Tuesday, 29 September 2015

We must put out the spark of nationalism in Europe

Whenever there is a Scottish nationalist march, you may notice that amongst all the Saltires there are usually some unfamiliar flags that have never appeared on the flag posts outside the United Nations. There will be groups of nationalists from other parts of Europe and indeed the world, representing places such as Quebec, Flanders, Catalonia and Corsica. Some of these people may come from the most unlikely places. Their support may be tiny at home, but still they march. After all, they can reflect that the SNP once were a group of eccentrics with next to no support. The seed of nationalism may remain hidden in darkness for a long time, but given patience it may well grow into something rather larger.  This is why people from far away take an interest in Scottish politics. They hope that what happens here may influence events at home.

This hope is not one-sided. Scottish nationalists tend to support other secession movements abroad. The reason is obvious. They hope that events in faraway countries will help the cause of independence in Scotland. At the moment many SNP supporters are delighted that Catalan nationalists have won the majority of seats in their regional elections. Why should they be so interested in a regional election in Spain? I know almost nothing about the regional elections in say Germany. I doubt very much that SNP supporters know any more. Why then this sudden interest in a part of Spain?

(By the way the English spelling of this region of Spain is ‘Catalonia.’ Until and unless you write Россия when you mean Russia, I would suggest you stick to it.)

I think I can explain why Scottish nationalists and also some Pro UK people like me are interested in Catalonia. We think that what happens there might influence what happens here.

Imagine the following scenario. Let’s say the Spanish Government said, OK, you’ve won the election, you can now have independence. We’re in a mood to be generous to our Catalan friends. You’ll get to keep the Euro, you’ll get to remain in the EU, we’ll cooperate on defence, we’ll keep our “social union” and Catalan citizens forever more will have all the rights they enjoy at present.  We’ll even allow Barcelona to keep playing Real Madrid. You can have absolutely everything you want right now, but you’ll never have to share your wealth with us Spaniards ever again. Imagine if all this happened easily and seamlessly in a remarkably quick and cooperative fashion. Imagine if in a couple of years we had a new state called Catalonia. A shining example of how easy it is to achieve independence.

Let’s reflect for a minute. Would this make Scottish independence more or less likely to occur? The answer seems obvious. The pros and cons of Scottish independence would still have to be debated, but the Catalan example, would be on the pro side.

Imagine on the other hand, as I suspect is far more likely, that Spain digs its heels in. Spain, after all, thinks Gibraltar ought to be part of Spain even if the vast majority of Gibraltarians disagree. So let’s imagine what might happen if Spain refuses to allow negotiations on Catalan independence and refuses to allow any sort of referendum. After banging their head against the brick wall of Madrid, the Catalans may decide to declare independence anyway. What might happen with such a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI)? Well Catalonia could be kicked out of the Euro and kicked out of the EU to boot. Imagine if Spain refused to cooperate, imposed financial sanctions, froze bank accounts and shut the border. I have no idea whether any of these things would happen in the event of UDI. It strikes me that we would be in a sort of #Grexit situation all over again. But just suppose that UDI goes very badly, suppose lots of Catalans were to lose their jobs, suppose indeed that there is political and economic chaos. Imagine then if the Catalans said to Spain, OK, you win we want to be a part of Spain again.

Let’s reflect again. Would this scenario make Scottish independence more or less likely? Again the answer is obvious.  It is natural therefore that Scottish nationalists hope that the first scenario occurs. It is equally natural that Pro UK supporters think that the second scenario is more likely. This does not mean that we have anything against people in Spain or wish them ill. Far from it I imagine the vast majority of Spaniards hope to keep their country intact right now. I sympathise with them and hope they do as well as we have in the UK. 

The reason that I oppose nationalism is fundamentally because I have seen what it can do in Eastern Europe. Secession rarely leaves people better off, but frequently leaves them much worse off. You can count yourself lucky if secession leads only to economic and political chaos. Frequently it leads to war. The vast majority of wars are disputes about boundaries. It is for this reason that I would prefer that the present boundaries of the world, no matter how arbitrary they are should largely remain fixed. The alternative is nearly always worse. I’m not against all independence movements, certainly not in an historical context. There have been good reasons for people to seek independence.  But these reasons rarely apply in the context of a modern western democracy, where each citizen has the same rights as every other citizen.

How many potential states are there in Western Europe? You could make five or six countries out of Spain alone. But if you look at the history books, nearly every EU country is made up of places that were independent, sometimes quite recently. How many wars have started in Eastern Europe since 1991 because of secession? It’s not a small number.  In Russia today there are dozens of peoples with a better claim to independence than those in either Scotland or Catalonia. There are peoples with different languages, religions, cultures and ethnicities. Moreover they don’t live in western democracies. Far from it. If all of these people were to seek independence, Russia would descend into chaos and in the process of fragmenting that huge country I promise you there would be war, possibly nuclear war. The same, no doubt, can be said of China, India and other places.

The problem with nationalism is that there are competing claims and competing ideas on what ought to be a border. Peoples are mixed and have differing identities. Someone in Ukraine during the Soviet Union could feel Soviet, Ukrainian and Russian. But now these mixtures of identities are scarcely possible. People who didn’t even think of themselves as particularly different forty years ago, now fight over identity and because of borders. I oppose nationalism because I have seen what it can do.

Nationalism begets nationalism and if we let it spread it will eventually lead somewhere to conflict, chaos and war. This is why I oppose it everywhere, for even if the UK or Spain might split amicably, the spark of nationalism would spread because of this split and might open a division that would better remain closed. For this reason also I don’t want an example of successful secession in Catalonia. If Spain splits into five or six states, Britain into four and Italy into five and so on, at some point we will reach a split that cannot be resolved amicably.

