Who Shot JFK?

Who shot JFK? It may be one of the enduring mysteries but at least there are theories as to the culprit. Which is more than can be said for the other unanswered question of our times: what is the Union good for?

So dense is the mystery that even its most ardent supporters are forced to appeal to the greatest minds to seek solutions. What can we come up with that will make an emotional case for the United Kingdom, they ask. Whose name can we stick on a 1000-word essay and make it look credible? Someone. Somewhere. Must have. Something to say. No?

The creation of a propaganda mini factory unit called These Islands is the clearest reminder of how intellectually bankrupt is the case for the UK in the modern era. They are reduced to force-feeding desperation into the machine and hoping for something coherent to be produced.

It recalls 2007 and the 300th anniversary of the Union when Gordon Brown put on his Stalin scowl and pretended it wasn’t happening to avoid the embarrassment of the Nationalists winning control of the Edinburgh government. If the Union meant anything it surely required celebration by the Unionist government of the day – still running Scotland three centuries later. Thanks were due to Queen Anne – and her spies and corrupters – for creating the Glorious Country in which it is our honour to live. Instead there was apologetic coughing and we all quickly moved along.

If there was an obvious reason for Union it would not require the saying – by definition, we would all know the truth without contrived arguments and PR campaigns.

These Islands, like other astro turf outfits such as No Borders before it, is the living proof that there is a black hole at the heart of Unionism and no one knows how to fill it. No matter how many voices you call in and no matter how many letters they have after their name, the fundamental point remains – you are begging as many people as possible to dream up some justification. How do you make the case for arguing there is no essential differences between Scotland and England and therefore an overwhelming English majority should be empowered to control Scottish affairs?

The first voice to be revealed is that of Anglo Scot Nigel Biggar, a man whose stated views would form a template for Richard Wilson in One Foot in the Grave. As an Oxford don, he is practiced in the arts of presenting a case in classic academic format so it reads like a reflective thesis. Examine the content though and what is revealed are the predictable tropes of old school Unionism including the threat of violent insurrection by Nationalists. I mean, you can never rule it out, can you? And why would you, if, like the regius professor, you believe in the justified war and the use of torture. Oh, and would you believe it? – he supports nuclear deterrence.

He is an apologist for the racist behaviour of Cecil Rhodes in Africa. He justifies the invasion of Iraq and British military intervention in general. He’s an Anglican priest so he thinks those suffering in agony should not be helped to die. To be fair to Nigel, he isn’t totally against abortion so there’s a strain of liberalism in there.

There is also a strong strand of wishful thinking, oddly from a man paid to confront moral dilemmas head on. In the spirit of debate I include a link to his article http://www.these-islands.co.uk/publications/i260/what_the_united_kingdom_is_good_for.aspx  

In the first paragraph he concedes it was dismaying how bankrupt was the Unionist case in 2014 (see above) but ascribes this, not to the lack of intellectual weight, but to our acceptance of the fundamental goodness of the Union being so blindingly obvious that no one has to articulate it. (Seriously)

He then outlines the main three reason for backing the Union – prepare to be surprised. ‘The greater external security of liberal democracy, a depth of multinational solidarity of which the European Union can still only dream, and the upholding of a humane international order. And all of that will remain true, whether or not Brexit comes to pass.’

It may be his theological background but it seems Nigel lives on a different plane. The UK’s claim to upholding liberal democracy stands up to scrutiny if contrasted with North Korea – with Scandinavia, not so much. Liberal democracies tend not to have massive unelected legislatures filled with party hacks and compliant goons – except the Chinese National Congress. They also tend to have representative voting systems – Westminster has no such thing.

Liberal democracies don’t casually hold referendums on matters of national interest without a fact-based campaign to inform the public and then (ironically for These Islands) treat with contempt the different votes in other nations. Nor, I suggest, do they wilfully keep from the people the content of damning reports on the effects of policy. I’m not sure what’s liberal about refusing to take in orphaned refugees or sending ‘home’ people who’ve made their lives here. Maybe Nigel will explain in a further essay from the godfront.

On which point, he really doesn’t make the case for Britain’s multinational solidarity when that’s the very issue that caused the Brexit debacle. He may be missing the news down there in Oxford but it is xenophobia and Little England voices that are shrilly calling us out of the EU where, whatever it’s difficulties on the policy front, they are at least holding to free movement irrespective of country of origin. He might want to examine Germany’s open doors to a million refugees. And isn’t it Scotland that is upholding the open doors policy in the UK and offering hope to EU citizens while welcoming all comers as Scots after independence?

