that I despise. How can I persuade a Christian that he has misunderstood the Gospels if I deny that he is a Christian?

How would I respond if a certain proportion of Christians living in the UK were fanatics who wanted the Christian State to succeed in bringing theocracy to Britain?  Well obviously I would try to find out who they were, I would then try to persuade them of their error and convince, or even compel, them to cease. I would do this precisely because I am a Christian.

What if things became so bad in the Christian State that millions of people living there wanted to escape? I would naturally be concerned for their welfare. I would try to help, but I would also be very careful. The conditions that gave rise to the Christian State were that the people living there were at an historical stage which led to Christian fanaticism. After all, we burned heretics in Britain because that was how people in Britain thought at that point in history.  They thought burning was the correct response to heresy. It took centuries of historical development before we learned not to think in this way. Well imagine if there were a Christian State today where there was burning of heretics. What if millions of people wanted to escape that Christian State and live here? Should we let them all come? This is our problem however. We know that some people in the Christian State support fanaticism.  No doubt most do not, but some do. The people of the Christian State, in general, would be at an historical stage which still saw burning at the stake and theocracy as the way to respond to differences of opinion on religious matters. After all, those Protestants who fled persecution during the reign of Mary Tudor, thought it correct to burn Catholics in response during the reign of Elizabeth the First. It was the intolerance of people in general whether Catholic or Protestant that placed the wood around the stake. 

It would therefore be the historical stage of the people as a whole that gave rise to the Christian State.  It wouldn't just happen accidently. But then how are we supposed to tell who is the fanatic and who is not? What if five or perhaps even ten percent were fanatics and we allowed one million refugees from the Christian State to come here? Would that make our country safer or more dangerous? I think we would quite rightly, very carefully, scrutinise everyone who wanted to come and for our own safety we would set strict limits, even though we felt compassion and also wanted to help. The Christian State would be desperate to export its fanatical version of Christianity around the world. Above all, we would not want to help them to do this.  

If the Christian State became a threat to the way of life of people of all faiths living in Britain how would I respond? Would I decide that it was wrong to fight against other Christians? Well we have in the past been more than willing to fight against other Christians. Germany, after all, was a Christian country and we fought a world war against them twice in one century. If an ideology is wrong or if it does great evil, it matters not one little bit to me that the people who follow that ideology are Christians. What if it became necessary for Britain and other countries to fight the Christian State? This might happen because people were carrying out acts of Christian terrorism in the name of Christianity. If that were to happen I wouldn't try to hide behind words like "militant", nor would I turn Christian into "Christianism" as if that in any way changed either the meaning or the reality. It might also be necessary to fight if ever more Christians in Britain were travelling to the Christian State in order to learn how to kill and maim. Would I as a Christian oppose such military action? No of course not. I would be grateful that something was being done against these fanatics who had so misunderstood the Gospels.

My fight would not, of course, be against ordinary Christians who follow Christianity in the way that I think it ought to be followed. I believe Christianity is a religion of peace, but what to do about those Christians who disagree? What to do about those Christians who think Christianity is about fanaticism, terrorism, intolerance and theocracy. Against those Christians I would fight.  I would not be fighting against Christianity as it ought to be understood. If that were the case I would be fighting against myself.  I would rather be making a clear distinction between the sheep and the goats. In this way I would be very clear with my fellow Christians, that theocracy, persecution and terrorism were wrong. Fanaticism and intolerance puts you amongst the goats. If that’s what you want, then you are my enemy.  I would want to fight against you and your kind everywhere in the name of Christianity. What's more I would do so precisely because I am a Christian. 

Saturday, 5 December 2015

ISIS won't check the SNP's voting record

If you could replay May and June 1940, I think, nine times out of ten Britain would emerge defeated. If our armies had been destroyed at Dunkirk, we would have surrendered. It took an unlikely combination of German incompetence and something approaching a miracle that this did not occur. The result of this defeat would have been occupation and our only hope of liberation would have lain with the Red Army. History has the possibility to turn out very differently indeed.

