Saturday, 30 November 2013

Happy Saint Andrew's Day

Like Saint George’s Day, Saint David’ s Day and Saint Patrick’s, today ought to be a public holiday throughout the United Kingdom.

The next Labour Government will be uniquely well-placed to make that happen by restoring the grounds for such celebration. It is already shaping up to have the feel of Willie Ross, who was Harold Wilson’s only ever Scottish Secretary, and who pursued solidly post-War social democratic measures while, and therefore, giving no quarter whatever either to separatism or to European federalism, as well as trying to ban advertising during television programmes on Sundays, Christmas and Good Friday. On every point, several of the people closest to Ed Miliband more than recall that and other figures the like of whom we had assumed that we should never see again.

The Welfare State, workers’ rights, full employment, a strong Parliament, trade unions, co-operatives, credit unions, mutual guarantee societies, mutual building societies, and nationalised industries, the last often with the word “British” in their names, were historically successful in creating communities of interest among the several parts of the United Kingdom, thus safeguarding and strengthening the Union.

The public stakes in the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland are such permanent, non-negotiable safeguards of the Union. Any profits from those stakes ought therefore to be divided equally among all households in the United Kingdom.

Bevan ridiculed the first parliamentary Welsh Day on the grounds that “Welsh coal is the same as English coal and Welsh sheep are the same as English sheep”.

In the 1970s, Labour MPs successfully opposed Scottish and Welsh devolution not least because of its ruinous effects on the North of England. Labour activists in the Scottish Highlands, Islands and Borders, and in North, Mid and West Wales, accurately predicted that their areas would be balefully neglected under devolution.

Eric Heffer in England, Tam Dalyell and the Buchans (Norman and Janey) in Scotland, and Leo Abse and Neil Kinnock in Wales, were prescient as to the Balkanisation of Britain by means of devolution and the separatism that it was designed to appease, and as to devolution’s weakening of trade union negotiating power.

Abse, in particular, was prescient as to the rise of a Welsh-speaking oligarchy based in English-speaking areas, which would use devolution to dominate Welsh affairs against the interests of Welsh workers South and North, industrial and agricultural, English-speaking and Welsh-speaking. Heffer’s political base was in Liverpool, at once very much like the West of Scotland and with close ties to Welsh-speaking North Wales.

There is a strong feeling among English, Scottish and Welsh ethnic minorities and Catholics that we no more want to go down the road of who is or is not “really” English, Scottish or Welsh than Ulster Protestants want to go down the road of who is or is not “really” Irish.

The Scotland Office Select Committee is chaired by Ian Davidson, a Co-operative Party stalwart and Janey Buchan protégé who is therefore a hammer both of Scottish separatism and of European federalism.

There is no West Lothian Question, since the Parliament of the United Kingdom reserves the right to legislate supremely in any policy area for any part of the country, and the devolution legislation presupposes that it will do so as a matter of course.

It never, ever need do so and the point would still stand, since what matters is purely that it has that power in principle, which no one disputes that it has, or else there would be no perceived need, either of the SNP, or of a referendum on independence. Anyone who does not like that ought to have voted No to devolution. I bet that they did not.

The simplest examination of General Election results at least since 1945 gives the lie to the lazy fantasy that an independent England would have had, and therefore might have in the future, a permanent or semi-permanent Conservative Government rather than, as was and would be the case, a Labour Government almost exactly as often as happened within the United Kingdom, including with comfortable or landslide majorities on every occasion when that was the case under the current arrangements.

Those who would counter that that was and would be seats, not votes, are almost always strong supporters of First Past The Post, and must face the fact that England would never return a single-party government under any other electoral system. Great swathes of England scarcely elect Conservative MPs at all.

The notion that the Conservative Party has a unique right to speak for England is as fallacious and offensive as the notion that the Conservative Party has a unique right to speak for the countryside. But of that, another time.

Jointly Confront

Stephen Low writes:

Scots, it is frequently stated, are progressive or radical, even left-wing. This, on some readings, gives independence a radical potential.

Posed slightly differently, independence is deemed necessary to preserve a welfare state that is cared about here in Scotland but, by implication, not elsewhere. "We’re different up here" is the assertion. But who are we different from? And how different are we?

Given much of current debate around independence is predicated around the idea that there is a gulf in attitude north and south of the border, this is no small matter. Many will assert that we are seeking a progressive future through independence to escape the politics of a UK simultaneously proclaimed to be moving to the right and incapable of change.

(In such narratives the oft stated enthusiasm of the SNP to keep levels of corporation tax below those set at Westminster and their intention to grow the financial sector as a share of the Scottish economy seldom get much of a hearing.)

If the comparison is between Scotland (population: five million) and England (53 million), it’s no real surprise to find some diversity of views. Yet even here, a Nuffield Foundation report in 2011 concluded that in terms of being "more social democratic in outlook than England, the differences are modest at best".

In what, perhaps, should serve as a warning for those who would conflate constitutional and social change they also note that "like England, Scotland has become less – not more – social democratic since the start of devolution."

But what if a less disproportionate comparison is used? A Study for the Red Paper Collective of British Social Attitudes Surveys going back to the mid-1980s examined not the difference between Scotland and England but rather between Scotland and our 15 million closest neighbours, the three northern regions of England.

Looking at a range of measures that might indicate some level of progressive opinion (e.g. role of government in tackling unemployment, support for taxation to fund services, attitude to benefit claimants etc), Scots are no different at all.

It can, of course, be argued that during much of this timeframe Scotland operated largely within the same political and economic environment as the three regions sampled, so a degree of congruity is to be expected. This would be to miss the point. It is not simply that Scottish opinion was and is the same as these places – it is that Scots reacted in the same way to the same issues.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, our problems of unemployment, industrial decline and exploitation are much the same. Yet many are increasingly content to define Scottish difficulties as being a national question while issues in the English north are an economic question.

Such an analysis ignores the realities of the political and economic power wielded by business and capital. Much of the Scottish economy is owned and controlled at a UK level. But for the north of England as much as Scotland, 'the UK' in this context is really a synonym for the City of London. (See Richard Leonard in The Red Paper on Scotland 2014 .)

In this context, insisting that progress for people in Scotland depends on independence is saying that those with similar problems and outlook to our own must be written off as partners in building something better. Despite problems on Clydeside and Merseyside having similar causes and people feeling the same about them, the response, put bluntly, is a statement that "Connection with you is holding us back".

Those who advocate such a course seldom show any signs of having considered how Scotland’s retreating from tackling issues on a UK basis, in pursuit of a (quite possibly illusory) sectional advantage, will impact on those they wish to leave behind.

Some of course are explicit in advocating a lifeboat scenario, saying in effect, "It’s all terribly sad for the Scousers, but it’s nothing to do with us". This attitude suffices for nationalists, who, as Eric Hobsbawm put it, don’t really care about anyone’s country but their own. But for those who would claim to espouse any sort of politics of the left - this is an inadequate response.

The question of whether or not Scotland leaving the UK would be a progressive move depends of course on a range of factors far wider than the convergence of opinion between Scotland and the north of England. But that congruence of attitude is not trivial either.

Their issues of lack of accountability and economic democracy, the consequences of financialisation and external ownership are our issues too. They feel the same way about these things as we do. In such circumstances, surely the burden of proof lies with those who would argue for putting a political divide between us.