The borders of Europe are largely the result of war. Germany once stretched much further to the East. Hungary once had a much larger territory than it does now. France was involved in three devastating wars with its neighbour in a conflict that in part had its root in land that each claimed. These conflicts are buried because in most of Europe nationalism is buried. But nationalism is part of human nature. It is in our genes from the time when the tribe had to fight off the outsider. It only needs a spark, for nationalism to spread and then people remember injustices from long ago. We who care about peace, security and prosperity in Europe must stamp out the spark of nationalism before it catches fire in the dry grass. Better by far a little political and economic chaos in Catalonia, or indeed in Scotland, if that should be what's necessary to  put the spark out. The alternative is far, far worse.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

SNP, Lib Dems and Labour out

Politics is not like football, though too many treat it as if it is. It doesn’t fundamentally matter if Aberdeen win, or more likely, don’t win the league. Likewise it doesn’t matter if the Lib Dems win one seat or fifty-seven. What matters is not the existence of a political party, but the things that are achieved by political action. If the political goals of liberalism could best be achieved by the Lib Dems ceasing to exist, there would be no reason in and of itself to preserve the Lib Dems. The one party that understands this is the SNP. If the price of achieving independence was that the SNP ceased to exist, every single SNP supporter would grasp this opportunity with both hands.

There are two types of people involved in politics. There are party supporters and there are the rest of us. The former strongly identify with the party, get involved at times of elections, wear rosettes and think the main political goal is that their party wins or at least wins more seats. This is to treat politics as if it were football.  

A political party winning seats or not winning seats doesn’t matter at all to me. Party politics is not an end in itself, but a means to bring about long term goals. I have only one long term goal. That the UK should be as prosperous, free, united and fair as possible. Of course it’s only by winning seats that a party can have any chance of bringing about a goal. But I have, over the years, been willing to lend my vote to various parties insofar as I thought at that time they would best help my long term goal. I vote in this way also, because I never want to see one party in power for too long. This inevitably leads to poor government. Therefore above all I want the electorate to be able to kick out any government that has been in power too long.

I have had a policy of being reasonably politically neutral while writing, but that has changed this week. My long term political goal can at present only be fulfilled by the Conservative party in Scotland. The reaction of the Labour Party and the Lib Dems after the general election has been most illuminating. They think that what matter is the number of seats they win. This does not matter. Because they think what matters is increasing their seats they are willing to do what is necessary in order to do so. This shows in fact that it would be better if they did not exist. It is after all a short step from one to zero.

Some months ago I was involved in a tactical voting campaign. I urged people to vote for whichever of the Lib Dems, Labour or Conservatives had the best chance of winning a particular seat. I did not organise or start this campaign, but was asked to help and did so, because at the time I did not think it mattered which of these parties won a particular seat. They all could play a part in my long term political goal.  I campaigned in this way because what matters to me most is the preservation of the UK. The UK is my country. I fight for it in the same way that an American would fight for the USA.

The tactical voting campaign failed to influence the result in Scotland. Perhaps even it made a bad situation worse. In a small way it may have helped influence events in the rest of the UK. The SNP are not in government in the UK. That was my only goal. It’s largely a matter of indifference to me now whether the SNP have six seats or fifty six. They are just as impotent.

But this is beside the point. The basis for my willingness to campaign for tactical voting was that there were people I agreed with and respected in each of the mainstream UK parties. The difference frankly between a Labour moderate, a Conservative moderate and many people in the Lib Dems is frankly trivial and amounts to the colour of their rosette.

So long as each major party supported the UK wholeheartedly then I could support them. In the past week however both Scottish Labour and the Scottish Lib Dems have said that they will allow MPs to support independence. Sorry you just lost my vote. How could I vote for a candidate who might support independence? How could I vote for a party that might work with the SNP? The SNP desperately need help from other parties. It makes their cause more mainstream and more legitimate. It’s a very small step from allowing MPs to support independence to actually supporting it yourself. Instead of fighting for the UK we have just another group of people who have meekly surrendered. Does anyone believe either Labour or the Lib Dems would oppose the SNP on a second referendum? Of course they wouldn’t, that might upset the people they are trying to attract back to their party. It’s just one more instance of putting party before country. It is this that I am fighting against. It is this that I have been fighting against all my life.

I always suspected during the last General Election campaign, that Labour and the Lib Dems would have made a deal with the SNP if it brought them to power. The idea that they would allow a Conservative minority government to rule unopposed was preposterous. The problem is that everyone in the rest of the UK knows this too. They will vote for anyone to avoid the fate of the SNP ruling England, so expect the decline of Labour and the Lib Dems to continue next time too.

Sorry but I take the same line. I'm going to vote for anyone but you also. Being Pro UK is the only policy to me that matters. It’s not something that I can allow a free vote on. If you think it’s like being pro or anti tuition fees, then I will see you as being rather lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, about an issue that it is fundamental to me and so of course I’ll spew you out, you and your whole party.

We have at the moment three opposition parties in Scotland each with one seat. It would be better by far that those who are soft on independence merge with the SNP. If you are on the left and support independence what reason do you have for not joining the SNP? Is it because you prefer Red and Orange to Yellow? This isn’t honest. This is to be a fellow traveller.

It is no more intrinsically unfair that five million or so people in the South East of England vote Conservative and get a Labour government than that five million people in Scotland vote Labour and get a Conservative Government. Each of us has one vote and is equally a citizen of the UK. That is how everyone more or less used to think in Scotland. But during the 1980s the Left in Scotland couldn’t quite bear that they were not in power and so they created the idea that unless they won the result was unfair. It is this that at root is the cause of Scottish nationalism. Once you go down that route then the logical endpoint is to vote for the SNP, because they have the only solution to the problem once you accept that it is a problem. The answer of course from the Pro UK perspective is that it is not a problem, no more here than in the United States. Parts of any democracy vote differently to the whole. This is not a fault. It’s a feature.
What is becoming ever clearer is that the Left in Scotland thinks achieving power is more important than preserving the UK. Hundreds of thousands of Labour supporters clearly are not that bothered if their goals are achieved within the UK or without. Breaking up the UK would be a small price to pay if only we could have higher benefits and an end to austerity. The trouble is that it’s clear now that Labour and the Lib Dems more or less agree with them. If they attracted back all their lost voters, how long would it be before either party came out in favour of independence? They would after all have to reflect the wishes of their members.

