Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scotland: the REAL question

If Scotland were an independent country today, should her people vote to give up self-government and be ruled from Westminster?

Your reasons, please.

Now replace "Scotland" and "Westminster" in the above sentence with "Britain" and "Brussels".


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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scotland: today's precis challenge

Q1. Reduce the following article from 1,590 words to 650 or fewer.

Q2. "The union... has endured since 1707." Respond, with reference to 1715 and 1745 among other events.

Q.3 "... considerable benefits for all involved." Discuss to what extent the Union alone was responsible for growing prosperity. Your comments should take into account scientific and technological innovations, overseas colonialism and the defeat of Napoleon.

Q.4 If Scotland had always been a sovereign nation, what arguments could be made for subsuming it into the present British political and economic arangements?

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"Scottish independence: catalogue of errors that has brought UK to the brink"
Both sides of the independence struggle have failed to understand each other. The repercussions could affect millions

Linda Colley
The Guardian, Tuesday 16 September 2014
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So why did it go wrong – and when? To be sure, political unions between European countries have often failed in the past, but usually only after relatively brief periods. Denmark and Iceland separated after 130 years; the unions between Spain and Portugal, and between Sweden and Norway each lasted less than a century. By contrast, although the union between Scotland on the one hand, and England and Wales on the other, was initially unpopular on both sides of the border, it has endured since 1707, and with considerable benefits for all involved. At the start of the 18th century, Scotland was one of western Europe's poorest nations. Now, Alex Salmond feels able to cite Scottish prosperity and potential as grounds for independence.
If the yes vote does indeed triumph this Thursday, commentators are likely to focus on some broad and long-term causes to explain why. Some will stress, rightly, the shrinkage of formerly powerful pan-British cements. A once assertive Protestantism has ceased to be a dominant religion and culture in England, Wales, Scotland, and part of Ireland. Men and women in these countries are no longer able to share in the perks and pride of empire, as Scots once did to an especially disproportionate degree. And although Transparency International still lists the UK as one of the least corrupt states in the world, ahead in this respect of France, the US, Belgium and Ireland, many Scots have become convinced that "Westminster elites" are rotten, and that only political smallness can be pure and properly democratic. Yet from the 18th century until after the second world war, at least, most politically minded Scots, like most of the English, Welsh and some Irish, seem to have believed in the particular virtues and freedoms of Britain's unwritten constitution. Even the Scottish Covenant Movement, which pressed for home rule in the 1940s and early 50s, usually stressed its deep attachment "to the crown and … the framework of the United Kingdom".

The fiercer, more uncompromising, often utopian nationalism that now grips some Scots possesses echoes in other parts of the world. In part this is because the relentless advance of globalisation has fostered a desire in many countries for a more distinctive and reassuring local identity. This trend is particularly marked in Europe because it contains so many ancient, culturally distinctive groupings – like the Catalans in Spain – who do not possess a state of their own, and want to have one. But a growing desire to secede from longstanding political unions so as to construct something fresh and distinctive is evident in other parts of the world too. There is a lively separatist movement in Texas, for instance, which only became a US state in 1845, and which is incontestably large enough and rich enough to flourish mightily on its own.
As John Stuart Mill remarked in regard to Ireland, once countries and regions become sufficiently enamoured of separation and independence, political concessions on the part of their rulers lose effectiveness, because men and women in such countries and regions will no longer settle merely for concessions from above. They only want separation and independence. If a majority of Scots have reached this critical stage, this will not just be because of long-term British developments and international shifts and pressures, but also because of more short-term and contingent events. In particular, if Scottish secession takes place, this will largely be because all of the main protagonists involved in this struggle have failed in recent decades fully to understand the pull and repercussions of varieties of nationalism.

As far as the leaders of the main Westminster groupings are concerned, they have often seemed to exhibit a tin ear in regard to the importance and volatility of national identities in at least two respects. At one level, they have failed creatively and systematically to replace the old, declining props of British unionism with new arguments and supports. At another level, they have failed to anticipate and keep up with the challenges posed by a new and more venturesome Scottish nationalism.
The litany of miscalculations and unforced errors is a depressing one. Margaret Thatcher's decision to use Scotland as a testing ground for the poll tax was arguably the most disastrous attempt at fiscal engineering since London slapped the stamp tax on the American colonies in the 1760s. Thatcher did not understand that the union with Scotland had in practice always been a limited one. From the outset, Scots retained their own legal, educational, and religious systems, and were traditionally governed by way of their own indigenous grandees and operators. It was sadly ironic that the arch-prophetess of a limited state appeared to want to rip up this formula for indirect rule and to impose on Scotland in radically new ways, one reason why so many people there still detest Thatcher's memory.

