Deft and laid-back

Liked this response of Nicola Sturgeon to an awkward moment. And her self-deprecatory comment about a lot of people wanting to do the same shows a level of self-awareness and public engagement that not many politicians have. Good on the girl.

BBC video clip copied, tealeafed and duplicated from Munguin’s New Republic. Well done, Munguin!

Lousy Stock, or Dumped on by England?

Overheard a bloke in the pub this evening telling his girl that lower Glasgow life expectancy – 15 years less than the UK average – was traceable from grandparents through parents to children. I don’t know whether he was merely quoting this analysis, or actively wanting to promote it, and to my shame I bottled out of asking him, but if it’s being used as an explanation of Scottish disadvantage then it’s a pernicious interpretation. It means that lower life expectancy is genetic; it’s simply part of being Scottish. Scots come from lousy stock, there’s nothing they can do about it, and they obviously can’t run a country with these short life-spans hanging over them. “Too poor, too wee, too stupid and too short-lived.”

The study he was referring to seems to be this one. Its key sentence is:

Conclusions: Males and females in most of the larger ethnic minority groups in Scotland have longer life expectancies than the majority White Scottish population.

The alternative explanation, that Scottish health outcomes and life expectancies have been systematically bashed into the ground by centuries of English political orthodoxy and sycophantic Scottish governmental institutions, is widely judged correct, and gets an airing here.

You pays your money, you takes your choice. And then you does something about it.

Smile and be a Villain

This claim turned up in comments on The National yesterday, from John Stuart Wilson. Since it’s based on data, it needs to be taken seriously:

Our largest on-shore private sector employer is the finance industry. It accounts for, directly and indirectly, 1 in 12 jobs. It doesn’t want to be located in a foreign country from 90% of its customers. (Ask yourself: how many local authorities and SMEs currently send their monthly pension scheme payments to Belgium to have them managed there?) And it will not accept the loss of a LOLR [lender of last resort] backstop. So independence will cause major job losses in Scotland, as these firms relocate to the rUK.

However, there are a few points in the above claim which are not clear:

– the Scottish finance industry employs 160,000 people, out of a labour force of 2.6m. This is 1 in 16. Where does the writer get his figure of 1 in 12 from?

– the UK-wide finance industry employs about 2m people, out of a labour force of 32m. So the Scottish economy is no more dependent on financial services than the UK-wide economy is.

– some financial institutions focus on customers in foreign countries, which is why the London financial sector is so keen to retain its access to the EU. How does this square with the writer’s claim that banks don’t want their customers to be in a different country?

– What’s meant by ‘located in a foreign country’? Many financial institutions have staff in one country and owners in another: HSBC, Santander, RCI, Clydesdale Bank (until 2016), to give a few household names. If the author means that banks which are currently headquartered in Scotland will move their headquarters after independence, that isn’t a big deal. And if he means that they’ll move their staff away and close up shop, that’s implausible – why would any businessman with a brain walk away from a 5.2m customer base that has a reputation for financial probity?

– the lender of last resort would not be the Scottish government; if the economy went pear-shaped, the lender of last resort would be the IMF, and the banks would stay. Thirty countries in the world have become independent since 1984, and they all have banks. Greece, ranking 24th among European economies in terms of per-capita GDP, still has banks. Why does the writer believe that banks would leave if the lender of last resort were the IMF?

A more plausible explanation of John Stuart Wilson’s post is that an independent Scotland would properly regulate its financial sector, squeezing out malpractice, and making it more difficult for the sector to make money. So, as far as financial operators with that mindset are concerned, Scottish independence is a lousy option. Arguing against independence on that basis is of course a thoroughly villainous activity, but until we get answers to the questions above, we can’t be sure that John Stuart Wilson’s claims are honest and believable. Can we please get sufficient clarification from him to show that his stance on this is an honourable one?


Bang on the money, that needed saying!

Wow, this needed to be said, and here it is! This is a statement on the Catalonian referendum issued on 25th October 2017 by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights. I show the link above, but I quote the statement in full anyway at the foot of this post.

The statement makes four main points, exposing the logical fudges used by those who support the Spanish government. These points are also highly pertinent to the Scottish situation, and we need to think of ways of addressing them. The four main points are:

  1. The right of self-determination belongs to the people, not the state, and the state cannot take it away.
  2. The right to self-determination overrides the principle of territorial integrity.
  3. Using force, making a referendum illegal, and annulling autonomy violate international covenants on civil and political rights.
  4. Dialogue and negotiation are the way forward.

