Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Post Brexit Britain and Scottish Independence

In my 2014 blog, The Scottish Referendum: Why I am voting No, I outlined the reasons for staying with the United Kingdom. At the time, all the reasons I stated were sound. However, I also wrote this:

I may well reconsider my position in the future should Britain leave the EU: that would be the height of nationalistic folly - albeit English on this occasion.

With the end of 2020, we finally see the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and it is not pretty. All third nation regulations and bureaucracy apply to the island of Great Britain, with the only “benefit” being that trade is tariff-free. It is a total disgrace and a disaster for small and medium sized businesses that trade with the EU. The only companies that can ride out this arrangement relatively unscathed are the largest. 

So the question I have to face now is, given this change, where do I stand now on the issue of Scottish Independence? It is not a moot point: the SNP will be pressing for a second referendum, assuming they do well in the upcoming Holyrood elections. 

Former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has waded into the debate. He rightly points out that the vast majority of Scotland’s trade is inside the United Kingdom. If Scotland were to leave the Union and we were to join the EU, there would be a very good chance that we would be facing a hard land border with England, at least for goods and services. One only has to look at what is happening in Kent and Holyhead to see the results of such trade barriers. It’s either chaos or the calm of greatly reduced trade. Scottish businesses with any dealing with England would have to complete whatever paperwork required by England, and English businesses and goods would have to be completely EU-compliant. Brown cited that Scotland currently does £15 billion worth of trade with the EU, and about £60 billion with England and Wales. This would be a massive brake on the Scottish economy and there is no getting around it.

Since Scotland and England share the same island, the movement of people would be easier. That is unless an independent Scotland were to join the Schengen Area, which allows free movement of people from anywhere in the EU, in which case a hard border would certainly be the result. In order to enjoy freedom of movement within Great Britain, it is very likely that Scottish and English border forces would have to maintain a joint relationship, with pooled recording of every individual that enters Great Britain. It is not impossible to do but would mean that the independence of Scottish immigration policies would be limited in scope by the larger neighbour to the south. 

The truth is that Scotland will be poorer if we are to vote for independence. That was always the case. In 2014, it was made clear that the EU would not support swift membership for an independent Scotland. This was one of my reasons for opposing independence. It is entirely understandable that the EU would support a member state to maintain its national integrity. Now that the UK has left the EU, that attitude might well change. In 2016, Scotland voted 62% to stay in the EU. If anything, support for continued EU membership has grown since them. But this is the same across the UK. If there was another referendum, polls from 2020 indicate that the UK as a whole would vote 60% to stay with the EU. Well, that ain’t going to happen. The Conservatives will not give another chance for a referendum for at least another 40 years, if ever. Labour is fence-sitting and not willing to lead any debate. Even Ed Davey of the Liberal Democrats has said that while the party will campaign for closest possible ties with Europe, we will not campaign to rejoin. In this Davey is completely wrong: the majority of Liberal Democrats are ardent supporters of the EU and would rejoin in a heartbeat. The overall political picture though is clear: despite the train-wreck that Britain is currently going through, there is no appetite among the leadership of any major political party to reopen the debate.   

So what do we do now in Scotland? The SNP would have us vote Yes of course. I don’t like nationalism and I don’t like the SNP. They are illiberal, prone to centralise power and there is a certainly a pitchfork-and-torches section in their membership that target political opponents. For example, Alex Cole Hamilton, Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh West, has had roughly thirty complaints levelled against him to the police by SNP members, concerning election spending and paperwork. All have been dismissed as baseless. Also I don’t care for the SNP tendency to go in for their cults-of-personality, both Salmond and Sturgeon have in turn enjoyed such mindless support. An independent Scotland would have this version of politics turned up to 11. 

There is a host of reasons not to support Scottish independence and yet I am thinking about it now: the reason being down to bastard Brexit.

