The (dis) United Kingdom.

In my blog ‘Cameron democracy – what a chancer’ of 2016, I forecast that the Brexit option would be a license for the Scots to redouble their efforts to gain independence. I did not place the same emphasis on Northern Ireland but now a united Ireland looks more likely than ever. Wales ‘the place the size of Wales’ is also stretching its muscles and gaining ground in campaigning for independence.

Johnson the current PM is huffing and puffing that, only with his express permission, can the Scots be allowed to have a referendum on independence, since that was the agreement following the last referendum some seven years (2014) ago, when a majority of 55% to 45% voted for the union. It was tacitly agreed then that the referendum would be held not more than once in a generation.

The SNP now claims that if they earn a clear majority in the 2021 elections in the devolved administration, gaining a clear majority, then, that will be a clear indication of the Scottish desire for independence from Westminster. As a consequence, they should therefore be allowed to have another referendum on complete independence.

Against this argument Mr. Johnson responds,’same old, same old, have a referendum until it falls in your favour,’ is not a tenable choice. In the meantime the wily leader of Scotland keeps on, particularly while the Brexit issues remain raw. The UK Government knows very well that with the downward price in the long term for oil, Scotland’s fiscal deficit with London is bound to rise, and therefore the longer the wait the more obvious will become the case for Scottish integration into the UK. Additionally the more remote will become, the readmission to the EU for Scotland. All this is complicated enough but compared to the Northern Irish issues it pales into insignificance.

Northern Ireland, a constitutional problem that has plagued the UK since its inception. What is Northern Ireland? A province? A Country? A region? A ‘self governing; (home affairs suspended) province. Since the ‘Troubles’ which have been almost continuous since 1921. Explicitly recognised since the 1950’s, the internal conflict which was born of the fight for full emancipation of Catholics, claimed at least 3,500 lives and countless injuries both mental and physical. The Good Friday agreement of 1998 acknowledges that the majority of people in Northern Ireland wished to remain as part of the United Kingdom. It also acknowledged that the majority of the people on or in the Island of Ireland want Northern Ireland to be part of a united Ireland. The 1999 agreement was only opposed by one political party the DUP. If, and when, a majority of the people in Northern Ireland and Ireland vote that there should be a United Ireland, it will come to pass.

As memories of the ‘troubles’ fades and religious fervour declines, so the idea of a United Ireland becomes more acceptable to Irish people of all opinions and political parties with the exception of the DUP and hard line fringes. A substantial proportion of protestant unionists remain wary of catholic domination, (as they see the prospects of a united Ireland). However the majority of both Catholic minority and the protestant majority in Northern Ireland are becoming less polarised and more relaxed about the idea of a United Ireland.

Brexit has added another very complex dimension to the overall political equation. In simple terms when the UK was a member of the EU there was no border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. After UK withdrew from the EU there is a de facto hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. By allowing a border to be drawn through the Irish Sea the UK Government has essentially imposed different conditions on Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK. (It promised the DUP this would never happen.) De facto this has pushed Northern Ireland towards the idea of a United Ireland – like it or not!

It is not difficult to see that in the near future that the island of Ireland will be united as one. It makes a lot of sense.

Wales is larger than Northern Island with 60% larger population of 3.3million# people. People talk of England and Wales when referring to statistics, with Scotland always referred to separately. This has been so since Edward 1st in the 13th century. Wales at that time was run by a band of princes or rogues depending on your point of view, Llewellyn ap Gruffyd being an exception in the North. By 1282 it was all over and since then Wales has been part of the United Kingdom. Modern history has seen Wales exploited for its mineral wealth from copper, to coal, to slate, and its population subjected to the slings and arrows of industrial slavery. The de-industrialisation of the late twentieth century has seen Wales left behind, despite its enormous cultural wealth, its wonderful intellectual stock and great natural beauty. Wales has much in common with the poorer exploited former industrial heartlands of England. The essential difference is size and lack of colonial influence and wealth, i,e, London.

