Monday, 27 April 2015

Nationalism, for Good

A friend writes from London,"I don't like nationalism." He is not alone. Conservatives and Labour campaigned in the Referendum against nationalism, saying that Scotland should play a responsible role within one united kingdom.

Should we be concerned? Is nationalism wrong?

It is certainly all around us. When people complain about the EU - " Brussels imposing its regulations on us" - they are being nationalist. They are defining themselves ("us") in terms of a nation (the UK) and using that feeling of cultural connection to differentiate us from the grey men and women of Brussels. When Britain goes to war in the Malvinas or in Iraq, its people are being nationalist. War is the ultimate expression of a nationalism in which people die to preserve their idea of the nation.  English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish soldiers and sailors died in the Malvinas defending a notion of 'nation' that extended 8,000 miles south of Plymouth.

'Nationalism' is a word with difficult associations that connect it to good and evil. We can all agree that the Fascist nationalism of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s was evil. But we might now feel that Nelson Mandela's African National Congress was a good thing, even if it started off waging a war on South Africa. Less extreme but similarly divisive, many would condemn the right-wing Liga del Norte while praising the left-wing SNP.

So is there an acceptable form of nationalism? Can we identify with a nation without condemning others' nations as the enemy?

We live in a different context than George Orwell or Karl Marx, both of whom railed against nationalism.  We live in a part of the world in which small nations have less power than they did when Orwell or Marx were writing. Less power to do bad, and less to do good. Here in Europe we have shared the power of the nation with our fellow members of the EU. All sorts of powers over legislation (as the UKIP nationalists wail) have been shipped from London to Brussels. The scope for a new nation to move - in areas from employment law to consumer protection - is limited by the EU. We are members of the UN and WHO, signatories of the Geneva Convention, and members of a raft of international organisations up to and including the International Telecommunications Union. All of these bodies restrict the movements of the nation. We are also members of NATO, a marriage in which the pledge "for better, for worse" has a death knell.

And then there are the less accountable alliances. When we search on Google, talk on Skype, drink the warm brown stuff in Starbucks or have a drone delivery from Amazon we are outwith our nation because these businesses have demonstrated that you can be above the nation and above its taxation. No small nation can expect, unless it is willing to join North Korea in the isolation ward, to stop its citizens searching on Google. This is why it takes a supra-national power, in this case the EU, to do battle with a supra-national company and its monopoly abuses. We have supra-national companies, and we have supra-national people; non-doms and UHNWIs, people with wealth managers skilled in using tax havens to ensure that their clients pay the minimum in taxation.

We live in a new world order in which power is increasingly supra-national. Some of these powers are benign, some are not. The benign powers (despite UKIP we can consider the EU to be broadly benign) provide a framework in which nations and communities can operate. Scotland as a nation state within the EU would be constrained. It could not fill its factories with child labour, or put lead in its petrol, or discriminate against women in the job market. Ironically as a new signatory to the UN, another broadly benign supra-national power, it could not have the atom bomb.

Nationalism within the EU can be a force for good, bringing those powers we still do retain under subsidiarity to a government closer to you, a government that has your interests at heart, not those of South East England.

This controlled form of nationalism is not new. The Principality of Andorra was created in 1278 with a constitution that has the President of France and the Catalan Bishop of Urgell as its joint leaders. Andorra is a small nation state that can't afford to annoy either of its neighbours, so it has opted to keep them both onside. People from Andorra know that they are Andorran, and carry a passport to prove it. They have their own parliament and laws, and so feel represented in a way that they would not if they were governed from Paris or Madrid.

Logically there is no geographic limit to this controlled nationalism. If, say, Auchterarder decided to create its own nation state then it could - because the extent that the new Auchterarder National Congress would have for changing the laws would be very, very limited. The Auchterarder National Bank would not be able to move interest rates far from those set in Threadneedle Street. And Auchterarder border police would, definitely, allow free access to UK passport holders.