The constitutional settlement for Scotland violates the first of these four points: we can’t hold a legally binding referendum without the consent of the UK government. Nor are the conditions clear under which the UK government can withhold consent. At least in Spain they know where they stand – it’s illegal, full-stop. In Britain it’s at the discretion of the government of the day, which is a way of giving us no rights but not admitting it. We need to say loudly and clearly that this is wrong, and basically ignore it.

On the second point, there is firstly the trivial jibe that we “want to break up the United Kingdom”. Yes, we do, because it basically f*cks us, and this UN statement tells us that we have the higher claim. Of more weight is the constant assertion in mainstream media that regions cannot become states because there is an international consensus – supported by the United Nations – that international borders are inviolable. This statement gives the lie to that.

Some commentators doubt that the UK government would use force to suppress an independence campaign, but I’m not persuaded that they wouldn’t. The Irish Civil War is less than 100 years old, and the Northern Ireland Troubles cost 3,000 lives. The UK government will surely exploit Yoon thuggery if it needs to.

Fourthly, dialogue is the way forward – yes, thank you, now pull the other one. The current UK government doesn’t engage in dialogue at the best of times, and the coming indy ref will not be the best of times. But if we can’t do it peacefully, by dialogue, and basically with agreement – including the grudging agreement of Scottish opponents – then, however good the consequences for our economy and well-being, we still face 100 years of bitterness, discord and hostility. Ideally we should be putting to the UK government an offer they can’t refuse, showing the benefits to them of a Scottish secession. That will mean some hard thinking and some forceful point-making.

[Title of this post changed 1/11/2017.]


Statement on Catalonian autonomy from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights

GENEVA (25 October 2017) – The UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, is calling on Spanish authorities to enter into negotiations in good faith with leaders in Catalonia following the announcement that the Spanish Government would suspend the region’s autonomy. On 19 October, the Spanish Government announced its intention to impose direct rule on the region after a deadline seeking an end to the Catalan independence campaign was not met. His statement is as follows:

“I deplore the decision of the Spanish Government to suspend Catalan autonomy. This action constitutes retrogression in human rights protection, incompatible with Articles 1, 19, 25 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Pursuant to Articles 10(2) and 96 of the Spanish Constitution, international treaties constitute the law of the land and, therefore, Spanish law must be interpreted in conformity with international treaties.

“Denying a people the right to express themselves on the issue of self-determination, denying the legality of a referendum, using force to prevent the holding of a referendum, and cancelling the limited autonomy of a people by way of punishment constitutes a violation of Article 1 of the ICCPR and of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Alternatively, addressing the aspiration of peoples to self-determination in a timely fashion is an important conflict prevention measure, as is evidenced by the countless wars that have occurred since 1945 that found their origin in denial of self-determination. Dialogue and political negotiation should be encouraged to prevent violence.

“The Spanish Government appears to invoke the principle of territorial integrity to justify forceful attempts to silence political dissent and aspirations of self-determination. While the principle of territorial integrity is important, as understood in many United Nations Resolutions, including GA Resolutions 2625 and 3314, it is intended to be applied externally, to prohibit foreign threats or incursions into the territorial integrity of sovereign States. This principle cannot be invoked to quench the right of all people, guaranteed under Article 1 of the International Covenants on Human Rights, to express their desire to control their futures. The right of self-determination is a right of peoples and not a prerogative of States to grant or deny. In case of a conflict between the principle of territorial integrity and the human right to self-determination, it is the latter that prevails.

“Of course, there are many peoples worldwide who aspire to self-determination, whether internal in the form of autonomy or external in the form of independence. And while the realization of self-determination is not automatic or self-executing, it is a fundamental human right that the international community should help implement.

“The international law of self-determination has also progressed far beyond mere decolonization. Applying the 15 criteria contained in my 2014 report (paras 63-77), it is evident that no state can use the principle of territorial integrity to deny the right of self-determination and that arguments about the legality of actions taken by Catalonia’s elected parliament are immaterial. Such arguments do not nullify the ius cogens character of self-determination.

“The only democratic solution to the current impasse is to suspend repressive measures and to organize a referendum so as to determine the true wishes of the population concerned. Such a referendum should be monitored by the EU, OSCE and private observers including the Carter Center.”

Taming the Trolls – the Dog-walking BritNat Resurfaces

A while ago I reported on a mild-mannered, middle-aged dog-walker who accosted me insultingly while I was walking back from the dentist wearing an SNP badge. Today I went to the same dentist again, wearing the same SNP badge (it lives on the coat, stupid!), and lo and verily behold, same spot, same dog, same guy, same tactic, same spiel. He stopped as he was walking past me on the bridge over the Kelvin, made eye contact, said, “That’s a shame!” and waited.

