Saturday, 20 September 2014

Ready?

I have been observing the sheer difference of Scotland all my life. But this one takes the biscuit. Rioting because you have won? What? I mean, what?

With the Government wholly committed to the Barnett Formula, which has no statutory basis but is presumably now to be given one, there is no such thing a purely English item of parliamentary business.

Every piece of spending in England has effects in Scotland and Wales. "English votes for English laws" cannot, simply as a matter of fact, be done in its own terms. What "English laws"?

Based In Lanchester, County Durham

People have been having some trouble with the Labour Uncut link, so here is my article in full; those who have been able to read it have been very impressed:

There is no West Lothian Question. The Parliament of the United Kingdom reserves the right to legislate supremely in any policy area for any part of the country. It never 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.

The grievance of England, and especially of Northern and Western England, concerns cold, hard cash. What, then, of those who bellow for an English Parliament to bartenders who cannot follow everyone else and leave the room? They fall into two categories. There are the Home Counties Home Rulers. And there are those wishing to live under the Raj of the Home Counties Home Rulers.

On the one hand are those from the South East, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Their definition of England is the South East, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, or at least a certain idea of that area. Give them something for that, and they would be perfectly happy, at least until the votes started to be tallied up. Everyone gets a vote. Even the people whom they have bawled out.

On the other hand are those from everywhere else. Their definition of England is also the South East, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, or at least a certain idea of that area. Although they are often professionally “local” to elsewhere, especially in Yorkshire but also in pockets of other parts of the country, the basis of their political position has always been that they were a cut above their neighbours.

That made them Conservatives until recently, and it increasingly makes them UKIP supporters. That is who the UKIP supporters in the North and elsewhere are. They were never Labour. That is also the context for the fact that there has been a UKIP MEP in Wales for some years and that there is now a UKIP MEP in Scotland, too.

They may never have elected an MP or even a councillor in their lives, or they may live in the only ward or constituency for miles around where their votes ever elected anyone. But enough MPs were returned from elsewhere to make the Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister. That suited them down to the ground.

Quite wrongly, since it would be run by Labour as often as not, they see an English Parliament in the same terms. Their more numerous and concentrated brethren elsewhere would deliver them from the rule of their neighbours. It is very funny indeed that those brethren think that they are those neighbours.

In 1993, 66 Labour MPs voted against Maastricht, far more than the number of Conservatives who did so. Yet there were far more Conservative than Labour MPs at the time. Of those 66, at least three campaigned for a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum, including that campaign’s chairman, Dennis Canavan.

While it is true that several of those from Wales went on to be among the strongest opponents of devolution, the 66 also included the late John McWilliam, one of the first campaigners for a North East regional assembly.

So much for the dissolution of the United Kingdom as some kind of EU plot, and I write as an inveterate social democratic Eurosceptic and Unionist. If anything, the pressure for that dissolution is a reaction against the effects of Thatcher’s Single European Act, of Maastricht, and of the Stability Pact to which we are pretty much adhering despite not being in the euro. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership looms large.

If there is one group of people to be avoided at all costs, then it is the ones who go on about some EU map with England divided into regions. If anyone had paid any attention to them, then the toothless and Tyneside-dominated regional assembly would have been set up in the North East, purely and understandably in order to spite them.

City regions are what used to be called metropolitan counties, which Thatcher abolished because she did not like Ken Livingstone. No, that never did make any sense. But that was what she did. Similarly, many unitary authorities bear more than a passing resemblance to county boroughs. These things have to keep going around and coming around, in order to justify the salaries of the people who write the research papers.

But since city regions are now to be revived under that name, whatever powers are proposed for them must also extend to a body covering each of those 40 English ceremonial counties which are neither Greater London, nor the City of London, nor any of the former metropolitan counties.

In many cases, the obvious body already exists. Where it no longer does, then that raises the question of why it no longer does. And where, as here in County Durham, the legacy of the last Government is such as would leave that body unbalanced, with existing local government responsibilities for part but not quite all of its area, then that, too, would be called into question. Leading to the restoration of the former district councils.

This promise of significant devolution to rural communities might go some way to making up the support that Labour has been too lazy to build up during this Parliament by properly opposing cuts in those communities’ services, and by selecting strong local campaigning candidates, with or without prior party allegiance.

Whatever the conurbations are getting, as well they might, then so must the counties. The loyally Labour old coal and steel belts of County Durham, South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire are among the places that will need to be convinced that our, as often as not Conservative or Lib Dem, urban neighbours quite deserved all of this city regions carry on.

At the very least, we are not having the powers of our own local authorities transferred to them. In fact, since we are fairly populous, we may reasonably demand that whatever they got, then so should we. At least that money and those powers would always be under the control of members of Ed Miliband’s own party.

Will Devo Max really be opposed only by implacable Tory ultras? What about implacable Labour ultras? Or implacable Lib Dem ultras? Labour MPs for Scotland hold the Scottish Parliament in extremely low regard, and they did so even before it fell under the control of the SNP, as it did quite some time ago now.

Labour MPs from the North of England have spent an electoral generation voting powers to Scotland and to Europe, to Wales and to London, to Northern Ireland and to the judiciary, to everyone but themselves or their constituents. It is not as if Scotland has proved loyal to Labour in the way that the North very largely has.

All these years after devolution, Lib Dem MPs see that the Highlands and Islands are the only part of Scotland among the 11 parts of the United Kingdom that are poorer than Poland. Although Cornwall and Devon are both also on that list, as well as both being among those nine out of the 10 poorest parts of Northern Europe which are in this country.

Bringing us to the Barnett Formula, which has been elevated to the status of an article of the Constitution. Lord Barnett has long been on record that it was only ever supposed to last for one year. It is an outrage against social democracy and even against basic justice, being not remotely needs-based.