The third prong of his trident is the usual right wing nuttery about wee Britain punching its weight through the UN and nuclear weapons and the failed neo liberal institutions like the G7. The old guard of Ukania can’t stand the idea of losing a Security Council seat if Scotland goes. They prefer the feeling of superiority privileged club membership brings and, despite the teachings of Christ, have a natural tendency to condescend to developing countries.

Anyway, read it yourself. That’s what it’s for. And make up your own mind.

There is nothing here about the dignity of people who feel connected to a Scottish identity seeking to fulfil the United Nations’ right of self-determination. And, worse, he makes the ‘emotional case’ sound fusty, hard-line, conservative, unyielding and institutional. He may inadvertantly be doing us a favour. That would be ironic – perhaps that’s Nigel’s real schtick.

But, to be honest, it would be a disappointment if this was the best the multitude of British Nationalists signed up can do. I’m tired and bored with the only case for the UK being one of fear. It is entirely based on threats of doom and warnings of everything always being worse under independence and it’s becoming increasingly hard to maintain when just about every argument is mirrored daily in the Brexit fiasco – isolation, no trade deals, international laughing stock, companies leaving, devalued currency, economic decline, terrorism.

Even if it is backed by hardliners, there has to be hope that among the brains they can find one argument that sounds modern, optimistic, liberal and inclusive – one that recognises and respects our differences and doesn’t pretend it’s all working fine if we’d just shut up. I welcome the idea of a forum for a positive debate but misrepresenting the present, as Biggar does by projecting what he’d like it to be, will do nothing except please the core vote.

And therein lies a problem for These Islands. If you produce a long list of the brainy and celebrated as your supporters, you really have to turn out the right quality of work – if you fall short, you are seen to fail. I mean, if all those bright types agree with you, why can’t they make the case? People will suspect there isn’t a case to be made.

And the truth is that an advisory body of this size will never meet, hardly any will ever communicate with each other – they’ll just individually pop some words in the post when they’re not doing work they’re actually paid for. (Which may explain why the guts of Nigel’s article first appeared in a letter he wrote to an Irish paper in 2014)

I foresee another danger, one that overtook the Better Together gang. This looks like a group of mostly outsiders pontificating from afar on the state of Scotland. Almost exclusively they will be middle class ‘experts’ like Nigel unwittingly talking down to Scots while having no actual experience of living here. Anecdotally, it was exactly this ‘We Know Best’ outpouring articulated by posh accents telling us what we couldn’t do and shouldn’t be allowed to do, that so infuriated some natural No voters that they turned into Yessers. There is a hidden danger in Professors and Dames writing patronising guff and then being questioned about it on television. You can almost see the eyes of the viewers’ narrowing. That right, aye?

These Islands may yet prove to be a bounty for the Yes campaign – at least it’s offering something beyond the sterile poverty argument that gets more threadbare by the day. (£30b worse after Brexit? Nae bother)

And who knows, maybe we’ll be honoured by a rational, even-handed assessment from advisory board member Brian Wilson.

By the way, I know who shot JFK. I haven’t time today but…

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Breaking the Law

Well, it was ‘against the law’ right enough, and the point about constitutions is that they proscribe what you can’t do as well as clarifying what you can. The constitution – and remember, one day we’ll need one – limits a citizen’s actions as well as validating his rights. The state of Spain and its government has a duty to uphold the constitution on behalf of all citizens. Spain has a justified position to maintain and has every justification for resisting the demands of a political movement agitating to breach the national law.

But of course it isn’t about the law at all. The constitution is being used as a political shield to hide the government’s failure of courage to engage constructively with the Catalonian leadership.

Now, let’s not be naïve. Trying to assuage the highly charged demands of the nationalists will be like dealing with the SNP – they will take whatever they can meantime and will not stop agitating for their ultimate objective. That’s just how it works – on both sides. They will compromise but never drop their principal position, be they nationalists for independence or unionists wedded to the UK.

Politics is a process. It just stops occasionally to draw breath and then starts up again.

Rajoy has been in denial rather than in discussion – the same place the British Tories were over Scotland before someone pointed out that the polls showed a decisive win for No if a referendum was held. That gave the green light to the Edinburgh Agreement on the basis that ‘We’ll agree to play you as we have a ten-goal start.’

I wrote the other day how fear drives much of what our politicians do (and don’t do). And it appears that fear of getting caught up in a complicated argument that he might not win proved too much for a limited and fearful hardline right-winger. The result has been estrangement and resentment, easily fuelled by populism into a powerful sense of being denied a fundamental right.

Yet it has been open to Rajoy to separate out the issues. The deeply-rooted wave of Catalonian desire for self-government is one aspect of events that won’t go away but the demand for a referendum is another. Behind the mass street demonstrations and noisy celebrations of identity the opinion polls have been showing independence as a minority interest – usually around 45 per cent Yes, but down to 41 per cent in July.

