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Prediction: A Week Out, And Thoughts on a Murder.

My track record is good: I nailed the Scottish referendum, and the 2015 General election. The polling average at time of writing is a 4-point lead for the leave campaign. I still think (70% confidence interval) Remain will win. Here’s why.

The polls suffer from a 6% response rate, and unlike the Scots Indy referendums, there’s very little to calibrate them against, as Leave/Remain cuts across party lines, and there have been no recent referendums on the subject. A lot of IPSOS MORI’s swing is methodology changes, reminiscent of the last election. The pollsters have been tweaking their methodologies to give similar results (so-called “herding”). There is a better than outside chance of another polling catastrophe.

Given the extraordinarily low response rate, there is a good chance the highly excited leave supporters in every demographic by which Pollsters weight their samples: age, education, socioeconomic class, party affiliation etc, are significantly more likely to respond. The Be.Leavers are enjoying this referendum. The Bremainers are thoroughly sick of the whole referendum and cannot wait until it’s over. I cannot see how this can be captured in their methodologies.

Basically, I think there’s a good chance the polls are at least as wrong as the General election, which would be nearly enough to get Remain over the winning post.

There are 13% undecided in the last Survation poll. These people will break for the status quo, as they have in most referendums in the past.

The ground game: where one side has access to all the party machines, and the other, leave has access to UKIP’s chaotic machine alone, and no national footprint or experience in national ‘Get Out The Vote’ operations.

This is all said with due respect to the view that shouting “The Polls are wrong” is the hallmark of the side that’s going to lose.

I was just about to hit publish.

And As I was writing this yesterday, an MP was murdered. A bleak day for her family, Labour, Parliament, and the country. She was apparently shot and stabbed by a man with mental health issues, and an association with the far-right, who may, or may not have shouted “put Britain first” as he committed his murder. Jo Cox was the MP for Batley & Spen who was first elected in 2015, and was holding a constituency surgery, as MPs up and down the land do weekly. They are unprotected, yet attract some of the worst and most disturbed people in the land. She leaves 2 young children and a devastated husband. We in the UK are lucky to have such dedicated, humble, honest and decent MPs, of whom Mrs Cox was not out of the ordinary. MPs aren’t “in it for themselves” nor are they part of “the elite”. They’re just like us, really.

Whether Thomas Mair, the chief suspect, was, or was not motivated in part by the Referendum campaign is not the issue, as an untruth can get halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on. In this case, it’s a still-plausible, not-yet an untruth bit of speculation. A motivation from far-right beliefs and influenced by the referendum campaign remains the most likely explanation for Mair’s actions. And for the leave campaign who’re busy suggesting an EU army is likely, and Turkey’s about to join the EU, to complain about people suggesting this is so, is a bit rum, really. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

I’m making a prediction, not arguing what should happen, and while I wish it were not so, this appalling event will affect the outcome.

What will people take from this senseless murder? That the referendum has poisoned politics? That perhaps we should pause for breath in this febrile atmosphere of anti-politics to reflect on the huge decision we’re about to make? That perhaps the anti-politics, anti-expert mood has gone a bit far? Perhaps the politicians, our allies, the economists and international organisations who say Brexit will make Britain poorer, weaker, less influential and will harm the western alliance all have a point? Anything that makes people stop and think isn’t going to be good for the ‘leave’ camp who for weeks have been doubling down on the sullen, nihilist anti-expert, anit-politics anti-immigrant hysteria sweeping western democracies. Events like this have a habit of being the moment the narrative changes.

Farage’s disgusting poster unveiled yesterday, with its clear echoes of Nazi propaganda will be received differently in the light of this tragedy.

An Open Letter to Jean-Claude Juncker

If, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland votes as expected to remain in the European Union, you should not take it as an endorsement.

Britain is a great nation, once the hub of the greatest Empire the world has ever seen, a victor at the centre of alliances, in three centuries of conflict, and the mother of Parliaments. To imagine we would ever subsume our identity into the European Union was the height of hubris, a hubris equalled only by our own imperial project. 

When we on these islands realised that 

“…in seeking to make conquest of others, we have made a shameful conquest of ourself

we used the last of our global power to defeat a grotesque continental tyranny, and retreated from empire leaving Cricket, democracy and railroads for the friends who willingly helped us defeat Hitler to use.

We expect the European Union to realise that we on these islands will not ever be part of some ‘United States of Europe’, and we don’t think France, Poland, Italy or Germany, or any other great nation of Europe should be expected to either. 

The European Union exists to facilitate trade between free peoples, and to solve problems best dealt with at an international level. Trade, environment and security. And it is the Last of these in which our voice must be heard clearest.  For it is British soldiers who have poured blood into European soil over centuries, for all our freedom, and stand ready to do so again. Without the UK in the EU, Germany would have blinked in confrontation with Mr. Putin in the Kremlin. And it is our unbreakable alliance with the United States that ultimately guarantees European freedom to this day. When Churchill said 

“If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea.”

he was asking De Gaulle in 1944 to not make him choose an alliance with Europe over the USA. We, if forced to choose, will never choose Europe. An acknowledgement of these facts, ahead of the vote, publicly and with humility would go a long way to keeping the European and broader western alliance together.
The European Union has achieved much to be proud of. Chief amongst these is the cementing of Democratic norms in the former fascist south and former communist East. The carrot of joining the club has brought countries with no tradition of freedom to respect human rights and the rule of law.
Freedom brings great wealth and power, but that power must be used lightly. Britain learned that lesson the hard way. There is no need for the nations of Europe to learn it again.