The whole problem in Scotland is that the Left is grotesquely overrepresented. 88% of seats in the Scottish parliament are held by left wing parties. There is thus no opposition. The parties on the Left agree on virtually everything. There was never a fundamental difference between them apart from on the issue of independence. Now they don’t even particularly disagree on this.

But it would be far better for those of us who support the UK to be the opposition to the SNP. The task is to make the Scottish parliament better reflect the attitudes of Scotland. We are, in fact, not much more left wing than any other part of the UK. But somehow, mainly because of the 1980s and hatred of Margaret Thatcher and the word 'Tory', we have got ourselves into the situation where we are effectively a one party state. Not because everyone votes for the SNP, but because everyone votes for the Left.

The reason the Left is soft on the issue of independence is that they see the UK as something that should exist at best for pragmatic reasons. It is for this reason that the campaign was called Better Together. Nonsense. The UK is our country and should be supported not because we get a grant from London or we get certain rights that we wouldn’t otherwise have. No other country would make this argument for why it ought to remain together. Does a Dane in Jutland think he's better together with a Dane from Funen. He wouldn't even understand the question. He's together because he's a Dane. Likewise we're united because we are British. That's it. No more arguments are necessary.

For the moment the Left in Scotland is part of the problem and not part of the solution. What Scotland needs is a centre right opposition to counter not only the SNP’s views on independence, but their whole ideology that every solution to every problem requires government intervention and public spending. Let those who agree with this solution merge into a single opposition. At least then we would know what we are fighting against.  

If we could have a balanced parliament in Scotland where something close to 50% of Scots voted for the centre right while 50% voted for the Left, then we would have taken the biggest step possible to securing the future of the UK.  It is for this reason above all that those UK supporters who care most about the future of our country should no longer vote Labour or Lib Dem. Voting for them will not help reduce 88% to 50%, rather it just adds to the tendency of moving us towards 100%.

Scotland at the moment is struggling economically. There is a reason for this. Part of the reason is that our prosperity depended on the price and the existence of a commodity, rather than the success of our businesses. It’s not accidental that the South East of England is more wealthy than Scotland. It’s not because they have secret oil fields. Rather it’s because they support business, free markets and enterprise. The reason Scotland is poorer is that on the whole we don’t. We prefer to get our money from Nanny Nicola and she prefers to get it from Nanny Dave. If you look on wealth creation as something a little slimy, don’t be surprised that you remain poor. Relying on the state to give you money is a recipe for being too wee, too poor and too stupid. This applies not only to Scotland it applies to every single country in the world.

So I’m no longer going to campaign for #SNPout rather I’m going to campaign for SNP, Labour and Lib Dem out. If you allow independence supporters into your party you’re all the same to me. If there is room for them, there's no room for me and I hope anyone else who voted No. 

I urge all No voters to vote for a party that actually does support the UK, that is actually willing to kick out anyone who supports independence. The Conservative party is straddling the centre ground. If you think that the UK should live within its means. If you think we should try to make a profit as a country rather than a loss. If you think the economy is doing reasonably well. But above all if your main long term goal is to keep the UK intact, then vote Conservative. It's the only party left in Scotland that shares your goals.

A year ago we won a great victory, but the response has been pathetic. Can you imagine the SNP allowing MPs to vote against independence? We are where we are in Scotland because the Left began to side with nationalism in the 1980s and have been lukewarm about the UK ever since. It would be better that they had never been born. Time to spit them out.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

One year on we must still fight for Britain

It’s a year ago exactly to when we woke up to find that our country was still intact. There are two Scotlands. One went to bed on September 18th and woke up at the normal time. The other stayed up all night. The photos, of those who waited with expectation for the result, are of the bedraggled losers. The rest of us were going to work.

What has changed in the past year? The first thing that has changed is that political prediction has become about as useful as divination by means of chicken entrails. There were people a year ago predicting that the SNP would squabble among themselves and implode. How many words were written about the General election that depended on the certainty that there would be a hung parliament? How many people a year ago predicted that Labour would win one seat in Scotland? How many predicted that Jeremy Corbyn would lead that party? Even mid-summer I remember reading commentators who said he might be leading, but he wouldn’t actually win. On what basis did they predict this? What method did they use to predict the future?

If I were being paid to write about politics, I would feel my salary was earned on false pretences.  Why do we pay this legion of prophets who know nothing? Some of us pay because it gives us a warm glow inside about independence being inevitable. Some of us pay in order to feel doom and gloom about the UK.  

I’ll always remember how we turned the mood around last year. It briefly felt like we were losing. Whether we were is another matter. But I remember how for the last two weeks of the campaign I went positive. I was optimistic about the result and I talked about what I liked about Britain. Morale is crucial to any campaign, whether it is long or short. The last thing we need is people, who supposedly support the UK, being negative about our long term chances. If you think independence is inevitable, join the Nats and make it happen. I will fight you.

I told people who came to me a year ago with their doom and gloom and their fear to cease talking down our chances. Feel those things in private if you will, but you help the Nats if you show them. My predictions are as worthless as anyone else’s. I have no crystal ball. But I know this much. The long term battle over Scotland’s future depends on us countering the SNP’s narrative.