The canonisation of the Barnett Formula imperils the Union by raising serious questions among the Welsh about why they should bother with a State that treated them so shabbily. Heaven knows, it does no good to the poorest people in Scotland. Their condition is as abject under Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon as is that of their counterparts under David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith.

Labour MPs from Wales and the North of England need to band together with Lib Dems from Wales and the West Country, and indeed from the North of Scotland, so that, perhaps even joined by Plaid Cymru and undoubtedly alongside all parties from Northern Ireland, they might propose a long-overdue replacement, based on need and organised through direct funding to localities without reference the Nationalist nomenklatura in Scotland.

The areas of Scotland that would benefit most from such a new approach are those which suffer most as a result of the old one. Outside the rural Lib Dem strongholds, those are mostly the areas that return devosceptical Labour MPs to Westminster. As much as anything else, this offers the possibility of taking Holyrood seats from the SNP, by correctly presenting it as the party that hordes money away from the communities that need it.

Devo Max will pass. In order to force these concessions in the course of that Bill’s parliamentary progress, there should be 200 votes against it at Second Reading, perhaps even 250, and possibly even 300. There ought to be. But will there be? If not, why not?

With any luck, it now adds, “David Lindsay is a writer and activist based in Lanchester, County Durham.”

Friday, 19 September 2014

Wondering Arameans

Israel seeks to entice the ancient indigenous Christians within her internationally recognised borders, where they are the founders and mainstays of Arabism, to reclassify themselves as Arameans (don't the "Judea and Samaria" lot object to that, and insist that they are the real Arameans?), with a view to serving in the IDF.

The tiniest take-up of this nonsense will be screamed to the skies as a triumph.

But Israel supports the ethnic cleansing of the ancient indigenous Christians, again and not coincidentally the founders and mainstays of Arabism, in Syria and in Iraq, a small number of whom even continue to speak Aramaic as their first language.

Of those Arameans, and of all the Christians in Syria and in Iraq, Israel refuses to accept a single one as a refugee from Islamic State.

Cries From The Heartlands

For all the concentration on Glasgow, the Labour heartlands mostly held up for the Union.

The areas of Lib Dem strength, even those currently with Nationalist MSPs, indicated the extent to which they regarded Holyrood, Westminster and doubtless also Brussels as much of a muchness, to none of which would they ever vote any additional power, even at the expense of one or both of the others.

One underestimates the extent to which the Liberal redoubts of England, Scotland and Wales alike are consciously out of sorts with the politics of the last hundred years.

And the SNP's supposed citadels collapsed. Yes won Dundee by far less than had been expected, while the No votes poured in from Clackmannanshire, Perth and Kinross, Angus, Aberdeenshire, Moray, the Western Isles (delivered in Gaelic, a vote for the Union), and so on.

There are Labour and a few Lib Dems Westminster and Holyrood seats to be held and to be won back. But most of those areas have rarely or never been Labour. They were the heartlands of the old Unionist Party.

Ruth Davidson has had a good war. Reports of the death of Tory Scotland may turn out to have been greatly exaggerated, especially in view of the precise electoral arithmetic of many parts of rural and semi-rural Scotland.

Reports of the death of the SNP, on the other hand, seem more realistic by the hour.

A Poor Exchange

Peter Oborne writes:

Every government has its favourite think tank.

These sometimes shadowy and poorly-defined organisations provide the intellectual muscle and policy guidance which all prime ministers need. Maggie Thatcher favoured the Institute for Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies, while Tony Blair drew on Demos and the Institute for Public Policy Research.

Policy Exchange has long been David Cameron’s favourite. This organisation has helped to generate some daring ideas, particularly in the field of Whitehall reform.

Its recent chairmen include my colleague Charles Moore (accurately described in July by the writer Ed West as “the spiritual leader of Britain’s 15 million conservatives”) and Lord Finkelstein, the Times Columnist whose writings have a habit of reflecting government thinking with uncanny accuracy.

Now comes the news Policy Exchange has got a new chairman, in the shape of David Frum.

I once spent a day with David Frum in Beirut. We went, in the pouring rain, to the Roman ruins in Baalbek. He was a highly intelligent man and good company, though very dogmatic.

In Beirut he created the strong impression that he had come to the Lebanon to broadcast his own firmly-held opinions, rather than find out what was really happening on the ground.

Obviously we disagreed about almost everything.

Mr Frum is a Republican Party supporter and former speech writer to George W Bush. He was responsible for the notorious phrase in the president's 2002 State of the Union address: “axis of evil”.

This was the speech which set the United States off on its disastrous path of invasion and conquest whose consequences are still being felt today.

This brings me back to David Cameron.

Isn’t it fascinating that the Prime Minister’s favourite think tank should have hired as its new chairman one of the most powerful propagandists for George W Bush’s disastrous war on terror?

What Now?

This. My article for Labour Uncut. Yes, 1500 words, published this morning. Sleep is for separatists.

Gordon Brown is now a part of the Constitution. When he speaks, then that is the policy of all three parties, because he has spoken. Don't expect that to stop after this. Having been struck down, he has become more powerful than those who did so could possibly have imagined.

Is Brown going to propose the Devo Max Bill from the Government Despatch Box? Why not? And it bears his marks, anyway: you can see where he used to jab his pen into it.

In other words, Brown to run the country while Cameron gets to be foppish on the telly. Brown has done this one before.

However, as I conclude in the link above (having begun, "There is no West Lothian Question."):

Devo Max will pass. In order to force these concessions in the course of that Bill’s parliamentary progress, there should be 200 votes against it at Second Reading, perhaps even 250, and possibly even 300. There ought to be. But will there be? If not, why not?

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

David Cameron, Watch and Learn

This is what a real Prime Minister looks and sounds like.

A towering political figure from his early thirties (from his mid-twenties in Scotland) until he became Prime Minister, and again now. It is very odd.