What then, the future of this lesser member of the United Kingdom, where does the future lie? Is there a viable way forward for an independent Wales. If the devolution vote is anything to go by, one could argue that the people of Wales could hardly care less, since only 29% of the voting population turned out some 20years ago. Since the foundation of the devolved ‘Senedd’ apathy remains the single most driving political force in the Principality. There have for many years been a flickering of nationalistic fervour but it has never really burned very bright.

The prospects of Wales remain weak unless there is a much more outward looking impetus. The present attitude of inward eying and weak dependency on handouts is unlikely to yield an exciting prospect. The opposition parties in the ‘Senedd’ seem ineffectual and parochial, no wonder the Welsh voter is not moved.

In Westminster the Government of Boris Johnson has met the perfect storm, managing Brexit (for good or ill), the pandemic, the consequent economic disaster, it might seem that the very likely break up of the union is of little consequence. However, Mr Johnson does have the ace in the pack, and that is the fiscal deficit that each of the devolved nations/province of the UK depends on. In simple terms Westminster forks out about £34Bn a year with £17bn to Scotland (exclusive of local taxation) 15Bn to Wales and 11Bn to Northern Ireland. If dear old Westminster departs, who picks up the bills? Despite this, that cute politician in Edinburgh could yet shake the world.


The dilemma of lies versus Free Speech.

Social media has assumed enormous responsibility when it makes judgements on what is or is not permissible for publication. If everything was black and white, everything would be fine but sadly it is not. The very definition of what is right and wrong is in some theatres is confused. Democracy by definition includes freedom of speech and freedom to express opinion as sacred. Who then should be the arbitrator of thruth vs fiction.

As we see the back of Trump who apparently lied or spoke known untruths over 30,000 times during his presidency. By repeatedly lying he has distorted reality for many of his followers. This is hard for most non followers to understand, however, the evidence is irrefutable. Tyrants always have yes men and enablers to do their bidding and Trump was no exception. It is for those mainly republicans who aided and abetted to the promulgation of lies, more lies, and called them alternative facts, to confess their lies, and be counted. They were not alternative facts they were lies. Twitter and Facebook stepped in to stop the further spreading of lies and further incitements to violence, whilst great tracts of the Republican party stood by, frightened of the ghastly spectre of Donald Trump.

Whilst many applaud the action of the titanic social media, many are bound to ask the question; “Whose responsibility is it to ensure that truth is told and lies suppressed?” Should the social-media moguls have the power vested in them, to dictate not only what is true or false, but to judge which opinions are permissible in our society?

Certain University societies have voiced freely their objections to all sorts of opinion, and issued sanctions accordingly, frequently effectively closing down free speech platforms. Gay actors are now proposing that only they should be chosen to enact or portray gay roles. Surely a denial of what acting is all about! Where will it all end?

Tolerance to different opinions is what democracy is all about, tolerance of religion, race, and mores. Clearly truth underpins tolerance and falsehoods and lies used to undermine it. Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Xi, are all serial liars. They speak in extremes of patriots or traitors there seems little in between, Nationalism versus Globalism. Their rhetoric is the antipathy of tolerance.

We all have laws of course, and the independence of the judiciary is very much at the center of democracy, and it is the judiciary who ultimately define the truth, by deciding what is right and what is wrong. It was a great relief to see President Biden being sworn in in front of members of the supreme court of the USA a majority of them appointed by the Republican party Presidents, and all, all stood up for justice in the face of the rebellious Trump. Let us hope that all Americans learn that truth is theirs for the embracing, and despite the near calamities of the recent past, America remains a great democracy underpinned by truth.

Truth to tell!

The unhinged fantasy driven QAnon associates, are spreading through America in the aftermath of the bedlam left by the shortly to be ‘ex-President Trump’. Had Trump come to a second term, the QAnon cult and many others like it, would have swamped not only America but the whole of Western democracy.

There remain many tens of thousands of believers of this trash all over the globe, and for some of us, the greatest mystery is, how can anyone believe such outlandish drivel? I won’t grace the cult by repeating some of their wild illusions which they spread as truth, when it is anything but. It seems, the more outlandish the stories, the more likely are their followers to believe them and to spread them, all the while gathering more disciples. Why, is this?