Those few days, when realistically we had no hope at all and yet somehow remained undefeated, are now seventy five years ago. Only some people now in their eighties can even remember that period. Only a very few indeed in their late nineties can have been there. In the time since we have had it relatively easy. If you make a total of UK war deaths since 1945 it comes to comes to around 7500. We lost three times as many on one morning in July 1916. Somehow through this period of relative peace we have forgotten the lessons of war or perhaps rather drawn the wrong conclusions.

In May 1940, what percentage of Scots thought that the war had nothing to do with them? What percentage thought, if only we Scots don’t do anything nasty to the Germans, they will leave us alone? What percentage indeed thought that we were fighting England’s war or that it had been wrong to fight? Only a few Scottish nationalists plotting treason thought this, but their party was a joke and their cause was ridiculed if it was known about at all. At this point in our history virtually every Scot was equally proud of being British as Scottish. We had some of the best regiments in the British army and our soldiers had a reputation that few indeed could better. This reputation stretched back hundreds of years. It was a Scottish regiment which formed the “Thin Red Line” at Balaclava. They came to epitomise the spirit of the whole British Army. If it had been up to the SNP they would not have been there at all.

Even to look briefly at the history of warfare is to see that wars are frequently fought for reasons that look odd, or even trivial. The Crimean War was a dispute about access to churches in Jerusalem. The Franco-Prussian war was a dispute about who would occupy the throne in Spain together with a rather rude telegram from a town called Ems. Wars have been fought for far less sensible reasons than overthrowing dictators or freeing a country from evil.

Always call a thing what it is. We are plagued at the moment by an inability to agree on a name for our enemy.  I call them ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), because that is what they call themselves. It is hard to think of a regime that has behaved more barbarously in history. There would have been a time when the mere existence of such a power was enough reason for us to do all in our power to destroy it. This would be the case even if these people were no threat to us.  But they are. Every week it seems there are people who want to kill in the name of ISIS. What would it take for the SNP to decide that now is the time to do something, rather than what amounts to nothing? What if there were an attack on a Scottish city? The folly however is that if there were such an attack it wouldn’t be ISIS that was blamed. Guess who would be blamed.

We are all equally at risk. We are at risk whether we do something or we do nothing. As long as ISIS exists there will always be that threat. If on the other hand we could defeat ISIS militarily, there would be a chance that the threat would be at least diminished.

Why such reluctance to take military action? We have become weak and decadent and we have forgotten the true lessons of war. War at times is necessary. It is necessary when a problem cannot possibly be solved diplomatically. It is necessary when a threat is growing and when we can predict that it will become ever more dangerous if it is not confronted and destroyed. This is why we went to war in 1939.

The problem is that during the long period of relative peace since 1945 we have had a relentless message of pacifism. Children are almost exclusively taught about the horror and the futility of World War One. This may be part of the story, but it is not the whole story. Every film, every novel about war is described as anti-war.  Moreover, we have got to the stage where in order to walk down the street, primary school children need to wear fluorescent yellow bibs. We are adverse to all risk and go through our lives in fear of the most trivial danger. What became of the people that we once were? Where are the people of May 1940? They are all either dead or else they have been forgotten.

There are some people who are genuinely opposed to all war. There are some who think we should only use our military to defend ourselves and never for attack. Many people in Britain have seen the result of our wars in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and concluded that it’s not worth getting involved.  I disagree with the morality of non-resistance for there are circumstances when it allows evil to triumph. Neutrality frequently depends on collaboration with evil and anyway depends on the enemy respecting that neutrality. Sometimes in order to defend yourself, it’s necessary to attack. Few people however are morally opposed to war in all circumstances. The main reason for opposition to fighting ISIS is recent experience. Our interventions lately have not gone well. But the wrong lesson is being learned.