They should show, rather than simply assert, how independence would improve, or at least do no harm, to our capacity to jointly confront our common problems.

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Blue Horizon

The Democratic Party moved way out to the Left, causing Southern whites, Cold War hawks, and pro-life Catholics to become Republicans. The rest is history. Isn't it? Er, no, actually, it isn't.

Southern white Democrats were by no means all segregationists and white supremacists, and those who were, as such, had no particular reason to become Republicans in or after the 1960s. It had never bothered them much before, and the Democrats had had a Civil Rights plank since as long ago as 1948, when Strom Thurmond had run against Truman as a Dixiecrat for precisely that reason.

Nevertheless, a higher proportion of Congressional Republicans than of Congressional Democrats had supported the Civil Rights Act, and anyone who voted for Nixon on the wrong side of the race issue must have been very naive indeed. In accordance with his record, Nixon in office vigorously pursued desegregation.

That section of opinion might have fallen out of the Democratic Party. But it has never been given the slightest cause to fall into the Republican Party. Say what you like about the Republicans, but they have never made the tiniest effort to permit the return of Jim Crow, instead providing two black Secretaries of State, which is two more than the Democrats have ever managed.

For good, old-fashioned race-baiting, see instead Bobby Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and both of the Clintons well into the present century. Watch out for some more of it, if need be, in 2016.

There was no reason for diehard Cold Warriors to vote for Nixon rather than Humphrey, little reason for them to vote for Nixon rather than even McGovern (especially once he had balanced his ticket), and none whatever for them to vote for Ford rather than Carter. In the last case, quite the reverse, in fact; the same was true of those whose hawkishness was fiscal.

And there was, so to speak, no conceivable reason for pro-lifers, as such, to become Republicans rather than Democrats in or since the 1970s. Look at the judges who handed down Roe v. Wade. Harry Blackmun, the ruling's author, had been appointed by Nixon. Warren E. Burger by Nixon. William O. Douglas by Roosevelt. William J. Brennan by Eisenhower. Potter Stewart by Eisenhower. Thurgood Marshall by Johnson. And Lewis Powell by Nixon.

Even take out the two Democratic nominees, and that still gives a Republican majority in favour of what was in fact the overturning of the laws of all 50 states. In stark contrast, one of the dissenting judges, Byron White, had been appointed by a Democrat, Kennedy, while the other, William Rehnquist, had been appointed by a Republican, Nixon.

No one found that remotely odd at the time. No one who had bothered to pay attention would find it remotely odd from the perspective of the present day.

Nixon, by Executive Order, first legalised abortion at the federal taxpayer's expense. Whereas it was Carter who signed into law the Hyde Amendment banning it, which, although Henry Hyde himself was very conservative Republican, had been passed by a Congress both Houses of which had been under Democratic control at the time. That Amendment has never failed to receive its necessary annual renewal by both Houses.

In 1976, Ellen McCormack, a strongly pro-life Democrat, became the first woman Presidential candidate ever to qualify for matching federal funding and for Secret Service protection. If there is not one already, and I should be delighted to hear of it if there were, then someone needs to write a full biography of Ellen McCormack.

(Someone also needs to do a "Whatever happened to each of them and to what each of them stood for?" study of the eight candidates whose names were placed in nomination for Vice President at the 1972 Democratic Convention.)

Both of McGovern's running mates were pro-life. Whereas Nelson Rockefeller legalised abortion in New York. Ronald Reagan, who to this day retains a totally undeserved pro-life reputation, legalised abortion in California. Reagan, like Bush the Younger after him, proved to be worse than useless when it came to appointing pro-lifers to the Supreme Court, not even trying to do so on two of the three occasions when the opportunity presented itself to him.

Thus, in 1993, when Planned Parenthood sued the staunchly pro-life Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania, whose son is now a staunchly pro-life Democratic Senator for that state and made his case without difficulty from the platform of the 2008 Convention, over that state's very moderate legal restrictions on abortion, Planned Parenthood's case was upheld by a court every member of which had been appointed by a Republican President, including three by Reagan, apart from Byron White, who had dissented in 1973 and who was still dissenting 20 years later.

Eight Republicans out of nine judges. A third of the court appointed by Reagan. And before that court, Planned Parenthood beat Bob Casey, the Democrat who sought to uphold democracy in Pennsylvania. Of course. All round: of course.

RomneyCare provided and provides for state taxpayer-funded abortion from which, through Bain Capital, Romney continues to derive an income. But ObamaCare repeats and strengthens the 1977, Democratic-enacted ban on federal taxpayer-funded abortion. It does so thanks to the efforts of Bart Stupak, a Democrat.

Or consider Joe Biden. He was already a United States Senator before the judgement in Roe v. Wade. During 36 years in the Senate, he voted to overturn that judgement by means of an amendment to the Constitution, he voted year on year to renew the Hyde Amendment banning federal funding of abortion, he voted against rape and incest exceptions until Hyde himself was forced to accept them rather than see that renewal vetoed by Bill Clinton (meaning that Biden has never actually cast a vote in favour of them), he voted to ban partial-birth abortion, he voted to overturn both of Clinton's vetoes of that ban, and he voted to recognise as legally protected persons those infants who survived abortion. That is Biden's record, still unchanged in terms of votes cast.

But there is something beyond all of this. The Democrats were not wiped out in the South by the Civil Rights Act or by anything else. The Democrats were not wiped out in Middle America by Reagan's rhetorical Cold War hardness, which bore no resemblance to his actions in office in his second term, or by anything else. The Democrats, as the very fact of the Caseys 20 years ago and today illustrates, were not wiped out in the Northern Catholic citadels by abortion or by anything else.

The Democratic Party controlled the House continuously from 1955 to 1995. It controlled the Senate for most of that period, and it has done so for much of the period since, including at the present time. It has won the Presidency on four of the six occasions since Reagan retired, and the popular vote on five of them.

Nixon Democrats, Reagan Democrats and, insofar as they existed, Bush Democrats were still Democrats, and they still are. There has never ceased to be a natural Democratic majority, and Southern white populists, who have adjusted perfectly well to the racially inclusive polity that many of them always foresaw and which some of them actively pioneered, have never ceased to be part of it, indeed a key part of it. The same is true, and if anything even truer, of Northern urban and now ex-urban Catholics.

Alas, those Cold War hawks were Democrats also mostly remained in the fold all the way through the Clinton years, doing immense damage to the party, to America and to the world along the way. They transferred to the GOP under Bush, and every step must be taken to ensure that they never come back in the guise in which they now present themselves, with their beating of the drum of war against all and sundry.

Just as the economic views of the paleoconservative movement that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union have no conceivable audience in the Republican Party but every hope of such among the Democrats, so the same is also true of the foreign policy views, and with both of the cultural views: the uncompromisingly pro-life, pro-family and patriotic case against global capitalism and its wars.

Those views, articulated or otherwise these days, define an indispensable section of a potentially permanent majority. On my knees, I beg the Democratic Party not to nominate Hillary Clinton.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Landing At Thanet

When it comes down to the one thing that matters, all that the much-hyped poll at South Thanet illustrates is the impending Labour recapture of a Southern seat lost to the Conservatives in 2010 (in this case) or in 2005.

Yes, that is going to be repeated across the South. As might be a large UKIP vote, but so what? Not one of those votes is going to elect an MP, and every single one of the Labour gains would have happened even if UKIP had never been founded.