Whilst Facebook and Twitter have banned much of the right wing inciting rhetoric, there remain several sites like Breitbart and The Epoch Times that continue to feed the illusion of evil and conspiracy amongst the world’s more liberal leaders, whoever they may be. Their wild brand of populism is seeding right wing extremism.

Perhaps, now that Trump has been seen to be defeated, it may be that the fantasists who were promised that Trumpism would conquer the world, may begin to realise the Trump and the mob that invaded the Capitol will not succeed, it was all a sad and desperate illusion.

Who are the people who are QAnon followers? It seems they are legions from many backgrounds, the thing they have in common; the want a target they can aim at, and the illusion that they can do something about it. There are millions in QAnon’s thrall, They are not only in the USA but in UK too.

Extreme populism has been given a voice in the UK with rash promises, and wild assurances about impossible futures. Such madness will make it harder for the conspiracists to come back to reality. Let us pray they, the conspiracy movement/cult, remains in the minority.

Lies about the past and exaggeration about the future. A difference?

The free world been shocked to the core about the breakdown of democratic law in the United States of America. Most outside the States have joked about what a liar Trump has been, but this latest event has given us cause to stop joking and pay attention what damage constant lying can do.

Plato and Aristotle both warned us of Tyrants and demagogues, Hitler and Goebbels amplified the example of lying in extremis, and yet the American People accepted Trumps lies and more lies, even that when he won the election, he planted the lie that many millions of votes were stolen from him. He perpetuated the lie till this election, working it, working it, hoping that he would be put back in the Whitehouse, even if he lost. He failed in his attempt to overturn American Politics but only just.

Putin and Trump tell lies all the time, ‘fake news’ is a fascist description of the truth, so I worry when any Government makes promises about the future, for no one can tell the future, as my Arabian friends used to say “He who tells the future, tells lies”.

So when Boris Johnson promised the easy Brexit and post Brexit bonanza, was he deliberately lying or was he animating his belief into a character that voters could grasp. ‘X million a week extra for the NHS’ for example. Is there a degree of truthfulness, is there a scale of deliberately misleading your following, say 1-10.

In Boris Johnson ‘s case, it is true that eventually UK will not be a net contributor to EU budgets, and that there fore the UK Government will have more to spend on UK services. (scale 2) True, if economically UK isn’t worse off through declining trade (scale 5 because you can’t possibly know) etc.. So there is a grain of truth, in what is certainly in the near term, a lie. Is this lie then, in the same category of evil as Trump’s unfounded assertion that the American election system is subject to mass fraud? (Scale 10)

(I am aware that I am over- simplifying Brexit issues for illustration.)

If Boris had said, ‘It is possible, I believe on balance we’ll be better off……” Would he have won the argument? Would he have fulfilled a political ambition that he believes in? Was his exaggeration ( a lie) worthy of his goal? Is it ever permissible to use hyperbole to win an argument, and when does hyperbole became a lie?

In an ideal society we believe that everyone knows truth from fiction or lies, yet we are duped in modern times from Hitler to Trump. We can now see that Aristotle, who argued that in a democracy a wealthy and talented demagogue could all too easily master the minds of the populace, and Plato who notes a particular risk for tyrants is that they surround themselves with yes-men and enablers.. Both were prescient.

For the general population not to be influenced by powerful people who are liars is a vexed issue. After all, social media influencers are all the currency, and who can tell the innocent hyperbole from the outright lie? Is it a matter for democratic government or for individual belief systems. This is where there is a gap in the argument. Political dreams are surely still valid, can we judge between the dream and the reality?

Only the truth will tell!

The Truth, the basis of Freedom.

The goings on in America have shaken to the core the great majority of people, not only in the US, but also all supporters of democracy where ever they may be. America despite all its faults was always a beacon of hope because the word FREEDOM was almost synonymous with The USA. Not any more!

For some, the rise of Donald Trump has been a great mystery, to many he is obviously a vulgar, liar who disrespects anyone of colour, and anyone of the female gender. He is brash and tells lies as if they were the truth. He knows that celebrity can be believed whatever it utters, even if it is completely untrue. Yet he rose to the top of the most powerful nation on earth by promulgating obvious lies.