Being a modern European nationalist is to be a pragmatist, not an idealist. Scotland as a nation state, a member of the EU, of the UN, of NATO, a new signatory of the Geneva Convention... An independent Scotland could look after its people, its poor, better than Westminster ever has but it could not realistically go against the broad and powerful currents of the European Union. But neither can the UK, a modest little island lost in the fog on the Channel.

Perhaps nationalism, like capitalism, works well when it is properly regulated. Nationalism within the EU can be safe for its citizens; member states have not declared war on each other since its creation, after centuries of European land wars.

Properly regulated, nationalism can revive democracy just as it has in the last 12 months in Scotland. It can bring government back to the people, using politics to improve a society in which it is embedded, a local, national society.

This is modern Scottish nationalism, and it is good.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Good Banks

It's a bitter irony that the places that feed the poorest bear the same name as the places that feed the richest. There are the banks whose sclerotic, selfish, unregulated growth ended in 2008 in a massive infarction. And the banks - the food banks - that picked up the splattered remains of society and put food on their plates.

Scotland's food banks, according to today's report by The Trussell Trust in The National, fed 117,689 people in 2014-5, one third of them (36,114) children. The numbers give a clear picture of how poverty happens: people on low income account for 21 per cent of those using Trussell Trust food banks in Scotland, with 28 per cent using them due to a benefit delay and 17 per cent due to a benefit change. 

Britain's low-wage zero hours culture, and our overloaded benefits system are starving people.

The 36,114 children - that is the equivalent of 106 schools of children, all going to the food banks [1] for three days of emergency supplies - are the worst part of this story. Because they are likely to grow up in deprivation, and in turn be poor as adults. This is the cycle of poverty that we must break.

The finance industry spent £93m lobbying Westminster in 2012 (latest figures available): they spent, in other words, £27 on lobbying for each £1 donated to the Trussell Trust for food banks in the UK.

We can't break the food bank tragedy in a Scotland ruled by the bankers of the City and their mates in Westminster.

It is time to divert the gravy train from the banks, to the food banks.

1 Calculation based on numbers of pupils and schools at

Friday, 17 April 2015

Full Fiscal Fantasy

Martin Wolf, writing in yesterday's FT, says "The SNP has no interest in my country’s success. It cares only about what it can extract from us." He asks "how long can the union between Scotland and the rest of the UK survive?" He then rails against Alex Salmond's call for fiscal autonomy and the principle of "no detriment" to Scotland. He calls this a "one-sided bargain" that heavily favours Scotland, omitting to mention that the "no detriment" meme comes not from Salmond, but from the collective (Tory-Lab-Lib and SNP) voice of the Smith Commission, set up after the September 2014 Referendum.

Mr Wolf wrote passionately before the 2014 Referendum about his love for Scotland; "if Scotland were to depart I would lose an important part of myself". He is a brilliant, well-researched writer. So it's surprising to see him launching this humdinger against an idea that is still half-formed.

We don't yet have any idea what "full fiscal autonomy" (FFA) really means. Do we get FFA with £1,468.5 billion [1] of public sector debt? In other words, will taxpayers in Scotland have to cough up the interest payments for the massive debt built up by Westminster governments since the 1970s? Do we get FFA with Trident? Will Scottish tax income be used to buy the £100 billion bombs in Faslane? How will Marks & Spencer (or any other company operating across England and Scotland) be taxed on profits?

Above all, will we get FFA with some compensatory mechanism for the years of London ravaging the Scottish economy? Years of oil from Scottish waters -used to prop up the City of London - and generations of Scottish children growing up in poverty? To re-write Mr Wolf's subhead; "Westminster has no interest in my country’s success. It cares only about what it can extract from us."

There are so many questions about how FFA might work, how it might be negotiated in a Government whose composition we do not yet know. To argue against FFA is to argue against a phantom, a fantasy, a pile of what-ifs.

