Saturday, July 30, 2011

Witnessing the collapse

It has to be said that Kevin Baker's whole argument against gun control legislation has been collapsing around his ears over the last 48 hours or so (which perhaps explains why, for approximately the seventeenth time in our off-and-on exchanges, he has just abruptly declared that he is "done here"). Over the last two years, he has repeatedly claimed that there is no basis whatever for thinking that less gun control leads to more deaths - he always attributes Britain's much lower homicide rate to the vague concept of "culture". But he tripped up badly the other day when trying to make a cheap point about a UN report several years ago that labelled Scotland the "most violent country in the developed world", in spite of the fact that we have a homicide rate that is more than three times lower than that of the US -

"Maybe if the Scots had guns they would kill each other at astronomical rates. Given their obviously hyper-violent culture ....

Then again, there might be a few more deaths but a lot fewer Glasgow smiles."

Now, you might think that this is a relatively small concession - that he is saying less gun control would lead to only a very small number of extra deaths. But let's pursue the logic a bit further. Baker is claiming that Scotland's culture is literally the most violent in the western world (ie. more violent than the US), and is also conceding that adding more guns to the equation would increase the homicide rate - it seems logical to conclude, therefore, that US-style levels of gun ownership would lead to a homicide rate that doesn't merely match that of the US, but that actually exceeds it. We are thus not talking about "a few more deaths", as Baker puts it - but possibly three or four times as many. Even if we were to accept for the sake of argument Baker's risible presumption that more guns for "defensive purposes" would solve all our other problems of violence, would a quadrupled homicide rate really be an acceptable trade-off for fewer "Glasgow smiles"? I know what I think.

And Kevin really wonders why most of us in the UK think that strict gun control "somehow" saves lives? The answer to that question came out of your own mouth, Kevin.

You might also be wondering if Baker's comment about Scotland wasn't intended to be taken seriously. But in fact the notion of a trade-off between more gun homicides and preventing lesser types of assault has been a recurring theme of his comments over the last couple of days. For example, he said this in a reply to Tris this afternoon -

"I keep getting accused of "conflating violent crime and gun crime." Yes, I understand why you see it that way, but I have a hard time understanding why getting shot is somehow an entirely different class from being stabbed or raped or curb-stomped by a gang of feral youths. This whole exchange with James came from one story about a young father who was beaten to death by such a gang for having the temerity to ask them to stop vandalizing his property.

You're glad that, on a dark night it never occurs to you that you might get shot in the back. I congratulate you. But do you concern yourself about getting stabbed or beaten or raped? Because that still happens. And you have no way to defend yourself against a gang, or a criminal with a broken bottle, for that matter. You're not even allowed pepper spray...

And you've seen blades.

You're not worried about one of them "losing it"?"

Of course what he's actually being accused of is not conflating violent crime and gun crime, but conflating homicides with lesser assaults. Only by pretending that being assaulted is just as bad as being murdered can he seriously claim that Scotland with its wretched gun control is not a much safer place than his own country. It's especially intriguing that he accepts without surprise that Tris has never seen a gun in Dundee - isn't that a rather powerful indication that gun control works (however imperfectly) in its aim of keeping the most deadly weapons off the street? Kevin's answer to that would be that we need an influx of guns (thus risking a quadrupled homicide rate) to protect ourselves against the thugs who carry knives or even just use their fists - but isn't a more rational response that if we can so thoroughly protect ourselves against guns by keeping guns off the street, why can't we do the same thing with knives? Perhaps the Kevin Baker Fan Club shouldn't sneer quite so much at the UK's tough knife laws, or at ideas like knife amnesties.

Now let's move on to Baker's most recent (and, if we are to take him at his word, final) response to me on the previous thread. I had pointed out that I previously referred him to abundant statistical evidence of the link between gun control and a reduced risk of both homicide and suicide, and that he had casually dismissed all of it out of hand. His response was that he preferred to look at three meta-studies of the statistical evidence, which showed no such link. The reason for this preference was not, as you might cynically suppose, that the findings were more to his taste, but this -

"...far too often the "researchers" know what they believe and are out to prove it, almost always with the money of groups that support their personal biases. Your example of Dr. David Hemenway is one.