Now, who and what are the Labour candidates? That is the real question.

Of Plymouth Plantation, Indeed

As Michelle Obama tucks into the turkey and the pumpkin pie, does she think, "My ancestors came to this country for the freedom"?

But spare a thought for all those Americans who now have to work on Thanksgiving. On this among so very many other issues, Pat Buchanan should have been a Democrat. And the Democratic Party awaits its Pat Buchanan.

Quiet Times

I learned this morning that Mitterrand and Kohl used to hold long conversations about the relationship between Pietism and Quietism.

Did Thatcher and Reagan do that?

I only ask.

Asking Plainly

If plain packaging makes no difference, why the tobacco companies are so desperate to prevent it?

Intelligence Failure

I have never taken an IQ test in my life. I question whether anyone who sets any store by them is sufficiently intelligent to be allowed out alone, if at all. For example, Boris Johnson.

The whole thing depends on “mental age”, whatever that may be. The IQ of children in numerous countries has “improved” dramatically over the years when IQ tests have been set, and therefore taught to, in schools; indeed, this never fails to happen.

The publications of Mensa are a particularly rich seam of amusement. “More people than you might think are above average”? I’m guessing about half of them. “One person in twenty is in the top five per cent”? You don’t say! And so on.

But never try and tell the “I have a high IQ” lot any of this.

You wouldn’t have to, and indeed you never could, do anything to get a high IQ, even if such a thing really existed. Having it would be no cause for congratulation, never mind for self-congratulation or for the creation of an international society for mutual congratulation.

Pardoning The Turkey

In the wise words of Chesterton: 

The Americans have established a Thanksgiving Day to celebrate the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers reached America. The English might very well establish another Thanksgiving Day; to celebrate the happy fact that the Pilgrim Fathers left England.

I know that this is still regarded as a historical heresy, by those who have long ceased to worry about a religious heresy. For while these persons still insist that the Pilgrim Fathers were champions of religious liberty, nothing is more certain than the fact that an ordinary modern liberal, sailing with them, would have found no liberty, and would have intensely disliked all that he found of religion.

Even Thanksgiving Day itself, though it is now kept in a most kindly and charming fashion by numbers of quite liberal and large-minded Americans, was originally intended, I believe, as a sort of iconoclastic expedient for destroying the celebration of Christmas. The Puritans everywhere had a curious and rabid dislike of Christmas; which does not encourage me, for one, to develop a special and spiritual fervour for Puritanism.

Oddly enough, however, the Puritan tradition in America has often celebrated Thanksgiving Day by often eliminating the Christmas Pudding, but preserving the Christmas Turkey. I do not know why, unless the name of Turkey reminded them of the Prophet of Islam, who was also the first Prophet of Prohibition.

The first two sentences make for a good line, and one with various truths in it. But the link between Thanksgiving and the Pilgrim Fathers is a piece of fiction. At root, it is a lie. Arguably, it is a harmless lie. But it is undeniably a lie.

The celebration of the Puritans, of all people, as heroes of the cause of freedom of conscience, of all things, is about as ridiculous an event as it is possible to imagine. Come back on 30th January for something at least in that vein. But the introduction of a late November holiday, before which there is no Christmas shopping (or, indeed, Christmas anything else), is an excellent idea.

That holiday should, of course, be 30th November, Saint Andrew’s Day. Meaning, of course, that there would also have to be public holidays on Saint George’s Day, Saint David’s Day and Saint Patrick’s Day. And when are these islands lovelier than in the spring? The room could easily be found by abolishing our pointless celebrations of the mere fact that the banks are on holiday.

That said, the likes of Wal-Mart, Sears and Toys R Us are now open for at least part of Thanksgiving Day. One may only hope that no customers will present themselves, so that this monstrous innovation will be discontinued.

Public holidays that exclude the public by compelling lowly shop assistants, delivery drivers and such like to work are a British thing, due to our unique penchant for holidays that commemorate nothing. Not Patron Saints. Not great historical events. Nothing.

But then, Thanksgiving was invented in no small measure to supplant Christmas, and the American Founding Fathers were not Christians. They were Deists, and their position is exemplified by The Jefferson Bible, from which he excised all reference to Christ’s Divinity, Resurrection or miracles; copies were presented to all incoming members of Congress until the 1950s.

However, the phrase “the separation of Church and State” does not occur in the Constitution. Rather, the First Amendment’s reference to religion was designed to stop Congress, full of Deists as it was, from suppressing the Established Churches of several states, although they all disestablished them of their own volition later on precisely because they had fallen so completely under the Founding Fathers’ influence.

The 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, “of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary”, was submitted to the Senate by President John Adams, was ratified unanimously, and specified that “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion”. Although he attended Episcopalian services with his wife, George Washington did not receive Communion.

It is sometimes suggested that Thanksgiving was a continuation of Puritan and older Harvest Festivals in East Anglia. It was not. Such things did and do go on in Europe, but certainly not among the Puritans. Next, you will be telling me that they believed in religious liberty. Whatever next! The historical facts are as set out here.

Thanksgiving has been rather successful in supplanting Christmas, being the holiday for which people make a point of returning to their family homes and so forth, because the government of America started out as explicitly anti-Christian and has been terribly effective in de-Christianising its country, despite the First Amendment protections that every state then went on to relinquish voluntarily because they had fallen under the spell of the Founding Fathers.

However, since 1776 predates 1789, the American Republic is not a product of the Revolution, but nevertheless sits under a radically orthodox theological critique, most obviously by reference to pre-Revolutionary traditions of Catholic and Protestant republican thought, on the Catholic side perhaps Venetian, on the Protestant side perhaps Dutch, and on both sides perhaps at cantonal level in Switzerland, where it is possible that such thought might hold sway even now.

There simply were Protestant Dutch Republics before the Revolution. There simply was a Catholic Venetian Republic before the Revolution. There simply were, and there simply are, Protestant and Catholic cantons in Switzerland, predating the Revolution.

The literature must be there, for those who can read the languages sufficiently well. Furthermore, there is no shortage of Americans whose ancestors came from the Netherlands or from Italy, and there may well be many who assume from their surnames that their bloodline is German or Italian (or possibly French) when in fact it is Swiss.

It is time for a few of them to go looking for these things, with a view to applying them as the radically orthodox theological critique of that pre-Revolutionary creation, the American Republic.

Within that wider context, far more Jacobites went into exile from these Islands than Huguenots sought refuge here. The Jacobites founded the Russian Navy of Peter the Great. They maintained a network of merchants in the ports circling the Continent. Their banking dynasties had branches in several great European cities. They introduced much new science and technology to their host countries. They dominated the Swedish East India and Madagascar Companies. They fought with the French in India.

And very many of them ended up either in the West Indies or in North America. New York seems the most obvious place to look for them, being named after its initial proprietor as a colony, the future James VII and II.

However, there were many Jacobite Congregationalists, such as Edward Roberts, the exiled James’s emissary to the anti-Williamite Dutch republics, and Edward Nosworthy, a gentleman of his Privy Council both before and after 1688.

There was that Catholic enclave, Maryland. And there was Pennsylvania: almost, if almost, all of the Quakers were at least initially Jacobites, and William Penn himself was arrested for Jacobitism four times between 1689 and 1691.