Brexit is not an end but a start. The leaders of that movement, mostly from the economic right but aided by fellow-travellers on the democratic-socialist left, have campaigned against the EU for decades. The left because the EU is a capitalist club (they are correct: it is) but the right wanted out because it is regulated capitalism. In the words of former Conservative minister Eric Pickles, that’s communism. Which is utter bollocks. Capitalism has to be regulated by the rule of law. Deregulation is economic Darwinism where people like you am I are food to be preyed upon by corporations and the very rich. It takes the pooling of political sovereignty in order to stand up to modern-day global companies. Although not perfect, this is what the EU does regulate on. It is one of the few multi-national bodies that can. The alternative is to go the way of China, Russia and Singapore, which have little in the way of individual rights or effective courts, therefore authoritarian governments lay out how it is going to be. At least in Singapore the citizens have a luxurious lifestyle to compensate for their lack of political involvement, even if the migrant workers do not. 

Post-Brexit Britain will head the same way: an erosion of working and political rights, a dominance of large corporate bodies and ultimately the privatisation of all of public services. This will take time to occur but freed from the constraints of international law and EU regulation, it will happen.  Add to this the continued rise of the far right, as I and many others are persistently warning against. It is not coincidence that Trump approves of Brexit and Biden does not. So far, Brexit has been the biggest tangible victory of the international far right movements. While Hungary and Poland are under their sway, neither country has actually left the EU. Britain has. 

Gordon Brown has got around to advocating a federal Britain. He is right: that would have been a good answer. Liberal Democrats have been pushing for federalism for years. But who is listening now? Who listened before? Certainly not the Labour Party. Nor does federalism answer Brexit. Ed Davey’s proposals, which ultimately means rejoining of the EU Customs Union and Freedom of Movement, would work too. I would have, reluctantly, accepted Brexit if this had been on offer. Brexiters made sure that those of us who voted Remain were completely shouldered out of what type of Brexit would be settled for. Their Brexit, an apparent liberation for businesses, has resulted in red-tape strangling SMEs. 

Make no mistake: it has been nationalism on all sides that has brought us to this pass. This is an example of why I am committed anti-nationalist. I also said in 2014 that I would accept the outcome of any Scottish referendum result: a pledge notably absent from nationalists. I have not accepted the Brexit result because we had three months debate ahead of the vote and then four years arguing about what we had actually voted for. That is the wrong way around. In 2014, we in Scotland made our decision after two years of debate.

What do I want? Britain to rejoin the EU as soon as possible. What if that soon as possible is thirty years? Scotland could be independent and settled within the next twenty. If there is a Yes to independence in another referendum, my advice would be not to rush the transition. As shown by the past five years, it takes a long time to make a break. If there is a Yes result, I will continue to campaign for a liberal Scotland within the EU (or EFTA) framework. I would be happy to live out the rest of my life in a Scandinavian-style Scotland and would do what I can to bring that around. This would not help the people of England and Wales though, except through example of what is possible. 

If the Referendum votes No, I will continue to campaign for a better UK under the rule of law and with proper human rights to the highest standards. I am not so confident that is possible any more but that is no reason to give up. 

How would I vote in another referendum? There is no easy or clear path now. One has to look towards what the ends are. The ends of Brexit are totally abhorrent to me. So, reluctantly, and in great sorrow for the breaking of the Union, I would now vote for independence. 

Monday, 11 January 2021

The Coup Isn't Over

The failure on Wednesday of the far-right mob to prevent the formal recognition of Joe Biden winning the 2020 presidential election should not be taken as the end of the Right’s insurgency, but rather another stepping stone in the building of its legend. 

When Trump called upon his fascist followers to muster at the Capitol on Wednesday, it was the last throw of the dice as far as his own presidency was concerned. His legal team had previously raised 62 complaints of voter fraud across the country, in states such as Georgia, Michigan, Nevada,  Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. All of these charges were rejected as baseless. Often the depositions were filed without supporting evidence. In Georgia it took judges just one day to throw out the case.