No more ‘Ever closer Union’. Not for the UK as you have already accepted, nor anyone else.

On the EU Army Nonsense.

The UK military has operated independently twice in the past 400 years with a 1-1 scoreline. The treasonous war of American so-called “independence”, and the Falklands conflict. Otherwise we always operate in an alphabet soup of foreign alliances.

The EU Military staff doesn’t directly command troops, who usually (but not always) operate under the auspices of NATO.  Most military co-operation in Europe is bi-lateral such as Anglo-French missions to Mali, or multi-lateral and Ad Hoc, like EuroFor. Eurofor, which has deployed several times, isn’t an EU army but multi-lateral co-operation between Italy, France, Portugal and Spain, and has mainly operated in the francophone Africa.

The EU battlegroup training on salisbury plain recently isn’t a nascent EU army, just one of the alphabet soup of foreign co-operative organisations of which the UK military is part, one which hasn’t deployed anywhere, and is a bit like the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps of which the UK has long been the core.

The French, long suspicious of NATO and who want to make the EU a counterweight to EU power, have accepted that while the UK is a member of the EU, an EU army isn’t going to happen and rejoined NATO’s command in 2009. They pulled out in 1966 arguing (no, seriously…) that NATO (get this, right…) undermined their sovereignty. (Lol).

The EU army isn’t going to happen, because the UK has consistently vetoed the formation of an independent EU military command.

Of course were we to leave the EU, then the French would be free to get their way, leaving NATO’s command again and possibly taking the Germans with them in time. We must remain to prevent the French using the EU to undermine NATO.

Transgenderism

Every time I hear about Transgenderism on the radio, and it is nearly every morning, I ask myself “what are we talking about here?”. How has this become such a prominent issue in the public life of the nation? Let’s be clear, I have enormous sympathy for people with genuine gender dysphoria – the outward appearance and physical characteristics different to your gender identity.

And aside: That this condition exists rather gives the lie to those who believe gender is a social construct, and that the only reason women seek different roles is mainly because of social pressure.

So, let’s dig out some numbers; a few thousand post-operative transsexuals in the according to the UK ONS in 2009:

The Home Office ’Report of the interdepartmental working group on
transsexual people
‘ based on research from the Netherlands and Scotland,
estimates that there are between 1,300 and 2,000 male to female and
between 250 and 400 female to male transsexual people in the UK.

However, Press for Change estimate the figures at around 5,000 post-operative
transsexual people.

Further, GIRES (2008) claims there are 6,200 people who
have transitioned to a new gender role via medical intervention and
approximately 2,335 full Gender Recognition Certificates have been issued to
February 2009.  

So, post-operative transexuals are about as twice as frequent in the population as people who’ve been struck by lightning. But there’s more to transgenderism than just those who’ve had the operation. Under a broader definition to include

  • Gender Variance:
    A person’s feelings about his or her gender identity that do not conform to the
    stereotypical boy/man or girl/woman category as assigned at birth.
  • Transsexualism:
    This term is used to describe a person who has ’transitioned‘, or is in the
    process of ‘transitioning‘, or intends to transition from male to female or
    female to male. 
  • Transvestite:
    A transvestite individual feels compelled to wear clothing normally
    associated with the opposite sex, but does not desire to live permanently as a
    member of the opposite sex
  • Drag:
    A term applied to individuals who cross dress often for entertainment
    purposes.
  • Androgynous:
    A person who does not fit clearly into the typical gender roles of their society.
    Androgynous people may identify as beyond gender, between genders,
    moving across genders, entirely genderless, or any or all of these. Androgyne
    identities include pan-gender, bi-gender, ambi-gender, non-gendered,
    a-gender, gender-fluid or intergender. 
The numbers are estimated to be about 0.1-0.5% of the population, 65,000-300,000 or so people (ONS, 2009).
So, we are talking about a very small number of genuinely transexual people, onto whom we latch a much, much larger number of people who range from transvestites to all manner of special snowflakes, who merely want their victim status enshrined in law.
The fact that the troubles of the “Transexual community” make it onto the news every single day, isn’t because of widespread problems, but it’s about culture and virtue-signalling. Take a group of people with a genuine condition, amenable to medical intervention, and to whom we owe sympathy and respect, we’ve add a much larger group of people whose interests seem to be mainly about rubbing “society’s” nose in its “intolerance” rather than any genuine injustice they’ve faced.
My contempt for latching onto the “transgender community” starts with none for people who’re genuinely transexual and increases as we descend the list above. I am not sure most Drag queens would welcome being included on the list – aren’t they in the “Gay community”, and in any case seem well able to look after themselves? I struggle to keep up.
To these people I say, you’re not discriminated against because no-one will use ‘zir’ as a pronoun, you’re just an arsehole. 

On Foxhunting

Taking the great whales out of the southern ocean led to less Krill, their principle food. Whale shit is rich in iron; iron is the limiting nutrient in many ocean ecosystems. So whale shit was a major source of iron for Phytoplankton, which is eaten by Zooplankton, which is eaten by Krill and Fish. And Whales eat Krill and Fish. Fewer whales, less shit, less plankton and you’ve reduced the carrying capacity of the whole southern ocean.