The Confidence To Say No

Alex Massie writes:

We hold this truth to be self-evident: we are not an oppressed people. We have some liberty to chart our own course. We are, after all, choosing our path this week.

We do not crave self-determination because we have always had that power. And many others besides that significant liberty. We are a free people.

This is obvious yet also something worth recalling in these final hours.

I have my own reasons for voting No on Thursday and, in truth, they have little to do with very much that has been said by the official Better Together campaign.

But this kind of choice, this kind of referendum, inevitably prods one towards endorsing one team or the other.

It is Rangers or Celtic and, in the end, there’s no room for Partick Thistle or Queens Park or anyone else.

I think, like Peter Jones, that the economic prospectus peddled by the Scottish government is a fantastical, deplorable, deception. At least in the short-to-medium term

 But that’s, perhaps, only what one might expect from a campaign that has to promise the earth. A necessary reason to vote No, you might think, but not necessarily a sufficient one.

So it comes down to mood and feel and gut and heart and all these other intangible prompts. What kind of country are we? What kind of country should we wish to be?

For many Yes voters this is an easy matter.

Scotland is a country; it should be a state too. A simple view, easily-grasped. And not an idiotic one either. 

Yet it does not, in the end, quite persuade me. Perhaps because I don’t much care for borders (while being fiercely partisan towards the Borders).

Perhaps, too, it’s because I see little prospect of my preferred kinds of politics thriving anywhere that I’m unimpressed by appeals to vote this way or ‘tother to advance any specific political end or sentiment. I hanker for a reason to vote that’s bigger, less self-regarding, less-convinced-of-its-own-righteousness, than that.

In any case I can condemn the No campaign’s imaginative deficit without being required to accept the Yes campaign’s rosy-hued alternative. Especially since that alternative is not always so cheerful in any case.

I was reminded of this by reading the Yes campaign’s official twitter feed.

It paints a picture of a land I scarcely recognise. A land half-in-love with the daftest scare stories peddled my the more witless members of the Unionist coalition; a land that too often settled for the comforts of victimhood.

Consider these examples, culled from just the last couple of days.

Here’s Alan Cumming, as promoted by the Yes campaign: Fed up of being told you’re not good enough by people who are not good enough and have failed you?

It is, of course, a neat trick to call for assuming responsibility for your glorious future while absolving yourself of any responsibility for the inadequacies of our present condition.

They have failed You and all that remains is to decide if you wish to be an accomplice to their – and your – failure.

Their failure is so great it even covers those parts of public life – some 60% of state spending, no less – that are the responsibility of the Scottish parliament.

Above all, however, here’s a ressentiment that craves a certain kind of oppression. Who are these people telling Scots they’re not good enough?

Not David Cameron. Not Alistair Darling. Not Gordon Brown. Not even wee Nicky Clegg.

The idea Scotland is too wee, too poor and too stupid to make a decent fist of independence is almost entirely a myth created and propagated by people who will vote Yes.

It is not a straw man, more of a straw bairn.

Cumming is not alone. Yes Scotland also ask if we are Tired of being told what Scotland can’t do?

Not really, though some of us are tired of being asked to believe that we believe Scotland is some poor and feeble backwater that can never hope to amount to anything.

Tired of it because we know it is not true. Tired of it because we ken fine well that, as the Yes campaign keeps telling us, Scotland is a prosperous country that can, in the long-term, cope with the challenges of independence.

Just as, you know, we can cope with the challenges – and shortcomings – of the Union too.

But what about the future?

Ah: A ‘No’ risks a Tory-UKIP coalition with 49% of the vote. No it doesn’t. Still, good to be reminded of the positive case for independence.

That positivity is infectious: If we vote Yes David Cameron is part of our past. But if we say No he is part of our future.

Don’t, however, make the mistake of thinking the campaign has anything to do with Alex Salmond or even the SNP. That would be personalising the issue and we’ll no be having that.

Of course we don’t object to David Cameron. Only to his views.

After all, Tory views will be welcome in an independent Scotland. They may even be necessary. At the very least the centre-right can look forward to a revival after independence.

We want to run some Tories out of Scotland but others may yet be welcome. So is it the man or his views that are the problem? It is hard to say. Perhaps it’s both? Perhaps it’s his nationality too.

Remember: A Yes vote is not Nationalist or anti-English. It’s our one opportunity.

Of course, though I can’t help but wonder if some Yes votes might be nationalist and a few might be anti-English too.

Meanwhile, admire the optimism of contrasting our one opportunity with the implied pestilential future that awaits us if we vote the wrong way.

Because, you see, Team Westminster doesn’t work for the people of Scotland. Another spin on the victimhood merry-go-round.

Not only do these people – a number of whom may be English – not work for the people of Scotland they very possibly deliberately seek to harm Scots. Other people too, perhaps, but chiefly Scots.

Still: Nationalists? We’re the people’s movement. Which leaves open the question of who are your opponents? Not the people, evidently.

And if they’re not the people, they must be trampling upon the peoples’ hopes.

Not that we are nationalists, of course, merely the voice of the people. Not like those Other people. Though, of course, it’s not about Them and Us. Except when it is.

After all: Scotland must never ever again get governments the majority of us rejected.

Perhaps not, though it depends upon who us is. After all, just as David Cameron was elected on a minority of the vote so was Alex Salmond.

But the rules are the rules and we agree to abide by them.

The democratic-deficit argument is superficially persuasive until you realise is also demands independence for Wales and lord-knows-what for Northern Ireland.

Sure, Scotland is a country but so is the United Kingdom.

So there’s no need to Imagine a country where our leaders are here all the time because we have such a country and it is called the United Kingdom.

In fact, my leaders (if you must call them that) are here all the time in both my countries.

Chafe against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland by all means, imagine a different, more glorious future all you want but at the very least – and it should not be a large thing to ask – recall, just for a second, that your opponents are not motivated by a willingness to sacrifice Scotland or do her down or oppress her or lead her to some kind of dystopian future.

