A Hard Rain

It’s raining questions these days. Hardly a day goes by without a deluge of imponderables without answers. You yearn for the stability of safe, plodding government and the certainty only a Conservative Government can provide.

Oops. Sorry – that phrase came from the now obsolete 1980’s Tory journalism software I can’t quite clear out of the Mac.

I think it’s the same defunct system Theresa May was using when she marketed herself as strong and stable and the Express hailed her as the new Iron Lady, surveying Europe imperiously from the cliffs of Dover. But then that was positively months ago…

One of the questions is: How can a government of intelligent people crumble into babbling incompetence with such alacrity? Misjudgement followed by miscalculation piled on misunderstanding, all edged with imperial condescension and xenophobia. Today a new/old strand of anti-Irish bigotry re-emerges reminding us again of how only an Englishman (of a certain type) is the true bloodline of greatness. Once the patronising fails them, they remind us we are but the Celts, the Picts and the Shovels – the navvies and skivvies to our betters. The failure to consider the implications of Brexit on Ireland was dereliction of duty to friends and neighbours (and family) but to hear it now compounded by ill-disguised contempt for ‘little Ireland’ daring to get in the way, is inexcusable.

You may notice a trend among the debris of chaos. May’s mentors and confidants are hard-right Brexiteers who have persuaded her (a declared Remainer, remember) that Brexit must be total – no free movement, no single Market or Customs Union, no ECJ. That is just as insane as the original decision to hold a referendum at all. For which we have to thank the now invisible poltroon David Cameron who worried he would be remembered as the man who lost Scotland but will now instead be the man who delivered national catastrophe.

She could have won both the Commons and the country, not to mention the EU itself, with a Norway deal, staying in the market, accepting the rules and paying an annual sub. But the UK would have left the Union and the referendum result would be satisfied. If not the nutters. So this is her Brexit. Her mess.

This of course is the agenda of UKIP whose racial hatred turned dispossessed voters into anti EU adherents. May is doing as Farage does. Brexit is a right wing obsession which is why May is comfortable in the company of the DUP. The trend continues when you check her itinerary. Visits to Trump to eat out of the extremist’s hand, getting-to-know-you visits to Erdogan in Turkey and the House of Saud while Liam Fox lauds shared values with Rodrigo Duterte in the Philipines who throws critics out of helicopters. Her new bestest friend arrived in London this week – falangist Prime Minister Rajoy of Spain, the new pariah of Europe.

At any other time this rogues’ gallery of thugs would raise comment but Brexit has consumed all. Well not quite – her deputy still has time to watch porn in the office.

To observers of statecraft this week’s Whitehall farce of now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t Brexit deal is the depths of incompetence. It is barely believable that with so much at stake the machinery of the state was unable to keep both Brussels and Belfast on message and engaged. You really do have to ask: Do these people know what they’re doing?

And where, when the country is embarked on an historic international mission is the Foreign Secretary? He has achieved the remarkable feat of being absent at a moment of vital national interest. Can you imagine his hero, Churchill behaving thus?

Mention of the war hero brings us to Colonel Davidson of the Scottish Conservative Light Infantry. I thought for a few days she had gone missing in action. She certainly has adopted the Gordon Brown Cowardly Scot routine when the going gets tough. She has just emerged trying to distance herself from the PM by asking for a soft Brexit in which the entire UK is treated equally. In other words, no deal for Northern Ireland. The trouble here is that the UK is no longer in a position to demand any such thing when Ireland brings to bear its heavy artillery – the rest of the EU nations. Ireland cannot be undone by British demands so long as the Brussels membership holds firm. Britain cannot win. For Scots, the clear message is that from now on Ireland is more powerful than Britain. Yes, little Ireland has more clout than the whole UK because it governs itself within the EU.

The revealing part of Davidson’s move is that it puts the UK – that is the flag issue – above the pragmatic and the political issues. Retaining the UK as one indivisible unit despite the nuanced requirements of Dublin and Belfast is stonewalling and attempting to stop the stream of history which is now running pell mell in favour of diversity and subsidiarity. Yet again, faced with a decision requiring intelligence, the Scottish Tories hoist the No Surrender Red Hand of defiance, displaying their terror of the precedent an alternative might set for Scotland. To hell with national interest. The decaying, moribund Union must come first. This though is just the latest in her many contortions over this issue. You will recall her bullish challenges to Boris Johnson on television as she performed her media tricks and made her name as the ultimate Remainer. Only to reach for the handbrake after the vote and demand the best Brexit deal. Her minimum requirement was the Single Market. Then it wasn’t. If she were a real Colonel her troops would be simultaneously going over the top and running into the rest who were in full retreat. Her gift is the ability to bark and bluster to generate heat and noise but to creep quietly away from the gunfire and, if captured, to avoid detailed interrogation.