The southern ocean is the world’s shortest food-chain but the same is true (though with many more complex feedback loops) in richer ecosystems. When wolves were removed to from the Yellowstone ecosystem, the elk overgrazed the riverside foliage, which led fewer willow trees, which meant the beavers disappeared too, leading rapidly to a much less diverse ecosystem than the Beaver-dam Willow wetland that was there before. The effect, like that of removing great whales from the southern ocean, was the carrying capacity of the whole ecosystem was reduced.

No-one seriously thought the fox population would increase because of a fox-hunting ban; killing foxes isn’t the primary purpose of fox hunting, and the hunt takes too few in any given year to be a significant cause of mortality. And so it turned out. Indeed there’s some evidence the fox population actually fell following the ban. But hunting was still part of the management of the ecosystem, but in more subtle ways. It’s also, by the by, the centrepiece of a rural way of life.

The English countryside is a wholly man-made environment. Even places like Dartmoor look nothing like they did before people got here. In the English countryside, Humans are the top predator. In the Autumn, “pre-season” or “cub” hunting the summer’s litters of fox cubs, by then fully grown, were sought out, and scattered. Many, the weakest individuals, were killed. This reduced local concentration of foxes in individual coverts, meaning they don’t over-predate their territory. It’s the starving fox that usually goes after livestock.

Add to the lower likelihood of healthy foxes going after livestock, there’s the rural taboo about shooting the landlord’s quarry. Fox hunting made the fox valuable to farmers, while ensuring a higher fox population was less likely to take lambs. (You’ll always need to protect your chickens). This meant that thanks to Fox-hunting, a much higher fox population can be found in England than in comparable ecosystems.

Foxes keep rodents down. Rodents eat birds’ eggs. Higher fox population (thanks to hunting) means more song birds in the hedgerows, and a healthier ecosystem right down the food chain.

Fox hunting isn’t cruel. While Lord Burns concluded a single shot from a rifle was the optimum kill, foxhounds never wound. Even the best marksman sometimes leaves a maimed fox. Furthermore shooting foxes doesn’t discriminate between old, weak and ill animals; and healthy ones. Fox hunting does, mimicking the effect of lost, larger predators such as wolves and lynx which would once have carried out this role. Healthy foxes usually escape, weaker animals are killed.

Fox-hunting generates hysteria mainly because it’s seen as a posh person’s passtime. People feel uncomfortable at the idea of “taking pleasure in killing animals for sport”, and the people who do it are in 18th Century fancy dress. It’s easy to lose sympathy with people you don’t understand. The fact is you’ll hear more regional accents out hunting than you will almost anywhere else. There are toffs too, speaking with Marked Received Pronounciation, but they are not the majority. Most of those riding to hounds are the rural people who are closest connected to the land, retaining forms of speech long swept away elsewhere by the march of estuary English. But amongst them you’ll find people from all walks of life. A passion for equestrianism is their uniting characteristic.

The “Sport” to most people riding to hounds is going hell-for-leather cross-country on horseback. It is extremely dangerous, exhilarating and primal. Watching the hounds work is also part of the enjoyment, something I found fascinating when I carried a whip for a pack of Basset hounds. I’ve followed hounds in pursuit of various quarry on horse, foot and by bicycle. Few if any people I’ve met out hunting enjoy the kill.

When people talk of “toffs” hunting, it’s just evidence of ignorance and prejudice. Such a person could never have actually gone to a meet and still believe that. When people speak of “cruelty” I think of the barbarism of factory reared pork or chicken, not something remarkably similar to what would happen to foxes, were England returned to its primal state. If you think fox-hunting should continue to be banned, you might as well admit it – it’s class war, not foxy-woxy that motivates you. Distaste for fox-hunting is rarely motivated by fox welfare, but by what people think the motivation of the those doing it might be. This is nothing more  than brute, outgroup prejudice, given added justification by a mawkish sentimentality towards Vulpes vulpes. Issues of animal welfare are just window dressing for mere bigotry.

The SNP were going to veto a change to England and Wales law until it was pulled by the Government. This wasn’t vicious Tories alone, it was supported by Plaid Cymru (not known as a party of the upper classes) as well as a handful of Labour MPs (including the only one I’ve ever voted for, Vauxhall’s Kate Hoey). Despite the fact the change to the law was to bring England and Wales in line with Scotland, and didn’t affect Scotland at all, the SNP opposed it. The SNP will be pleased to have linked ‘English Votes for English Laws’ to the divisive issue of Fox-hunting, and to have discomfited the Tories. But I think in the longer run, the breathtaking hypocrisy they have shown will yield a greater loss to their credibility. Their previous abstention on England’s (and Wales’s) legislation was an honourable self-denying ordinance which reduced the pressure for EVEL. Now the Tories will hammer it through, and will have the support of more of the house, because of the SNP’s opportunism. The Ban of Fox-Hunting, never about the welfare of the fox, is the ultimate political football. No-one. Not farmers, not huntsmen, nor the fox benefits from this.

On the UK, Russia and the EU

The Centrepiece of this parliament will be the in/out referendum on British Membership of the European Union. It will probably define the UK’s very survival as a nation, and define the UK’s place in the world over the next few years. I am sceptical about the EU project, I regard the parliament as a risible cargo-cult democracy. It lacks a ‘demos’ so any attempt to give someone like JC Juncker ‘legitimacy’ are a fig-leaf. It’s bureaucratic, pumping out regulation and diktat, pouring glue into the economies of Europe. It’s a costly vanity project for politicians who’ve either come from very small countries and need supra-national bodies to contain their egos, or for Politicians who’ve been rejected by their domestic electorates. But none of this really matters.