Public opinion in Scotland at the moment is overwhelmingly left of centre. A large number of people in Scotland feel exclusively Scottish. They accept that Scotland is a country in the same sense that France is a country and from that it is a short step to winning the argument that Scotland ought to be independent. Far too few people in Scotland have much sentiment for Britain. Many, probably the majority of people in Scotland are persuaded by the economic argument, that remaining in the UK is good for Scotland and our standard of living. But this is our problem. We ought not to have to make the economic argument. No-one in Burgundy thinks it merely pragmatic that it should be a part of France. Rather they find it unimaginable that it should not be a part of France.

Our task is long term to change public opinion in Scotland. It isn’t enough to win the economic argument, for that argument is merely contingent. It is true that Scotland would be much worse off if we were independent. But what if it were not true? Should we all become nationalists? No. The argument we should make is that Scotland should be part of the UK in the same way that Bavaria ought to be part of Germany. Bavaria ought to be part of Germany because Germans live there. Well likewise, Scotland ought to be part of the UK because British people live there. Some of them may have forgotten this fact. But nevertheless it is true. We are all mixed. We are all related to people from the other parts of the UK. Hardly any of us could even understand a pre-1707 Scot. He would seem to all of us to be someone quite foreign with an identity quite different to ours.

We must oppose the SNP not only on independence. We must attempt to change Scottish opinion so that people no longer see their politics as being opposed to the direction in which the UK is heading. Too many people here are persuaded by the argument that Scotland votes one way while the UK votes another. They see breaking up our centuries old country as a small price to pay in order that the party that they vote for wins an election.  They forget that in any democracy, there will always be parts that don’t get what they want. This isn’t a fault. It’s a feature.

The difficulty we have is that in Scottish politics there is no alternative to a relentless diet of left or further left. At the last election the only substantive difference between Labour and the SNP was their policies with regard to independence. It is for this reason fundamentally that the SNP could attract so many Labour voters. Whether or not we believe that the SNP are really left-wing is beside the point. Those people who want Scotland to be left wing are right to vote for the SNP. There is precious little chance of the UK as a whole voting for a left wing government. The next election already looks like an easy victory for the Conservatives, for it will play out like the last one. Corbyn or his successor will depend on SNP votes to be in power, but people in England will vote for anyone to avoid this.

In order to oppose the SNP we need to gradually change public opinion in Scotland so that we remember that we are the descendants of Adam Smith. All of the great thinkers of the 18th and 19th century were unionists. Most of them were people who believed in thrift, hard work and free markets. The key to defeating independence long term is that Scots don’t feel dependent on government at all. It’s the SNP’s model of reliance on government spending that makes them depend on the UK block grant. Paradoxically without that dependence they could argue for the economic benefits of independence tomorrow. But if we could convert Scots to the free market, there would no longer be a division in the politics of the UK. Why separate, what is the same?

This strategy is long term. Changing public opinion is not going to happen soon. But that is the story I am going to tell. I’m going to talk about how the British model of free markets benefits all of us. I’m going to talk about how there is no real difference between anyone who lives in the UK. I don’t want any barriers to be erected between people who I consider to be my distant relations. I hope the UK government will help by promoting the UK as an inclusive society where everyone has equality of opportunity and no-one is left behind. I hope they promote the idea that we have a common identity and that we are fundamentally united. I can’t predict that my strategy will win in the end. When you start a campaign, it is impossible to predict how it will end. But this I do know. We have a better chance by being positive about the UK and optimistic about our long term future, than by writing relentlessly negative articles that only help the SNP. If you don’t want to fight for the UK, then leave the fight to those of us who do. 

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Let’s make September 18th the UK’s national day

If Scotland had voted for independence on September 18th 2014, it was proposed by the SNP that we would actually have become independent on 24th March 2016. In that case it is likely that this date would have been celebrated every year as Scotland’s national day. In nearly every country in the world there is such a day. In fact the only two countries in the world who appear to lack such a day are the UK and Denmark.

In the UK there are a variety of different holidays. Each part of the UK, for instance, has a saint’s day, but these are still normal working days and they are not particularly observed or even for that matter noticed.

There is something typical about the UK going it alone with regard to national holidays. Nearly everyone else has a written constitution, but we don’t. Nearly everyone else drives on the right, but we don’t. Britain is quirky, we don’t follow the crowd. There has always been something to be said for this, but there comes a time when we desperately need what others have.

The UK as a nation state is in some trouble. It is crucial that we recognise this. As I always say, we’ve been in tight spots before and, no doubt, we’ll muddle through well enough, but it’s time to face some facts. Just before the independence referendum, there were many people including senior politicians who thought there was a reasonable chance that Scotland would vote for independence. In all our history the UK was never under such an existential threat as we were last September. I will doubtless be accused of hyperbole for saying this, but it is in fact self-evidently true. France, for instance, in the past 300 years has suffered catastrophic military defeat on a number of occasions, but the existence of France per se has never been threatened, even when it was occupied. The threat of secession, even when achieved peacefully, is an existential threat to a nation state. The USA could hardly have called itself united if the Confederacy had won the Civil War, likewise the UK could hardly call itself united if we had lost Scotland.

It had been my hope prior to the referendum that a No vote would strengthen the UK. Most people do not have the good fortune to choose to remain in their nation state. Up until that point only the people in Northern Ireland had made such a choice. For people in Scotland, the origin of the UK was a matter of distant history. It had something to do with the Darien scheme, bankruptcy and other events of early 18th century history that were dimly remembered. But after 300 years of successful marriage we had chosen not to divorce, but rather to renew our vows. Yet it doesn’t feel like that in Scotland today. The SNP have surged in popularity. They threaten another vote on independence. Would they win if there were such a vote? Who can say? The arguments for independence are much worse now than they were a year ago. But Scotland has gone beyond argument. Many independence supporters simply have ceased to have any feeling for the UK. Even many people who voted No have little sentiment for Britain. Too many people in Scotland are Scottish first and British a very distant second if at all. This is our problem.