Many Baptists were also Jacobites, and the name, episcopal succession and several other features of the American Episcopal Church derive, not from the Church of England, but from the staunchly Jacobite Episcopal Church in Scotland, which provided the American Colonies with a bishop, Samuel Seabury, in defiance of the Church of England and of the Hanoverian monarchy to which it was attached.

Early Methodists were regularly accused of Jacobitism. John Wesley himself had been a High Church missionary in America, and Methodism was initially an outgrowth of pre-Tractarian, often at least sentimentally Jacobite, High Churchmanship.

Very many people conformed to the Established Church but either refused to take the Oath or declared that they would so refuse if called upon to take it. With its anti-Calvinist soteriology, it high sacramentalism and Eucharistic theology, and its hymnody based on the liturgical year, early Methodism appealed to them.

So the redemption of the American republican experiment, of which Thanksgiving is one of the great popular expressions, is clearly possible. But only by looking beyond the Founding Fathers and by submitting them, whatever the consequences, to what lies in that Great Beyond.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Amber Light

For Labour to support Nigel Mills's amendment would be to do nothing more than support the continuation of the arrangements that Labour had put and left in place. It would be the most consistent thing in the world, and either victory or defeat for the Coalition against such a vote would be political gold for Labour.

Mills stands no chance of holding in 2015 the Amber Valley seat that he won in 2010. As with his vote on Syria, he has clearly decided to enjoy the five-year interlude when he was an MP, between the ages of 36 and 41 so as to allow plenty of time for other things. Good luck to him, say I.

But a population, as much the Catholic as the ancestrally Protestant half of it, which is determined not to reproduce itself can only expect to be replaced. If that population really is so concerned about Islamic conquest, then there is no one to whom it could more dearly wish to hand over these Islands than the Eastern Europeans. Equalled only by the Christians of West Africa and of the belt across the horizontal middle of that continent.

Iconoclasts, Or Not

Byzantium: A Tale of Three Cities begins at 9pm on BBC Four next Thursday, 5th December. Ed West and I have been tweeting in anticipation, although of course it must have been planned for years and it has very visibly taken years to make.

But, while one does not wish to be churlish, the BBC rightly does plenty on Classical Antiquity, and it recently concluded a three-part terrestrial television series on and called The Ottomans. That is two of the three cities already taken care of.

This series is welcome. It will doubtless be excellent as a study of its subject. But that subject, and its title, ought to have been The Byzantines.

Stranger Days

"Now, like these Soviet tanks, the Iron Lady was unceremoniously decommissioned."

That is a good line.

Although not as good a line as the little girl's, "Mrs Thatcher, in the event of a nuclear war, where will you be?" Or Thatcher's own, to some pop star or what have you who had arrived at Number 10 wearing a T-shirt about Pershing, "We have no Pershing here, dear. They are all Cruise here, dear." She was her own tribute act, was that Thatcher. She was a very good one, too.

And Dominic Sandbrook's Strange Days: Cold War Britain has been a good series, which concluded with the observation that the Cold War had been won with consumerism and credit. That turbo-capitalism, the term used by Sandbrook, had been supposed to bring use everlasting prosperity. But they did not, and we ought to have used our victory more wisely.

Sandbrook's Daily Mail colleague, Andrew Alexander, is getting on a bit now. But it as only last year that he published America and the Imperialism of Ignorance, a devastating critique of the Cold War and its aftermath from an utterly uncompromising right-wing perspective. A series based on that is long overdue.


I feel for poor Charles Saatchi. Cocaine use must come as such a shock to an advertiser.

Like that and whoring in a politically well-connected banker.

Such things could only happen at the leftish, amateurish Co-op. Obviously...

On Contradiction

Or possibly not.

With my emphasis added, Tariq Ali begins to explain a very great deal:

The recent Monty Python revival has come with a bizarre reminder from south London that once, long ago, there were a few tiny Maoist groups in Britain who used language that could have been cribbed from Life of Brian.

Aravindan Balakrishnan, 73, and his 67-year-old wife, Chanda – arrested last week on suspicion of holding three women as slaves in a flat for 30 years – were leaders of a tiny sect of 25 members known as the Workers' Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, invisible to the left at large.

This sect had split from its father organisation, the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist), which itself had less than a hundred followers. The Maoists' antics were rivalled by a number of Trotskyist sects, smaller and larger, whose implosion often involved the mistreatment of women, and the story is by no means over.

The Balakrishnans' Brixton commune, it is now alleged, kept three women as virtual prisoners against their will. But it prospered. Membership declined, but property increased. The Balakrishnans pre-empted China's turn to capitalism – according to some reports they had interests in 13 properties, three more than their total membership at the time.

What was the attraction of Maoism? The figure of Mao and the revolution loomed large, but the outpourings from these groups did not suggest a close reading of On Contradiction or other texts by Mao that might have stimulated the brain cells.

Instead they became fantasy outfits, each with its own homegrown Mao playing on the genuine desire for change that dominated the 1967-77 decade.

As a political current, Maoism was always weak in Britain, confined largely to students from Asia, Africa and Latin America. This was not the case in other parts of Europe. At its peak, German Maoism had more than 10,000 members, and the combined circulation of its press was 100,000.

After the great disillusionment – as the Chinese-US alliance of the mid-70s was termed – many of them privatised, and thousands joined the Greens, Jürgen Trittin becoming a staunch pro-Nato member of Gerhard Schröder's cabinet.

In France, the Gauche Prolétarienne organised workers in car factories, and set up Libération, its own paper that morphed into a liberal daily. Ex-Maoist intellectuals occupy significant space in French culture, though they are now neocons: Alain Finkielkraut, Pascal Bruckner, Jean-Claude Milner are a few names that come to mind. The leading leftwing philosopher Alain Badiou never hides his Maoist past.

Scandinavia was awash with Maoism in the 70s. Sweden had Maoist groups with a combined membership and periphery of several thousand members but it was Norway where Maoism became a genuine popular force and hegemonic in the culture.

The daily paper Klassekampen still exists, now as an independent daily with a very fine crop of gifted journalists (mainly women) and a growing circulation. October is a leading fiction publishing house and May was a successful record company.

Per Petterson, one of the country's most popular novelists, describes in a recent book how, when Mao died, 100,000 people in a population of five million marched with torches to a surprised Chinese embassy to offer collective condolences. All this is a far cry from the cult sect now being excavated in Brixton.

What always struck me even then as slightly odd was that, regardless of the political complexion of a sect, the behavioural patterns of its leaders were not so different.

Even those most critical of Stalinist style and methods tended to reproduce the model of a one-party state within their own ranks, with dissent limited to certain periods and an embryonic bureaucracy in charge of a tiny organisation. It was in western Europe, not under Latin American or Asian military dictatorships, that clandestinity and iron discipline were felt to be necessary.

Young women and men who joined the far-left groups did so for the best of reasons. They wanted to change the world. Many fought against the stifling atmosphere in many groups. Women organised caucuses to monitor male chauvinism inside the groups and challenged patriarchal practices.

Pity that not all the lessons were learned. Easy now to forget that many who fought within and led the women's and gay liberation movements – in Europe and elsewhere – had received their political education inside the ranks of the combined far left, warts and all.

I can still recall a South American feminist calmly informing a large gathering of revolutionaries in the 70s that advances were being made against machismo. "Only last year," she declared, "my husband, who is sitting on the platform, locked me in the house on 8 March so I couldn't join the International Women's Day demonstration." The husband hid his face in shame.