Deep down most Yes voters know this.

Deep down they know that if Scotland is a half-decent place to live today it will remain a half-decent country on Friday even if Scots vote No.

If it is large and smart and rich enough to be independent it is also – must, in fact – be large and smart and rich enough to remain a part of Britain.

Confidence, in other words, is a two-way street and while there are a hundred, even a thousand, reasons to vote Yes or No it remains the case that many Scots are confident enough in our collective future to vote No.

Don’t let them tell you what to do is all very well and good but it rather depends on whom you mean by Them.

We are not a small people and don’t let them persuade you otherwise.

OK?

NATO's Reckless Russia-Baiting

Tim Black writes:

Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatseniuk, speaking as fighting continues in eastern Ukraine despite the putative ceasefire, clearly knows his audience in the West.

‘[Russian president Vladimir Putin’s] aim is not just to take Donetsk and Lugansk’, he said at the weekend. ‘His goal is to take the entire Ukraine… Russia is a threat to the global order and to the security of Europe.’

This, you see, is the familiar narrative of the conflict propagated in the US and Western Europe: namely that Ukraine is a victim of Russia’s grand imperial designs, of Putin’s desire to resurrect a Russian empire to rival the Soviet version to which he remains stubbornly, fatally in thrall.

As one US magazine put it, ‘the Empire strikes back’.

But these dark-ish, Star Wars-inspired imaginings couldn’t be more misleading.

It’s not Russia’s delusions of empire that are the problem here; rather it’s the confusion of that Western remnant of US imperialism, NATO, that has helped foment the conflict in Ukraine.

Ever expanding its membership eastwards towards the Russian border, showing a willingness to intervene in territories picked almost at random, from Kosovo to Afghanistan, and regularly announcing its intention to ‘promote’ security and stability throughout ‘the globe’, NATO has acted increasingly provocatively and recklessly towards Russia.

And what’s more, it has done so not because it has a clear strategy to ‘encircle’ the old enemy, as some critical commentators have speculated; rather, its two-decades’ worth of hyperactivity is born of a crisis of purpose, an absence of strategy.

Confused about its role, it has had to search for and invent one instead – a process that is now causing havoc in Ukraine.

Up until the 1990s, of course, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was far from confused.

Established in 1949 to forge a cross-Atlantic military alliance between the US, Canada, the UK, France and eight other European states, its reason for being was clear: to contain the putative threat of the Soviet Union.

Over the next 40-odd years, NATO’s role was defined by the Cold War it helped to frame. Consequently, it didn’t really do or change much during that period.

Yes, West Germany joined in 1955. And France left in 1966. But that was about it. It didn’t try to enlarge itself to any great degree, and it didn’t launch any military action. 

The fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the Cold War, changed things; it deprived NATO of its reason to be.

Yet – and this is the twist – NATO continued to be.

That is, after the end of the Cold War, after the demise of the threat it was ostensibly set up to ward off, it continued, as a military alliance in want of a purpose.

Over the past 20 years, then, NATO, once a front for US interests, has become a front for working out what exactly US interests are.

And as such, it has become a walking, shooting expression of the profound crisis of purpose that has gripped Western political elites since the demise of the Soviet Union.

Just look at NATO’s reckless, Russia-baiting development over the past couple of decades.

When the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union finally disintegrated, NATO’s role was the subject of high-level talks between Western leaders and Russia.

At the time, then Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev was insistent that ‘any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable’.

From a Russian perspective this was understandable; it didn’t want the US and its allies rolling through the now-defunct Eastern bloc. Aware of Russian anxieties, and not wishing to provoke its long-time adversary, Western leaders agreed.

Then US secretary of state James Baker told Gorbachev in 1990 that ‘there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east’.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the West German foreign minister, went further and told his UK counterpart, Douglas Hurd, that NATO should issue a statement saying ‘NATO does not intend to expand its territory to the East’.

By the mid-1990s, however, NATO was not only still in existence – it seemed intent on doing exactly what its leading members had told Russia it was not going to do: expand eastwards.

Speaking at his first NATO summit in 1994, US President Bill Clinton announced that ‘it was no longer a question of whether NATO would enlarge but how and when’.

By 1997, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic had signed up, with Clinton continuing to insist: ‘The bottom line is clear: expanding NATO will enhance our security. It is the right thing to do.’

That last clause is telling: NATO, no longer an anti-Communist protectorate, was redefining its role along new, but vague lines – this was ‘the right thing to do’.

NATO members still talked of the organisation’s role in terms of security, of safety, but the threats were now seen as nebulous and proliferating, and as such, demanded a more active, interventionist orientation.

After all, if the ultimate objective is simply ‘security’, then for as long as there are threats, let alone the infamous unknown unknowns of Donald Rumsfeld, then there needs to be action.

‘We must not fail history’s challenge at this moment’, wrote Clinton in 1997, ‘to build a Europe [that is] peaceful, democratic, and undivided, allied with us to face new security threats of the new century – a Europe that will avoid repeating the darkest moments of the twentieth century and fulfil the brilliant possibilities of the twenty-first.’

So, fresh from interventions in the former Yugoslavia against the Bosnian Serbs in 1994, and then in Kosovo against Serbia in 1999, NATO continued its activist, expansionist trajectory.

This wasn’t a surprise: NATO was no longer justifying itself on the grounds of protecting a limited group of nations against a definite, specific threat; it was justifying itself on the grounds of protecting a rapidly expanding group of nations against an unlimited, indefinite series of threats.

Hot on the heels of the NATO invasion of Afghanistan, former Soviet satellites Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were admitted in 2004, and, in 2009, Croatia and Albania joined.

It wasn’t a surprise when, in an interview in 2010, Ronald Asmus, a former US deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs, voiced what many in the Kremlin already feared.

‘We should be investing more, we should be more present and active on the ground in Ukraine, in Georgia, and all these places’, he said, before adding, ‘without triggering the Russian hyper-reaction’.