Because the EU has been a stunning success. Several countries, Spain, Portugal, and the former communist East were dictatorships in my living memory. And while it’s the Atlantic alliance which beat communism, it’s the EU which ensured Poland is a country where a return to autocracy is as unthinkable as it is in Spain by entrenching free-market liberal democracy and building institutions. Money, too was poured into the post Fascist south and again into the post Communist east. Nothing says “we’re friends now” like building roads and hospitals. The world east of the Iron Curtain, and south of the Pyrenees, is immeasurably better, freer and safer thanks to the EU.

 

YES, because the EU is bigger than a Cost Benefit Analysis for the UK

Of course the stupid, hubristic, economically illiterate, clumsy vanity project, the single European Currency has undone much of the good work in Spain and Portugal. But this isn’t a post about the Euro, which the UK will never join, but about the EU.

The UK is not a small country, unable to survive outside a big trading block. So any argument from Europhiles which suggests the UK will be a great deal poorer outside simply won’t wash. The EU would be forced to treat with the UK, a nuclear-armed UNSC permanent member with the 5th largest economy on earth, (and rising we will probably overtake Germany some time this century) with slightly more respect than they show Norway (which is, as an aside, the country with the world’s highest living standards) or Switzerland (not known as an economic basket-case). What this means is ‘Brexit’ is unlikely to be as disruptive as many imagine.

The flip-side of this, is there simply aren’t many benefits from leaving. Much EU regulation comes from world bodies, and the EU, as the World’s largest market has enormous influence in the WTO and the like, and the UK working with likes of Germany and Poland in favour of Free Trade against the French, mean the EU is more likely to deliver the world trade Environment made in the UK’s image.

The EU is a bulwark, alongside NATO against autocracy. Putin is creating an odious personality cult. He’s spent his oil revenues building a highly effective military with which he threatens his neighbours. He’s tearing up the rule-book, annexing territories under a doctrine not dissimilar to Hitler’s  ‘Heim ins Reich‘ by which he justifies aggression with the rights of Ethnic Russians in neighbouring countries. And it should be remembered that ‘neighbouring countries’ include EU and NATO article 5 members.

At present, the Baltic states are indefensible against the forces Russia can bring to bear right now. NATO is enervated, divided and indecisive. And Putin’s philosophy sees NATO and the EU as organisations that threaten his regime. And he’s right, but not in the way he thinks. When Yanukovych suspended laws necessary to implement the EU-Ukraine association agreement, thereby giving in to Russian threats of trade sanctions, and outright bribery, the people of Ukraine stormed Maidan square in Kiev. The people of the Putinist world want a better world, even as oligarchs and governments try to crack down on dissent. And it is the duty of the Free world to stand up for the vast majority of people who rather like democracy and freedom. They vote with their feet in vast numbers, as soon as they get the money and leave the hell holes their countries have become for bolt-holes in London, Spain and Cyprus.

At about the time of the Maidan protests, Russia started planning the annexation of Crimea. Putin’s military is dependent upon Ukrainian uranium, and several strategic resources – the gears for his armoured forces, and avionics for his aircraft for example are made in Ukraine. So the EU association agreement heralded a Ukraine looking west. And made Russia even more vulnerable to EU sanctions than they are now.

Worse, from Putin’s point of view is the threat posed to Russia’s oligarchic kleptocracy by a stable, uncorrupt, westernising Ukraine on Russia’s border. Eastern Poland and western Ukraine were mostly part of the same country almost in living memory. Those regions which formed the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland are the rich, western-looking bits of Ukraine (they are the poor bits of Poland – the rich bits used to be Prussia – History runs deep). And they had the same living standards as their cousins in Poland in 1990. Now the poles are three times richer, and Ukrainians are looking at Poland and saying “I want some of that”. The fact is, unless there is a stunning military success, Putin has already lost. Kiev will probably be an EU city within a decade; The people of Ukraine, West of Donetsk and Mariopol at least, certainly want that. Putin cannot sustain the unrest in Ukraine indefinitely as it costs vast money which in a years’ time, he simply won’t have.

None of this makes Putin’s gamble in Ukraine valid or reasonable, and those who argue that it does are despicable quislings.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes. Russia is in the same place as Germany was in the 1930s. A once-great power, humiliated by defeat, who elected a demagogue promising to restore Russia’s Glory, who rebuilt a mighty military, and who sees the world in zero-sum, ethnic terms. That demagogue enjoys total control of the media, and near total public support. Like Germany (and Japan) in the 1930s Russia faces enemies awakening to the threat, and who are slowly reacting and re-arming. (Yes we are: an Army can be built in a year or two, Notice how the Navy is getting the Lion’s share of defence spending right now – Carriers, world class destroyers and frigates, and in the Astute class, the finest Nuclear subs asink?). And Like the axis powers, there is a calculation that can be made that they possess the power to sweep all aside RIGHT NOW, but know they will inevitably lose any protracted war. Russia will run out of Foreign exchange reserves this year, absent a rise in the oil price above $80. The demography means they cannot fill their establishment of conscripts, and the health of recruits is not good. Russians have long been breeding below replacement rate, and this is reflected in future cohorts being smaller than Putin deems necessary. Russia’s economy is broken. They export oil, money and people. The population is falling. Male life-expectancy at 55 is worse than much of Sub-Saharan Africa, worse even than eastern Glasgow. Putin has created a hellish society, capable only of suffering for mother Russia, despite the talents and education of her people. If Russia is to defeat NATO, he must go NOW or be slowly squeezed by sanctions and demography, and see the EU and western democracy advance to his Border with Ukraine. There will be no “buffer” protecting Muscovy from Europe.