Now the 70s really does seem another country. The thunder of money has drowned much that was and is of value. The campaign to demonise trade unions – indeed, any form of non-mainstream political activism or dissent – continues apace, despite the fact that the left has never been weaker. A sign, perhaps, that the votaries of the free market remain fearful of any challenges from below.

Oh, and José Manuel Barroso, the fiercely neoliberal and neoconservative Prime Minister of Portugal who has gone on to be President of the European Commission, was a 1970s Maoist. Of course.

Happy Holidays?

Hanukkah is a strange one. After the emergence of Judaism, set out below, Hanukkah was historically a very minor festival until almost into living memory, and in much of the Jewish world it still is.

But it does provide an opportunity to pre-empt this year’s round of lazy claims that Christmas is a taking over of some pagan winter festival. There is of course a universal need for winter festivals. But the dating of Christmas derives from Hanukkah, not from the pagan Saturnalia or anything else.

No British or Irish Christmas custom derives from paganism. There is little, if any, fokloric pagan continuation in these islands, and little, if anything, is known about pre-Christian religion here.

Most, if not all, allegations to the contrary derive from Protestant polemic against practices originating in the Middle Ages, and usually the Late Middle Ages at that. The modern religion known as Paganism is an invention from scratch, the very earliest roots of which are in the late nineteenth century.

Furthermore, the dating of Christmas from that of Hanukkah raises serious questions for Protestants, who mistakenly exclude the two Books of Maccabees from the Canon because, along with various other works, they were allegedly not considered canonical at the time of Jesus and the Apostles.

In fact, the rabbis only excluded those books specifically because they were likely to lead people into Christianity, and they are repeatedly quoted or cited in the New Testament, as they were by Jewish writers up to their rabbinical exclusion.

Even thereafter, a point is made by the continued celebration of Hanukkah, a celebration thanks to books to which Jews only really had access because Christians had preserved them, since the rabbis wanted them destroyed.

Indeed, far from being the mother-religion that it is often assumed to be, a very great deal of Judaism is actually a reaction against Christianity, although this is by no means the entirety of the relationship, with key aspects of kabbalah actually deriving from Christianity, with numerous other examples set out in Rabbi Michael Hilton’s The Christian Effect on Jewish Life (London: SCM Press, 1994), and so on.

Hanukkah bushes, and the giving and receiving of presents at Hanukkah, stand in a tradition of two-way interaction both as old as Christianity and about as old as anything that could reasonably be described as Judaism. As Rabbi Hilton puts it, “it is hardly surprising that Jewish communities living for centuries in Christian society should be influenced by the surrounding culture.”

There are many, many, many other examples that could be cited. These range from the Medieval adoption for Jewish funeral use of the Psalm numbered 23 in Jewish and Protestant editions, to the new centrality within Judaism that the rise of Christianity gave to Messianic expectations (the Sadducees, for example, had not believed in the Messiah at all) or to the purification of women after childbirth, to the identification in later parts of the Zohar of four senses of Scripture technically different from but effectively very similar to those of Catholicism, to Medieval rabbis’ explicit and unembarrassed use of Christian stories in their sermons.

Many a midrash – such as “to you the Sabbath is handed over, but you are not handed over to the Sabbath” – is easily late enough to be an example of the direct influence of Christianity, yet Jewish and Christian scholars alike tend to announce an unidentified common, usually Pharisaic, root, although they rarely go off on any wild goose chase to find that root. I think that we all know why not.

But the real point is something far deeper, arising from the definition of the Jewish Canon in explicitly anti-Christian terms, and from the anti-Christian polemic in the Talmud.

Judaism hardly uses the Hebrew Bible directly rather than its own, defining and anti-Christian, commentaries on it and on each other. Jews doubting this should ask themselves when they last heard of an animal sacrifice, or which of their relatives is a polygamist. Judaism, I say again, is not some sort of mother-religion.

Rather, I say again that it is a reaction against Christianity, specifically, like Islam, a Semitic reaction against the recapitulation in Christ and His Church of all three of the Old Israel, Hellenism and the Roman Empire; there are also, of course, culturally European reactions against that recapitulation by reference to Classical sources, as there always have been, although they are increasingly allied to Islam.

Thus constructed, Judaism became, and remains, an organising principle, again like Classically-based reactions, for all sorts of people discontented for whatever reason by the rise of Christianity in general and the Christianisation of the Roman Empire in particular, including all the historical consequences of that up to the present day, without any realistic suggestion of a common ethnic background.

Above all, Judaism’s unresolved Messianic hope and expectation has issued in all sorts of earthly utopianisms: Freudian, Marxist (and then Trotskyist, and then Shachtmanite), monetarist, Zionist, Straussian, neoconservative by reference to all of these, and so forth.

They are all expressions of Judaism’s repudiation of Original Sin, Christianity’s great bulwark against the rationally and empirically falsifiable notions of inevitable historical progress and of the perfectibility of human nature in this life alone and by human efforts alone.

It is Christianity that refers constantly to the Biblical text. It is Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, that has a Temple, Jesus Christ, Who prophesied both the destruction of the Temple and its replacement in His own Person.

It is Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, that has a Priesthood. It is Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, that has a Sacrifice, the Mass. It is Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, that is the religion of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Including the two Books of Maccabees, the origin of Hanukkah, the true form of which, as of so much else, is Christmas.

Bounds Not Lawfully To Be Overstepped

Supposed defenders of traditional America are preparing to leaflet against ObamaCare. In shopping malls. On Thanksgiving.

But in the midst of this madness, John writes:

In an interesting piece in The Atlantic, Megan Garber discusses the new plan to have the U.S. Post Office deliver Amazon packages on Sundays. Ms. Garber also describes how an alliance of churches and labor unions ended Sunday delivery in 1912. While many people probably don't care much about this development, I find it rather disturbing.

Christian religious observance is being undermined by commercialism. Taking just one example, more people are working on Christmas than ever before. While I understand the need for health and emergency staff to work on holidays (of course, with extra compensation), I am shocked by how many non-essential services such as restaurants and  stores are open during the holidays. And yes, it is often the case that those who must work on the holidays are in low-paying service jobs.

The decline in the observance of holidays as days of rest from paid labor is part of capitalism's tendency to subject all of human life to economic calculation and the demands of capital. When Christianity was the dominant cultural force in Europe during the Middle Ages, peasants and artisans actually had ample holiday time.Workers sometimes had as much as one-third of the year off. Medieval farmers and artisans had more vacation time than their modern counterparts.

Despite predictions that leisure time would increase in advanced societies, Americans and Western Europeans are seeing their leisure time scaled back under neoliberalism. The eight-hour workday and other victories won by the labor movement are being demolished while workers are harangued by capitalists and their lackeys in the government and media about the need to stay competitive in the global economy.

Amintore Fanfani, in his seminal work Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism, described how the capitalist state reduced the influence of Christianity and other forces that might impede the rationalization of society along capitalist lines. As Fanfani wrote:

"The one endeavor of capitalism has been to emancipate itself from ideas, or institutions based upon ideas, that impeded the economic rationalization of life." (Fanfani 1934: 92).