With significant numbers declaring they would not vote at all because it is not legal and a potential No vote among those who would, the ground looked set for a Castilian win.

In fact, if you were dealt Rajoy’s hand, you might smile at your cards. You can watch as they struggle to get enough votes. You can point to the abstentions and you can play your ace: it is unconstitutional.

The problem does not go away but then it never was going to. But you have maintained the dignity of the state, you have allowed a democratic expression, albeit a flawed one and you have parked the problem. Even a Yes vote can be challenged on the same grounds and will be supported by the EU and the UN. It’s uncomfortable but it’s perfectly do-able. It does little more than lay the ground for further talks on devolution without resolving the issue.

Instead, it is clear that an old falangist impulse took hold in Madrid. Catalans ceased to be Spaniards and were viewed as enemies of the state (shades of the British mindset over all Scots in the indyref). They were not only to be stopped but taught a lesson. Under the old fascist front of the law came the violation of rights. This was authoritarianism Franco style. This was manifestly not how the civilised nations of modern Europe do politics. It wasn’t just Spain that was humiliated by helmeted riot police out of control against the defenceless, it was Europe.

Images of women being hauled by the hair, pensioners bloodied and students repeatedly battered by clubs stains the impression of what politicians like to describe as Western values and ‘our way of life’.

Put it this way. Would Putin be smiling in the Kremlin? Or put it another way. What message is sent to every disaffected loser contemplating a terrorist act to express his anger?

The slow, measured – and in some cases invisible – response from the EU institutional leaders was another let down for democrats everywhere. Shuffling off responsibility for a member state is dismal politics when Article 7 allows for suspension from membership if the state abuses the rights of citizens.

No one who watched the scenes on social media which gave a much stronger flavour than those I witnessed on television could be in any doubt that this was repression of a kind we have seen in Russia or Venezuela and it demanded unequivocal condemnation. Sadly, the first reaction from the much of the British left was silence or, in the case of Brian Wilson and Duncan Hottershall, outright criticism of the voters. It took too long and thousands of online entreaties before Jeremy Corbyn swung into action and then it was initially to condemn violence rather than endorsing democratic rights. Some Labour figures stuck to the illegality line forgetting that there wouldn’t be a Labour Party without people challenging the law.

The British government failed too in its bromides about rule of law and close allies. Given the situation in Scotland, the least we could have expected was a strong complaint that police violence was a mistake when democratic means are available. Much that London cares…Scotland and Catalonia are afterthoughts as they strive to stay in power against the gale of Brexit.

It seems obvious now that the collective government of western nations through its states and alliances, needs a new approach to the fracture of sovereign nations. A way is needed of allowing localised expression of political outlook and cultural identity to be channelled without bringing to bear all the might of the state against people. It seems to me the EU itself is the template for a new order because it already presumes that sovereign states are prepared to share rights and responsibilities among themselves, weakening the absolute power of the indivisible state. The existing nations already recognise differences in scale by allocating weighted voting rights so the larger countries  have more say. Such a system can be extended to give voting rights to micro nations too – nations which may not wish to have a full range of national powers such as defence, if this is to be arranged on a pan-European basis. As a member of the Eurozone Spain already outsources much of its macro economic policy to Brussels.

Ironically for a Scottish Nationalist, I’m presaging the end of the nation state as we have known it. The EU has already altered the meaning by the pooling of sovereignty while leaving unscathed the separate identities of each country. By doggedly holding to an 18th century design, Spain is putting history before progress. You can’t batter people into agreement with riot police. The rejection of the restrictions of the past opens the way to imaginative solutions – do you need to be a sovereign state to be successful? Is there still collective dignity in sharing – properly sharing – powers between Barcelona and Madrid? If a co-operative solution was possible, might it work in the UK? When you look at so many of the problems facing our world, they have their genesis in the unyielding national state.

We’re already inching along that path with some tax powers in Edinburgh along with social security. Why not start again and agree that everything in theory can be transferred and only those powers that by agreement are best left conjoined, do so? We may for example share currency but diverge on public spending and taxation.

There will always be a difficulty even after a Yes vote because a very large number won’t accept it. Indeed we can anticipate a concerted drive to derail independence. A creative atmosphere and a genuine desire to reach an accord could deliver the goods that would satisfy a majority – that’s always been true in Scotland, in my view.

But, no doubt like you, I know the cold reality in Spain is nightsticks and big state propaganda to retain power and here it is unionist sabotage and No Surrender at any cost. Compromise is weakness. The only way to get the country you want is to throw out the old order. In other words, you have to fight for everything you get.

The disgraceful scenes in Catalonia confirm that while Europe postures on progress, government offices of Europe are still shrouded in 1930’s darkness. To grip on to power, they are ready to grip the throat of the population.


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