Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Oh, about Scotland

While I'm here, there is one thing about the Scottish referendum that has been properly bugging me. Rachel Sylvester's article in the Times today is more or less a perfect illustration of it, while Polly Toynbee gives another cracking example. That thing is the idea that, if Scotland votes Yes to independence on Thursday, this will be all David Cameron's fault. For extra points, Sylvester accuses Cameron of arrogantly ignoring the wisdom of women:
The prime minister’s naive short-termism and arrogant refusal to listen to women will come back to haunt him

This is because he didn't listen to complaints that the No campaign sounds "like a man whose wife is leaving him, but instead of trying to win her back by talking about all the wonderful things they have done together, and telling her how much he loves her, he is shouting about how she won’t get any money or see the children if they get divorced.” Well, here's the thing. David Cameron doesn't run the No campaign. He doesn't run it because it was agreed by all Unionist players that an English Tory Prime Minister wasn't the best choice to persuade a country that returned one Tory MP in 2010 that independence was a bad idea.
Equally, the idea that:
Although Labour must share some of the responsibility, it is the prime minister who should shoulder most of the blame. It was he who caved in to the SNP leader over the date of the referendum, giving the independence cause time to build momentum, and it was he who refused to include a third compromise option on the ballot paper, offering the “devo-max” option that he has now been forced to concede.
Is mostly nonsense too. After the SNP won a majority in 2011, a referendum was inevitable. The timing of it was fairly irrelevant - as demonstrated by the fact that the polls only started to move as the actual date approached. ANd the idea that there ought to have been 3 options on the paper is ridiculous - what would have happened if the results had been 35% Yes, 34% No, and 31% Devo Max? Independence?

And why should the Prime Minister shoulder the blame for the conduct of a campaign led by Labour? The principal faces of the No campaign (Darling, Murphy, Brown) are Labour, the grassroots campaigners were supposed to be recruited by Labour - the party with the most to lose from independence is Labour. Cameron has done his bit (and his speeches are among the few memorable ones from the No camp) but ultimately he has had to take a back seat in this. Blaming him for this now is a smokescreen to hide the real culprits.

This is rubbish too:

Even if there’s a ‘no’ vote, Cameron has ended up giving away the keys to the kingdom on the basis of one opinion poll,” says a senior backbencher. “That is just wrong. The whole attitude has been ‘let’s get through today and worry about the details later’.”
I'm guessing this "senior backbencher" hasn't bothered reading the Strathclyde Commission Report, or realised that the Tories pledged precisely the further devolution that is being decried as last-minute and panicky back in June following the Report's publication. Fiscal devolution is a quintessentially Conservative position, and was already part of manifesto plans.

Christ, but the childish lack of discipline from the Tory back benches annoys me.

Scotland for Aye?

I must admit that I'd assumed from the moment the Independence referendum was announced that No would win, and by a reasonably comfortable margin. Once you got past the emotional appeal of "Freedom!", there just didn't seem to be a convincing enough answer to why Scotland should leave the UK. As the campaign progressed, and the Yes campaign's position became one where, post independence, Scotland would have the Queen as head of state, would use the pound in a full currency union with the UK, would have no border policy, would remain an EU member state, and would have full access to the BBC it seemed increasingly hard to see what the point of independence was.
I then rather assumed that the total and abject failure of the Yes campaign to answer the question over how the currency would work (or at least answer it honestly) would be enough to sink Yes on its own. I am not, as I may have mentioned before, an economist, but even I can work out why a formal currency union isn't on offer - there's literally nothing in it for the UK. If it were to be even vaguely acceptable to UK politicians, the fiscal strings that would be attached would be simply incompatible with independence - Scottish fiscal freedom would actually be curtailed as a result of independence.