Due to the long period since 1945 when we have not fought a truly serious war we have forgotten how to win. No-one in Britain after May 1940 could have been mistaken about the seriousness of the threat that we faced. We therefore fought accordingly. Imagine if we had fought against the Nazis as we have recently fought against Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

Imagine if the BBC had refused to take sides during World War II and had given equal weight to what the Germans said as to what our side said. Imagine if they had interviewed the inhabitants of Hamburg after the fire storm raid of  July 1943. Well here we have little Otto, he has been badly burned and his Mummy and Daddy have been killed. Imagine if every British casualty was paraded through a town in England in a flag draped coffin. Imagine if every girlfriend, wife and mother was interviewed and allowed to complain about each death. Imagine if during the battle for Normandy each of our soldiers knew that if he killed a German soldier when he ought not to have done so, he would go to prison for murder. Imagine if every time more than two or three British soldiers died this was described as heavy casualties. Under these circumstances would we have emerged victorious or would we rather have been defeated?

It is the way we fight wars today that guarantees our defeat. We only fight in this way because we do not feel that we are really threatened. If the Cold War had become hot and a conventional battle had taken place, I assure you we would not have fought with one hand tied behind our back. We would not have had briefings every day where the only issue of consequence was enemy civilian casualties.  Faced with such a threat we would have done what it takes to win.

It is precisely because since 1945 we have felt more or less safe that we have lost the ability to fight. We have gradually lost the ability to accept even moderate causalities. Every military death is a tragedy for friends and family, but today we think that losing one soldier a week in a war amounts to unacceptable losses. If that is the case, we may as well disband the army. It is unrealistic. It is indeed childish to get involved in such conflicts if we cannot respond to them in a more adult way. At one point in the Battle of Stalingrad the life expectancy of a Soviet soldier was twenty minutes. It was frequently less than 24 hours. These are heavy casualties.

The problem with our recent conflicts in places like Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan has not so much been war as peace. We have been able to defeat the forces of our enemies reasonably easily, but we have left these places worse than we found them. Once more we have forgotten the lessons of 1945.

Imagine what would have happened if a town in Germany had continued to resist after the Red Army had conquered it. What would have happened? Imagine if Nazis had continued to fight without uniforms. What would have happened to them? This is how you win.

It is not accidental that there are almost no Nazis left in Germany today. We conquered Germany and we then ruled there until they had learned their lesson. We imposed democracy on our former enemy and turned him into our friend. He didn’t have any choice in this. This is how you win long term.

What is the level of threat today against Britain? I don’t know. No-one does. But I don’t think there is limit to what ISIS will try to do. If they could they would conquer our country and rule it as they do in Syria and Iraq. They couldn’t do so now, but if left unchecked, who knows what they are capable of. It is not May 1940, but it is perhaps 1935 or 1936.

Scotland is threatened simply because we exist. We can no more escape the threat now than we could in May 1940. The idea that ISIS will check the voting record of the SNP is frankly comical. They will however, be delighted that the UK is divided against itself and that so many Scots, even those who consider themselves to be patriots, have forgotten our reputation as the very best of fighters. We have a common enemy, we will need to unite to defeat it and we will have to fight to win.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

There are no safe spaces now

When did the SNP last support a war? Was it in 1314 or was it in 1745? They certainly didn’t support “England’s war” in 1939, nor as far as I recall have they supported any war since. Nicola Sturgeon might have pretended that she would listen to the arguments made by David Cameron and the UK Government, but she was listening in the same way as Nelson was seeing when he put a telescope to his blind eye and declared that he could see no ships. There was never any chance that the SNP would support Britain, as once more it looks likely that our forces will go to war. Have the SNP ever supported Britain in anything whatsoever?

The SNP may not be as vocal about it, but with regard to defence they are very similar indeed to Jeremy Corbyn. Whatever side Britain is on, Mr Corbyn appears always to take the opposite. When the IRA were attacking us, he’d have their supporters to lunch. He would have been delighted to hand over the Falkland Islands to Argentina. I’m quite sure he would have preferred being ruled by the Soviet Union as at least that would have brought about socialism. No doubt, he would prefer being ruled by Hamas than the Tory party. In order to make any and all of these things more likely he would have unilaterally given up all of our nuclear weapons without expecting anything in return. It’s the gesture, after all, that counts.