Interestingly, Fanfani goes on to described the Soviet Union as the final realization of capitalist civilization, writing:

"It may seem a paradox, but the most technically perfect economic realization of capitalistic civilization is the Soviet system, in which all private and public efforts have only one end: the economic rationalization of the whole of life, to the point of abolishing private property and the family and of attempting the destruction of all religious ideals that might threaten such materialistic rationalization. Russia has carried the rationalizing experiment of capitalism to its logical conclusion." (Fanfani 1934: 92).

In opposition to both capitalism and communism, Fanfani presents the Church as the entity that has, throughout history, sought to protect society from domination by purely economic forces.

"In the Middle Ages, by supporting the intervention of public bodies in economic life as a check to individual activity and to defend the interests of society as a whole; in our own time, by calling for State intervention for the same reasons, the Church has remained faithful to her anti-capitalistic ethics. Both during the predominance of the medieval guild system, and during that of capitalism, the Church, and those Catholics that listened to her voice, set or sought to set bounds not lawfully to be overstepped to the course of economic life — even at the cost of a sacrifice of mechanical and technical progress, which in the Catholic conception of society, has never been identical with civilization."(Fanfani 1934: 126).

Thus, we can see that sacrificing the leisure time of workers to the demands of the capitalist market is antithetical to the Catholic conception of society, which places certain non-economic values above purely economic ones, even if it may reduce competitiveness or technical progress or some other material aspect of life. From a Catholic perspective, those who insist on market fundamentalism are making the same mistake as followers of Marxist communism. This mistake is the reduction of all politics, and indeed all of human life, to economics.

Therefore, we should not be surprised when Pope Francis discusses the need for workers to have plenty of leisure time, a sentiment also shared by his immediate predecessor. It is not a coincidence that the decline of Christian influence in the West has led to an erosion of working conditions for Western workers. Without a strong, countervailing philosophical force to stand in its way, capital can simply run over whatever feeble opposition secularists manage to put up. By separating Christianity and economics, we have allowed ourselves to be ruled by the high priests of Mammon.


Fanfani, Amintore. Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism. 1934. Reprint. (Norfolk, VA.: IHS Press, 2003).

A One-Way Ticket To A Deeply Uncertain Destination

Nothing has changed with the publication of the Scottish nationalists' white paper. Alex Salmond still bases his argument to break up the United Kingdom on mere assertions and uncosted promises. He has ducked the difficult questions on currency, pensions and our membership of the European Union.

This white paper was also an attempt at a manifesto funded from the public purse. The authors promised more childcare after independence. They failed to mention that they have the power to do this now. They promised to abolish the bedroom tax. They failed to mention that their own advisers have told them that they couldn't do so for some years because of the complexity of the benefits system.

They promised they would answer all the questions anyone could possibly have. Their aim is to point to this white paper and refuse to answer any further questions for the next 10 months. It won't wash.

We need the facts, but all we got was a political wishlist. We still don't know what currency Scotland would use if we vote to go it alone. The nationalists want a currency union with the rest of the UK but their own civil servants have admitted that they can't guarantee that. The problem is that the rest of the UK would have to agree to this – it looks increasingly like a non-starter. Even some nationalists see that a currency union would be a straitjacket, not independence.

So what's plan B? Using sterling in the same way that Panama uses the American dollar? Or is it a new currency? Or would we be forced to join the euro? We don't know who would set our mortgage rates. We don't know by how much taxes would have to go up. We don't know how secure our pensions and benefits would be in an independent Scotland.

Alex Salmond claims that we will leave the UK and be automatically waved into the European Union without any problem. The issue here is that leading figures – including the president of the European commission, José Manuel Barroso, has made it clear that Scotland would be a new applicant nation and would have to negotiate its way in.

No one thinks that an independent Scotland wouldn't eventually get into the European Union, but we don't know how long it would take and, crucially, we don't know what terms and conditions would be placed on our entry.

Would Scotland have to give a commitment to join the euro? Would we have to sign up to the open-borders Schengen agreement? We simply don't know. But still Salmond asserts that everything will be fine. In doing this, the Scottish National party leader exposes a fundamental flaw in the nationalist case. 

Rather than facing up to the challenges that leaving the UK poses for Scotland, he simply brushes criticism aside. Whether it's confronting the cost of an ageing population or accepting that North Sea oil revenues will decline, he simply ignores the consequences.

Like everyone else who lives in Scotland, I care deeply about the future of my country. I believe that the case for us staying in the United Kingdom is a strong one. However, I will never shy away from questioning a proposal from our government that will fundamentally change our lives for ever.

We have the best of both worlds right now in Scotland. We have a parliament in Edinburgh that allows us to do things our way and we have the security of being part of the bigger UK. I don't see why we should trade that in for a one-way ticket to a deeply uncertain destination.

We Need To Lose "Faith"

Kevin Meagher, with whom I was greatly impressed at the Blue Labour conference this year, writes:

If you control language then you control the debate. That is what the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci claimed in his theory of “passive revolution”, which focused on shaping attitudes in order to secure changes in a society’s culture.

The methods may seem opaque now, but his successors are those who seek to reduce Christianity’s special place in society by anonymising religious denominations and removing any sense of entitlement, either for Catholics, Anglicans or, more broadly, for this country’s Christian heritage.

This is the product of a pseudo-liberal groupthink that remains inherently hostile to the religious having any role in public affairs at all. It therefore seeks to “manage” religions (or, as they are termed these days, “faith communities”), lumping Catholicism in with small groups like Scientology and the Bahá’í.

We find ourselves corralled together as “people of faith” in order to be controlled, minimised and, all too often, demonised. This all stems from a mindset where religion is seen to be an inherently regressive force, something that once enjoyed privileges and from whose clutches society should be escaping.

Something that’s had too much power and now needs firmly putting in its place. In fact, so pervasive is this belief that no less a figure than Barack Obama spouts it. Speaking in Northern Ireland while he was attending the G8 earlier this year, Obama said: “If towns remain divided – if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs – if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear and resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation.”

At a stroke, his infuriating remarks reduced a complex ethno-national conflict to the fault of Catholic schools and the insulting, injurious and entirely spurious belief they are somehow fermenting intolerance and hatred.

Yet whatever disdain liberals reserve for the role of Catholic education now pales against the suspicion they direct towards the steady trickle of Islamic schools that are beginning to open up. Last month the Al-Madinah free school in Derby was judged by schools regulator Ofsted to be inadequate, with the threat that it would be closed unless urgent measures were taken to rectify its poor performance, which included discrimination against girl pupils and non-Muslims.

There will have been a collective muttering of “I told you so” among the panjandrums of the liberal educational elite, who see a growth in Muslim schools as a nightmare scenario, a de facto licence to introduce gender discrimination into the classroom, with a curriculum offering little more than “madrassas on the rates”.

Yet, rather than deal with the problem at hand, describing the Al-Madinah free school as a “faith school” is a way of not calling it a “Muslim school”. This way, Islamic schools can be challenged, but couched as a collective punishment for the God botherers.

This is why “faith” is a linguistic holding pen for Catholics, a way of marginalising the role of religion in society, but also a means for Catholics and other Christians to cross-subsidise Islam. This is the product of a post-9/11 obsession in trying to bring Islam into the mainstream to avert any accusation that there is a “clash of civilisations” with western Christian mores. The solution to reducing Islam’s “otherness” has been to place Muslims firmly together with all the other “people of faith”.

In minimising religion in this way, the aim is to reduce it to a solely private matter. It cannot provide moral leadership in a pluralist society. It must not provide adoption agency services that do not abide by strictures about gay relationships. And it certainly should not be involved in “indoctrinating” children with religion in school.