This begs the question: why do it? Why go to the time and expense of taking these issues in front of the courts when those filing the cases knew they were going to be thrown out? In order to answer such questions, one has to appreciate the overall picture. 

Trump’s assault of the legality of the November vote started in March 2020. By May 2020, The Guardian was reporting that Trump had singled out both Nevada and Michigan, both states that he needed to hold but was vulnerable to a swing vote, for making mail-in voting easier. He alleged that ballots would be sent to all registered voters when, in fact, both states arranged for mail-in ballot applications to be sent out. However, the Trump teams raised no complaint when Iowa and West Virginia also send out mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters ahead of the elections. Both these latter states were expected to, and returned, Trump victories. No subsequent allegations of voter fraud was raised, despite the fact that these states acted the same as those Trump complained against. 

One can therefore see that Trump’s team were acutely aware of the states vulnerable to flipping and, in advance, decided to create a case for voter fraud, regardless of facts involved. Where states who did the same thing but were predicted to return a Trump victory, no such concerns were expressed. From this, it is fair to assume that if any of the flip states had gone to Trump, that allegations of voter fraud  concerning those states would have similarly evaporated.

The central point is, as compiled in detail in the paper Mail-In Voter Fraud: Anatomy of a Disinformation Campaign, that Trump, supported by the Republican National Committee and Fox News, ran a disinformation campaign against the American public. This campaign has led to about half of Republican voters continuing to believe that there was indeed wide-scale voter fraud, that Trump had the election stolen from him and therefore the assault on the nation’s Capitol was justified. 

Trump’s selective offensive against mail-in voters in flip states will seem even more logical when the tactics of the 2016 are taken into account. It is true that Mail-In voting makes it easier to vote. It is also true that, in comparison to those registered voters who attend a polling station, those who register for Mail-In voting are more likely to vote. In September 2020, Channel Four News started a series of reports that alleged that, in contrast to traditional voting campaigns where political parties encourage their supporters to register and go to the polls, Trump’s 2016 campaign actively targeted black voters to dissuade them from voting. C4News estimates that 3.5 million black voters were subjected to the “Deterrence” project. For instance, in Georgia, where black voters make up 32% of the population, 68% of black voters where targeted for deterrence campaigning. In total, 54% of voters in the deterrence category were from minorities, while those votes were activity encouraged to vote were overwhelmingly white. Thus another objection to the Mail-In campaigns from flip-states are that it would be defeating one of the weapons used by the Trump and the Republican campaigning team to keep the black vote away from the polls. 

The refusal of Donald Trump to admit defeat at the polls and to encourage his supporters to storm the Capitol ahead of the formal counting of the Electoral College votes cannot be ignored. It can mean only one thing: the insurgency of the far-right in US politics is still ongoing and while they were defeated on the day, the war they are waging against democracy is not over. Some commentators are comparing Wednesday the 6th of January to Hitler’s Beer Hall Putch of 1923, which at the time was a bit of a farce but led to Hitler being given a national platform to make his party’s case during the subsequent trial. I am in little doubt that the legend of the stolen vote and storming of the Capitol is exactly what those who seek to overthrow democracy in the USA is seeking to gain from perpetuating the lies sown by Trump and the Republican National Committee.

Why do I emphasise the role of the RNC? As shown by a series of votes surrounding Biden’s confirmation as President Elect, the war within the Republican Party is ongoing. Eight Republican senators backed Trump’s version of events but, more importantly, so did 139 members of Congress. The insurgency of the Far Right into the Republican Party is far from over. Even if the Democrats are successful in getting Trump impeached and thus not able to stand for the presidency again, if his successor does not come from his immediate family, it will certainly come from one of these Congressional hopefuls. That is if the Republican Party fails to counter this takeover. So far they have failed. Today’s video appeal from Arnold Schwarzenegger to can be seen as part of the fightback of those within the Republican Party who still support the democratic process. Those 147 elected members of Congress and Senate who still back Trump may also support democratic methods, but they also seem quite willing to back undemocratic methods too. 