But the desire for full fiscal autonomy is a sign of Scotland growing up. We've had enough of being used and abused by Westminster; it is time for Scotland to step up and out, loud and proud. We're going to have to negotiate how that works, how Westminster can compensate Scotland for the years of abuse.

And that is why, Mr Wolf, we need a strong Team Scotland, led by the SNP, in Westminster come 8th May.

1 UK public sector debt was 79.6% of GDP at the end of February 2015. Source:

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Imagina’t, Catalunya

Imagina’t. No es difícil:

Catalunya, desprès d’anys d’un govern PP-UPyD, un govern de retalls, retalls i mes retalls. Catalunya va votar en un referèndum, setembre 2014, que no vol independitzar-se, però amb 45% votant Si. Com resultat del moviment popular sorgint del referèndum, l’Assemblea Nacional Catalana es converteix en partit polític amb Carme Forcadell en cap davant.

Madrid ha anunciat eleccions, i el líder del PP, David Ca’Mellon* pensa que pot guanyar perquè els seus rivals Eduardo Molinos i Banda (PSOE), i Nicolàs Tabac** (UPyD)  son fluix com un drap de cuina.  Sr. Ca’Mellon promet una economia estable, però inevitablement amb uns retalls mes, sobre tot en el apartat de benestar social. L’únic amenaça, pensa Sr. Ca’Mellon, es el EEE (España Extraïda de Europa), partit de dretes liderat per un carismàtic alcohòlic sexista, Nigel Fa Rabia.

L’ANC comença a pujar en els sondejos, captant vots de PSOE  i UPyD.  Als inicis de la campanya tenia 20% del vot. Ahir va sortir els resultats de un sondejo nou: ANC 52% del vot, PSOE 24% i el PP d’en David Ca’Mellon amb només 13%.

Imagina’t, en un país amb un sistema de “First past the post” on cada comtat te el seu diputat. Guanya la persona qui ha guanyat la majoria dels vots en el comtat. Hi havia escons (es a dir, comtats) molt segurs – on hem tingut diputats de PSOE des dels temps dels dinosaures. Per exemple, Granollers, on Maria Negre (ANC), amb 20 anys i encara estudiant a l'Universitat de Barcelona, es a punt de guanyar a un dels titans del partit PSOE,  Aleix Sensegossos***.  

Tots els sondejos auguren que PP i PSOE no tindran majoria absoluta. El sondejo d’ahir indica que ANC podria tenir 50 diputats, mes que suficient per pactar amb l'un o l'altre partit, i dominar el parlament.

Es el mal somni del PP.


* es d’origen Menorquí...

**Una broma que només funciona en escocès. Un “clegg” es el insecte gran, irritant dels cavalls i vaques – un tabac.

***Nom real Douglas Alexander, nom gaelic. Com que un doug o dug es un gos, i dug-less pot dir sense gossos... bé, es complicat fe bromes entre gaèlic, escocès i Català.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Vow II, and Fear-Max

Today's poll results from TNS-BRMB showing that SNP has 52% of the vote* is just like that once-off pre-Referendum poll showing a majority for Yes. The result was Westminster and Whitehall panic, The Vow, and an agitprop campaign - Project Fear - turned up to full hallucinatory volume.

Up to and including May 7th expect the same, times ten. Another Vow, and Project Fear-Max. Oh yes, and MI5 will find out something nasty about Nicla and put it into the Telegraph.

* That's 52% of the 978 people aged 18 and over who were surveyed. Read Scot Goes Pop to find out more from James-the-psephologist about what it means, and where the trends are.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

It's a Bomb

Congratulations to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and the Scrap Trident Campaign. Two tiny organisations that have pushed over the Goliath of Government and made Trident the issue of the day.