Quite a lot of SNP supporters, especially those who live in the West of Scotland have similar sympathies to Mr Corbyn. They too hate Britain and express sympathy for "militants" whether in Northern Ireland or in parts of the Middle East. This is the trouble with terrorism. Once you go down the route of supporting the cause, whether it’s a united Ireland or the destruction of Israel, you have a tendency to at least in part support the means. Mr Corbyn could never quite bring himself to condemn IRA terrorism without at the same time condemning British terrorism. The UK’s armed forces were always morally equivalent to the people they were fighting. After all Mr Corbyn shared the IRA's aims and objectives, though, of course, he deplored their tactics, or was it that he deplored the British army for provoking these tactics?

Did Mr Corbyn and friends ever condemn terrorism when it was directed against Israel? Or did they rather excuse and explain this terrorism simply by means of the fact that Israel existed. But this is our problem really. The terrorism that has been directed against Israel for the past decades is the same terrorism that is now directed against us.

When all of Israel’s neighbours decided to attack simultaneously in June 1967, they lost in six days. They tried again in 1973 and lost again. It was the failure of these military actions above all that gave rise to terrorism as a tactic. They could not defeat Israel with armies so instead they tried insurgency and terrorism.

Terrorism was rather different in the 1960s and 1970s. There were lots of hijackings. Planes would end up on a runway somewhere and there would be negotiations. This sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore, does it? There were shootings, but those who did the shooting nearly always wanted to get away. That too doesn’t happen anymore.
Terrorism in the 1970s outraged us, but both in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East it wasn’t like today. There were limits. It was almost as if there were rules. But the trouble with terrorism is that if you don’t defeat it, there is the tendency for it to get much worse.

We all remember the hostages who were taken in the 1980s. We were all outraged by the long captivity of people like Terry Waite. But the situation is incomparably worse today. If someone is taken hostage now in Syria or Iraq what are the chances of them surviving?

Terrorists today don’t hijack planes, they blow them up or crash them into buildings. That is precisely why there are no hijackings anymore. Any hijacked plane would immediately be shot down. Terrorists nowadays are not interested in negotiation and they are not interested in survival. This is the fundamental difference.

In the 1970s we were dealing with secular terrorism and for that reason the terrorist wanted to survive. Now we are dealing with religious terrorism and the terrorist doesn’t care if he survives on Earth, for he believes that he will survive and be reward in paradise. If that were not the case, suicide bombing would make no sense whatsoever.

The problem we have though is that someone like Mr Corbyn, understands and sympathises with people who blow themselves up in Israel. He thinks their cause is just and is an understandable reaction to injustice by Israel. There are many people in Britain who agree with him, at least to an extent. But here is our problem, the person who blows himself up fighting against Israel is not in any meaningful sense different from the person who blows himself up flying his plane into the World Trade Centre, who blows himself up on the Tube, or who shoots hundreds of people in Paris and dies in the process. These people will all agree with each other and think each of their causes is just. No doubt, this is because it is the same cause.

Barbarism if left unchecked leads to ever greater levels of barbarism. We know this from the conduct of the German Army in World War II. Once you go down that route there is practically speaking no limit to what men will do to other men. We have now reached a level of barbarity in the Middle East that no-one could have imagined in the 1970s. What will it be like in twenty years’ time if it is not stopped now? What new methods of torture will these people find? What new methods of attacking us will they discover? If they use Kalashnikovs today, who is to say that they will not use chemical weapons tomorrow?

Some people think that pacifism will defend us against terrorism. In this respect both Mr Corbyn and the SNP are in agreement. They think that if we leave the terrorists alone, they won’t attack us. They think that Middle Eastern terrorism is caused by injustice in the Middle East. They think the solution therefore is to address this injustice. They think moreover that it is our fault that there are terrorists. If we had not taken part in prior wars, if we had not been imperialists, then no-one would want to hurt us. They explain terrorism and to an extent therefore justify it.