One thing that will have occurred to readers already is that it’s not a good idea to regularly accost strangers when you walk your dog, because they’re likely to be the same people as you accosted when you last walked your dog. As they were in this case. Another thing that might occur to you is that if you’re going to accost the same stranger again, you could do yourself a favour by recognising them, which he obviously hadn’t. So I told him that he’d tried that trick on me before. He showed no reaction.

I wagged a finger in his face, and told him that if he wanted to talk, he should talk. He didn’t answer, but made to move on.

I put a hand up to his shoulder, to show that I would prefer him to wait. “That’s assault,” he said. He’d remembered who I was now.

Yes, we know that. I’m touching you, so that’s assault. And you initiated the confrontation, so you deal with it. But I didn’t say any of that. I just left my hand there.

“That’s assault,” he said again.

I dropped my hand, but I must have said something that opened his vocal floodgates, because as he walked off he turned and bellowed a torrent of hatred and despair. He despised the SNP and everything they had done to the country. He despised all nationalists. He despised what the SNP had done with education. He hated Alex Salmond, words could not express his contempt for Alex Salmond, who was, quite simply, “a mountebank”. I might be a quite reasonable chap, he said, but the SNP was beyond contempt and I should be ashamed to wear their badge. Then he made off, with his dog, leaving a bystander gobsmacked by the outburst she’d just witnessed, and a bit shaken, and not quite convinced that this was just a political discussion between strangers on a public path along the River Kelvin. We do political discussion robustly in Glasgow.

However, we can learn things from this – four things, perhaps:

  • The dog-walker’s tirade was hardly a political statement: it was rather an expression of deep personal unhappiness. We need to think about what that means.
  • His despair dates from 2014, not from more recent events. What has upset him is surely indy’s failure to go away after it lost, three years ago.
  • He’s no Billy-Boy thug, but a person of some education. I caught the distinct whiff of the professional classes.
  • You might think that there’s no talking to such people, but that would be wrong. He’s talked already. He’s given us quite a lot of insight in his tirade, and we can build on that.

Let’s look more closely at the above four points.

Firstly, there was no political content in what the dog-walker said, apart from the Scottish Government’s failure to maintain educational standards; everything else was emotional rant, basic bigotry. There’s a highly sympathetic account here of how life-experiences form our attitudes, which then freeze, so that any counter-evidence simply confirms our prejudice, and leaves us unable to move on. Sometimes not being able to move on is a sign of immaturity: I’m thinking of a neighbour’s teenage daughter who, when Glasgow taxis changed their decor from plain black to dayglow pink with exotic beach scenes, had a tantrum, screaming that “Taxis are black!” Different in scope (of course) from “Scotland is part of the UK”, but absolutely identical in feeling (and her family were all opinionated at the best of times). However, people do change and move on. If society is about anything, it’s about helping each other to grow, and political discourse needs to encompass that. That’s why we need to think about the dog-walker’s outburst not in terms of why he’s wrong, but in terms of why indy gives him the heebie-jeebies.

The ‘backfire effect’ referred to above tells us that when the counter-evidence becomes too great, our world-view closes up into an iron-hard shell, to save itself from collapsing completely. Since the dog-walker mentions Alex Salmond but not Nicola Sturgeon, nor any events under Sturgeon’s premiership, it seems likely that it was the 2014 referendum that left him in despair. His side won it, but the pressure for indy didn’t go away, and the SNP’s massive surge in 2015 must have left him devastated.

The dog-walker spoke with a middle-class accent, standard posh Scottish English, suggestive of a lecturer or lawyer or other professional person. So an educated person, not a yob: a pointer to this is the word he used to describe Wee Eck, “a mountebank”, a word which is not in wide circulation, and is certainly not a preferred term of abuse among the Twitter-stream Yoon thugs. So behind his tirade, if we dug around a bit, we might expect to find a well-thought-out set of anti-indy arguments.

And he’s talked, of course: he’s given us his pitch, he’s opened up his thoughts to us, he’s told us a bit about why he thinks the way he does. He’s taken (encouraged by me, I have to say) the first step towards dialogue, and we could pick at one or two of his viewpoints in the hope of opening them up a bit. We could for example ask why it’s OK to love your country (as presumably he does, because his complaint is that the SNP is destroying it), but not to be a nationalist, and what the difference is. That might get the mental-growth juices working.

Whatever else is to be said about this episode, it’s certainly true that wandering about and verbally assaulting any SNP badge-wearers you happen to meet is a lousy campaigning tactic, and speaks of deep personal disturbance. If that’s the best the anti-indy side can do, then we’ve already won the argument. What we have to do now is to win the vote, and that means winning the hearts and minds of people who currently oppose us.