CND's total campaigning budget in 2013 was £295,968. Scrap Trident is a coalition of 15 groups including Scottish CND, the Scottish Green Party and Quakers in Scotland. Most of the work of most of the 15 groups is carried out by volunteers. For comparison, the Ministry of Defence budget is around £35 billion. Financially, that is David in one corner with one very tiny 100 gram pebble, and Goliath in the other with a boulder weighing twelve tonnes.

This is a case study in commitment, planning and campaigning strategies. It might also illustrate how people with a firm (in some cases faith-based) belief can eventually topple a global power. CND, founded in 1958 with an Easter march to the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston near Reading, has played a long, slow game. At many points (this writer has been on many CND marches) the campaign seemed hopeless because it was the impotent little people against the huge geopolitical forces of the US, of the Cold War, and of the UK's so, so expensive seat on the UN Security Council. The Scrap Trident Coalition is much more recent, and is a cleverly designed one-issue lobbying campaign with a published list of supporters including many MSPs, writers (Noam Chomsky is one) trades unions and communities.

The campaigns have focused on gathering a wide range of groups around them, and on capturing individual MPs. They are now old enough to have nurtured some of today's leaders; famously, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been a supporter of CND since her youth.

Now that long slow burn appears to be paying off. Trident has become an issue in this election, with candidates in the SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru all stating their opposition to its renewal. An army of lobbyists funded by the defence industry will be deployed after May 7th to persuade the new Government to renew, but it is at least possible that the next Government will scrap the bomb.

The implications go well beyond the simple removal of a nuclear cloud over Glasgow. The "deputy-sheriff" role to the US military, a seat on the UN Security Council, the old colonial power, now toothless... 

Removing one horrible piece of military hardware will help the nations of the British Isles to come to terms with a new place in a different, safer, world.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Project Fear meets Yes, Minister

The announcement by Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood that there will be an inquiry into the memo that was leaked - oh the surprise - to the Telegraph means only one thing. The memo DOES say something damning, so the powers that be have decided to let it run on a bit, to continue to attempt to derail the SNP campaign. We can expect further "news" about the memo, claims that it is a true record of what was said behind closed doors, and the continuing suggestion that the SNP is not to be trusted. Whether it was a memo written by someone who was not at the meeting, or whether the memo says that the moon is made of cheese - it does not matter. It's a piece of paper with nasty words about the SNP on it.

What the Government does not realise is that we have been through all of this before. This is Project Fear all over again. Project Fear driven from the Treasury and the Cabinet Office just as it was in September 2014. Remember what happened then: Sir Jeremy Heywood was the architect of a statement from the Queen just before the Referendum expressing her worries. And Sir Jeremy Heywood spent the days before the Referendum "on the phone to business leaders asking them to speak up about their concerns” over independence, according to Financial Times editor Lionel Barber.

And now that same Sir Jeremy has set up an inquiry into a leaked memo. Sir Jams is someone we can trust, in the sense that he is someone we can trust to support his friends in Government.

But this time round the Government is dealing with a case-hardened Scottish electorate who know that mainstream news - especially when it appears in the Barclay twins' newsrag - is propaganda.

Which means that they will have to up their game, to produce something really shocking, if they want to bring the Scottish electorate back to heel. So we can expect schlock-horror stories involving cuddly toys and rude photos and politicians' dark pasts and so on. Look out for "lost" emails being rediscovered and more "secret" memos being released. 

Bring it on. We won't believe a word of it.

One day this will blow up in Civil Service faces. Because we need a Civil Service that is truly impartial, to balance the very partial politicians. We don't have that in Whitehall. We are learning that we cannot trust the Civil Service any more than we can trust the politicians.

That has to change. The values expressed in the Civil Service Code ("integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality") should be strengthened and enforced and the mandarins reminded that they are servants of the people, not of the Tory party nor of the Establishment. Sir Jams and his mates in the rotten top of the Service must go.