Pacifism is a nice ideal. It’s easy to admire Gandhi’s passive resistance. It can work too. But what do you think would have been the result if the Soviet Union had responded to Operation Barbarossa with passive resistance? If Gandhi had tried to fight the Imperial Japanese army with pacifism, they would simply have crushed him on the first day. Pacifism only worked because Gandhi was up against a reasonable opponent, the British, who had a conscience. Does anyone seriously think that our opponent today has a conscience?

The SNP’s only response to military threat is to unilaterally get rid of our nuclear weapons and to promise never to attack anyone ever. Pound for pound we get more deterrence out of Trident than out of all of the rest of our armed forces put together. None of this much mattered before when the SNP only had a handful of MPs, but now they actually have influence.  The UK and the West in general is faced with a dangerous threat that is going to get worse if we don’t do something about it. Far too many people on the Left sympathise too much with our enemies and would do all they can to undermine Britain.  Now is not the time for division. We cannot afford weakness and break-up any more than France can.

We will not defeat terrorism in the Middle East by air strikes alone. But the fact that it will not be enough is not a reason for doing nothing. The wars we have taken part in recently have not gone well, but the fault was not so much that we fought, but how we fought. If Iraq were prosperous, democratic, free and peaceful today, no-one would remember anything else about that war. The problem is that we have lost the will to fight like we did during World War II. We have become decadent and unwilling to do what is necessary, above all unwilling to take even light casualties. In our universities some students talk of “safe spaces” where they won’t be able to hear anything they disagree with. They want to be given “trigger warnings” in case they read something unpleasant in Ovid or find prejudice in the plays of Shakespeare. Many people in the West are unable even to think or speak the truth lest it causes offence. We each have a little censor saying don't write that, don't think that someone might call you a nasty name.  

I’m sorry folks, there are no safe spaces after Paris. You won’t be given a warning if someone pulls the trigger. It is time, above all, for us to tell the truth about the threat we face.

Don’t sympathise with terrorism. Don’t try to justify or understand it. Don’t sympathise with the causes of those who hate us. Fight them.

Pacifism will not help us. Our enemies will simply laugh at our weakness. Now is the time rather to do what our enemy least wants and make him cease laughing and thinking of us as weak. It is always difficult to fight against people who don’t care if they live or die. The United States Navy discovered this in 1944. Religious fanaticism is a powerful force that can motivate and boost morale, but we have defeated fanaticism before and we can do so again.  

Scottish politics and the attempt to divide our country appear ludicrously parochial now. What would it take for Scottish nationalists to realise that there are more important things than hating the UK, Westminster and Tories? They are stuck in a 1980s time-warp endlessly debating nuclear disarmament and re-fighting the battles of the Middle Ages rather than those of today. Really what would it take for the SNP to wake up and face up to the threat of 2015 rather than 1314? If Paris isn’t enough, what would be? It's all very well being insular, but there are no safe spaces now.  Not here, nor anywhere else.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

The glue that holds us together

Scottish politics appears trivial to me now. I find myself uninterested. Perhaps I will get my interest back. Ordinary life, after all, goes on and must go on. But the events of the past week have shaken me. Some people have responded with the usual clichés and the usual complacency. Some have been determined not to do anything, not to overreact. Some have been more concerned about demonstrating how nice and kind they are. I’m uninterested in all those things. I’m interested in understanding the problem and then finding a solution.

It is purely a matter of chance, or else the excellence of our security services, that it wasn’t a British city that was attacked last week. We have been attacked before, it is highly likely that we will be attacked again. Such an attack will probably happen in one of the big English cities, but it could equally well happen in Glasgow or even Aberdeen. Who can tell? If the French president says that his country is at war, then realistically so are we. We must respond accordingly.