A 2012 strategy statement echoed Asmus’s sentiments: ‘[NATO’s] goal of a Europe whole and free, and sharing common values, would be best served by the eventual integration of all European countries that so desire into Euro-Atlantic structures.’

You don’t have to be Vladimir Putin to see the problem such a goal poses to Russia.

NATO’s development has been something of a paradox.

When its role was clear, it did very little. But during the period in which its role has become increasingly unclear, indeed, during the period in which it has been confronted by its own obsolescence, it has done far too much.

Expanding here, and intervening there, it is now, with its promise to integrate Ukraine, almost unwittingly provoking a conflict with Russia.

After all, it is doing so not because it has concrete, material objectives, but because it is trying to answer vague, almost existential questions about its, and by association, the US-led West’s role in the world.

So at last week’s NATO summit in Wales, UK prime minister David Cameron even talked of the crises in Ukraine and Iraq as an opportunity to ‘reinvigorate and refocus’ the alliance.

Continuing this rather introspective, navel-gazing theme, NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that ‘Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is a wake-up call’, a prompt for NATO-allied nations ‘to reconsider defence investment because it’s now obvious that we cannot take our security for granted’.

The immediate result of such feelgood posturing will be a 4,000-strong rapid-reaction force based in ‘Eastern Europe’ ‘to reassure existing members near Russia that the principle of collective defence remains sacrosanct’.

So much for the ceasefire.

Having poked and prodded Russia for the past two decades, offering invitations to its one-time allies to join the West’s military club, it sometimes seems as if NATO is intent on reinvigorating that old Red-hued enmity. 

But that is to give NATO too much credit.

It is NATO’s quest for its own purpose, which, having mutated into an unlimited, interminable demand for security and safety, has led it almost unthinkingly into a confrontation with Russia.

It is blundering rather than belligerent; clueless rather than calculating.

And that, in many ways, is far more dangerous.

Mainstream and Mainline


What is there to add to the extremely rich vein of commentary elicited by Ted Cruz’s  shameless Israel lobby pandering at a Washington forum intended to call attention to the plight of Mideast Christians in the age of ISIS?

The pieces by Ross Douthat, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and the several posts by Rod Dreher say a great deal of what needs to be said, making many points I would likely never have thought of.
One takeaway from the controversy, which continues to reverberate around the conservative blogosphere, is how many socially conservative/Christian/Republican-leaning thinkers have sensed, perhaps for the first time in their relatively young careers, how morally flawed is the entire Christian Zionist/McCainist/Commentary/Washington Free Beacon/Likudnik group, whose views have long driven “mainstream” conservative foreign-policy opinion in Congress and the GOP presidential primaries.

I think this may grow into an important schism on the right, one that weakens neoconservatism, to the Republican Party’s long-term benefit.

I don’t want to ascribe views to people who don’t necessarily have them, but when I see young conservatives reacting viscerally against the tweets from the Breitbart site and other movement conservatives, tweets putting scare quotes around the word “Christian” in order to denigrate the Mideast patriarchs and bishops and other figures who attended the gathering, attacking them because they failed some sort of “stand with Israel” litmus test, it feels like a kind of Kronstadt moment.

This sentiment also comes when I see the disgust felt when Weekly Standard editor Lee Smith implies that Mideast Christians are simply a kind of ISIS lite.

I witnessed personally a comparable repulsion a year or so ago, when an old friend, long a prudently neocon-friendly author and Wall Street Journal writer, reacted to the smearing of Chuck Hagel by the same group.

It’s as if the Israel lobby has grown so accustomed to the deference accorded it by everyone else in the American political system, it has lost any sense of its own limits.
Still there are other points to be made.

Several of Cruz’s critics responded as if the Mideast Christians who came to the gathering deserved a sort of indulgent understanding for their lack of enthusiasm for Cruz’s admonition that Israel is their greatest friend.

It was sometimes noted as historical fact that most Palestinian Christians live under Israeli occupation, and that others were ethnically cleansed by Israel in 1948; that the Lebanese Christians had once been Israel’s allies, which had not worked out well for them: in other words, all these groups had understandable excuses for their chilliness towards Israel.

These Christians are, according to this discourse, genuinely vulnerable—they can be forgiven for not loving Israel. But this argument—and there are elements of it in most of the conservative pieces which chastized Cruz—scants the fact that Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestine is also opposed, often quite publicly and with increasing energy, by ever growing numbers of non-Mideast Christians.
I wonder if Cruz would similarly walk out and denounce Pope Francis as an anti-Semite, considering the new Pope visited the Holy Land and expressed his wishes for dignity and freedom for both Israelis and Palestinians and said a prayer outside the Israeli wall that severs Bethlehem from neighboring Jerusalem and has largely rendered the town of Jesus’s birth a walled off ghetto.

(The Israeli right went into conniptions about the Pope’s visit, with the incomparable Caroline Glick accusing the Pope of licensing “Holocaust denial” by his prayer at the Bethlehem separation wall.)

If there is an argument that the Pope, with his stand in support of peace and dignity for both peoples in the Holy Land, is some kind of outlier among Catholics, I have not yet heard it.
Then there are the Presbyterians, who last summer voted to divest from several American companies profiting from the Israeli occupation, and the United Methodists, who nearly did so two summers before and are edging towards a successful divestment vote in good time.

These are mainstream and mainline American Protestants, not the historic peace churches.

Lutheran World Service runs a hospital in Jerusalem, designed to serve Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, that is engaged in a constant tension with the Israeli authorities who want to isolate it from the population it is meant to serve.