Friday, 3 April 2015

The Disillusion of Parliament

In the last three days Ian Bell at the Herald, and Andrew, the Lallands Peat Worrier have both expressed their disillusion with politics. Ian Bell, who is a craftsman of a writer, said of the official start of the election campaign: "It was all acted out as though a tattered soap opera script from 20 years back had been mistaken for the latest episode." David Cameron made the ridiculous suggestion that this was a two-horse Con-Lab race - something that we all know to be untrue. Lallands Peat Worrier Andrew, whose writing is full of Gothic elegance, wrote about "...the nonsense and the flesh pressing, wet handshakes, hollow laughter and terrified smiles..."

It is easy to get disillusioned with politicians. As Ian Bell implied, politicians treat us like idiots. Why else would David Cameron stand outside No 10 and say that there was only him or Ed, and that if we voted Ed there would be "chaos." 

There are loads of choices; we might vote Monster Raving Loony , or Green or SNP and eject all the expenses cheats, the yes-men, the non-exec directors who happen to be MPs, the Lords (off with their heads...)

And why does Ed Miliband persist in telling us that only his party can save the NHS? How short are our memories if we have forgotten how the same party privatised hospitals and used PFI to fund hospitals off the books?

So what can we do if we want to reduce child poverty in Scotland, or we want to get rid of Trident or we want to reform land ownership? Can we avoid the politicians?  On child poverty, for example, we can help directly, or help indirectly (for example, by supporting Save the Children Fund's programme in Scotland). This is all good. But amongst the multiple causes of poverty are things that we must get the Government to change - whichever party is in power. We need to change the benefits system, we need to extend free childcare... and so on. Politicians - those same people who treat us like idiots - hold the levers to system change.

So if we want change we must grin and bear the Farrage-farrago and the old-Etonian Mess that we are going to be subjected to until May 7th, and then vote for the party that will push those levers and get the change we want. Which, in the case of this writer, is the SNP.

As the Anarchists said: vote early and vote often.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Alms Race

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day when the Queen offers Maundy money - alms - to a carefully selected group of "deserving poor" - a slightly odd twist of a phrase which might be taken to mean people who deserve to be poor.

This is the oldest form of philanthropy - royalty making gifts to the poor. Like all philanthropy its motivations and its impact are multiple, from reminding the monarch that she or he is human to reminding everyone else that there is a social order - in this case, with a Queen at the top, and religion at its heart. As Eliana Magnani showed [1], from the 4th-6th century AD "...almsgiving developed as the result of the creation of the social category of the poor." In other words, we needed people whom we called "poor" in order to have a philanthropy that gave to them.

Philanthropy is a constant across religions and time - it seems to be built in to people wherever they are [2]. Is poverty a constant too? Yes, as it is currently defined in Europe as living on less than 60% of the median income. As a society gets wealthier the threshold for poverty, in cash terms, rises. So there is no point in any politician claiming that he or she wants to eliminate poverty. Unless there is a titanic shift in the way that society is organised (for example, a move to Anarchy, or theoretical Marxism) we will always have poverty.

If we must always have poverty and thus always have wealth, let us propose that Maundy Thursday be the day on which those of wealth step into the shoes of those without. Let us propose that David Cameron, Rupert Murdoch and the Windsors spend Maundy Thursday living in poverty. David, you are invited to spend the day in a Job Centre, being sanctioned for not spending 35 hours last week looking for a job. Rupert, you will spend the day on a zero hours contract cleaning plates in your local McDonalds. Elizabeth, you can spend the day just down the road from Buckingham Palace with the cardboard community that lives in the underpasses at Waterloo.

That would be a Maundy Thursday true to the spirit of alms.

1.Magnani, Eliana. “Almsgiving, Donatio Pro Anima and Eucharistic Offering in the Early Middle Ages of Western Europe (4th-9th Century).” In Charity and Giving in Monotheistic Religions. Walter de Gruyter, 2009.
2 see for example Jordan, W. K. Philanthropy in England, 1480 - 1660: A Study of the Changing Patterns of English Social Aspirations. Routledge, 2013.