Morally I believe we have a duty to fight evil. Even if our country had not been threatened by Germany in 1939 at some point we would have had a duty to fight against people who were acting barbarously towards others. It is not always practically possible to overcome regimes which are acting in ways that are monstrous. But where we can, we have a duty to do so. War can be just and pacifism can be a means by which evil is allowed to flourish.

The West has made a series of strategic blunders in the Middle East over the past 20-30 years. With hindsight secular dictatorship was preferable to religious extremism. It was a mistake to support the removal of Gaddafi, Mubarak, Assad and in the end it was a mistake to remove Saddam Hussein. But were not all these dictators evil? No doubt they were, but what followed was much worse. If you don’t believe me, you haven’t been following the news recently.

So should we have left the whole region alone? It would indeed be better to leave the whole region alone, than to make it worse. But unfortunately the region will not leave us alone. Attacks on our cities will not suddenly cease if we retreat, rather they will get worse. They are getting worse. Who knows how many will be killed next time? Five hundred, a thousand? If you are against action, at what point do you act?

The mistake that the West made in removing dictators was not so much the removal of the dictators, but the failure to put anything in its place. Imagine if after defeating Germany and Japan in 1945 we had simply left them to get on with it. Would they now be the peaceful, prosperous societies we see today? These countries are as they are because we conquered them and then ruled them for years afterwards. We turned them into democrats. If we are to defeat evil in the Middle East we must do likewise. If we are not to finish the job, it would be better not to start at all.

How is it that we could defeat Germany and Japan in 1945 and turn them into model countries, yet we have a record of failure in the Middle East? The answer is obvious. We don’t fight as we did in 1945. The media watches every step we make, rebukes us whenever we make a mistake and treats the whole event as something that they have to watch impartially. Meanwhile our armed forces play with a rule book that guarantees defeat while the enemy plays to no rules at all. We defeated formidable opponents like Germany and Japan only because we could do whatever was necessary to win. We realised it was a struggle for survival and fought accordingly. No less is required this time. Not least it would be kinder to our opponents. If we had fought a little more seriously in Iraq last time round and if we had ruled with a little more authority, we might not be faced with a failed state today.

If there is the will, we can defeat evil in the Middle East relatively easily. Our opponents are not nearly as formidable as the ones we faced in 1939. But we need to put aside differences with countries like Russia just like we did in 1941. Putting aside those differences may also help solve conflicts elsewhere such as in Ukraine. Above all we must recognise that bombing alone will not succeed.  A country cannot be occupied with bombers.

The people who threaten us are in Syria and Iraq, but they are not only there. Unfortunately we have to recognise that some of them live in our own country. Some of them sympathise with our enemies. We don’t know who they are and we have no means of recognising them. But and this is very important, I would like to emphasise that our enemies are not immigrants and they are not Muslims.

Only a small proportion of Muslims in the modern world sympathise wish ISIS or wish to fight a Jihad against the West. I don’t know how large this proportion is. The faith of most Muslims in Britain is as unconnected with Jihad as my Christianity is unconnected with the Spanish Inquisition. I do not deny that that burning heretics was something that Christians did, not least because they themselves believed themselves to be Christians. But it has nothing to do with my faith. It was part of Christianity at one time in history to act cruelly, but it is not at all how I understand Christianity.

Faith is a precious thing to the person who has it. It would have been awful for me to believe what I do about Christianity and see others using Christianity to be cruel. Well then I can sympathise with devout Muslims when they see their religion misused. This misuse is not their fault and no more touches them than if I had been a Christian in Spain and had disagreed with burning those who were called heretics.

Let us only fight those who are our enemies, let us not criticise those who are our friends and fellow countrymen. Some people suggest that we are up against a medieval interpretation of Islam. On the contrary, I would far rather live in medieval Baghdad than medieval Edinburgh. In the Middle Ages Baghdad would have been relatively tolerant. It would have been clean, cultured and safe. The scholarship, the art and the culture there would have been far superior to here. The problem is not a medieval interpretation so much as a modern fanaticism.