One last reflection on the events of the 6th of January. Many have already noted that compared to the response to the Black Lives Matter protests, the police response to the storming of the Capitol was muted to say the least. There has been much evidence that the far-right has been working very hard to infiltrate the police and military. There must have been hope that instead of resisting the invasion, the police on duty would have actively gone over to side with the insurrection. That did not happen but it cannot be taken for granted that it will always be the case. Rather than “defund the police” a much more urgent case can be made to deradicalise the police: that is root out those members would willingly back the overthrow of the US Constitution. I would expect that in light of how the invasion played out, the fascist insurgences will redouble efforts to get more of the nation’s security forces over to their side.

So while the far-right insurgency in the United States has stalled for now, one must not make the mistake that the removal of Trump from the presidency is the end of the matter. It isn’t. The fight against authoritarianism must be the leading task of the Biden presidency. It will take many forms, including improving the lives of Americans who have lost out in the current system. All policies must have the common thread of fighting to support democracy and improve the lives of all Americans. Otherwise, the high ideals of the USA may well be lost forever.



Monday, 15 June 2020

Statues and Empire

I once had an idea. Take pictures of all the statues in Edinburgh and then research their stories. Who are these people? How did they come to prominence and who is it that thought so highly of them that they raised the funds necessary for a statue, often in a prime location? Then I was going to stick it all on an app and flog it to Edinburgh’s many tourists as a series of walking tours. Naturally I did nothing of the kind and, with the current demonstrations in support of Black Lives Matter, I am kind of glad the effort necessary was put into other projects. Another side of me wished I had done it because I would have been in a prime position to give an informed view on whose monument is based upon the fruits of slavery. 

There are many that say you don’t need statues to tell history. For the history of the individual who is being commemorated, that is perfectly true. We don’t need statues of either Hitler or Stalin to tell their stories. But they are terrible examples to hold up. For one thing, both were being honoured in life as part of a totalitarian cult of personality. Their statues were built on order of the state. The case of Edward Colston, whose image in bronze was torn down by demonstrators on the 7th of June 2020, is far more interesting. That particular statue was not erected until 1895, one hundred and seventy years after Colston’s death. There was no state directive to be obeyed, no one was impelled by the threat of force to do this. What Colston’s statue is is hard evidence that the values of late Victorian Britain held up someone who had build their fortune upon the trading of mass human kidnapping and enslavement as someone whose virtues outweighed these crimes.
Of course, I am looking at Colston’s statue through the eyes of a 21st. Century liberal. It is quite possible that those who erected the Colston statue did not either know of his links to the slave trade or, if they did, that they did not care nor even regard it as a crime at all. 

Now, before I continue, am I outraged that Colston’s statue took a dip in the River Avon? Not particularly. I certainly don’t think anyone should be charged with criminal damage for this. It is clear from media accounts that there was a long-standing local campaign to have the statue removed and that parts of the Bristol establishment consistently vetoed its removal. Throwing that statue into the river is totally understandable. What worried me is what comes next.

“What comes next” has already started. The weekend of 13th of June has seen violence on the street as far-right activists have appeared on our streets “to defend the statues”. The recorded fact that these people throwing straight-armed Nazi salutes and punches at the police who were actually defending The Cenotaph and Whitehall cannot be mistaken for anything else but intimidation, designed to keep Black Lives Matter supporters off the streets. 

A bit more of a genteel example was the gathering in Poole, Dorset, to defend the statue of Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouts movement.  Anti-colonial campaigners would point out that Baden-Powell was charged with the illegal execution of Matabele prisoners of wars. He was acquitted of any crime but that might well have been a reflection of values of the day and that the the prisoners were black, for they were certainly shot. Baden-Powell’s statue was also a possible target because of his encouragement of the Hitler Youth movement and recorded admiration for Mein Kampf. This did not stop B-P ending up on the Nazi’s infamous “Black Book” list. The truth is always more complicated. The Scout movement has, and continues to do, much good in the formation of young people across the globe. 