Thank goodness then that Labour is on the ball offering sensible solutions. (Damn that old software)

Did ever an Opposition implode so totally as bewildered old Jeremy? Whenever the government is cornered, his nerve fails him and he diverts to another issue. Oh sure, he decries their failures but where’s the alternative policy? Do you know what his policy is? I hear Keir Starmer come out with reasoned arguments which hint at compromise on membership while vying to keep on board northern Leave voters but does Jeremy agree?

Isn’t it past time that any sane Opposition said enough is enough…this must stop? Is there any more evidence needed to confirm the madness of leaving the EU? It’s clear to everyone else that this isn’t going to work, that people have been conned, the government is cack-handed. But still Corbyn evades and denies. There is of course an explanation, one that thousands of new converts, and especially the young and optimistic, can’t confront. It’s that Corbyn is a committed anti-Brexiteer who can’t wait for the day the UK leaves the EU. In his head that means the neo liberal rules on competition and state support will be lifted and governments will be free to interfere in ways they used in the sixties when his beliefs were formed. This displays his ignorance of the reality of EU rules on the one hand and his delusional world view on the other. It’s as if consumer rights and food standards and drug regulation and airline networks had never existed. And what it misses is that every few years we change government and as a rule we have more right wing than left wing governments – that’s why the hard right want Brexit. They too want an end to expensive food standards, employment rights and environmental requirements and guidelines, so a libertarian free-for-all can replace the regulation.

This was Corbyn the day after the Brexit vote: The British people have made their decision. We must respect that result and Article 50 has to be invoked now so that we negotiate an exit from European Union.

He couldn’t wait to get started on getting us out of Europe. He didn’t campaign to stay in but was afraid to campaign to come out. He seems to believe working people will benefit but provides no ammunition in support. Jeremy is as much a Brexiteer as David Davis and is the same game of pretending it will all be fine afterwards. History will not be kind to the Opposition that failed to oppose.

My last question is: When will we collectively wake up? At what point will the Tories be pushed out or give up? Will Labour MPs rebel and resist? Will Davis come back finally and say it can’t be done? Or will enough Scots be repelled by the gory scene and turn away to seek our own national redemption? Because if this doesn’t do it, what will?

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Lights. Camera. Outrage.

Like the sea level overwhelming Manhattan in a disaster movie, the torrent of hysteria over a television programme is sweeping away all before it – there goes context, journalistic honesty is bobbing about over here, balance drowning over there. Behind the wash of fury comes the bile and bitterness of those with scores to settle.

Former politician does telly programme – cue outrage. Ah, but not just any politician – the former First Minister. And not just any programme but one on a channel sponsored by an evil state.

Let’s take them in order. What is a retired First Minister supposed to do? There is after all no template since Dewar died, McLeish lectured academically and inquired on behalf of the government while McConnell (the self-declared socialist) went to the House of Lords. You may have missed the media outrage at this now typical Labour betrayal of the working class and of democratic values.

There seems to be a desire on the part of some that he fade from the scene to be forgotten, shuffling into the cloak of yesterday’s man. But why should he? Who lays down how any of us decide to fulfil our ambitions? Salmond is a showman used to living in the spotlight. He was comfortable in the studio environment and took pride in mastering it. Parading in public and operating under scrutiny – and relentless media ridicule – became a way of life. More to the point, he’s good at it. He’s a natural who can play either role of inquisitor or victim. He is profoundly well informed and has the knack of being controversial – gold dust in the media world.

He already has a programme on LBC radio. He has proved capable of sustaining it and hooking an audience. It keeps an energetic mind in gear and maintains his public profile which, as I say, has become important to him. It’s his schtick.

But Salmond divides opinion in Scotland, broadly between those who recognise the gifts of a political giant – in Scottish terms – and those to whom he represents their nemesis. The latter are the losers whose own trajectory was deflected by his rise, whose advance was blocked as he rewrote the narrative and turned elective politics upside down. This isn’t just a career wobble. For some, the Willie Rennies and the Iain Grays, it is an existential crisis from which they never recovered, an historic reverse from which their parties still suffer. Among the journalists too there are the wounded and humiliated. The best bell weather of hysteria is David Torrance, once a studied example of balance, now the shrill and predictable voice of old fashioned Tory Unionism. ‘The biographer of Alex Salmond’ was wounded by Salmond’s withering critique of him.

Salmond simply refuses to fit someone else’s template. He broke the mould in office by giving as good as he got from truculent interviewers and wrong-footing reporters and continues to do so now. The haughty sneering at his Fringe show faded when he sold out the venue. His engagement with the Scotsman newspaper is another sign that he isn’t going away. On the contrary, you can forget the claustrophobia of the academic cloister and artificial professorship. You’re going to hear a lot more from a man who’s driven to do more because he has more to offer. His desire is to transform Scotland and, in office or out, nothing will stop him.