The fanatics of the Spanish Inquisition were a threat to ordinary decent Christians in Spain. In the same way modern Jihadis are a threat to ordinary decent Muslims in Britain. We can all equally be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The way to defeat our common enemy is to come together. Just as in World War II we found a unity and a morale that helped us defeat evil, so too now we must unite rather than divide.

I strongly suspect that British Muslims are, at least in part, responsible for foiling many attacks that might have taken place in the past years. They will, no doubt, continue to do so. Our safety in the UK depends on everyone feeling equally a part of our country. It is perfectly possible to have more than one identity. Someone can be proud of the country where their ancestors came from and equally proud of the country where they are now.  Someone can be Jewish and British, a Hindu and British and Muslim and British.

The great thing about the British identity is that it is open to everyone. I know people whose grandparents came from Scotland who still think of themselves as Scots though they were born and brought up in England and they speak with an English accent. Likewise I know people who have lived in Scotland all their lives who are continually reminded that they are not Scots because they lack a Scottish accent. It is sometimes possible to be accepted as Scot by committing oneself to Scottish nationalism, but for the most part a Scottish identity depends on where you are born and where your parents came from.  I wish that this were not so, but it is.

My husband is in the process of obtaining a British passport. When he does so, he will be a British Russian. That will be the only identity open to him. He lacks Scottish vowels. The prefix British unites everyone who lives in the UK in a similar way that people in the United States can call themselves Italian Americans, or African Americans. This common identity is vital if a country is to remain united.

But here we have a problem. We are rightly encouraging people whose ancestors came from elsewhere to think of themselves as Brits. We want them to share this identity with all of us and to realise that we are all in this together. But at the same time far too many British citizens deny the one thing that unites us all. In the past twenty or more years Britain has become more and more divided. Too many people think of themselves as English only, or Welsh only. Too many deny that they are British. But it is only because we are both British that I have a common identity with an Indian Sikh in London or a Pakistani Muslim in Birmingham. If I deny this Britishness, what have I in common with them other than a shared humanity?

We must stop squabbling amongst ourselves. We face a struggle that may be as dangerous as the Second World War, which may be as long as the Cold War.  We must unite in our United Kingdom. Above all we must not divide in the face of our common enemy. We live in a multi-cultural Britain, where we are all equally Brits. If you can’t quite bear living in the same country as English people, Welsh people and Northern Irish people, how do you suppose you will be able to bear living in a country with people from further afield? If you hate Brits and Britishness, you hate an awful lot of of your fellow citizens. You hate the one identity that ought to join you with them.   
Our common citizenship, our Britishness is the glue that holds us together. It will enable us to defeat our present foe just as we have defeated all those that have come before. Don’t make us come unstuck. We need everyone together in this fight.  

Saturday, 14 November 2015

We need to integrate or else build fences

Out of all Eastern Bloc countries the most multi-cultural was the Soviet Union. In Russia today, there are also many different linguistic, ethnic and religious groups. This has been the case for centuries. The Russian Empire, after all, expanded from its historical heartland of Kievan Rus’ and expanded gradually northward, southward, westward, but above all eastward. Eventually this empire stretched across a continent, embracing many peoples who certainly had not been Russian a thousand years ago. It can be described as a form of colonisation without having to travel overseas.

When the Soviet Union collapsed the former Russian Empire lost many of its peoples, but it kept many more. Thankfully Russia itself has been able to remain intact. If Russia were to fall apart, there would certainly be conflict. The various peoples who live in Russia are very mixed and there are frequently no clear boundaries between them. Thankfully also there is little desire for secession. The conflict in Chechnya was the exception. Who knows, perhaps there is desire for secession and independence elsewhere, but we’d all better hope it doesn’t amount to anything. If Russia became one hundred and eight-five countries, corresponding to the ethnic groups who live there, the whole region, perhaps the world would descend into chaos.