What is it that creates a sense of common identity? Why do people in the United States, for instance, feel a kinship with everyone who lives in the fifty other states? These people sometimes have only recently arrived from elsewhere, sometimes they can trace their ancestry back to the first settlers from Europe, sometimes still further to those settlers who in ancient times crossed the land-bridge from Asia. Some people were taken to the United States by force and made to work without pay. There was great injustice in the past, but these people too despite the trauma of their arrival and the conditions under which their ancestors lived, love the United States.

There is no threat of secession in the United States, not because it is a more pleasant place to live than the UK. Our countries are both prosperous and we both have points that can be raised in our favour and to our detriment. The reason that the United States is not threatened by secession is that as a matter of history the question was solved once and for all and forever. No part of the United States as a matter of  law could secede today even if it wanted to, but more important no state would want to.

Having been threatened with secession, the United States made quite sure that every citizen would have common identity. It didn’t matter where your ancestors came from, every citizen would love and feel loyalty to the United States. How did this happen? It happened in a number of ways. Every school child, every morning pledged allegiance to the flag and affirmed that the United States was “one nation, indivisible”. Every time there was a sporting event, people stood up, put their hands on their hearts and sang the ‘Star Spangled Banner’. Every year there was a huge national holiday on July 4th and throughout the year, other patriotic days were celebrated. It is the fact that nearly all Americans celebrate Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Labor Day and the birthdays of Lincoln and Washington that creates the common identity and the feeling of shared history.

We in the UK must work very hard on creating a shared identity. Far too many people across the UK are feeling less and less British and more and more English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish. This was all very well when our country was not threated with secession. But the bonds that join us together are becoming weaker. If Scotland left the UK, how long would it be before England chose to leave, or Wales or Northern Ireland?

There needs to be much more of a celebration of our shared history. The SNP would like Scottish children to only learn about what Scots did. They don’t want those children to feel anything in common with English people. Naturally if you don’t feel anything in common, it is far more likely that you will vote for separation. But even if the SNP control education, the UK controls broadcasting and much else besides. We can make films that celebrate what we have achieved together over the past centuries. We can publish books and organise shared events that focus on what we have in common rather than on what divides us. Let us do more of this, even if it requires central government funding.

We need to work on creating a common identity through sport. For this reason the UK Government should do all in its power to create UK sporting teams and other UK organisations. Why should there always have to be a Scottish version of every charity? Why should nearly everything in Scotland be prefixed by the word Scottish? It is this that underpins nationalism and undermines our shared British identity.

We should create a series of shared holidays in the UK all connected with our shared history. At present in much of the UK there are Bank holidays, but no-one knows why they are when they are. The problem also is that these Bank holidays for the most part are not celebrated in Scotland at all. We in Scotland have local holidays. For reasons that are entirely obscure one small town has a local holiday while everyone else works. Many people don’t even know when such days occur. While the rest of the UK has Good Friday as a holiday and Easter Monday too, most people in Scotland work as normal.

This has all gone well enough up until now, but as I have been arguing the UK is in danger if we don’t begin to feel that we all have something in common and that we share the same identity. A national holiday like July 4th could gradually become a tradition that brought about unity. If in addition throughout the year there were days that celebrated important shared historical events, we might gradually turn the tide against nationalism.

Naturally the parties that support the break-up of Britain would oppose these holidays. They will always oppose anything that serves to bring people in the UK closer together. But there are far more people in the UK who love our country and feel kinship with everyone who lives here. We must begin to do what every other country in the world does as a matter of course. We must begin to celebrate our unity.

In time through shared celebration of a shared day we will all gain the confidence to fly our shared flag everywhere and cease to wish to do things separately. This long term is the key. We must begin to think of our identity as primarily British just as people in the United States think of themselves as primarily Americans rather than, for instance, Californians. We will keep our Scottish identity, just as Germans keep their identity as Saxons or Bavarians, but it can all be mixed together such as to think of the one is to think of the other. A shared national day will not in itself be enough to bring about the unity that Britain needs, but it is one more step to defeating division and turning talk of secession into a distant historical memory.

What could be the date of our UK national day? Why not September 18th? Let us always remind ourselves of the day when we defeated the greatest threat to the UK in all our shared history. Let us always celebrate that decisive victory and remind everyone in the UK that we are one nation, indivisible. 

Sunday, 13 September 2015

If you think Tories are heartless, you should try socialists

A few years ago it would have been considered impossible that either the SNP would win 56 seats in Scotland or that Jeremy Corbyn would one day lead the Labour party. If I had been able to place a bet on this combination of events happening what sort of odds might I have obtained? I’d, no doubt, have been able to retire on a ten pound bet. Yet somehow both these events have occurred in the same year. This year. What’s going on?

I’ve tried to keep this blog reasonably impartial with regard to Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives. This is not least because I’ve voted for each of these parties at one time or another. I thought the country needed change in 1997 and so I voted for Blair. I may well have done so a second time. I voted this year for the Lib Dems in Gordon, not only to keep out Alex Salmond, but because I thought they did a good job in coalition. I’m not one of those Scots who uses the word “Tory” as an insult, because, Judas that I am, I preferred Thatcher to Michael Foot in 1983.

Mainstream UK politics has always been rational. There is a sensible debate to be had about what works best economically. Reasonable people can disagree about how best to regulate free market capitalism.  I would like the markets to work for everyone, so that each of us has a reasonable chance of sharing in the wealth of our country. Even if I accept that pure laissez faire capitalism would  be best for economic growth, I’m not sure that I want to live in the society that this would create. After all, the Wild West was dangerous for everyone.