Former leadership of the USA has always shown respect to the US constitution, has always stayed true to the ideals of truth and understanding, even though the political philosophies have differed. When Nixon lied he was properly persuaded to stand down from office. Yet when Trump lied and lied again, the establishment appeared to allow dishonesty to become the way of American life. This dishonest vulgar man has been allowed to roam the world doing untold harm to democracy and indeed to the planet we live on.

What is it then, that convinces ‘ordinary’ people to absorb untruths from celebrities, knowing these utterances to be untrue. Is it transference of need, I am poor, there fore I believe the rich because they are more successful than me? Will I become rich if I too lie, is lying a legitimate way to make my way in the world? It seems so!

Now that Trump has been exposed as the liar and cheat that he is, will the mass of Americans who supported this fool have the sense and courage to deny their foolishness and return to what truth is about? All this stupid mantra about making great again whilst making America the laughing stock of the world must be hard to take. It will need courage and honesty and patience for the truth to return to America as the foundation of its democracy. Mitch McConnell and his republican colleagues have to play a constructive part in turning America round.

We all know that the schism of Freedom versus Socialism scares Americans half to death, but purity in either philosophy is worthless if it is riddled with lies and untruths. I believe in FREEDOM, I believe that the USA is too fine a nation to lapse once more into an era of vulgar untruths.

Wales – a poor relation?

 About 5% of the UK population live in Wales, an economic output of 4% with a GDP of around 80% of the UK average. Gross added value (GVA) has declined from 84% ave UK in 1989 to 70% in 2019. Wales has a fiscal gap of around 9bn. Cardiff remains the primary source of GDP relying principally on retail, finance, media and tourism sectors. Cardiff has received more investment in the regeneration projects in the late 20th century than any other part of Wales.

The Welsh Nationalist Plaid Cymru, argue that independence will allow Wales to embrace more innovative economic policies, but that is hard to reconcile without understanding the underlying economic conditions and their historic development. They argue that fiscal responsibility both collection (taxation) and expenditure can only be fruitfully managed if Wales is fully independent. They do not, at least at present, describe in detail how to address the fiscal deficit of £9bn.

If Wales is to move forward it must improve its wealth creation.  This does not mean an economic free for all, but it does mean that government of whatever hue, does develop strategies to improve the Welsh national income.  From that improvement will follow the quality of life for all the people of Wales.

Wales has certain advantages not shared by the rest of the UK, not least its natural beauty and its rich agricultural heritage, plus its very strong cultural profile, but much remains to be done to put Wales nearer the top of the European tourist destinations.

In agriculture the picture is much more complex, and there are extensive areas where neither arable or livestock are suitable.  A strategy to marry these fringe areas into tourism would surely make sense.

To make Wales accessible through to the western and northern coasts is crucial to opening up the Welsh hinterland, via a good communication system.  The tardiness of the Assembly government to address these issues is lamentable.

The great festival of Eisteddfods International and National are unique and truly something to shout about.  The WNO, the orchestras and choirs and theatres of Wales all need to be encouraged to put Wales on the Culture map of the world.  The Millennium Centre in Cardiff is a beacon for cultural progress, we need more investment and international awareness as in the likes of ‘Cardiff Singer of the World’.

Wales must not allow Cardiff to be the centre of all things.  Sure, we want and have got a capital city to be proud of, but we also need thriving centres for west to centre to north, which will attract industry, skills and investment. The University towns of Swansea, Aberystwyth and Bangor are already centres of excellence, and we are yet to see how the Welsh Government is to capitalise on this vital resource. Erasmus may be in short term confusion but Wales must capitalise on its academic heritage.

First among equals is most obviously roads and communication systems.  Wales has to grasp the nettle and open up its lovely face to welcome industry, technology, tourism and advanced agriculture.

Achieving these goals are key to Wales’s long term future.  Yes, let us be proud to be Welsh, but better even to be proud and successful as a nation.

The tribes of the ‘United’ Kingdom.

What is the difference between Nationalism and Tribalism?  What did the last election reveal about the regional differences in the ‘United Kingdom’. 

A tribe is merely a group of people who have developed a collective identity, usually by virtue of common culture, in-group marriage, and cohabitation in a defined area. Classic tribes are generally parochial. They don’t know much about the external world, they have strong prejudices in favour of their group (and sometimes, though not necessarily, prejudices against other groups), and they often resist cultural change.