I point you to look at the raw data whenever I can. That convergence chart is mine, drawn from the government statistics. I reference these three studies because they are all government-funded and all draw similar conclusions over three different decades on two different continents."

Well, a few points leap out at me here. Firstly, Baker does have an advantage on me that, however one-eyed he is on this topic, he's an obsessive about it in a way that I am not, and can reference these publications in his sleep in a way that I cannot. I'm therefore left in the position where I have to wonder whether to take his word for it that only three meta-studies have ever been carried out in the whole of academic history on such an important topic. I would just note that while that's possible, such a claim does raise suspicions. Secondly, Baker is not, as he insists, simply pointing me to "raw data" - meta-studies provide an interpretation of raw data, just as every other study does. Thirdly (and perhaps most importantly) one of the people doing the interpreting is none other that Colin Greenwood, former police inspector, passionate advocate of the liberalisation of the UK's gun laws, and author of The Historical English Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Hmmm. We could perhaps wish for more objective researchers. When I pointed this out to Kevin, this was his rather unconvincing response -

"Yes. He wrote "Historical English Right" when?

In 2000, some 28 years after publishing Firearms Control.

It's amazing what happens when people look at the raw data themselves, and then dig into the history. Sometimes they learn something.

I've seen it happen many times. I very seldom see it go the other way."

And what about those researchers who Kevin so casually dismisses out of hand? Did they have "hoplophobia" implanted into them in the womb, or did they perhaps - just perhaps - form their own view on the basis of the raw data, just as Kevin claims Greenwood did?

"Once again, if "gun control" WORKS, why can't anybody prove it? You insist it's proven. I point to three studies that say it isn't."

And I pointed to umpteen studies that say it is. Oh, but wait - those don't count because the researchers were biased and bribed. How do we know they were biased? Oh, because they conducted studies 'erroneously' proving that gun control WORKS, and because a meta-study conducted by Colin Greenwood contradicted them. But how do we know that Colin Greenwood approached the topic with an entirely open mind, and that his study is therefore credible in a way that the others are not? Because it 'correctly' concludes that gun control doesn't work.

Circular logic, much?

Lastly, Kevin goes into his favourite teacherly tone of address, to wearily remind me that if only I would APPLY myself to the homework he has set me, it's not ENTIRELY impossible that even a lost soul like me could aspire to attain his own immense wisdom one day -

"Look it up. Check more than one source. I recommend you read six or seven."

It's sorely tempting at this point to recommend to Kevin that he might care to look up fifteen or twenty sources on how much pride Thomas Hamilton invested in his legally-owned firearms, and thirty or forty sources detailing the horrific wounds he inflicted on Primary 1 pupils with those self-same weapons.

Anyway, what he's referring to is the Tottenham Outrage, an incident in 1909 that he seems to have a fascination for. Perhaps it's because it harks back to what he perceives as a better time in Britain, before the pernicious effects of socialism kicked in, when men were still men and were prepared to take direct violent action to protect both themselves and their community. The lesson presumably being - this is what you could be again, Britain, if only you would listen to us. But there's something curious about this - hasn't Baker repeatedly chided me for my supposed (ie. imaginary) belief in the "perfectibility" of the human race, and the idea that there is a "solution to every problem"? Isn't that precisely what he's proposing here - that there is a better, nobler kind of humanity that can be fashioned, and that in so doing we create the 'solution' to incidents like the Tottenham Outrage, or indeed the recent massacre in Norway?

So I'm not quite sure whether it's Kevin or I who is the misty-eyed idealist. The difficulty I have with all this, though, is that when I think of idealism and creating a better world, I tend to think of better education, safer streets, longer and healthier lives for all, etc, etc. Kevin's dreams aren't of these things - the better world he strives for is one in which armed Britons will once again charge the streets of Tottenham in hot pursuit of trigger-happy robbers.