For there is only one possible result of a protracted war between NATO and Russia, and that is Russia’s total and complete defeat. But what Putin (and his quisling cheerleaders in the west) might calculate is that the Article 5 defence of Estonia for example is a paper promise. If Putin can annex a chunk of Lithuania or Estonia, and it doesn’t trigger a massive response from NATO, then NATO’ s broken. And Putin is busy making the mistake of Dictators through history: mistaking the slowness of decision-making in democracy for weakness. But Britain Germany and France together spend more than Russia does on Weapons. The USA is still mighty beyond compare. And the People of the EU will simply not accept Russian aggression. Would I as a (still, just, semi-detached) soldier die in a ditch for Estonia. Yes. I would. Indeed this is the one issue keeping me in the reserve forces. When Yamato launched the assault on Pearl Harbour, he said “all I fear I have done is roused a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible desire for vengeance“. The Sleeping giants are in this instance, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Germany, France, Poland, Finland, Norway, Italy, Spain. The world’s 2nd Largest economy, the World’s largest economic bloc. Anyone think the Australians wouldn’t help? And China would not tolerate an aggressively expansionist Russia, with whom they have territorial disputes. A total Russian defeat would suit China quite nicely. I would make the same warning to Putin. You think you’re surrounded by enemies? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Ukraine is not an Article 5 NATO country. Ethnic Russians in the Donbass, long dependent on Russian Putin-toadying media, will believe the lies about Nazis in Kiev. And Putin’s aim is to ensure there is sufficient unrest in the East that it exists below the NATO threshold of action, but above which the EU will be comfortable taking Kiev on Board. I don’t think Putin desires war with NATO, but we’re in a situation where miscalculations like MH-17 when (probably) separatist rebels used Russian-supplied kit to shoot down a Malaysian Airliner. Would NATO have been so phlegmatic had a British Airways airliner been shot down?

Given the geopolitical risk, now is not the time to break up the institution which offers millions of Ukrainians hope there’s a better way than Putinist Kleptocratic oligarchy to which they’re condemned, and the instability it threatens for the world. Ultimately, a victory of the West, Kiev, Minsk, and Moscow one day becoming EU cities, will be a victory for the Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian people over the oligarchs and governments which blight their lives and keep them poor.

The same is true of the UK. A broken UK will effectively remove one power with potential to make a meaningful contribution to stopping Putin and Putinism, leaving a greatly diminished rump UK. And ‘Brexit’ will trigger another Scottish referendum, and probably destroy the country I most care about. Mine.

The world stands on the cusp of war, in reality closer to global thermonuclear war than at any time since the 1960s. Now is not the time to start breaking up our alliances. Rather than break up the EU, I want to see it expand further. Free movement from Vladivostok to Lisbon, from Helsinki to Gibraltar, maybe, hopefully including Istanbul one day. That is a libertarian view. Imagine all those Russian engineers, capable of putting men into space using slide-rules and duct-tape working for the general good in a liberal free-market democracy. The EU has its faults, and those faults are mostly French. But it is overwhelmingly a force for good, with a better track record of entrenching democracy than any institution on earth (with the possible exception of the British Empire). Even if the narrow cost-benefit analysis of EU membership is marginal for the UK, Think big. British European Policy has been consistent on ‘Europe’ for 500 years: if the Hegemonic power in the Continent cannot be England, then we will ensure no-one is. Let’s reform, and thereby strengthen the EU, thereby defend the UK, and vote to stay in the European Union, not wholly for our sake, but for theirs.

Should the UK remain in the European Union? I will be voting Yes.

The Triumphs of British Foreign Policy Are So Complete, We Take it For Granted.

The British Empire was founded on Trade, not conquest. We largely bought our empire, then co-opted its citizens by encouraging them to get rich and take up cricket. And then when they tired of the British Empire’s excesses, the Empire became too expensive to run, and we left. Trying, mostly with some success, to leave functioning democracies behind.

We left behind the world’s Largest democracy, India. And British ideas influenced the Second largest: The United States of America.

There are two models of democracy: Broadly the Franco-Yankish model with an executive president, and the British Parliamentary model. And of the two, the latter is much, much more stable, because it doesn’t concentrate power in the hands of a single individual with a personal mandate, and so the constitution is harder to abuse. The legislature finds it easier to hold the executive to account when the executive head is chosen from the legislature. But equally, there are fewer veto points, so legislative gridlock is less likely. (See this excellent essay by Fukuyama in Foreign Affairs)

The European Convention on Human Rights was written by British and American Lawyers, on British and American principles, and underpins the European Union, the enlargement of which to the East was a British-led project, against French wishes. The EU has strengthened institutions in Eastern Europe. Poland’s democracy was not a given when the Berlin wall came down. Thanks to the EU, Britain has a large, growing, increasingly prosperous ally in NATO, and the EU. Poland’s democracy is secure.

The World Trade Organisation seeks to Promote free trade, long a British principle. The EU is, thanks to Britain, a leading proponents of free trade in the Great councils of the world, something the French mutter about, but about which they cannot do anything. The Germans largely see it our way.

