Blogging is a strange occupation - a solitary writer in search of the sort of communion with others that used to happen in the pub, on the corner, on the bus is now engaging with others electronically instead. So much for progress.

THIS blog is about ideas - big and small - connected with one of the things I care about with a passion, namely the future of liberal thought in this country. I am instinctively a radical liberal, with a grudging belief in the value of markets but an abhorrence of statism and indifference, and a strong belief in social justice. I find Labour bankrupt of ideas, and the Tories intellectually flacid. This is my response.

I am intending always to stick to the point: there will be no rabble-rousing talk, and no wasted jibes at other parties and political philosophies.

Comments will be moderated, but anyone can leave one.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Let's try again: It's 'No' for positive reasons

In these final few days of the Scottish referendum, there is still hope that a slow, tawdry, over-confident 'No' campaign can finally see the wood for the trees and make a coherent argument. But it'll have to move fast. It has been hopeless in making the case for union and tolerably useless at opposing the 'Yessers' in their own terms. Partly this is the result of a comprehensive failure to understand the terms of political rhetoric in Scottish politics. Scottish politics is, whatever Mr Salmond may say about 'progressive vision', very much rooted in the collectivist mindset of the early 20th century (no complaint about that from me, a liberal) in which it is possible to feel a victim in the morning and a hero in the afternoon - a victim of distant, self-interested government remote from oneself (because it happens to 'do something I don't like') and a hero of collective struggle and a bright (probably socialist) vision of the future (because life is bound to be better because people like me rather than 'them' are in charge) after that. That rhetoric is solid, immutable and wrong, but it is the rhetoric of more than just the far left in Scotland. What the 'No' camp needs to do is to espouse a vision - a genuinely positive vision - for the FUTURE of the union. Political unions across the world can and do evolve, discovering things that don't work gloriously well (like fiscal federalism in Canada) and things that do. The 'No' guys have to show - actually show - that the emotion of the Yes rhetoric can be turned off course not by denial (which won't work, and will play to the victim theme) but by positive statements about where union might take us (which won't). Like the possibility that in a complex economy such as the UK, regions can work together to maximise the benefit of belonging to the Uk in the same way they currently benefit from working together with other regions of the EU. Like the possibility of a union in which the planned further devolution of powers is not some grudging token gesture, but a constructive way of enhancing regionally distinct voices - a northeast that desperately wants investment on terms not dictated by London bankers, and a southeast that is not, inevitably, seen as a concreted-over hole in which ever more bodies jostle and fight for space. Like the intention to create a regionally differentiated, but inclusive, economic policy in which the choices of Wales are echoed and balanced with the intentions and aspirations of the northwest. All of that would be easy enough, but there is a more profound problem here: 'No' can't offer the CERTAINTY of such an inspiring vision since, frankly, the parties who support 'No' are implacable enemies in the run up to what will be a fiercely contested 2015 election. Heads will have to be banged together - and that takes more leadership than we see in the main parties at Westminster. But, 'No' camp, you must TRY!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

What the 'No' campaign needs to say, and say now..

I haven't blogged here for a long time. Liberalism being eroded by the Orange Bookers within the Libdems, a contagion of 'shootings in the foot' by the Liberal Democrat party (the handling of the Rennard case, for instance, makes the blood boil) and the failure of the liberal case to be heard on the broad left explains that. But there is a reason for blogging today about a very liberal issue, the issue of the Union and the threat to it from the Yes campaign for Scottish independence. For while liberals should, and do, cherish local democracy they oppose politics on the cheap, placing the destiny of a nation on a wing and a prayer, and threats and cajoling others to get your own way. The Yes campaign in the Scottish independence referendum have been allowed to get away with all this, and more, by a quite frankly hopeless 'Better Together' campaign. 'Better Together' has been fronted by a good, credible and serious politician in Alistair Darling, but it has been managed ineptly and produced little of the case for the union that ought to be offered to the people of Scotland. The case for No has rested on quite accurate statements about the paucity of truth in the Yes case - that Scotland can't be independent without control over its currency, that jobs and welfare are a risk from withdrawal, that Yes would have Scots bet the future of their nation on the likelihood of oil reserves somehow being eked out beyond 2030 and the oil price remaining high - but the response of Salmond and his co-nationalists to that case wins attention every time. 'It's all threats', they say, 'wicked threats by wicked people down south who would deny you your future'. That's because Better Together has accepted that the 'victims when it suits us' rhetoric of the SNP is unchallengeable. The 'Yessers' say that 'Project Fear' is the enemy - and in Scottish political culture the idea of 'outsiders' "telling us what to do" is supposedly unassailable. Better Together needs to start a new campaign, now. Call it Project Reality. Project Reality is that rUk WILL treat and independent Scotland as the easiest target for a trade offensive. It'll take Scottish jobs and capital not because the demon evil people in London are out to wreck independence, but because we'd be mad not to do so. Scotland would be easy pickings. Project Reality is that no-one in rUk intends allowing Scottish banks and Scottish government deficit spending to determine by one iota the level of rUk money supply or interest rates; we'll set our rates, and Scotland (using the £) will have to like it or lump it, and again we'll do so because it is in our interests and not because of some malign dislike of Scots. The key point here is that the motivation will not be malice; it will be inevitable because of defection from the Union. You go, you become a competitor. But Better Together has to make a REAL case for Union too. That political unions can take many forms, and that ours has evolved to date from where it was in 1707 and can do so again in future. That political union (in Europe, Africa, Asia) is a growing trend for a reason - it works. That our differences are small: the rhetoric of nationalisms divide us, and that crushes rather than liberates. That our Union is not perfect, and that (and the SNP has this absolutely right) our political system requires fundamental reform, but that this is a better starting point than 'wing and a prayer' Salmond promises and hopes. Moreover Better Together needs to tackle head on a problem at the heart of this cross-party campaign. It needs to recognise that the Union IS dominated by southeast England, to the disadvantage of all of us. Decisions are all too often 'southeast/London favouring'. Crossrail, all £15 billion of it, will benefit Scotland not one bit, and that is wrong. Equally though it will, while whisking rich bankers from Berkshire to Canary Wharf a whole 6 minutes quicker, benefit the people of Cornwall, Wiltshire, Brecon and Antrim to an equal degree, i.e. zero. It's part of a political mindset that views 'rebalencing' the regions as being about 'spreading the benefit of the southeast a little more widely' rather than investing where investment is best made for our union as a whole. That is wrong, and the Better Together team need to acknowledge it. Better Together, you need in these closing weeks to make a better case, and make it quickly. The people of the whole of the UK, and particularly the people of Scotland, deserve it.