And yet this doesn't seem even to have dented the Yes bandwagon - when asked about it, Salmond either ignores the question, or seizes on comments by Alastair Darling that "of course Scotland could use the pound" without mentioning that he followed this up by saying "we could use the ruble, we could use the dollar, we could use the yen. We could use anything we want." The independence referendum has been a fight between naive optimism, and grumpy pessimism; between poetry and prose. I've finally remembered what it reminds me of:
Should we “camp out” or sleep at inns? George and I were for camping out. We said it would be so wild and free, so patriarchal like.
Slowly the golden memory of the dead sun fades from the hearts of the cold, sad clouds. Silent, like sorrowing children, the birds have ceased their song, and only the moorhen’s plaintive cry and the harsh croak of the corncrake stirs the awed hush around the couch of waters, where the dying day breathes out her last.
From the dim woods on either bank, Night’s ghostly army, the grey shadows, creep out with noiseless tread to chase away the lingering rear-guard of the light, and pass, with noiseless, unseen feet, above the waving river-grass, and through the sighing rushes; and Night, upon her sombre throne, folds her black wings above the darkening world, and, from her phantom palace, lit by the pale stars, reigns in stillness.
Then we run our little boat into some quiet nook, and the tent is pitched, and the frugal supper cooked and eaten. Then the big pipes are filled and lighted, and the pleasant chat goes round in musical undertone; while, in the pauses of our talk, the river, playing round the boat, prattles strange old tales and secrets, sings low the old child’s song that it has sung so many thousand years—will sing so many thousand years to come, before its voice grows harsh and old—a song that we, who have learnt to love its changing face, who have so often nestled on its yielding bosom, think, somehow, we understand, though we could not tell you in mere words the story that we listen to.
And we sit there, by its margin, while the moon, who loves it too, stoops down to kiss it with a sister’s kiss, and throws her silver arms around it clingingly; and we watch it as it flows, ever singing, ever whispering, out to meet its king, the sea—till our voices die away in silence, and the pipes go out—till we, common-place, everyday young men enough, feel strangely full of thoughts, half sad, half sweet, and do not care or want to speak—till we laugh, and, rising, knock the ashes from our burnt-out pipes, and say “Good-night,”and, lulled by the lapping water and the rustling trees, we fall asleep beneath the great, still stars, and dream that the world is young again—young and sweet as she used to be ere the centuries of fret and care had furrowed her fair face, ere her children’s sins and follies had made old her loving heart—sweet as she was in those bygone days when, a new-made mother, she nursed us, her children, upon her own deep breast—ere the wiles of painted civilization had lured us away from her fond arms, and the poisoned sneers of artificiality had made us ashamed of the simple life we led with her, and the simple, stately home where mankind was born so many thousands years ago.
Harris said: 
“How about when it rained?”
I do hope Harris wins on Thursday.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

You're like Hitler!

This may come as a bit of a shock, but I don't agree with Owen Jones. Recovered? Right. He's written an article about David Cameron's reported (but private) remarks to an EU Summit on the growing crisis in Ukraine.
"We run the risk of repeating the mistakes made in Munich in '38. We cannot know what will happen next," Cameron was reported as saying. "This time we cannot meet Putin's demands. He has already taken Crimea and we cannot allow him to take the whole country."
Jones sees this as nothing more or less than inflammatory rhetoric:
Let’s resist the Hitler comparisons, which intend simply to shut down any reasoned discussion, to demonise all those who are not hawks, and to ratchet up tension.
But here's the thing: the comparison between Putin's foreign policy and Hitler's up to 1938 is a perfectly good one. In fact, the central rhetorical underpinning of Putin's expansionism is almost uncannily reminiscent of pre-war Hitlerite Germany. In both cases, they exploit non-existent outrages and humiliations visited against minority ethnic groups (German or Russian) within multi-ethnic border states, and demand initially that regions within those countries be 'returned' to the father/motherland.

This was the modus operandi in the Sudetenland in 1938, where local ethnic Germans acted as proxies for the true guiding force in Berlin. Hitler created an international incident over the treatment of the Sud-Deutsch that led to the partial annexation of Czechoslovakia as a precursor to a full-blown invasion the following year.

Hitler also employed this technique against Poland, with the treatment of ethnic Germans in the Danzig corridor being central to the propaganda build-up to the invasion of Poland. Agents provocateurs were used, and local proxies staged acts of terrorism in support of Nazi foreign policy.

Now look at how Putin has managed his regional expansionism: he has concentrated on the "abuses" suffered by ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine; he cited the same issue as a reason for the invasion of Georgia in 2008; he has raised the same concern in Estonia. Hitler and Putin are unambiguously playing the same card.

They're playing it, essentially, for the same reasons too: the absorbtion of neighbouring states into a greater German Reich, or a reborn Soviet Union. It's an accurate comparison, and a fairly enlightening one as well.

Should it be made though? Isn't Hitler so uniquely evil that he defies comparison? As a side note, isn't especially unfair to compare a Russian leader to Hitler "after all, the Soviet Union was absolutely instrumental in the defeat of Nazism, suffering well over 20 million fatalities. In the case of Russia, comparisons to Hitler could hardly be more insulting." Taking this latter point first, no it isn't. Not only were there fairly obvious points of comparison between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, but they began the Second World War as allies, and invaded Poland together, shaking hands over the ruins.

More broadly, there is a reasonable argument to be made that Hitler makes a poor comparitor: the evil of his regime overpowers more or less any comparison you could make. It's also often a thinly veiled attack on the propriety of whatever is being compared: "you know who else...". When, however, the comparison is being made with a short autocrat who manipulated the democratic process to get into power, and then abused it to stay there; and who is cynically manipulating ethnic tensions in neighbouring states in order to foment sufficient unrest to justify an invasion: then I think the comparison is just fair enough.