Across the world, the English Language is the language of trade, science and diplomacy. This is not going to change any time soon. We’ve exported our way of Government more successfully than the Americans, and not just to former colonies. And people yearn, across the world to be part of clubs we’re in. Georgia flies the European Union flag outside its new Parliament in Tiblisi

In Ukraine, the Eastern Quarter may have a majority which wants to be Russian. This is debatable, because no-one’s asked them properly. It’s probable a majority of Crimeans indeed want to be Russian. We’ll never know, because that referendum was neither Free nor Fair. The rest of Ukraine now looks firmly west.

Intelligent political commentators are overawed by the scale of Russia’s military spending, and the tactical subtlety of her annexation of bits of Ukraine. Yet mistake tactical for Strategic success. We have struggled, it’s true to come to terms with Russia’s doctrine of “information war”, as we cannot ascertain her goals. Meanwhile Russia is spreading disinformation, using extreme parties of the left (the greens are against Fracking which threatens Russia’s economy) and the Right (Jobbik, Le Front National and possibly UKIP which want to break up the EU) enjoy Russian support, and whose spokesmen turn up on Putin’s grotty little propaganda machine, Russia Today, with depressing regularity. Most of the people most enthusiastically backing Putin, and claim he’s winning, are on the loony fringes of politics.

Putin wants a Buffer between him and “the West” which he fears, because the west represents a threat to his power. It does, of course. Mainly because our world-view is better and more attractive than his. Putin has probably captured a wretched little  rust-belt, which will forever need his country’s financial support, while inviting the EU to his Border. Kiev will be an EU city within a decade, and there is almost nothing Putin can do about it. He could invade in a couple of weeks, but it would bankrupt him, and I doubt he could make it stick in the long term.

The fact is countries are clamouring to Join the EU and NATO, to exist under a security umbrella largely provided by the Americans, and to enjoy the institutional security of the EU, while more or less designing their democracy along British principles. Poland, for example has a Bicameral legislature, with a symbolic head of state, and the executive head of Government chosen from the legislature. Neither of the EU nor NATO are perfect, by any means. But to imagine the EU a greater threat to the UK’s interests than Putin’s Russia, as many ‘KIPpers do, is just insane. The EU ploughs mostly British Foreign policy in Ukraine, in the WTO and elsewhere. That foreign policy isn’t what ‘KIPpers think it should be, but it is consistent with 500 years of history.

The inhabitants of a damp, foggy archipelago off the north western coast of Europe, a medium-sized population, have nevertheless managed to shape the world in their image, and continue to do so, despite being overtaken by larger, wealthier powers. Somehow, it always goes Britain’s way in the end.

Real global great powers do not have trouble keeping their satellites in orbit. The West is built on British ideas, speaks English, and enjoys overwhelming economic, military and cultural dominance. The world watches English Football, listens to American and British music, and its most able people want to come to our cities, risking death and mutilation if necessary to do so. Compare with Russia, which will be just China’s petrol station in 3 years, lacking (our western) money, their military spending will be unsustainable. Russia’s people, as soon as they have money, leave. If the oil price stays low, Russia will be bankrupt in 3-5 years. Even China herself knows her power such as it is, is based on access to western Markets. The west, confident and united, can stand against any power, or combination of powers that could possibly be ranged against it. We can lose every tactical battle, Ukraine for example, and still win the war.

All it requires is that we don’t blink.

A Caledonian Prediction

The eve-of-voting polls are remarkably consistent pointing to 48-52, with 5-10% undecided, in favour of no, so this is going to be the baseline of my prediction prediction. But the pollsters are not at all confident of their weighting methodology.

  • ‘Don’t knows’ typically break for the status quo in such referendums. 
  • There are an unusually large number of people refusing to talk to pollsters. If these break one way or the other, this can make a mockery of polling.
  • One side is much noisier and more enthused than the other and there has been intimidation. This can lead to an under-reporting of one side
  • There are a lot of people who’re voting for the first time and for whom no previous elections can be used to compare.
So, as a keen amateur psephologist, I thought I’d have a go at a prediction taking into account the factors above.
  1. Baseline 48-52 for ‘No’.
  2. Don’t knows at 5% breaking 2-1 for ‘No’ gives 47 1/4% to 52 3/4% for no.
  3. It’s simply impossible to know how the Silent voters will vote, but in my experience as a teller, they tend to be older, male, and well educated. Older lean ‘no’, male leans ‘yes’ and education is a weak predictor of ‘no’.
  4. I suspect ‘No’ voters are less likely to take part in online surveys, and be keener to avoid letting on they vote no, for fear of Nationalist flash mobs. I suspect there is a shy ‘no’ vote nudging it a couple of percent, or possibly more.
  5. First time voters, and newly registered voters are likely to be under weighted in pollsters methodology, especially if the turnout is very high. It may be this is sufficient to outweigh the ‘shy nos’.
Given the above my SWAG (scientific wild-arsed guess) is No 53% Yes 47%. I’d be more surprised by a ‘Yes’ than I would by a bigger ‘No’ win. I think most Scots, even some who voted ‘Yes’ will be relieved by a ‘No’ vote.