Tony Blair's New Labour tried harder, in part because its leaders knew Scotland better and needed it more. Nonetheless, in formulating its devolution measures in the late 1990s, his government fudged. It pursued ad hoc measures in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but declined to adopt a systematic federalism that might properly have embraced England as well; and it created a new Scottish parliament and local electoral system that helped the SNP to acquire a degree of power that it had never previously possessed. And Blair did more. One of the strongest arguments for the union has always been that it helps defend the component countries from attack from without. But by pursuing his unpopular war with Iraq, Blair allowed nationalists to argue that the union was instead a machine that sucked Scotland into profitless and expensive exercises in overseas aggression.
As for the present prime minister, David Cameron, some of the strikes against him in regard to the current crisis are well known. He refused to include a third, devo max option in the referendum ballot, and thus failed to win credit in Scotland for a policy that he has now belatedly felt compelled to espouse. He allowed Alex Salmond to draft the referendum question and shape the timetable. And by his own admission, he believed that a protracted referendum campaign would somehow be cathartic. Yet nationalism has historically been one of the most inflammatory and volatile human passions. Expecting that protracted arguments over the future and identity of Scotland would clear the air and help foster consensus and a renewal of sweet reason was like lighting a fire in the hope that it will burn out.

For many Scots, all this is evidence that London is out of touch and inward looking. Yet one can actually argue the reverse: that a prime reason why many at Westminster appear inept in regard to nationalist and identity issues is that they operate in a city that has long been quintessentially cosmopolitan. London is not just an international financial centre, it is also one of the most ethnically diverse places on earth. Three hundred languages are represented within its boundaries, and – as is true of some other English cities – more than half of London's inhabitants describe themselves as non-white. By contrast, only 8% of Edinburgh's population is non-white, and that is twice the average for Scotland as a whole. It is therefore hardly surprising that some (by no means all) Scots espouse a degree of cultural and ethnic nationalism that seems incomprehensible to many at Westminster, or that the latter sometimes gets the former wrong.
Moreover, it is not just Westminster politicians that have sometimes failed adequately to consider the full ramifications of national imaginings. One of the undoubted achievements of the union is that over the centuries it has put a brake on English national assertiveness, an important factor as far as Scotland is concerned given that its population is now only a tenth of that of England. Yet precisely because of the union's protracted existence, some SNP activists – including Salmond – sometimes take continued English complacency too much for granted. When in Scotland last month, I was assured by one yes advocate that, post independence, the poison would be drawn, and that Scots would be "full of love" for their southern neighbours. Possibly so, but this is hardly the only point at issue.

The proposition that the referendum is only a matter for the inhabitants of Scotland has become a mantra, but is of course substantially untrue. Whatever happens on 18 September, not just Scots, but also the English, the Welsh, and Northern Irish will be affected. Repeated polls suggest that a clear majority of the population in these three countries badly want Scotland to remain within the UK. If it secedes, a future division of the spoils is likely to cost the English, Welsh, and Northern Irish money, time, influence and face, and yet they will have had no democratic say in this outcome. It is hard to think of a better recipe for future resentments and divisions.
It is still possible that all this may be managed: that even if there is a yes vote, political actors in all parts of the present UK will finally rise to the challenge of events, and work out new constructive solutions together – perhaps a free federation of the isles. But we shouldn't bank on it. As we commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war, this referendum campaign may be yet another example of how easily fierce ideologies, tribal passions, longstanding grievances, undue optimism and political cock-ups can take hold, with consequences that go on to affect and afflict the lives of millions.


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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Scotland: "No" is not the safe option

It's not about Alex, even though Mail columnist Jan Moir angled her coverage of the referendum to make it a vote on his sexual attractiveness, and Eddie Mair took up that refrain in his recent Radio 4 interview with the SNP leader. Media Lens has a good post on the co-ordinated bias and distortion of the British media here.