The reality however in the UK is that no major party is offering anything approaching pure right wing economics. The Conservatives are not even letting the market determine wages. Rather they prefer to steal a policy from Labour’s last manifesto and introduce a living wage. They are trying to prevent the inexorable growth of spending on benefits, but this would be the job of any sensible party in power. Balancing the books should not be considered right wing. Rather it’s mainstream, centrist politics. The reality is that the Conservatives are somewhat to the left of the Democrats in the United States. They support state spending to an extent that is contrary to true free market economics. If there are voices in the Conservative party that wish to cut state spending to 20% of GDP, I haven’t heard them. But such a voice from the margins would be the Conservative equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn.

Given an ideal world and the chance to do everything that he would like, what percentage of GDP would Jeremy Corbyn like the state to spend? Well true socialism would require approximately all of GDP to be made up of state spending. Socialism is not what the Labour party has been campaigning for since Neil Kinnock began his programme of reform and modernisation. The big ideological change that Labour made that culminated with Blair was that capitalism was the only game in town, but that it could be better regulated to benefit everyone. This is usually called social democracy. There are sensible countries where this form of government works rather well. Again there is a mainstream debate to be had about how we can make economics work for everyone, so that no-one is left out. But let’s be clear. This is not a debate about socialism.  It’s a debate about regulating capitalism.

What’s the defining characteristic of socialism? In my view it’s the idea that what matters most is eradicating inequality. For a socialist it’s fundamentally offensive that some people earn millions while others earn hardly anything. Their aim is to eradicate this inequality. I think this is fundamentally the wrong approach. It ends up with not only the rich being poorer, but the poor being poorer. It is simply contrary to human nature to try to eradicate inequality. To do so leads to poverty, because the motivation people have to create wealth is either to raise themselves up from being relatively poor or to extend the gap between themselves and someone else. If everyone in the UK earned £15,000 pounds a year whether they were a company director or on unemployment benefit, why would anyone strive for success?

If we all lived on a tropical island where all we needed to do was to pick fruit from the trees in order to live in perfect contentment, we would be in something close to a socialist paradise. There would be no inequality. We would all have equal access to the fruit. But there would be no progress either. We would remain stuck in our perfect equality just as if we had never left the Garden of Eden. Progress, economic growth and everything our society has created in the past centuries is because of our fallen nature. Trying to eradicate inequality is trying to bring man back to his state of nature. It is Utopian and like all Utopian ideas can only happen by means of coercion.

Let’s imagine a company director earning £200,000 a year, while his next door neighbour lives on unemployment and housing benefit. Let’s say this person is paid £10,000 per year. This is a great inequality. How do we reduce it? Well we could tax the company director and pay more benefits to his neighbour. But the rich person might naturally reflect that if a thief came into his house and stole half his earnings he would be prosecuted, but if a government does so they are praised for being socialists. He might try to take steps to avoid this government taking his money. How could he do so? He could move elsewhere to place that doesn’t want to bring him down to the level of someone who doesn’t work at all. How could he be prevented from doing so? Well Mr Corbyn could introduce a law that prevented rich people from travelling and he could introduce capital controls preventing rich people sending money abroad. It is in this way that socialism inevitably begins to damage freedom. We’ve known since 1991 that given the choice between state socialism and capitalism, people will vote with their feet. The Berlin Wall was the condition for the possibility of socialism.

Let’s say we have succeeded in taxing all the company directors so that they earn no more than the average.  Let’s say that we pay everyone more or less the same whatever they do. What sort of effect will this have on our economy? What incentive would I have to start a company and run it well? None at all. Moreover why even sweep roads, when I can go to the doctor and describe some non-visible symptoms that prevent me from doing so? The trouble with socialism is that it causes the economy to stagnate. Eventually even the poorest person ends up receiving in benefits far less than he would have done with the capitalist model.

This is easy to illustrate. People on benefits in the UK earn far more than people who work in Eastern Europe. This is precisely because those countries tried to eradicate inequality.

It is time to recognise that capitalism depends on inequality. Inequality is not a fault. It’s a feature. What matters moreover is not trying to change human nature to such an extent that we can get rid of inequality. This can only happen anyway with some sort of re-education programme that will fail, but at huge human cost. What matters is gradually striving to raise the standard of living of everyone.

Free market capitalism has raised the average standard of living in the UK to such an extent that someone who doesn’t work is far better off than someone who did work fifty years ago. The standard of living of someone who receives the living wage will be such that they will be able to do things that were way beyond the reach of their grandfathers. So long as I earn enough to live comfortably I couldn’t care less that someone else earns millions. Rather I’m grateful to such a person for the fact that his taxes improve my standard of living.

There is some sort of mass hysteria going on in the UK, but it has the same root. In Scotland the left sees nationalism as their path to a socialist paradise. This has now spread southwards so that the Labour party has elected someone who likewise wants to create a socialist paradise. I’ve lived in a socialist paradise. It was called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Don't try to tell me it wasn't socialism.  Really you don’t want to go down this route. If you didn’t work, if you were found out on the streets during working hours, you were liable to be sent to a psychiatric hospital. The streets were paved with re-education.  If you think Tories are heartless, you should try socialists.


Saturday, 12 September 2015

Only losers march

When I was a student rather less than 10% of the population went to university. We had full grants, housing benefit and dole during the holidays, yet still we found things to complain about.  

I’ve only ever been on one march in my life and I can’t even remember what we were marching for, or was it against? But, no doubt, we who had so much wanted even more. I remember however, that all the signs that people held had slogans written by the Socialist Workers Party and it was members of that little band of revolutionaries who led the chants that the march made.  How many MPs did that party have back then? How many do they have now? Yet they ran the march even though hardly anyone else on the march would vote for them. I’ve never been on a march since.