For the most part however, people in Russia get on with each other well enough, no matter whether they can also speak a language different from Russian, whether they have a religion different to Russian Orthodox Christianity and whether they are from a different ethnic group.  The Russian Empire was a melting pot. But it must be remembered it took centuries for this melting pot to melt the differences and to a great extent they are still there. Ivan the Terrible captured Kazan’ in 1552, but the Tatars are still there. They are citizens of Russia, but they are still Tatars.  They are not usually even called Russians, nor do they think of themselves anything other than Tatars.

Multi-cultural countries are certainly possible. Russia is one, so is China, so is India. There are many more. But there is always the danger of conflict. There is always the possibility that one group or another might decide to seek separation. No-one thought the Soviet Union would break up, but it did. Who is to say that there is no possibility of another multinational-nation breaking up?

While the Soviet Union was a multi-national, multi-cultural country, the rest of the Eastern bloc for the most part was mono-cultural and has since the breakup of the Soviet Union become, if anything, still more so. Most Eastern European countries are dominated by one linguistic, religious and ethnic group. The south Slavs decided that they could not bear to live together any longer even though they all spoke more or less the same language. They fought a vicious war and split up into Serbia, Croatia et al. Likewise, Czechs and Slovaks decided that they could not endure living together. Their divorce happened almost by accident, but it happened none the less even though to an outsider the Czechs and Slovaks seem more or less the same.

The point is that in recent historical memory most people in Eastern Europe have experience of multi-culturalism and this is therefore something that they now reject. The Austro-Hungarian Empire after all was a multi-national, multi-cultural country, but eventually it could not hold together due to the fact that it contained too many nations. Likewise Czechs and Poles remember the consequence of living in a country which has German minorities. After the war they made sure there were no longer any Germans living in their country. It was vicious the way the Germans were driven out at the point of a bayonet, but the issues that caused such tension in the years before 1939 have gone with them.   

This is our problem. Just as the Tatars of Kazan’ remain Tatars 500 years later, so the Germans who had lived in Poland remained Germans and the tendency was for them to wish to turn Poland into Germany. The Eastern European countries that are most diverse now are places like Latvia and Estonia, with large Russian minorities. But it is an uneasy truce. The Latvians and Estonians would prefer that there were no Russians there. The Russians, no doubt, would prefer that Latvia became part of Russia again.

It is the experience of the difficulties of multi-culturalism that makes the present day Eastern Europeans so reluctant to accept immigration. Hungary has a population that is more than 95% Hungarian. They want it to stay that way. The reason for this is two-fold. Their own history tells them of the difficulties of multi-culturalism. But furthermore they look at the experiment with multi-culturalism in Western Europe and they don’t like what they see. Who can blame them?

The only way to make mass immigration work is to have a melting pot. But the melting pot takes centuries and even then it does not always work. Ukraine and Belarus’ split from Russia though they all had the same origin and had been part of one country for centuries. We have not completely melted the difference between Scotland and England, Catalonia and Spain or else there would not be the demand among some people for independence. But if Scots and English people cannot bear to live in one country, though there is little to distinguish us, how can we all live in harmony with people who are very different indeed? If we cannot fully integrate Scots and English people so that they think of themselves as one people, how can we expect to integrate those who are in every respect different except sharing a common humanity? The reality is that it is a part of human nature to wish to live together with those who have similar beliefs and speak the same language. If that were not the case we would not have countries at all.

Hungarians want to live with Hungarians. They too once were immigrants. They migrated to the land that is now called Hungary some time over one thousand years ago. No-doubt they fought their way there and drove out those who were there before them. It may be unfair that they who are quite literally a nation of immigrants want to keep out others who are also immigrants. They probably would be willing to accept some. But above all they recognise that there is a limit. The character of Hungarian society would radically change if twenty or thirty percent of the population was not Hungarian. Who knows what problems that would store up? It is for this reason that they build fences. It is human nature that they should do so. Who am I today to tell them that they can’t?

It’s time to tell the truth. No more platitudes. The Hungarians were right. I bet today they are all very grateful for their fences.