This is not a General Election and Salmond is not campaigning for a Parliamentary seat. It is about the future of Scotland, and much of the distortion and distraction in the media focuses on the risks of a Yes vote. Distraction, because the false implication is that the UK as a whole is the safe option. Peter Hitchens' Sunday column exploded that. Our economy as well as our polity is heading for what Carl Hiaasen* - vulgarly, but it's too good not to use - described as "a screaming nose-dive into the sh*tter."

I'll forgive the Scots for their resentment at the perceived absentee-landlordism of Westminster politicians, but they do not sufficiently appreciate how much their feelings are shared by much of the rest of the UK. Scotland must understand that it's not only England she needs to get away from but the EU, else she has exchanged her master for his master.

This is especially urgent since the EU is about to move to a majority-vote (not your vote, of course) system that will nullify our ability to veto their worst and most stupid decrees.

And beyond that there are the various international-capitalist schemes, of which the latest is the TTIP, that aim to make their commercial writ run untrammelled in all lands and disenfranchise the world's electorates.

The Scottish referendum is just a local instance of a global fight for democracy and self-determination.

That's the issue.
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* From his novel, "Basket Case". Hiaasen is a brilliantly funny slapstick crime writer.


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Monday, September 15, 2014

Scotland's golden window of opportunity

 
(pic source)
 
Imagine starting a country with no National Debt, a balanced budget and freedom from EU interference.
 
Imagine controlling the fishing areas of the North Seas together with two other similarly independent countries (Iceland and Norway).
 
It is not Scotland that faces imminent economic crisis, but the UK. Scots have been granted an opportunity to escape before disaster hits:
 
Extract from the above:

"Listen to it – the poor Scots are threatened with currency collapse, bankruptcy, irrelevance and isolation. There’ll even be a frontier, doubtless with barking dogs, searchlights and minefields planted with exploding haggises.

"Well, what do you think we’re all going to get if we stay in the EU? The real scare story is that 40 years of EU membership and wild overspending have brought the whole UK to ruin.

"The current strength of sterling is an absurdity and can’t last. George Osborne’s boom is the most irresponsible bubble since the 1970s, based entirely on ludicrously cheap housing credit. 
"Roughly half the containers that leave our main port at Felixstowe contain nothing but air, and quite a few of the rest are crammed with rubbish for recycling, because our real export trade has collapsed, much of it throttled by EU membership.

"The incoming containers are full, of course, of cars, clothes, gadgets and food – but how are we to pay for them?

"As usual, the biggest story of the week was buried – the rise in our monthly trade deficit during July to £3.3 billion. That includes the famous ‘services’ which are supposed to make up for the fact that we don’t manufacture much any more.

"It is impossible to see how we can live so far beyond our means for much longer. Both Government and people are deeper in debt than ever.

"So forgive me if I point out that it’s quite scary enough staying in the UK."
 
(And - if you dare - just Imagine having the opportunity to issue your own debt-free currency as a sovereign country. Fare well, banking families.)
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The only regret is that we could have done much of this together, the UK as a whole... forty years of wasted opportunity. Only the (oft-repeated) short-sighted electoral calculations of the Labour Party have ultimately led Scotland to this unbarred window and the chance to escape; don't blame them if they take it.
 
 
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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Earth Mother mumbling: green advocacy and gender perspectives

Pic source


"As our boat rocked in that terrible place – the sky buzzing with Black Hawk helicopters and snowy white egrets – I had the distinct feeling we were suspended not in water but in amniotic fluid, immersed in a massive multi-species miscarriage. When I learned that I, too, was in the early stages of creating an ill-fated embryo, I started to think of that time in the marsh as my miscarriage inside a miscarriage. It was then that I let go of the idea that infertility made me some sort of exile from nature, and began to feel what I can only describe as a kinship of the infertile."

Naomi Klein's Guardian article yesterday ("Naomi Klein: the hypocrisy behind the big business climate change battle", retitled "Climate Crimes and the Greenwashing of Big Business" for the Reader Supported News site) runs to 4,508 words, not counting photo captions.