How do you plan to mark the anniversary of the independence referendum? I don’t plan on doing anything. Some losers I understand plan on holding a march. This is something I learned long ago. Only losers march. They march precisely because they can’t get their way via the ballot box.

The socialist workers are no closer to their revolution, because the people as a whole will not vote for it. People never vote for revolution. But extremists can still take over marches and they can lead the crowd to shout their slogans. Individuals lose their individuality in the crowd and so can be easily led. That is the scary thing about crowds.

The Scottish nationalists lost the only vote that mattered. That was their best shot. The price of oil was still high and so their promises had a certain plausibility amongst the faithful and those who didn’t care too much about the detail. But now, in the end, the nationalists are left with the argument Scotland would be poorer, but at least we’d be independent. That’s quite a tough sell and when people leave the crowd for the privacy of the ballot box it will be harder still.  It’s for this reason that the dreams of independence have been kicked into the long grass. How long can you maintain the mood of the crowd? How long can the vanguard whip up the passions of the followers before they start to drift away? How long before the marchers recognise that it’s too late, that indeed it was too late a year ago?

This is the problem faced by the SNP. Do they go for broke when passions are high or do they wait? The problem is that even if they tried to stage another referendum, it would be easy to delay it. We’re already going to have a referendum on the EU sometime in 2017. Another indyref can hardly happen before then. The SNP still face the problem that they have to ask permission of the UK Government. The concept of asking permission implies the concept of them being able to say no. If someone can’t say no, I hardly need ask permission. But the UK Government could always say “Not yet, Nicola, four years is not a lifetime”. This could all end up in a wrangle, but that too will take time. How long before whatever court decides these matters decided. How long would it be before we found out that we could have another legal referendum? If on the other hand we had an illegal indyref or an advisory indyref, what proportion of No voters would vote? It would be very easy indeed to make such a referendum less than democratically legitimate. A 100% vote for independence would no more lead to independence than a 45% vote. But this is all beside the point there isn’t going to be an indyref next year, nor for the next five years. The case for independence is worse. Much worse. The SNP would lose. They know this. And that really would be game over. Meanwhile we all get on with our lives. Passions fade. The crowd thins out and eventually goes home. Soon there will be no more marches.

But at the moment with passions still high, perhaps higher than they were a year ago, there has to be an outlet. And so they march. Why do they march? Who are they trying to persuade, those within the crowd or those without?

I think it’s all part of the group mentality that goes with nationalism. You can’t be an individualist and a nationalist, the two don’t go together. Rather nationalism is about the crowd. The individual loses his individual identity in the group identity and it’s all subsumed in the National Collective. Someone thinks wouldn’t it be great if I could stand on my own two feet. The ideas of self-responsibility and personal independence are ideas we all feel and are part of growing up. But look how these ideas are changed by nationalism. It’s not about personal responsibility it’s the responsibility of the country. It’s not about personal independence, it’s about the independence of the group, the country. Within that independent country, I could completely lack self-reliance, I could lack any sense of personal independence as nanny Nicola looks after all my needs. It’s always easier to let the group do things rather than do them yourself. If you really want independence, don't depend on anyone else. All of this have this in our power. It doesn't need a referendum. But no, people don't want this sort of independence. It’s for this reason that they subsume themselves in the crowd. It’s for this reason that they march.

It’s the crowd that marches to the jail when Atticus Finch is guarding the man they want to lynch. It’s only when Scout talks to one of the crowd as an individual that the mob begins to see itself as individuals and then they begin to disperse. This is our task in Scotland. We must break down the crowd mentality. We must appeal to the individuality of our fellow Scots. Maybe then they will see themselves as individuals again rather than simply part of the group. Maybe then they will really be free. 

It worries me deeply when a political organisation wants so regularly to form crowds. A crowd is capable of actions and thoughts that individuals are incapable of. No individual would stand in front of Jim Murphy and shout such hatred, but as part of a mob it’s easy.

It’s only because the cybernats feel that they are part of a crowd that they can behave online as they do. Those nationalists who are influential in cyberspace know that they can send a mob to intimidate and insult. They only need to highlight or retweet something I write for a mob to descend. People I’ve never heard of suddenly start saying vile things they would never say to me if we met on a bus.

The danger of crowds is that people stop thinking for themselves. They pay the guru so that he can tell them what to think. They follow the crowd and do what the crowd does. But the crowd is easily led and it does not have patience.

Scottish nationalists are marching because they lost and they fear they will always lose. If independence were inevitable there would be no need to march and no need to keep telling me that it’s inevitable. “We will bury you” cry the Nats. Will you, or will it be the other way round? Khrushchev thought it was inevitable too. Nothing is inevitable. Much can happen in a week, let alone five or ten years.

There is something anti-democratic about continually marching. The Socialist Workers wanted an influence they lacked at the ballot box. So too Scottish nationalists want to pretend their cause is more popular than it is. They are fundamentally poor losers. They would have reacted with fury and worse if we had behaved as they do now in the event that the Pro UK side had lost. If we had sought a second referendum to overturn the result of the first, there would have been cries of treason. At that point we really would have seen the power of the mob unleashed.

I don’t march. I don’t like this method of persuasion. It’s the same mentality as mass pickets, which seek to prevent each individual from choosing for himself, but rather seek to intimidate. It’s the same mentality as when a vote took place in the open air and everyone had to stick his hand up. It’s quite hard not to stick your hand up when everyone else is doing so.

I don’t like crowds. I want no part of this. Why come out in crowds if you only want to persuade. Persuasion is best done by individuals individually. It’s only me that writes. I’m part of no collective. Only individuals can read what I write. Crowds read nothing but the signs that are handed to them to carry. Sometimes they don’t even read the signs. They just carry them.

We have no need of marches, especially those that seek to overturn so soon the will of the people. But it doesn’t matter. Only losers march. They keep marching because they remain losers.