A fine example of parochial tribalism is Wales, especially South Wales, the current Welsh government that sees its future in terms of Wales and the Welsh, it takes no discernible view of the wider world and the role of Wales in that context.  Indeed, there is a strong prejudice in favour of their own tribe and against other groups particularly the English who are seen still as the colonial power. Hence the strong moves in favour of their own language and indifference to opening up the country by road or rail links. They are reinforcing the tribal difference. This parochial tribalism is reinforced by what is believed to be poverty imposed by the colonial power.  The loss of industry seen as a personal slight, nothing to do with value in the outside competitive world.   I.e. Mrs Thatcher deindustrialised Wales as an act of colonial angst. Certainly, Westminster’s consequent woeful response to facilitate change, reinforced that view.

Perhaps on the back of this traumatic period 14.6% of the electorate were persuaded to vote for devolution, and thus was born the most parochial Government; The Welsh Assembly.  It should have been a driver of the Welsh region, an encourager of growth and innovation.  Alas, it has turned out a talking shop for petty tribal issues, attitudes have become more inward looking, and less enterprising.

In the Eastern Valleys of Wales the most populous sub-tribe have little cultural affinity with the West or North, they vote almost exclusively for socialism still smarting from the sudden and traumatic change in world economic affairs of the mid and late 20th century.  The market and competition crept unseen into the likes of the Rhondda valleys, now many generations of underprivileged and poorly educated unemployed are mired in a parochial tribe, with little opportunity and that has little choice other than to depend on the welfare state, and the enemy for ever of the Tories and Shire England.

In the North where Airbus is the biggest employer, where the English border is close at hand and open for business, where Liverpool and Cheshire are good neighbours, enough of welfare dependence, a change is afoot.  A key thing in this formerly socialist area is its less cultural affinity with the Welsh culture, here we have Liverpool soccer and not a blind allegiance to the Welsh warriors of the National Stadium in Cardiff. So here the socialist agenda has been at least temporarily been diluted, perhaps abandoned.

Nationalism is a free-floating ideological version of tribalism.
All that being said, the pragmatic elements of culture, breeding, and cohabitation are not universally necessary. Collective identities can form based entirely on mental qualities: ideas or ideals that one takes to heart and identifies with. When these mental qualities take on the classic tribal parochialism, we have Nationalism.

 I think Scotland qualifies as a Nationalist state.  Interestingly, they see their future not as part of the UK (large and influential) but as part of Europe (tiny member with little influence) even if this means breaking free from the Union. The Scots too, have a rump of belief that the English were uncaring and vanquishing colonisers.  The difference between the Scots and the Welsh is that the scots are wealthier, largely due to North Sea oil. The wealth has given them confidence.  They are looking to the wider world and see the EU as the best route, and part of their belief is conditioned by their collective view that the English are uncaring about the national tribal group.

Both Scotland and Wales have humungous fiscal deficits to England in the UK order, nationalism and parochialism never ever consider that.  Universally they want their cake and want to eat it too.  If Nationalism is a sort of confident tribalism, then the fading importance of oil should be a severe warning of things to come for an independent Scotland. 

Wales on the other hand is mired in an inward parochialism, a Government content to moan about Westminster, begging bowl in hand.  A government content to close its borders, to keep the English at bay, to progress and promote its culture as an end in itself.  Wales sees itself as a country exploited during the industrial revolution, and now cast aside as unimportant to Westminster. Left to perish with the slag heaps of the valleys and the dead mines of old. It is this history that still drive a naturally liberal people into the arms of the defensive inward-looking nanny state.

The plague of corona virus has in some ways levelled the playing field, at the same time allowing the devolved Governments to flex their muscles.  Sadly, the UK is poorly and indecisively led which only wins points for the independence movement in Scotland and the begging bowl moaners of Cardiff.

Nature has shown us very clearly that her plagues are no match for Governments or petty politicians.  We can excuse their chaotic responses, who could do better?  Surely, it’s time to put away these petty tribal quarrels and pull together for the greater good.