One could go on: consideration of the European or South American churches would hardly alter this analysis.
Simply put, the Mideast Christians who gathered in D.C. to express their fears and ask for support when threatened by an inflamed Muslim fundamentalism are—in their nuanced attitudes toward Israel—far more representative of Christian opinion as a whole than is the belligerent Christian Zionism expressed by Ted Cruz.
Finally, I see that one avenue of response to Rod Dreher in Commentary is to tar him with association with the views of other TAC writers, including yours truly, who are accused of “clear anti-Israel bias.”

I probably should resist taking this as an invitation to respond, but I won’t, and my guess is that Rod, who is surely less cool towards present day Israel than I am, might welcome some clarification from his colleagues.
Generally my own view of Israel and Palestine is summed up (more pithily than I would be capable of) by Bradley Burston in a recent Haaretz piece:
If somebody tells me that Israel alone should keep the West Bank and East Jerusalem forever because God said so—or even “Just because it’s ours”—my feeling is: This is this person’s honest belief. I don’t share it, by any means. But I respect it as true faith, without an effort to whitewash, misdirect, or misrepresent.
I feel the same way about the opposite side. When someone, usually someone Jewish, says that in their view, there should be no State of Israel because it’s an illegitimate, militarized ethnocracy, I appreciate their candor in spelling out what they want to see, and I respect as an expression of true conviction their telling me what they want to see politically or otherwise euthanized. Even if it’s me.
In that spirit, I make no special claims for my desire to see—and my perhaps messianic belief in the possibility of—partition of the Holy Land into two independent states: Israel and Palestine.
Burston uses these words as a prelude to exposing the dishonesty in a recent piece by Elliot Abrams that attempts to whitewash Israeli settlement building.

But his overall perspective is one I share: that is, I believe in the two-state solution as the most likely way to deliver peace and dignity to Israelis and Palestinians.

I am not sure how I would have felt in 1947 and 1948, but I suppose there is good chance I would have believed as Truman did, that establishing a Jewish state in Palestine would be the source of unending religiously-based strife.

He hoped for some kind of non-faith-based federation that might accommodate Jewish refugees and the Palestinian Arabs then living there. I might also have agreed with George Marshall and other members of the American diplomatic establishment who opposed American support for the creation of Israel for strategic reasons.

Truman eventually threw up his hands and let domestic politics trump his ethical and strategic concerns, which he in any event had no plausible way to forge into policy.
The American diplomats who feared the consequences flowing from the establishment of Israel have been proved partly right, partly wrong.

At this point, that’s water under the bridge: the question is how to seek the greatest measure of peace and justice now and in the future.
In the past 20 years, I have had to recognize that the possibility of a two-state solution has receded dramatically—from, I would estimate, probably more than 60 percent to less than 20 percent.

For this I hold successive Israeli governments far more responsible than the Palestinians.

The latter have revised the PLO charter to recognize Israel, and most of their leaders have told their people and behaved as if they they wanted to build a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza.

The major Arab countries formally put forth a peace initiative in 2002, reaffirmed five years later, offering Israel full diplomatic recognition in return for giving up the occupied territories.

For their efforts, and for America’s long-term diplomatic campaign to cajole the Palestinians into accepting a small state on the 22 percent remainder of historic Palestine, Israel has responded by building settlements and more settlements on the remaining land, slicing it up in non-contiguous cantons, divided by military checkpoints, armed settlements, and Israeli-only roads.

In the process Israelis have elected a right-wing government formally pledged to deny Palestinans a state on the West Bank. In other words occupation now, occupation tomorrow, occupation forever—that is Israel’s current policy.

At the same time, Israel has ignored, refused even to acknowledge, the Arab peace initiative, refused even to discuss it.

Have these developments over the past 20 years influenced my opinion of Israel? Of course they have.

Have they changed my sense of the two-state solution? Well, it certainly seems unlikely, but I’m not sure of a better answer.
There’s another, more self-interested, part of my overall view.

As someone concerned with foreign policy, I cannot help but note that Israel’s self-proclaimed friends in America, and often Israeli officials themselves, play a very large role in lobbying for American to fight wars in the Middle East.

They did so in Iraq—after 9/11, Israeli officials flooded the American media talking about the necessity of destroying the government of Iraq, complementing the efforts of their friends at Commentary and The Weekly Standard.

They got their wish, as they often do—and the destruction of Iraq played no small role stirring up the potentially genocidal crisis Mideast Christians face today.

And now the Israelis are doing it again, trying to foment an American war with Iran.

I understand that Israel feels it to be in its own national interest to have a regional monopoly on nuclear weapons. But I don’t think it’s an American national interest to fight continuous wars to maintain Israel’s monopoly.

So this too makes me less warm towards Israel than I was 20 or 30 years ago.
Of course there are many kinds of Israelis. I’ve taken two trips to Israel and have met quite a few—liberal Zionists is probably the most accurate term—who are actively striving towards a just peace with the Palestinians and believe in an Israel in which the country is fully integrated, peacefully, into its region.

They are, regrettably, a minority in Israel now, and perhaps they never had much influence.

But for me they represent an extremely attractive side of Zionism—sophisticated, broad-minded, non-bigoted people, often possessed of extraordinary courage, energy, and talents.

When I think of being supportive of Israel, they are people I would happily support, and I do and will continue to do.

Others are free to their opinions whether this view constitutes “bias” against Israel or makes me an “anti-Zionist.”

It is certainly based on on far more reading, knowledge, and personal experience with the Mideast than went into the presumably “unbiased” view I held 20 or more years ago, when I was a neoconservative in good standing and a fairly regular contributor to Commentary.

Social Democracy: The Scottish Question and the Catholic Answer

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

On The Record

Evidently, there is a settled constitutional order agreed among Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. It merely happens not to be the constitutional order that is currently in place.

By the look of things, it ought to be all done and dusted by the end of the next Parliament, having been opposed only by such irreconcilable Cavaliers and Roundheads as might remain in the House of Commons by this time next year.

In the course of that process, is today's trick going to be repeated whenever the readers of a particular newspaper are deemed most to need persuasion? Will a vow signed by all three Party Leaders then appear on the front page of, say, the Daily Telegraph?