The piece includes some 72 instances of "I" and 50 of "me/my/myself". Women's talk often features more of these words, presumably driven by the instinct for social dominance and attention (noted comically by Miranda Hart - "and back to me" - and slyly exploited by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his TV cookery scripts to increase the appeal of his show for its female viewer demographic - listen for it if and when the old episodes are re-screened).

The excuse in Klein's case is doubtless that she is not only peeking behind the green front of polluting businesses but mixing in her personal journey towards hard-attained motherhood and deeper eco-commitment.

She also has a book to sell. Although I share her environmental concerns, I shan't be buying it - because I won't be able to read it. It was hard enough to get through her article. I wanted to cut out all the self-referential material and generally do a precis as we were taught to do at school in the Sixties, reducing a piece of prose to about a third of its original length in order to expose the central argument (in Russell Brand's case you can cut 92%, but there's an unusual amount of wind in his head). How like a man, you may say, so impatient and task-oriented.

But if you do this, you'll see how well she picks the flaking green paint off Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg. It's factual, and penetrating.

Set against this male-dominated industrialism is Klein's female, instinctual, emotional response, an Earth Mother feeling the world's desecrated tides inside her as her child forms. Well, maybe I should get in touch with my inner woman.

Yet it's not just men-billionaires and their monstrous appetite for wealth and power that are to blame. Who wants all the stuff they make? The average man would be content to live in a caravan or a tree. Food, drink, a woman and some peace and quiet - all right, a bit of singing if you must, then some peace and quiet. Maybe something to read, and a few pals.

454532556
Pic source

Still, I've managed to squeeze in a few first-person pronouns myself. Maybe I'm making progress.


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Saturday, September 13, 2014

M6 doglocked

Source

And we must always beware of romance: of people who love nature, or flowers, or dogs, or babies, or pure adventure. It means they are getting into a love- swing where everything is easy and nothing opposes their own egoism. Nature, babies, dogs are so lovable, because they can’t answer back.
D.H. Lawrence  ...Love Was Once A Little Boy (1925)

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Scum lies on shallow waters

To my mind, one of the most striking aspects of the internet is the way it so often brings out the raw power of colloquial language. Many areas of public debate are much shallower than elites and pundits would have us believe.

Social, political, economic – many important aspects of apparently complex subjects are easily described in pithy colloquial language – even crude language.

Most politicians are lying scum.

No, I don’t mean this kind of simplistic yet curiously accurate language. Although it has been enlightening to discover quite how accurate it is. Too many politicians are lying scum aren’t they?

No, I’m thinking of colloquial language in general. How easy it is to use ordinary language to tease out a valid and useful aspect of almost any complex social or political issue. In other words, there is not as much depth to these matters as we may have supposed or as we may have been told in the past. Nobody needs a doctorate in political history in order to say something worthwhile about politics.

We common folk may not have imbibed heaps of academic data about political language and the classification of political trends, but it is surprising how often a simple colloquial summary is good enough.

Politicians always brown-nosing vested interests.

Oops – still somewhat basic, but I think the point begins to emerge well enough. One could write a treatise on political pressures given enough patience and nothing better to do. No doubt somebody has or is doing or will do in the future, but it’s easier and possibly more constructive to keep it simple and colloquial.

To the horror of many and the puzzlement of many more, institutions such as the BBC, the monarchy, established churches, major charities and numerous others are not nearly as trustworthy as we once supposed. Not nearly as truthful, adaptable or transparent either. Even their supposed expertise is tarnished as the world becomes less deferential, more inclined to explore alternative points of view.

There is less depth to many areas of debate than the pundits and experts would have us believe. Yes there may be complexities and yes there may be mountains of data, but many orthodoxies are essentially shallow and easily discredited by even the most limited investigation. And perhaps some sharply descriptive colloquial language.

Something is crumbling, something essentially false, ugly and repressive. The shallowness of social distinctions, the elusive and misleading nature of genuine expertise in the more complex and intractable areas of human life, our tendency to allow determined dullards to place themselves on pedestals. The absurdity of it all.

Perhaps the resources of language and mass communication are killing off something we need to kill off. Yet perhaps the resources of power and mass communication will ensure its survival via censorship and the mighty power of money to confuse and misdirect. As yet we cannot tell but...

Most politicians are lying scum.

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