So what is at risk here is a proxy war between racists and human rights campaigners, with a new battlefield being over lumps of carven sandstone and moulded bronze. There has to be a better way and there is. It is called education and it is at the heart of Black History Month. It is a profound criticism of history teaching in the United Kingdom that there has to be a Black History Month at all. The British Empire is fundament to 19th Century global history but is only part of the picture.
Naturally one has to be selective about the history taught to children, purely based upon time available but one has to worry about the flow and material. While I was studying my A level in the subject (The Cold War is already being taught in some current syllabi) I pretty well just got modern history 1880 until 1945. There was also options on the Late Anglo-Saxon period and the Norman invasion. All good stuff but apart from the naval arms race in response to German demands for “A Place in the Sun”, empire did not really feature. My daughter’s more recent exposure to history education in Scotland, covered the medieval wars of independence from England, The Scottish Enlightenment, World War Two and the US Civil Rights in 1960s America. Upon checking the BBC Bitsize GCSE history site, the AQA board specifically teaches empire, and OCR teaches immigration. The rest do not. 

Black History Month is more that British and Empire history and that is fine. A lot of black history is British history too. Whether it is the slaves, sugar, tobacco and cotton triangle between Britain, West Africa and the Americas, or the plantation of people from the Indian continent into East Africa, it is really history that everyone in the UK needs to know about. Fortunes were created which went to build up cities like Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow and London. Individuals were glorified which brings us back to the statues. 

Not all statues are worthy of preservation but how is that to be judged? Some would say take them all down, others keep ‘em all up. Others say preserve them in a museum. None are perfect solutions and the museum solution could end up costing a lot of money. I have a possible compromise which does not lead to destruction. Monuments dedicated to those directly in the slave trade should be removed. Space for them can be made in a local park - not in a prominent place - and the monuments displayed together with explanations of their history. The history should be the good, bad, downright monstrous and why others thought these people worthy of honour. Such a grouping can be used to educate school parties as part of British and Empire history: that should be part of the history curriculum. The freed up spaces in our city centres can be used to honour later generations.

What of the really famous figures? Nelson who married into a rich plantation family in Nevis and defended the slave trade? Wellington defeated Napoleon but he gained his military experience in India. According to Elisabeth Longford, the sacking of Mysore in 1799 brought the young Arthur Wellesley a £50,000 share of the spoils (equivalent to £5.7million today), paid by the East India Company. This was all legal. Wellesley himself was concerned with the common soldiery looting, having several flogged and four hanged. Churchill was prime minister during the 1943 Bengal famine as supplies were shipped to feed Britain and our armies. Did Churchill set out to kill three million people? Almost certainly not but appears to have been callously indifferent to their fate.  These histories should be known but for their service to the nation, the honour also remains.

The key does remain with education and I suggest that even the controversial monuments have their role in this. Statues erected willingly by choice, as opposed to those erected by totalitarian regimes, have their place. It just may not be where they were originally placed. 

The real issue is that the people of the United Kingdom, all of us, are going to have to face up to our own history. There are times when it was not honourable, never mind glorious and victorious. Some of time we were the downright bad guys and, in terms of human rights, sometimes not so bad. The important thing is that we are taught it, as Cromwell might have said, warts and all. 

Sunday, 14 June 2020

"Boris Johnson Is Unwell"

This morning (14th of June, 2020), a deliberate statement by Paddy O’Connell on BBC Broadcasting House (at 11:45), “Boris Johnson is unwell” went unchallenged by Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood. This caused a fair stir online in the Radio Four Facebook sites.

Instead of joining with the usual sniper shots, I have decided to stand back and consider the trail. 
Boris Johnson is certainly a vote winner. Westminster and London mayor elections confirm this. On this basis, the Conservative Party membership chose him over Jeremy Hunt to replace Theresa May. Johnson delivered a thumping majority in reward of their faith.