None of which causes me to revise my suspicion that the Kevin Baker & Fan Club 'philosophy' is not really about liberty and self-defence - it's above all else a macho world view that glorifies strength (ie. their self-image of themselves) and vilifies weakness and dependence.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Are you YOUNG? Are you MALE? Can you supply your own ROCKS? Enlist with your local crack suicide squad NOW!

Kevin Baker has posted another reply on his own blog. In all honesty there isn't a huge amount to see - it follows his normal practice of saying all the things that have been comprehensively debunked many times before, but saying them LOUDER!!!! (For the uninitiated, that's an affectionate tribute to one of his many delightful catchphrases.) The main gist is that it doesn't matter a damn that the UK with its strict gun control regime has a much lower homicide rate than the US, because the gap used to be wider still, but has "converged" even as successive British governments have introduced progressively more stringent restrictions on gun ownership. But just one problem (the same one as usual) - where is the remotest rational basis for believing, as Baker does, that this "convergence" has actually been caused by the changes in the law? Let's not forget that Baker's first proposition is that the huge difference in murder rates between our two countries can't possibly have anything to do with gun laws or levels of gun ownership, but must have everything to do with the vague, all-purpose explanation "culture". But, by contrast, he simultaneously believes that increases in the British homicide rate over the years can't possibly have anything whatever to do with "cultural" changes (of which there have of course been plenty), but must have absolutely everything to do with the strengthening of the gun legislation. That, as I've now pointed out umpteen times, is magical thinking on an industrial scale.

This is the true position :

Gun control legislation was at one time minimal in the UK, for the very good reason that there wasn't really a gun problem. Rates of gun ownership were always a tiny fraction of what they were in some other countries, especially the US. To listen to Baker's account of what happened, you'd think there was once a US-style gun free-for-all in Britain which coincided with a golden age of peace and harmony. Then those dastardly socialist politicians took all the legal guns away, and all hell broke loose. 'Fraid not, Kevin. Gun control has been progressively strengthened in an attempt not to reverse a former prevalence of gun ownership, but to maintain as far as possible the status quo of a society that is largely unarmed, and in which gun violence is a rarity. It's been like swimming against the tide, unfortunately, and the increasing number of illegal weapons has meant that the legislation has at times felt like damage limitation rather than a comprehensive solution. But the idea that the damage has not in fact been significantly limited, and that the problem would not now be much, much worse if the legislation had not been in place, simply doesn't stand up to the remotest scrutiny.

Now briefly to a couple of Kevin's random jibes -

"But hey! At least they're not killing each other with GUNS! Because somehow that makes a difference."

Kevin, this is really not a hard concept to understand, so just for you, I will try one more time to explain. You're correct that the weapon typically used to commit violence in a society wouldn't matter if the same number of people were going to die anyway, but I'm afraid that isn't the case. Self-evidently there are murders in Scotland (as there are in every country in the world), and those murders are largely carried out with weapons other than firearms, but they are also dramatically fewer in number than would be the case if more violent offenders were armed with guns. That is the relevance of a comparison between the homicide statistics in Arizona and Scotland, two jurisdictions with broadly similar population sizes, but very different rates of gun ownership.

"Back when I wrote What We Got Here is ... Failure to Communicate, I noted that Thomas Sowell pointed out one major difference between those who believe humans are perfectible and those like me who believe human nature doesn't change. Those who believe in human perfectibility believe in solutions. Those like me see trade-offs."

And I pointed out to you at the time that you were ascribing to me a belief in "human perfectibility" that I do not hold, but it seems you had your fingers firmly stuck in your ears on that day as well.

"Hey, maybe he's right. Maybe if the Scots had guns they would kill each other at astronomical rates. Given their obviously hyper-violent culture ...."