As Catholics, it is time we reasserted our separateness. We should stop allowing ourselves to be hemmed in by those who seek to manage and marginalise us. We should lead a counter-Gramscian cultural shift towards making the expression of religious conviction in the public sphere seem normal again. This should start by eschewing terms like “faith school” and “faith community”. It should also mean proudly and visibly proclaiming Catholic schools to be just that.

After all, there are no problems with Christian church schools. They offer the state sector – as they always have done – a bedrock of consistently superb educational establishments, basing access not on wealth but simply on religious adherence.

Measured either by parental consent or examination results, church schools form the building blocks of our state education system. So those liberals who dislike them should be forced to come clean about what they really mean.

Of course, what they really want is no more Al-Madinahs. They want to strangle off the very concept of Muslim schools, which they believe will usher in retrograde practices (with some evidence, it has to be said). But their liberalism is torn between protecting the rights of a religious and ethnic minority and upholding universal rights for girls. That’s their headache.

It’s time we Christians stopped allowing ourselves and our institutions to be framed as a problem simply because atheistic liberal opinion is too weak, or too conflicted, to face up to and deal with Islam’s less attractive cultural practices.

Of course, the parents at the Al-Madinah free school are simply exercising the same parental choice we enjoy in establishing a school that gives expression to the tenets of their religion. But if they see the value of boys and girls differently, the state, in the guise of Ofsted’s inspectors, is entitled to come down hard on their errant practices. But that is their battle to fight, not ours.

We Catholics should defend our right to religious freedom and parental choice, defending the record of Catholic schools in providing first-rate comprehensive education. We should throw off the shackles that have us bound up as a faith group in order to be classified and marginalised by atheistic pseudo-liberals.

We should wrest control the debate by insisting on our own language to define ourselves. We can start that process by losing “faith”. 

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of the website Labour Uncut and a former special adviser in the last Labour government.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Pope Is A Catholic

That is considered news.

Oh, well, at least this time people might pay attention to the repetition of what every Pope has said about capitalism since 1891, which is everything that any Pope has ever said about capitalism.

Swearing To It

Andrew Mitchell ought also to be prosecuted.

He swore at a Police Officer. Anyone else would have been arrested for that.

Mitchell is not the innocent victim here, and the attempts to portray him as such are motivated by the desire to put policing into the hands of Serco and G4S.

That must not be allowed to happen.

Side Lines

Supporters of global capitalism and of American hegemony (including "the Anglosphere") who imagine that they are somehow opponents of European federalism, and supporters of European federalism who imagine that they are somehow opponents of global capitalism and of American hegemony, are struck dumb by the situation in Ukraine.

Not so, those of us who have the first clue what is going on in the world, and who therefore understand and celebrate the proper role of Russia against all of those evils. One such understanding person is here. We know which side we are on. And we have always known it.


Iran was the main "argument" deployed by those wishing to keep Trident.

And Trident is a main argument advanced by proponents of Scottish independence.

The first is no more.

Away with the second.

Maoism Flourishes In India

Rahul Pandita writes:

The late 1960s were heady times. In China, the Cultural Revolution was in progress. And in Calcutta, in eastern India, restless and angry youths were hurling crude bombs at police vans.

It was not far from there that a Maoist rebellion broke out in 1967, which China termed as “a peal of spring thunder”. India had gained independence 20 years ago. But nothing had changed for its poor. Many young men and women rose to the call of revolution, drawing inspiration from Maoist ideology. Many of them came from middle-class families.

One such young man returned to India from London, without completing a course in accountancy. He returned wearing an overcoat that had 24 secret pockets, all stuffed with Maoist literature. Kobad Ghandy came from a wealthy family in Bombay – his father was the finance director of Glaxo pharmaceuticals.

Kobad had been radicalised in the UK and would become the leading light of the Maoist movement in India, only arrested by the police in 2009. Towards the end of 1969 a young British teacher, Mary Tyler, also came to India along with her Indian husband Amalendu Sen. They joined a Maoist group active on the Bengal-Bihar border in eastern India. But shortly afterwards, they were arrested by the police.

Mary spent five years in an Indian jail. Defending the actions of her rebel husband she writes: “Amalendu’s crime … is the crime of all those who cannot remain unmoved and inactive in an India … where justice is the exception and injustice the rule.”

The Maoism of Comrade Bala had been a historical footnote until now. But it is that sense of injustice that is still attracting thousands of people – mostly tribal people known as the Adivasis – to the Maoist movement. The Maoists are active in central and eastern India areas left ungoverned for decades. It is this void that the Maoists have filled.

But revolution remains a utopia. The Adivasis are now caught in a vicious war between the Maoists and the state. They continue to suffer.

The World Is A Safer Place

Rod Liddle writes:

Much though I like and respect Douglas Murray [bloody hell, why?], I reckon he and other Ayatollohaphobes are wrong about the deal struck with Iran.

If Iran’s willingness to negotiate was evidence that sanctions were working, rather than a sudden flowering of the ‘let us all now be frenz’ spirit in Tehran – then the sanctions have surely done their job. That was the point of them.

This seems to me so straightforward as to be almost tautological. There are risks with any deal, risks that the mullahs may indeed renege. But it is hard to argue on a basis of fact, rather than prejudice, even if you are living in Tel Aviv, that the world is not a slightly safer place right now as a consequence of the deal. Even if the hapless Cathy Ashton was a party to it.

On a side issue, but of relevance: there is not a country in the world – with the possible exception of Egypt – which has more cause to be mistrustful of the UK and USA than does Iran. Our involvement, especially, in that country has been unspeakably malign; greedy, vicious, tyrannical.

Regardless or not of whether the Iranians are ‘genuine’ in their apparent wish for a peaceful settlement, we should count our blessings that it is possible to achieve some sort of accord.

Could Have Been Avoided

Peter Oborne writes:

In essence, there are two components to the deal struck between Iran and America in the early hours of Sunday morning in Geneva.

On the one hand the US has tacitly acknowledged the Iranian right to enrich uranium. In return the Iranians have allowed the IAEA virtually unlimited access, thus ensuring that no nuclear material can be diverted for military purposes.

It is a development that should be welcomed by all sensible people.

But let’s not forget that the deal that was agreed yesterday is in fundamentals identical to the one offered by the Iranians during the last set of negotiations in 2005.

President Rouhani was then the chief Iranian negotiator and John Sawers (now head of MI6) was the chief British negotiator. At a meeting on 23rd March 2005 at the Quai d’Orsay in Paris, Mohammed Zarif, now Iranian foreign minister, offered to put limits on Iranian enrichment, renounce nuclear weapons and allow round-the-clock IAEA inspection at its enrichment plants in return for Iranian development of centrifuge enrichment technology.

It was an incredibly generous offer. But when Sawers took it back to London it was blocked by Tony Blair, acting on the orders of George W Bush. At that time, the US wouldn’t tolerate the operation of even one centrifuge in Iran. Now, when around 19,000 centrifuges have been installed, the US has bowed to the inevitable.

In other words, all the pain and agony of the last eight years could have been avoided if only the Iranian offer had not been blocked by Britain and the United States.

A Huge Leap In The Dark

Nothing has changed as a result of today’s White Paper. There is nothing that we found out today that we didn’t already know. Yesterday Alex Salmond’s case for breaking up the UK was based on assertions. Today it is still based on assertions.