David Cameron is preparing for somewhere between 100 and, far more probably, 50 votes against Devo Max, secure in the knowledge that that will mean somewhere between 550 and, far more probably, 600 votes in favour of it. Or will it? I shall come back to that.

It has, after all, been announced by Gordon Brown, who in the course of this campaign has become a figure of constitutional significance in his own right.

He speaks only with the prior approval of all three Party Leaders. Or is it vice versa? In either event, when he speaks, then that is that. It is the law. Tony Blair and his devotees always assumed that that would be him. But it is not. It is Brown.

The three titbits passed to me in the last few days do not seem so far-fetched in this context.

A highly placed Conservative may have genuine cause to worry that any Conservative candidate would henceforth be selected by a ballot of all voters in the constituency from a shortlist of two compiled by all councillors above Parish or Town level, regardless of party, if any, while the Conservative Leader would henceforth be elected by a ballot of all voters in the country from a shortlist of two compiled by all MPs, regardless of party, if any.

Applicants themselves would still have to be Conservative Party members in the first case, Conservative MPs in the second. But even so.

A highly placed Labourite may have genuine cause to worry that the incoming Labour Government was going to invite Labour backbenchers, Conservative backbenchers, Lib Dem backbenchers and "Other" MPs to elect two of their number to participate in each Department of State as quasi-Ministers, with those representatives in turn electing two each to attend Cabinet on Privy Council terms.

All in return for never voting against the Government on anything, and for never speaking against the Government, inside or outside Parliament, in one's area of responsibility.

I put it to my source that the big losers here would be the Blairites. The winners would be the Labour mainstream (including the traditional Right), the Labour Left, the Conservative mainstream (including the traditional Left), the Conservative Right, the mostly Scottish and West Country Whigs, the Radicals, the DUP, and the Nationalists-cum-Greens.

But I was told that, while that was true, certain sources of funding for additional salaries were being explored. You can guess.

In fact, my interlocutor expressed the hope that I might be in a position to locate alternative, more acceptable revenue streams in order to enable at least some of those categories of parliamentarian to participate in good conscience. Gosh. Well, I shall see what I can do. But if my informant cannot promise anything, then little old David Lindsay certainly cannot.

And a highly placed Liberal Democrat may have genuine cause to worry that the new second chamber will consist overwhelmingly of 99 Conservatives (one from each lieutenancy area) elected from shortlists of two complied by local Labourites and Lib Dems, 99 Labourities elected from shortlists of two complied by local Conservatives and Lib Dems, 99 Liberal Democrats elected from shortlists of two complied by local Conservatives and Labourites, and 99 Crossbenchers elected from shortlists of two complied by local Conservatives, Labourites and Lib Dems.

Other parties would be permitted to contest five seats in each of the 12 regions, but only on condition of no longer contesting elections to the House of Commons, and adding up to a mere 60 Senators out of a total of 456.

But will Devo Max really be opposed only by implacable Tory ultras? What about implacable Labour ultras? Or implacable Lib Dem ultras?

Labour MPs for Scotland hold the Scottish Parliament in extremely low regard, and did so even before it fell under the control of the SNP, as it did quite some time ago now.

Labour MPs from the North of England have spent an electoral generation voting powers to Scotland and Europe, Wales and London, Northern Ireland and the judiciary, everyone but themselves or their constituents. It is not as if Scotland has proved loyal to Labour in the way that the North very largely has.

All these years after devolution, Lib Dem MPs see that the Highlands and Islands are the only part of Scotland among the 11 parts of the United Kingdom that are poorer than Poland, although Cornwall and Devon are both also on that list, as well as both being among those nine out of the 10 poorest parts of Northern Europe which are in this country.

Bringing us to the Barnett Formula, which today is elevated to the status of an article of the Constitution. Lord Barnett has long been on record that it was only ever supposed to last for one year. It is an outrage against social democracy and even against basic justice, being not remotely needs-based.

Like a currency union in the event of a Yes vote in Scotland, the canonisation of the Barnett Formula in the event of a No vote would itself imperil the Union by raising serious questions among the Welsh about why they should bother with a State that treated them so shabbily.

Heaven knows, the Barnett Formula does no good to the poorest people in Scotland. Their condition is as desperate under Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon as is that of their counterparts under David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith.

Labour MPs from Wales and the North of England must band together with Lib Dems from Wales and the West Country, and indeed from the North of Scotland, so that, perhaps even joined by Plaid Cymru and undoubtedly alongside all parties from Northern Ireland, they might propose a long-overdue replacement, based on need and organised through direct funding to localities without reference the Nationalist nomenklatura in Scotland.

The areas of Scotland that would benefit most from such a new approach are those which suffer most as a result of the old one. Outside the rural Lib Dem strongholds, those are mostly the areas that return devosceptical Labour MPs to Westminster.

As much as anything else, this offers the possibility of taking back Holyrood seats from the SNP, by correctly presenting it as the party that hordes money away from the communities that need it.

Devo Max will pass. But there could be 200 votes against it at Second Reading, and perhaps even 250, in order to force these concessions in the course of the Bill's parliamentary progress.

There ought to be.

Will there be? If not, why not?

Neighbours Into Foreigners

Nick Cohen writes:

Nationalists build walls to keep their people in and the rest out. They create ‘us’ and ‘them’. Friends and enemies.

If you disagree, if you say they have no right to speak for you because not all Scots/Serbs/Germans/Russians/Israelis think the same or recognise their lines of the map, you become a traitor to the collective.

The fashionable phrase ‘the other’ is one of the few pieces of sociological jargon that enriches thought. All enforcers of political, religious and nationalist taboos need an ‘other’ to define themselves against, and keep the tribe in line.

The process of separation and vilification is depressing to watch but familiar enough.