Since then, the honeymoon was brief. As Johnson took over, the Coronavirus crisis was already brewing. To be fair, the UK government was not the only European government to be caught short. What does mark us out though was while others were taking lessons from what was occurring in Italy and Spain, the UK government chose to turn Nelson’s eye to events. According to The Times reports, it wasn’t until the 12th of March that the full magnitude of events struck home. Even then though, the government continued to dither. Many companies and bodies had taken their own initiative long before the lockdown on the 23rd March.

Meanwhile, by following their own advice, many individuals in government had been exposed to the disease, the worst affected being Boris Johnson himself. Among the others was Dominic Cummings who, instead of self-isolating with his immediate family, decided to ignore lockdown instructions and remove to Durham.
What has burnt Johnson more than anything politically was his steadfast defence of Cummings’ action in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The upshot of all this is an immense amount of credibility destroyed, with scientists being banned from the daily briefings as very few of them would be willing to defend Johnson’s top aid.

Johnson has never been a master of detail. He is a dreamer: bridges being a particular favoured theme. He was hard hit by the virus (male, middle-aged and overweight [bit like the author]) and might well be still suffering. Add to this an innate aversion to hard work, and a possible case of alcohol addiction and, for an individual it is a perfect storm. The man is unfit, literally, to be prime minister.
In addition to this, because Johnson determined to choose his cabinet based upon ideological purity towards the cause of Brexit, rather than any form of ability, the team around him are unable to defend their own positions, never mind cover for their boss. Word is that Matt Hancock was going to be the scapegoat at the end of the day but, with over 40,000 dead and in global terms the worst performing nation, exceeded only by the USA and Brazil, the rap cannot stop with a single minister. Boris has created a government in his own image and, while that may have worked in normal times, in this crisis it is a disaster for us all.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Corona Virus and the NHS

I am receiving grave concerns from NHS staff as to the lack of preparation for Corona virus. First is testing: there is no testing at UK borders. In hospital testing of patients with respiratory problems is only performed if there is also a history of recent travel.
There is no change in procedures. At ward and community level, it is business as usual. People with breathing difficulties (status unknown because they haven’t recently travelled) are interacting with cleaners, carers, pharmacists and porters as normal.
There is no additional PPE being issued for staff, at whatever level. Cleaners are not being given special instructions when clearing up after patients with respiratory problems. Community health workers and carers could become prime transmitters of infection as they move from home to home looking after their charges. Staff are not being tested either.
Appeals to senior management is falling on deaf ears as they claim that they are following government procedures, who are following the herd-immunity theory. This is NHS Scotland I am talking about but have no reason to think it is different elsewhere in the UK.
Health workers are seriously worried. They want the tests available to check any patient that is presenting symptoms, not just those who have also recently been abroad. They also want to have the PPE to protect themselves and their colleagues, regardless of their status in the hospital or community. Plus they need to be able to test each other to confirm they are not becoming spreaders themselves.
The procedures need to be updated, quickly, to reflect the growing threat. Resources need to increased rapidly: not just money from the government but the actual materials and medicines. This would be similar mobilisation to a wartime emergency. 
Finally they need understanding and help. NHS staff will do their best to help everyone but they also need public support in order to get what they need to help our communities. Who will protect us when NHS workers and social carers become sick? They need our support.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Why are Remainers So Bloody Stubborn?

Another week and another failure of the Conservative Government to deliver Brexit. This sentence could have been written any time since 2018. On this occasion, it is the Letwin amendment, which simply stated that Parliament should see the Johnson deal set down and passed in legislation, before giving it a meaningful vote of support. The fear was not that Johnson deal would pass, but if it did not, then we would be leaving the Eu with no deal on the 31st of October. 