The simple fact is that the nationalists have ducked the opportunity to answer any of the big questions about our country’s future. They promised us facts. What they have given us is a wish list with no prices attached.

If this White Paper was going to be credible, it had to address the fundamental issues that people are concerned about. They didn’t.

We still don’t know what currency we use if we vote to go it alone. We don’t know who would set our mortgage rates. We don’t know by how much taxes would have to go up. We don’t know how secure our pensions and benefits would be in an independent Scotland.

What we heard today were endless assertions from Alex Salmond that if we vote for independence then he would get us everything we want from every negotiation he entered into. Every country, every organisation and every institution would simply roll over and accede to Salmond’s demands. It is nonsense.

They told us today that childcare was at the heart of their plans. However, they do not need independence to change childcare in Scotland. When pressed on this policy at their launch, the Deputy First Minister said something utterly astonishing.

She said that the Scottish Government did not want to improve childcare now, that they didn’t want women to be able to go back to work now, because it would mean that the tax they would then pay would go to the UK Treasury.

This beggars belief. The Treasury is our treasury. It is not a body in some foreign country. The money that it raises is spent right across the entire United Kingdom. Public spending in Scotland is over £1200 per year higher than it is in the rest of the UK.

With so much uncertainty and unanswered questions about the cost of independence, leaving the UK would be a huge leap in the dark – especially when we know that devolution works for Scotland.

We can have the best of both worlds – a strong Scottish Parliament with the strength and opportunity of being part of a bigger United Kingdom.

The Future, Not The Past

As someone once said.

Kevin Maguire writes:

The nuclear deal with Iran is a victory for peace over war.

We can celebrate diplomacy trouncing militarism, agreement reached around a table in Geneva instead of down a missile silo. Defusing a potential apocalypse is a golden opportunity to recast ­relations in the Middle East.

The wings of hawks, including ­Israel’s nuclear-armed leader Benjamin Netanyahu, are clipped. His threats of armed strikes – opposed by Israeli intelligence chiefs – ring hollow when the US, Iran’s Great Satan, is a signatory. The Arab Spring swiftly turned to winter but it would be irresponsible to squander the possibilities opened by the Persian Pact.

First we must acknowledge the hard lessons of recent history. The Iran deal is another nail in the coffin of the invasion of Iraq, fresh evidence there is an alternative to bloody and illegal wars. It’s a reminder of the futility of occupying Afghanistan, 27 Commons motions required to list all 446 dead British soldiers. And it vindicates public and political opposition in the summer to attacking Syria.

Foreign Secretary William Hague deserves credit for his role in securing Iran’s promise not to pursue a Weapon of Mass Destruction. Prime Minister David Cameron will claim a chunk of the credit, success having many parents. Yet there would’ve been no deal had Cameron and Hague won August’s vote to attack President Assad’s regime in Syria. Britain would’ve been sucked into a sectarian civil war, serving as al-Qaeda’s air force.

Iran along with Russia, another player in yesterday’s deal, would be fighting Britain, America and France in Syria instead of negotiating. The unlikely hero of the deal is Labour leader Ed Miliband. Rebellious MPs and the prospect of a minibus full of shadow front bench resignations strengthened his resolve. But the opposition leader played an indirect, though crucial, role on Iran by stopping US President Barack Obama pressing the button to bomb Syria. This is history as an unintended consequence.

And while we’re handing out bouquets, Euro Brit Catherine Ashton enjoys the last laugh over her ­chauvinist detractors. The EU’s top diplomat is another who should take a bow, Iran the perfect riposte from a “Lady Qui?” who will let the Iran breakthrough do her talking.

What’s happening in Iran improves the prospects of a settlement in Syria ahead of talks. Perhaps too the previously intractable Israel-Palestine conflict. In a few months or years we will look back on another false dawn if the nuke deal explodes.

Iran, it is worth remembering, denied intending to develop a bomb and Glasgow-educated President Hassan Rouhani isn’t instinctively hostile to Britain and other western powers. He’s more interested in lifting crippling economic sanctions than joining Israel, Britain and others in the nuclear club.

So for now we can hope the Iran deal signals peace is the future, and war is past.

Alex Salmond's Fantasy Economics

The Scottish government’s long awaited white paper is a piece of fantasy economics. More spending and lower taxes: everybody wins. Alex Salmond’s argument today is that Scottish voters can have it all. All gain and no pain.

Nowhere is this truer than on welfare where there is a long list of commitments to repeal unpopular policies and offer new goodies. Other than a (contentious) assertion that the tax base north of the border is stronger than in the rest of the UK, it is unclear how any of this can be paid for.

On pensions, the SNP want to make the state pension more generous, increase it faster and delay the rise in the age at which people can claim it. This is for a Scottish population that is ageing more quickly than the rest of the UK.

It is as if Scotland is immune from the affordability pressure on pension provision across the developed world. And that’s before the administration question is considered. The proposal today is for two quite distinct state pension systems across the UK to be run through one system. Is anyone clear whether this is feasible?

On working age welfare, the SNP are calling for a halt to reform. Plans to implement Universal Credit and replace Disability Living Allowance would be abandoned under an independent Scotland.

There are problems with both these measures, but it is more than a little worrying that the Scottish government is so vague about what would come in their place. These are major benefits affecting hundreds of thousands of Scots, many of whom depend on these payments for their day to day living.

One of the headline grabbing aspects of today’s announcement is on childcare, where the Scottish government rightly advances an argument for following a Nordic path of extending provision for parents with young children.

The first obvious point to note in response is that childcare is already a devolved issue, so there is no need for independence for such important progress to be made. The trickier problem for the SNP is, again, how the extra provision would be paid for.

There would be fiscal gains if the maternal employment rate increased, which an independent Scotland could recoup, but in every country where a similar shift has taken place, a sizable upfront investment has been needed to get things going.

What the white paper fails to mention is that Scotland stands a much better chance of meeting the future costs of welfare if it remains part of the UK social union. By coming together the nations of the UK are able to pool financial resources and share risks across a large and resilient political community.

This matters because economic shocks tend to be asymmetric, affecting individuals and places in different ways and at different times. Equally different parts of the country vary demographically, with some parts like Scotland today ageing more quickly than others, creating different pressures over time for public services.

The social union therefore ensures that if one part of the UK endures a period of economic or social hardship, it can be supported both by itself and by the other parts.

This can be seen operating in both directions, in Scotland’s history. Scotland today benefits from relatively high levels of welfare spending from the UK pool to allow it to meet the pressures it faces (today Scots benefit from financial transfers and additional spending per-head on welfare overall – £3,255 per head in 2011/12, nearly 2% higher per head than the UK average of £3,200).

But, similarly, oil revenues from what would be Scottish waters contributed very substantially to that UK pool during the 1980s.

A commitment to the UK social union is not anathema to further devolution. There is a strong case for strengthening the powers of the Scottish parliament in respect of welfare (an issue IPPR will cover in its devomore programme).

Housing benefit could, for instance, be devolved to allow Holyrood to respond to the housing supply shortage by switching spending from benefits to bricks. And, once devolved, there would be nothing to stop the Scottish government ridding itself of the bedroom tax.

Independence, however, would permanently break the UK’s social union weakening the ability of Scotland to cope with the fiscal and demographic pressures welfare states the world over face.