Scotland

Let’s get the identity thing out the way: I’m British. My Mother is Scottish, with Ginger hair and Gaelic-speaking parents, a fear of sunshine and everything. My Father is mostly English, with a Welsh grandparent and an Irish surname. So as far as I can work it out, I’m half Scots, 3/8 English 1/8 Welsh and there’s some Irish in there too somewhere, but I’m buggered if I can find it. As a result I have brown hair, but some ginger in the beard, and I too get sunburn at a fireworks display, and cannot stand direct sunlight. That’s the genetics. Then there’s the Identity. I was Born in Northampton, Schooled in Leicestershire, and went to University in Edinburgh for whom I played Shinty. I have ALWAYS regarded myself as British, Scottish (whom I support at football), English (whom I support at Rugby) and a citizen of the world.

My Late Grandfather was a fearsome Scottish Nationalist, despite having spent almost all his working life outside Scotland, serving Britain – in the Merchant marine, and the Diplomatic Wireless Service. I’ve enjoyed arguing ‘no’ all my life with him, and if Scots vote ‘yes’ I will take a crumb of comfort from the fact it’d make the old rogue happy. I learned to love the rough and tumble of political debate over my Grandparents’ table in Inverness. The Scots are a warm, friendly, resolute and resourceful nation of people, who have achieved, like my Grandfather, great things all over the world, but the political culture is utterly vile. It was in Edinburgh I discovered the swamp of bitterness and hatred that is Scottish politics. I’ve never seen anything quite as unpleasant, and I’ve some experience of Northern Ireland. The principle emotions expressed are resentment, and a particularly toxic brand of zero-sum socialism: what’s bad for the English must be good for me and Vice-versa. And this has been encouraged by the Scottish political establishment which is hard-left Labour, and often Harder left SNP, who have found the English, Tory boogeyman a handy catch-all on whom to blame all failures.

And some of Scotland is an abject failure. East Glasgow contains some of the poorest people in Europe, with some of the lowest life-expectancy in the developed world. This in a vibrant, powerful, wealthy city with arts and culture galore, represents a shocking failure of Glasgow’s labour Political establishment. These people, living in schemes where the men are unlikely to live much beyond their 50th birthday, have been told that it’s all “Thatcher” who closed the shipyards and steelworks, and the “Tories” who don’t care, shifting the blame from a Scottish Parliament and Labour Government in Westminster who’ve had over a decade to do something about it. But it’s easier to make people hate ‘the other’, than it is to rebuild such failed communities.

And the poor bits of Glasgow are the bits most strongly in favour of Scottish independence. Unsurprising, really, they do have the least to lose. Labour is reaping what it sowed.

So we come to the referendum. They’ve given votes to children, hoping they can be enthused by the Braveheart myth; not put what is BY FAR the most popular option – Devolution Max – on the ballot paper, allowed the Secessionists the ‘yes’ answer – the question could have been, “should Scotland stay in the United Kingdom?”; and there is no supermajority needed to destroy the UK, all at the behest of Alex Salmond. If he cannot, under these circumstances persuade people to leap into the Abyss, then the issue should be settled for at least a generation. The SNP got more or less everything it asked for in the negotiations over the referendum. To bleat about BBC bias, and “Westminster stooges” under these circumstances is rather pathetic.

Abyss? Scotland has the potential to be an extraordinarily vibrant place. The land of Smith an Hume, the Edinburgh enlightenment, whose ideas underpinned the USA, industrial engineers, soldiers and statesmen who built then dismantled the greatest Empire the world has ever seen. Many small countries do well. Scotland the second richest bit of the UK after London & the South east, and Aberdeen its second or third richest city after London and Bath, so it’s not clear to me the Status Quo is broken. The Scots population is sparse and so they get more state spending per head and also contribute more tax per head. English Nationalists (whom I despise too) focus on the former, Scottish Nationalists, the latter. The simple fact is any independent Scotland will be running a big primary deficit, but will lack the ability to finance it. Salmond’s plan to not take a share of the debt will make this deficit utterly unsustainable, as no-one will lend. Austerity? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

So I come back to the toxic political culture, and fear that it would rapidly become Venezuela, if the likes of Jim Sillars gets his way. The blood letting that would accompany a recession costing 4% of GDP, which is what happened to Czechoslovakia on its split, whose economies were much less integrated, would be terrible. Scotland’s independence teething troubles could be worse than Czech Republic and Slovakia’s velvet split – 70% of Scots GDP is “exports” to the rest of the UK. The deeply ingrained habit of Scottish politicians is to blame “Westminster” or “the Tories” mean Scotland would be ripe for the kind of “stab in the back, betrayal” narrative that encourages even more extreme nationalism, should it all go wrong. The yes campaign have encouraged their supporters to project all their hopes onto independence, and deserve credit that theirs is a civic, rather than ‘blood and soil’ nationalism, but there will be a lot of disappointment that it’s a lot, lot harder than they thought it was. The nationalist genie is out of the bottle, and it’s going to be hard to put it back, which ever way the vote goes.

Several companies, and plenty of people have said they’d leave Scotland if she votes ‘Yes’. Scotland will find it harder to attract companies without being part of the UK. No companies and few people have said they’d move to Scotland in the event of a yes vote. Not even Vivienne Westwood.

Of course a ‘Yes’ vote could see a resurgence of the Centre right in Scotland. Ooh Look.