But surely no one in their right minds would work with RT, the government-funded Russian television news channel pouring out nothing but propaganda? Ah, you mean no one like Willie Rennie, Ruth Davidson, Alex Cole Hamilton, Vince Cable or erm…David Torrance? They’ve all appeared on RT and by doing so have either taken the rouble or given credence to the Russian station.

But Salmond’s working for them! Well, he’s certainly becoming part of their output, it’s true but it appears he has sold them a format through his own production company which will make the shows and control the content. He didn’t get hired by RT (as an agent of the Kremlin) or even design the programme for RT. His company saw an opportunity to create a show based on him and offered it to other broadcasters. There were no takers except RT.

But they’re Russian! Indeed they are. And they are registered in the UK and licensed to broadcast by Ofcom who regulate their output. (Just like the BBC). It’s isn’t exactly treason, Lord Foulkes. It’s approved by the British authorities under British law. Ofcom has actually sanctioned RT for unbalanced coverage of Ukraine which indicates there is a bias in favour of Moscow and the British rules on balance work.

Why’s he working for a foreign station anyway? Well, many countries have overseas television news channels sponsored by their governments fundamentally in order to promote their worldview. It doesn’t mean they are always biased or inaccurate or poor journalistically, just that they want their national interests presented to the world. They’re all at it. Including us. The world’s first international broadcast service was the BBC World Service which until 2014 was paid for by the British Foreign Office – a direct state subsidy to a news channel. If you were Russian you might deduce from that the merest hint that the BBC was an arm of government. (It is testament to generations of first class journalists that across the world the reputation for fairness and accuracy of the World Service has been maintained. I have personal testimony to that from fellow writers from a score of developing countries many of whom were confronted by propaganda from their own government.)

Russia kills journalists. That’s true. It may not be actually true in the sense of a court conviction but, still, it’s true. The Russian state under Putin is an uncompromising, corrupt, murderous regime that we should do nothing to promote. Except…one of the first calls Theresa May made on becoming PM was to the Kremlin seeking closer and friendlier ties with Putin. Russian money keeps afloat parts of the financial sector. £80b was moved out of Russia between 2000 and 2004, much of it laundered through London. Behind it were criminals linked to the Kremlin.

If the state can normalise relations with Putin and if we accept his cohorts’ cash in buying up London property and their children in posh schools as well as licensing their TV station, is it now up to Alex Salmond to make a stand?

It shows he has no standards by not making a stand.

Well, in that case we can’t stop there. Because if the benchmark is state behaviour, it means no dealings with Central China Television which you can see on your Sky listings. China has and appalling human rights record from Tibet to political prisoners and record executions of its own people.

What about al Jazeera? State owned by Qatar, it is accused of supporting the jihadist Moslem Brotherhood and aired videos made by Osama Bin Laden while he was responsible for carrying out atrocities.

Oh come on. Russia does violence against journalists.

So does France. They have France24 – run by a government-backed company – giving English language news in the UK. Reporters without Borders reported that the ombudsman is being asked to investigate 10 cases where journalists were beaten during demonstrations in France. An identifying armband no longer protects journalists from assault by security forces, some of it clearly deliberate.

It’s all a matter of degree. If you’re Iraqi you might think the illegal invasion of your country and the deaths of untold thousands aided by British forces was a reason not to trust the BBC coverage.

Indeed, you may also look at the corporate and political activities of Rupert Murdoch and decide he is too vile to deal with.

It’s revealing that the outrage at Salmond’s chosen platform doesn’t seem to transfer to Spanish TV where the state is carrying out an openly oppressive regime against Catalans, covered with curious disdain by the brave Scottish media.

I’ve had dealings with RT myself and trust their Scottish editor Mark Hirst. There is no doubt that Russia has a state interest in destabilising the UK and Scotland is a means to achieving that but it’s a huge assumption to say Mark Hirst or Alex Salmond would actively contrive in that. You can keep in mind the deep background in what dealings you have and only the naïve would do otherwise. Against that, it’s refreshing to know that the lazy assumptions and deferential crawling so evident is much British journalism is being challenged.

Here’s the thing. If Mark Hirst is asked to produce material that is blatantly untrue or partial for a political purpose he is likely to walk. And can you imagine a producer telling Alex Salmond what to say? The fall out from either walking out and spilling the beans would be damaging to RT and Russia.

At least their journalism is asking questions.

I have no actual view on Alex Salmond having a show on RT. I won’t watch. It may be a misjudgement his reputation will pay for but the rush of outrage tells us more about pygmy politics in Scotland than the morality of Salmond. I don’t believe for a minute he is supporting death squads in Moscow but I do think he has discombobulated some of his erstwhile support. But then he is his own man making his own way. He isn’t going quietly into the night.