Now, the truly frightening thing is that you honestly believe that's a joke. I doubt it would exceed the astronomical US levels of gun murder, but by European standards we could well be facing carnage. Many a true word spoken in jest, Kevin. Still, maybe it wouldn't be so bad - as long as we had crack suicide squads of "young men with rocks" on every street corner, what harm could guns do us?

Questions to which the answer is readily available

It seems I'm in a position to ameliorate the befuddlement of the "admin" of Labour Hame yet again. In a comment on Kate Higgins' article on the website, he/she has this to say in response to a suggestion that many Labour voters support independence...

"Where is the evidence for this? While all the evidence suggests that a substantial number of those who voted SNP in May don’t support independence, there is nothing to suggest that large numbers of Labour supporters in May actually wanted independence. A couple of dozen, at most, probably."

Answer : Rather helpfully, there was a YouGov poll on this very subject just days after the Holyrood election, in which no fewer than 14% of people who voted Labour on the constituency ballot said they would support independence in the referendum. Given that there were 630,461 constituency votes cast for Labour in May, that means approximately 88,000 Labour voters support independence.

If my rough calculations are correct, it appears that 88,000 is a somewhat higher number than "a couple of dozen".

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Stand down from Warp Factor Four, Mr Baker

Well, it seems my guess as to the identity of the mystery visitor from Tucson was bang on the money - Kevin Baker has left a long comment on the previous thread. As ever, let's go through it point by point (weary sigh)...

"I see you're still outstandingly skilled at avoiding the point."

Really? Well, let's recap then. We have a situation where a man driven by a paranoid, hate-filled ideology murders dozens of innocent people with legally-obtained firearms. According to you, the main issue we have to address is that those innocent people shouldn't have run away - and then you accuse others of being outstandingly skilled at avoiding the point? Brazen, Kevin, I'll give you that.

"When rampage shootings occur (almost always in disarmed victim zones) they continue until one of two things happens: the shooter decides he's finished, or a good guy with a gun shows up and stops him. The only other way such shootings stop is when the shooter is overwhelmed by his potential victims."

Kevin, focusing on how shootings stop is a counsel of despair, which if I may say so rather misses the point. What is rather more salient is how they start, or if you like, how they were enabled. This one, like so many others, was enabled by legal access to firearms. It's no coincidence, therefore, that violent gun deaths are disproportionately high not in "disarmed victim zones" as you put it, but in heavily-armed territories such as the one you live in.

"So, "the strictest gun laws in the world" didn't prevent Cumbria's massacre, and Norway's gun laws didn't prevent this massacre."

What a peculiar way of putting it. First of all, to the best of my knowledge the UK's gun laws are not "the strictest in the world" - I believe that honour (and it's a great one) may well belong to Japan. And the UK's laws didn't prevent Derrick Bird carrying out a massacre for a very simple reason - they permitted him to own the guns he used to kill. From which there are only two possible rational conclusions to choose between...

1) The laws weren't strict enough to prevent the massacre, and therefore should be tightened further.

2) The laws weren't strict enough to prevent the massacre, but should be left as they are because the risk of avoidable deaths is somehow outweighed by the right of a minority to enjoy their weapons.

There is no third option that allows you to claim that Bird's murderous actions were brought about by the law denying him access to other weapons - that's logic-bending nonsense, and you know it.

"We bear the primary responsibility for our own safety. The State can help, but the State cannot wrap us in swaddling our entire lives."

In a democracy, we are the masters of the state - it is not a foreign entity. In the UK, we exercise the responsibility for our own safety largely by collective means, rather than the individualistic cowboy tactics you prefer to put your faith in. Which strategy is more successful, and therefore more responsible? The respective violent death rates in our two countries will assist you with that one.

"If you accept that you have a duty to your society, to your fellow-man, then defending them against attack is morally right."

Regardless of which side of the gun debate we fall on, surely the true moral imperative we should be focusing on here is the responsibility of the individual not to kill others. The fact that you seem more interested in the victims' "immoral" actions in doing what they could to save themselves in a state of almost unimaginable stress does, I'm afraid, tell us rather a lot about your philosophy.