But the forlorn hope that Scottish politics becomes sane on independence, is to deny the greatness of what Scotland and the rest of the UK have achieved TOGETHER: one of the richest, freest, most powerful and influential countries on earth. A leader in world trade, and leading member of many international clubs. And we’re forgetting what the rest of the UK provides Scotland. Scotland would have suffered horribly had it been independent in 2008, probably worse than Ireland as Scotland was even more over-banked than was Ireland in 2007. Bigger economies can sustain deficits and have internationally-traded currencies have virtually unlimited chequebooks in a crisis. Sterling is an internationally-traded currency. Small countries don’t have this advantage. And the UK is not a small country by any measure. We (together) have the 6th (or so…) largest economy on earth, the world’s third most powerful military with global reach, aircraft carriers (and planes too in three years’ time…) and nuclear weapons. That is a lot of insurance against unknown future threats. Small countries aren’t richer or poorer than large ones, but they are more volatile and less able to defend themselves against the likes of Putin or assert influence in the great councils of the world. Scots benefit from the UK’s heft.

Do you really think anyone in Brussels will care what Scotland, a nation of 5 million people, thinks? Denmark and Ireland have little influence, and the Experience of Ireland shows just how far from decision making the needs of peripheral economies are to the EU project. Scotland’s economy will not be aligned to the core, as Denmark’s is. It will be aligned to the UK, as Ireland’s is. And Scotland’s concerns will not matter. The EU power-brokers DO, on the other hand care what the UK thinks, even if the UK is a “surly lodger”, to purloin Salmond’s phrase, who has eschewed the Euro, it is a major one at least equal to France.

Scots though they desire to have no influence in the EU, have been told they have no influence in the UK. That’s palpable, hairy bollocks, swinging under a kilt. Blair and Brown owe all but their 1997 majority to Scottish MPs. The last PM was a Scot. And the current one has Scottish Family. And Blair was educated in Scotland too. It’s about “running your own affairs” you say? But you want to participate fully (uncritically, with little influence) in the EU. Is that not hypocrisy? And in any case, you have significant, and soon to be total, devolution of health, education, some taxation and social policy. Scots are over-represented in Westminster. Scots ALREADY run their own affairs. And I hear a lot of Scottish burrs at the top of politics, business, media out of all proportion to the population. It was a Scottish king who took the English crown and Scots have been running Britain rather well ever since.

Who, elsewhere in the world favours Scottish independence? Kim Jong Un, and Vladimir Putin. That’s about it. For the Union, we have Barak Obama, the EU, NATO, the OECD…. (has anyone asked the Pope or the Dalai Lama?) The practical part of me thinks independence and a ‘yes’ vote would throw out all the benefits of being part of the UK, at enormous long-term cost, and for few additional benefits. The last thing the world needs is another Border, or indeed a smaller, weaker United Kingdom.

But that’s not what this referendum is about. It’s about the emotional appeal to the Scottish soul. Are you Scottish? Are you British? How much of each? There are an enormous number of us in the UK who are British and English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish (not to mention Australian, Indian, Pakistani, Jamaican, Nigerian…) too. “British” is an inclusive identity, and as a result Britain greater by far than the sum of its parts. And for many of us, a ‘Yes’ vote would feel like having a limb sliced off. Think about your family and friends down south. Think about your future in a deeply uncertain world. Think about the collective strength of the nations of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Think about how desperately sad many people who love Scotland both in Scotland and elsewhere, would feel if you vote for independence. Vote with your head, AND your heart, to stay Scottish within a great and powerful United Kingdom.

Vote No.

Young Nationalists

Wee Eck, in his personal life is a rather admirable man. He retired from front-line politics to look after his sick wife. He’s reported to be amusing company, and has many friends amongst political opponents. He’s a fearsome debater and a shrewd politician. However he is also an absolutely shameless operator. He knows he has one shot at an independence referendum, which will put the issue to bed for a generation. He knows that losing the referendum risks fracturing his party from those who will respect the result, from those who won’t.

He is therefore seeking to rig the plebiscite  First by asking a clearly leading question, second by setting the date (rather pathetically) to coincide with the anniversary of Bannockburn, and immediately after the commonwealth Games, in which, unlike the Olympics, Scotland will compete as a separate nation to England. He must be devastated that Sir Chris Hoy has retired, and remains a unionist. On each issue, the SNP has attempted to secure the maximum likelihood of a “yes” vote, without consideration for whether this is right, fair, or reasonable, and when called out on this, usually by the independent Electoral Commission, the SNP cry ‘Foul’, having the rather chippy attitude that anything other than their view is “English arrogance”.

Finally, the SNP have decided that 16-year olds should be allowed to vote, on the basis that they are slightly more likely to agree with the SNP than the general population. There is no principle to this whatsoever. Indeed, Salmond openly considered raising the age at which scots can buy alcohol from 18 to 21, suggesting he thinks they’re mature enough to vote, get married and have sex, but not mature enough to have a beer on the way to the marital bed or polling station. Either that, or it’s rank hypocrisy.

It’s a nakedly partisan move, contrary to almost all countries around the world who enjoy universal suffrage. Only in Bosnia Herzegovina (if employed), Austria, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man can spotty 16-year olds vote. A handful of countries, including Indonesia and (hilariously) North Korea allow votes at 17. Everywhere else on earth has the voting age 18 or higher. The SNP should not be allowed to choose their electorate for party political advantage. To do so smacks of banana republic, not the nation of Adam Smith and David Hume.

Have you met any teenagers? They know nothing. They’re swayed by emotional arguments and have no experience of life on which to base the tough decisions of politics. They do not read papers, preferring to sit in dark rooms, masturbating furiously and sleeping. If Alec Salmond wants Scottish independence because some spotty herberts saw ‘Braveheart’ once, great. I’m just disappointed the UK Government fell for it.