Predictably enough, there are again howls of complains from the rightwing press. Letwin, Corbyn (who has finally agreed to a second referendum) and Speaker John Bercow are the three main villains of the day. One irony of course is that Oliver Letwin said he will support Boris Johnson’s deal. His amendment is to ensure that if the legislation failed to pass through parliament before the end of October, that the United Kingdom would not leave with no deal in place. This is one of the reasons why the Letwin amendment passed: parliamentarians from all sides of the Brexit debate backed it in order to avoid the disaster that a no-deal exit would be, both for the UK and the EU. If the atmosphere had been more calm and rational in the Commons, perhaps the Johnson government would have accepted the point without demur. They did not. 

Grass root Leavers are understandably frustrated with this. “Why can’t we just leave?” they ask. They talk of their anger, and I am certain they are sincere. But I ask Leavers to stay for a moment, pull up a sandbag while I’ll try and explain how it looks from the other side. 

There are some Remainers who will never accept the outcome of the 2016 referendum. Honestly, I’m almost in that camp, but not quite. My own reason is that the public debate was not long enough: the Scottish referendum of 2014 ran for two years verses the three months for the EU referendum. Unlike the Scottish experience, three months was simply not enough to look in depth for either Leave or Remain cases. That level of examination has occurred since we had the vote in 2016. 
That is my own view, others with have their own reasons, whether to accept or reject the outcome. Let’s get to the basic fact: Leave won.

So, what was the question again? Ah yes: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Right, so Leave won. I wasn’t happy about this but there was a level of leaving I would have accepted. Was I, or any other Remainer asked what this would be? No. Not in the slightest. The debate that followed, both in parliament and in the country, was “Your side lost: shut up.”

Well, no. What did not appear on the ballot paper was how we were going to leave. The Leave side promised many things, none of which they have been able to deliver. Without consulting the rest of us, they continued to argue and bicker as to the nature of their victory. Theresa May’s negotiations with the EU was purely in reference to her own party in parliament. It was only after its failure to pass through the Commons were other parties consulted. By then, it was too little, too late. 

The fundamental issue is that Leave won but then thought it was a winner-take-all game. Not once has there been any serious offer to engage the whole nation as to the nature of our leaving the EU. I would have settled for a Norwegian-style deal. I can see some Leavers being unhappy with that. So am I. But at least I was willing to compromise. Like Norway, it would have addressed the fisheries issue, which to me was the only real gripe the Leave campaign is justified over. What a Norwegian-style deal wouldn’t satisfy would be the issue of immigration from European countries. As I said through, we would all had to have compromise. The UK would have been free to have a flexible and changing relationship with the EU while avoiding most of the hard economic outcomes that leaving entails. 

Such consultations should have began soon after the 2016 referendum. They did not, so we find ourselves in the en passe yet again. I can see why Leavers would be deeply unhappy with the prospect of a second referendum. If you lost, and the polls suggest that you would this time, it is not as if you would shut up and go away either. So where do we go from here? 

As far as Remainers are concerned, what is at stake is the very nature of our nation. Leaving would most probably ultimately split the Union, both with Northern Ireland and Scotland. Leaving would also enable an economic and cultural revolution, with the Conservative Party (and Brexit auxiliaries) leading the change to a US-style Britain and an unregulated corporate society. Neither of these were on the 2016 ballot paper either. That is why Remainers are calling this a coup, a revolution. 

If Leavers really wanted to heal the country, the first thing you should do is stop telling Remainers to shut up and get over it. We will do neither. Hundreds of thousands of people marching through Westminster on Saturday, and 6.5million signatories to the petition to rescind Article 50 are testaments to this. Ah, but what about the 17.2 million you cry? You won the referendum to Leave: you did not win any majority, not even in Parliament, as to how the UK is going to leave. 

It is little wonder then that Remainers continue to campaign to stay in the EU. We have been offered no other alternative. 