Scottish nationalists are preparing a rarer trick, last seen in the dying days of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. They are trying to break up an existing multi-national state and turn neighbours into foreigners.

They want people, who have lived together, worked together, loved each other, had children together, moved into each other countries and out again, to be packaged and bound up in hermetically sealed boxes labelled ‘Scots’ and ‘English’.
The notion that Scottish nationalism is always cosy and ‘civic’ has flourished without challenge. Alex Salmond’s greatest propaganda success has been to limit debate.

If you are outside Scotland, and disagree with him, you have no right to comment on its internal affairs. If you are inside, you are ‘talking down Scotland’; showing yourself to be a self-hating Scot unfit to serve on its ‘Team’.

The nationalists have bullied too many into silence.

People who know better have not spelt out the costs of separatism, or said clearly that progressive forces will suffer most.

How can they not? Nationalism will allow capital to remain global, while forcing arbitrary local divisions on labour.

Brian Souter and Rupert Murdoch have flirted with Salmond because they can sniff a small state coming that must, whatever its currency turns out to be, run surpluses and build reserves to please the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and, above all, a market that will punish the tiniest step away from neo-liberal orthodoxy.

The currency question has no answer except deeper and wider austerity.

That people who think of themselves as left wing can brush it aside and pretend that working and middle-class Scots won’t suffer is a self-deception so extreme it borders on religious fantasy.

To be fair, most of the leaders of the labour movement understand the need for solidarity.

For how can a union official call for English workers to support Scottish workers if England and Scotland are separate countries?

Beyond a few warm words, they will have no more to offer than English taxpayers will have to offer Scottish welfare recipients, which is to say, nothing.

If the concept of solidarity smells dusty to you – and one reason why nationalism is thriving is that it does to many – consider the work of charities, which for want of a better word you can call “progressive”.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, to take one example, protects ospreys in the Highlands, peatlands near Thurso and breeding colonies in the Hebrides. Its members are happy to fund them, but the funds come overwhelming from England.

In private, RSPB managers are terrified that the flow of money will stop with independence. Maybe environmentalists should not care about borders.

In practice, they are far more willing to protect wildlife and landscapes in their own country than someone else’s.

The RSPB, like so many others, plays the cautious coward in public. It stays silent for fear of seeming ‘political’.

But the independence referendum goes beyond conventional politics. Every organisation which transfers wealth around these islands has a duty to say what it thinks will happen if Britain breaks up.

I don’t think voters will thank them for their silence when the bill arrives.

Beyond mere money lie the affections and identities of millions of people. When and if Scotland breaks away, the first victims will be those who voted No.

They will be doubters, the naysayers, maybe even the traitors, who did not join Salmond’s ‘Team Scotland’ when their captain called, and tried to prevent the glorious rebirth of the nation.

Hundreds of thousands of Scots meanwhile live in the rest of the UK and hundreds of thousands of English, Welsh and Irish people live in Scotland.

They could become foreigners in what was their own country until they day before the vote. Don’t pretend that their lives won’t change.

Don’t say, as so many say to me, that it does not matter what nation you live in. If nationality does not matter, where’s the need for Scottish nationalism?

I concede that the EU allows freedom of movement, and assume that one day Scotland will be readmitted one way or another.

But the modern Europe’s liberalism is not as permissive as it seems. There are many posts foreigners struggle to fill.

After separation, Scots defending the United Kingdom will have a harder time working in the armed, security and police forces and vice versa.

The state charges them with protecting their country, but overnight their country will no longer be Britain.

The same applies in the civil service, particularly at a senior level, and in journalism and the arts, which claim to speak to and for the nation, and any firm which receives public money.#

Meanwhile frantic charities, businesses and voluntary organisations will have to create separate Scottish offices for the new Scottish state.

They will think that they must fill them with Scots men and women, for Scots are most likely to get a hearing from the new order.

Back south, the same nationalist discrimination will apply in reverse. It will feel more natural to exclude Scots.

I am not saying that an Englishman could not be a general in a Scottish army and a Scotswoman could not be a presenter on the BBC.

People in jobs will stay in their jobs as the walls go up and the shutters come down.  But over time when they retire, they will not be replaced.

Nationalism excludes and narrows. It shrivels opportunities and limits horizons.

Everyone from workers looking for new jobs to students looking for a university place will feel less inclined to look beyond the new borders.

With the partial exception of Ireland – Britain’s first colony and greatest shame – everyone has benefited from the dual identity Britishness allows.

You can be Scottish and British, English and British, Welsh and British, black and British.

We have lived with dual identities for so long, we take their benefits for granted. But consider how  precious they are.

On the radio at the moment, a Scot is presenting a programme in London and no one apart from English nationalist fanatics doubts his right to do so.

That amicable tolerance and easy rubbing along will decline; not vanish but fade as Britain contracts.

Scottish nationalism is already pushing it towards its grave and if readers north of the border don’t think that English nationalism will not rise and define itself in opposition to Scotland they are deluding themselves.

Sometimes foreigners see us with a clarity we lack.

Britishness was immensely useful to immigrants and ethnic minorities. It gave them a space where racists could not reach them.

No one could say that they were not ‘really’ British, because in multinational, multi-ethnic and multi-confessional Britain the ‘real’ Briton did not exist.

Last week The Times published a letter from a Jewish refugee from Hitler, who made my point for me.

More by luck that anything else, she saved her life by receiving citizenship in 1939. When she applied for her first job, her employer asked her nationality.

‘English,’ she said as she embraced her new land.
‘No you’re British,’ he replied. ‘You will never be truly English.’

The best reason for voting No has nothing to do with pounds and oil.

If Salmond wins, the people who want to check accents and bloodlines will everywhere be strengthened.

Britain has had few successes recently but one has been pushing to the margins the small-minded obsessives who want to ask whether you are ‘really’ English or ‘truly’ Scottish.

The margins are the best place for them.

Let’s keep them there.