 

 

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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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Workers Unite

Ah, consensus. What is the deep satisfaction that comes from working harmoniously with others but the balm of humanity itself? Brothers and sisters together in search of peace and shared destiny…

It makes you wonder how St Francis would have fared as a politician. ‘The Hon Member for Assisi Central is asking like-minded MPs from different parties to join together to prevent Brexit.’ For it is in giving that we receive

You can argue that being together in a political system and voting in a chamber, albeit for different policies, is a form of co-operation and it is certainly true that under the skin of a parliamentary institution, agreements are reached between groupings and individuals whose precise form is rarely divulged to voters. It’s probably the case that without such clandestine channels, the system itself would seize up.

What we rarely see is an outward display of partnership in which selfish interests are subjugated in favour of a wider common good – in the way everyone except the Tories combined to deliver devolution as the expressed will of the people. Twenty years ago they showed it could be done because there was a manifest public majority for what had been a long-anticipated initiative and because, briefly, their interests aligned.

Aren’t we approaching a similar place today? Accepting the primacy of world peace and climate change as global challenges, it remains the fact that EU membership and the UK’s continuing engagement with the European institutions is the single most important issue confronting the country. Given that it was essentially an internal Tory Party game of Cleudo that led to the referendum being held at all while continuing EU membership was for most liberals and conventional conservatives a comfortable fit, is it not remarkable that those same forces have not coalesced to save the country?

The evidence of decline is pretty much universal from the Bank of England to the Resolution Foundation to the TUC. There is as much unanimity among economists as there is on climate change among scientists. To disagree is join the flat-earthers.

What happens when there is a gathering threat to the country – it’s economic and social health, it’s international relations and its defence? Coalition was the response in the face of German aggression. And what should happen when there is common agreement – co-operation.

Is the problem that in Britain there is no agreement on how to proceed? Well, it’s surely tricky for democrats that in a free vote the people have spoken. My question though is what did they vote for? Yes, it was to leave but how many knew and accepted it would mean lower living standards, higher food prices, greater bureaucracy, fewer jobs and travel restrictions? Some polls now say the majority would vote to stay in having been confronted with the evidence they were denied during the referendum process.

But even if we accept that the UK must now ‘leave’, does that also infer departure from the areas that guarantee us free trade and market access? Has anyone ever voted knowingly to make themselves poorer? It is around the customs union and single market where the non-Conservative parties should now be talking to each other to produce a common front. I’m pretty confident some discussions do take place one-on- one and views are synthesised into party positions but the great enemy of all politics is the people, or rather how the politicians view the people. Most are terrified of public opinion and would rather do the hokey-cokey in a chimpanzee onesie than fall foul of voters’ wrath. It is fear of the public, and of course the newspapers they read, that prevents much honest discussion of issues or the implementation of policies that will face short-term hostility. The maintenance of a united public front is paramount.

The block of progress here is of course the Labour Party. Or more specifically, the leadership. I don’t doubt the nationalists, Green and Liberals at Westminster would combine to form a united front, however gingerly they worded the text. But to change government direction, the Opposition needs to be on board and yet, watching Corbyn, it’s hard to know if he’s up or down the gangway, if he’s committing to sailing at all or if he’s just about to be seasick. This isn’t an issue on which prevarication is acceptable. There has to be a principle behind his position, a stance in which he believes and a bottom line which he will not breach. What is it? How can we have come to far in the Brexit saga and yet still be in doubt?

The conclusion has to be that in principle, he agrees with Brexit – it would be best if we were out. He sees a state free to interfere in the market at will and to plough subsidy into the holes he identifies without Brussels diktat. Just how much of industry and services there will be after Brexit is another question. His natural stance is to be at war with business and it is the power brokers of the conglomerates imposing globalisation who have the ear of the Brussels bigwigs. That’s the narrative except for those pesky EU-inspired rules on tax havens, meeting corporate tax obligations and ensuring workers’ rights.

Currently Labour are contorting themselves to make this look like pragmatism even to hiding division but organising Brexit out of a vote at conference. A government-in-waiting it is not.

Weirdly, Labour appears drunk on hubris as if an election had been won and the conferment of a laurel wreath on the leader’s brow was formality awaited. They look very silly, worse even than the Lib Dems pretending those years of coalition for no discernible return, never happened. Instead of looking for allies, instead of thinking strategically in the wider interest, all we hear from Brighton is sound and fury with student politics warning that they will smash the SNP and ‘return Scotland to Labour’ – all deeply unfortunate and misguided when the need is for unity in the face of both austerity and Brexit. High on their own rhetoric, they have forgotten the people and ignored the national interest. The language is designed to insult Labour folk who have switched or who seek independence – despite it being shelved for the time being. This is not a party of partnership or maturity. It is not a party of European social democracy. Labour has become a left-wing UKIP, self-regarding, inward and disruptive. It is having too much fun for serious politics.

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