At this time, I cannot see anything else but to go for another referendum. A lot of damage has been done and this is not going to heal easily. An election under the current first-past-the-post system will not be democratic enough because all it takes is about thirty five percent to get an effective majority. I am a bit surprised but a blog I wrote in 2018 on the nature of a second referendum, in its basic format of a two-stage question, has aged pretty well. The only difference now is that the Johnson Deal is closer to the Canada-style free trade deal than May’s deal. https://martinveart.blogspot.com/2018/12/a-second-eu-referendum-whats-on-ballot.html

If Leave won again, I would stop campaigning on the issue of EU membership and instead campaign on the future of our relationship of the EU. If Leavers lost, I would welcome their input on the nature of the Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union. What is totally clear is that whatever happens, none of us can return to business as usual. As a country we have changed. We really do have to start listening to each other.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Brexit: A Warning from History

Cavalry armies were famous for fooling their opponents through a manoeuvre known as the ‘feigned retreat’. For instance, during the Battle of Legnica in 1241 a combined force of Poles and Moravians fell into the trap of charging the Mongolian cavalry lines who, apparently, fled the field. Except the didn’t. The western horsemen were now separated from their supporting infantry, the Mongolian heavy cavalry turned and light horse archers enveloped the confused knights, now on tired horses. While they took some casualties in the ensuing fight, Mongolian victory was complete. 

What has this got to do with current UK politics, one may reasonably ask? Possibly nothing, possibly everything. The Johnson government has yet to win a victory in Westminster and seem to be in full retreat. Their first feint of going for an immediate election has be spotted and foiled. It seems the opposition is on the verge of victory and the Conservatives are in disarray. 

It is probable that the combined opposition, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats and assorted independents and minor parties, will get the legislation through to stop a no-deal Brexit and force a further delay to leaving. Only then will a vote of confidence be called and an election ensue. Job’s a good’un, one may think. One may be wrong. 

The key manoeuvre which alarms me is the apparently suicidal move of Boris Johnson to eject all those MPs who oppose his government’s Brexit strategy. Let there be no mistake: this was a real night of the long knives. Theresa May worked bloody hard to keep her party together so it was a pre-announced and premeditated move of Johnson to purge his parliamentary party of any Remainers, or even people who genuinely want a deal with the EU. This has been achieved so it is doubtful that the Conservatives will leak any further MPs. While now a minority government, this group still are the most powerful unified force in Westminster. 

The battle is about to enter the most dangerous time. Now the Conservative Brexiters are in retreat. From whence are their auxiliary forces to come? If they can be won over, from Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party. 

At the moment, the Brexit Party appear to be the final nail in the Conservative Party’s coffin, as they threaten to split the Leaver vote. Since there are no longer any Remainers in the Conservative MP ranks, can Farage be tempted to ally with Johnson before the next general election? 
If the answer is yes, then the Remainer opposition will be in serious trouble. A united extreme right could well win with about thirty five to forty percent of the popular vote. 

What can be done to prevent such a disaster? To be forewarned is forearmed. If there are signs of Farage and Johnson either uniting their parties or forming pre-election pacts, then the best the English parties can do is either do the same (a doubtful preposition with a Corbyn-led Labour Party) or advise strong tactical voting of the Remainer vote to identify the Remainer MP most likely to win in their constituency. If on the other hand, the Brexit Party and Conservatives fail to unite: all with be well. Where they stand, Brexit candidates will split the Leave vote, Conservatives will fall and a Remain-dominated parliament will be returned.  
Note though I said English parties. In Scotland the dynamic is different. With the standing down of Ruth Davidson, it is unlikely that the Scottish Conservatives will survive the next Westminster vote. With the Brexit Party not a hugely strong force in Scotland, the main battle of the EU will be fought over the towns and fields of England.

Everything hinges on whether the Conservatives can be stopped from unifying with the Brexit Party. Stop that and the Battle for the EU will be won. There is now a majority for Remain across the United Kingdom so a second referendum should deliver this. But if a united Conservative-Brexit Party gain a majority in the next parliament, forget it. The barbarians win.