Meanwhile the winners quietly go about their business. Perhaps we will share a moment of quiet celebration to mark the day.

Pro UK people don’t need to make a noise and we don’t need to be part of a crowd. We don’t march, because we don’t need to. We’re part of the UK and we don’t lose, we never lose in the end. History always shows this even when times have been much tougher than this. This isn’t tough at all. We’ve seen off worse than a lot of marchers who celebrate what they do best. They lose.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

The melting pot melts nationalism

One of the things I remember best about living in Cambridge was that it was busy. Sometimes I would watch cars queuing for an hour and more to get into a car park. When I went into London on the train I noticed that we passed villages and towns continually. There hardly seemed to be a gap. I never could quite bear to be in London for more than a few hours. The contrast for someone from rural Aberdeenshire was just too great. When I travel home from Aberdeen now I see emptiness all around me. Villages are relatively rare and separated by miles of fields. Whenever I’ve flown over Scotland and looked down, my immediate impression is that there’s nothing there but mountains. Only as the plane descends can I actually see examples of human habitation.

Why should it be that England is so densely populated, while Scotland is so sparsely populated? There are historical reasons for this. There are geographical reasons. There are reasons to do with climate. The vast majority of Scotland’s population lives along a line that extends from Glasgow to Edinburgh and then up the coast to Aberdeen. If that thin strip were to disappear Scotland would have almost no population at all. We’ve all chosen to live in the parts of Scotland that are most fertile and where there is the most in the way of natural resources. But compared to the world as a whole even the more remote parts of Scotland could sustain far more population than they do.

It is easy to find examples of countries which endure difficult climatic conditions with hugely more population than Scotland. Chad for example has over 12 million people. Israel has over 8 million. If a country made up largely of desert can sustain so many people, then clearly Scotland could. Each little Scottish island could have a large town. With hard work even the most marginal land in the Highlands could be made productive. After all, if they can grow plants in the Negev desert, there’s a hardly anywhere in Scotland that ought to be less productive.

There is an inequality in the UK whereby some people have to live where it is densely populated while others live where almost no-one else lives at all. What could we do to remedy this? We could start by encouraging people to move from those parts of the UK that feel full to those parts of the UK that feel empty. Unfortunately it obviously wouldn’t be easy to get people to move. They are free to do so at the moment and if anything more people tend to want to leave Scotland than arrive.

This is where the UK Government could play an important role. If people from the rest of the UK don’t want to live in Scotland, they could be encouraged. New towns could be built in the Highlands with tax breaks for businesses and people who chose to live there. Communications could be improved and made cheaper. If the UK Government set itself a goal of doubling Scotland’s population, it would both benefit Scotland and England. England would feel less full, while land that is barely used in Scotland would be made productive.  Scotland’s economy would benefit vastly from this new influx of people. An economy is really only the people working in it. Growth happens because these people have ideas, put them into practice and interact with each other.

The SNP have been keen to show that they are in favour of immigration. But why be so half hearted about it? There are millions of people already in the UK who could move almost immediately to Scotland given the right conditions. There is a great inequality in the UK that we have a duty to amend. England is densely populated while Scotland is sparsely populated. Scotland needs people and there is a ready supply of them right on our doorstep.

Let’s imagine if five million people moved to Scotland from other parts of the UK in the next few years. What affects would this have on Scotland? Well where I live in Aberdeenshire, we’ve already had quite a lot of people moving from other parts of Scotland, the UK and the rest of the world. These people have changed the nature of rural Aberdeenshire, from the place I remember from my youth. The Doric language is spoken less frequently, because the majority accent and language in schools is from elsewhere. In general, whereas before the oil came nearly everyone could trace their ancestors to the Vikings, now we are much more mixed and cosmopolitan. Many different accents are heard. It has involved the loss of something that was typically North East, but we have gained also. The benefits in terms of economy and jobs are obvious to anyone who comes here.

Imagine if we could move five million people from England to Scotland. Think of the benefits. We would of course have to adapt somewhat to their culture and attitudes. But we would rapidly find out that people everywhere are more or less the same. People born in England would marry people born in Scotland and soon we’d all be mixed together.

Such a large transfer of population would no doubt also have political effects. The people least likely to vote for independence are people from the other parts of the UK. The reason for this is obvious. Who wants to vote to turn themselves into a foreigner in the land of their birth or rather to turn the land of their birth into a foreign country? There are exceptions to every rule of course. There are English people who turn out to be more Scottish than the Scots. There are English wives who find it easier to agree with their nationalist husbands. There are people on the far left who think that breaking up the UK is a small price to pay if only we can introduce socialism in a part of it. But other things being equal people from the rest of the UK who come to live in Scotland are overwhelmingly liable to vote for the UK to remain together.

But the Scottish nationalists can hardly object to five million people from the rest of the UK coming to live in Scotland. After all if this were to happen the SNP would consider these people to be as Scottish as you or me. Civic nationalism does not allow us care about where someone is from, just where they are now. The downside for the Scottish nationalists of, course, is that if there were such a mass movement from the south it would tend to swamp Scottish nationalism. The most likely people to vote SNP are those who feel themselves to be exclusively Scottish. But as more and more people entered Scotland from the rest of the UK, this feeling of being Scottish and not British would be diluted and in time might cease altogether. Union Jacks might be flown all over the places that have been newly settled. God Save the Queen or King might once more be played even in Glasgow and Dundee. Everyone might stand up.

Here is one of the benefits of us all mixing together in the melting pot. It makes ideas like nationalism seem quaint and from a time when everyone in Scotland could trace their ancestry back to the Culloden or even Bannockburn. It wouldn't be long before those who sang about a "land that is lost now" would realise that it indeed was lost. At this point no doubt they would cease singing.