"Breivik is at fault here, no doubt about it..."

Well, that's big of you.

"...but the death toll is as high as it is because we no longer teach people - average people - that it's important for all potential victims to be as dangerous as they can. No, we teach them to wait for the State to save them.

And you can see how well that works."

Oh, I can indeed. Homicides in 2009 :

Scotland 79
Arizona 324

Gun deaths in 2009 :

Scotland 2
Arizona 198

Next question?

The man has absolutely no shame

A day or two ago, I noticed on my stats that this blog had received a couple of visits from Tucson in Arizona, which just happens to be the home of our beloved friend Mr Kevin Baker.  I didn't think anything much of it until I recalled that part of Baker's initial reaction to the Cumbrian massacre last year was "I wonder what James Kelly will have to say about all this", apparently thinking that such an incident ought somehow to have made me question my belief that easy legal access to guns is a bad thing, as opposed to...well, confirming that belief.  Was he really delusional enough to think the same thing as a result of dozens of murders in Norway carried out with legally-obtained firearms?  I have my suspicions.  After all, we learn on his blog that the problem in Norway was not Breivik's guns, or even his extreme right-wing ideology - no, it was simply that the victims "ran away". Baker quotes another blogger who said this -

"When (the shooter) began shooting, everyone ran.

That last factor alone is responsible for almost all of the dead. A tight group of young men taught to run at danger instead of away from it could have overpowered him almost at once."

And then he adds his own observation -

"Yes, had a group of young men charged the shooter, some of them would have been wounded or killed. But no one charged the shooter, and literally dozens are dead."

Jesus. Quite simply...Jesus.

Now, I'm not going to claim that the Kevin Baker Fan Club are ideologically fellow travellers of Breivik, because the Norwegian is a Christian fundamentalist and as I understand it Baker is an atheist. And of course one is a mass-murdering psychopath, and the other is a non-violent blogger. But, all the same, you wouldn't have to look far to spot the overlaps between the KBFC's own angry, paranoid rhetoric and Breivik's. Bearing that in mind, and also the fact that yet another legal gun owner has just done something that legal gun owners supposedly don't do, you might have thought that if we can't hear anything sensible from the direction of Tucson, Arizona, at the very least a period of dignified silence and reflection might have been in order.

Allowing married priests would be a good first step for the Vatican

Having followed some of this year's Irish general election campaign, and indeed to some extent the 2007 campaign as well because I happened to be on holiday in Donegal at the time, I'd never have thought Enda Kenny was capable of delivering a speech that would make anyone's blood run faster. He certainly proved me wrong last week with this devastating attack on the Vatican -

"...for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual-abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See, to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago.

And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism...the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.

The rape and torture of children were downplayed or 'managed' to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and 'reputation'.

Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict's 'ear of the heart'......the Vatican's reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.

This calculated, withering position being the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded."

The Vatican later recalled its ambassador to Dublin, and issued a statement that expressed surprise at certain "excessive reactions". Personally, I'd have said the Taoiseach's comments marked the end of a decades-long under-reaction. But will the church now be shamed into getting its house in order at last? It's highly unlikely because of two basic aspects of the nature of the institution -

1) Catholics can't reform their own church. I know from my own experience that there are many liberal Catholics out there (my mother is one), but unfortunately their combined voices count for absolutely nought. Their function in the church is not to stand up for what they believe in, but instead to listen and understand why they are wrong, and then to shut up. That's the case both at micro-level (individual parishes) and at macro-level. It's the quintessential self-perpetuating hierarchy - the Pope appoints Cardinals who agree with him, and the Cardinals elect a Pope who agrees with them, and nobody else has any power at all. This lack of accoutability isn't supposed to matter, because the appointments are really "made by God". Well, frankly you don't have to disbelieve in God to recognise that for the self-serving mumbo-jumbo that it is. Probably the only way anything will ever change for the better is if someone "does a Kinnock" - ie. gets elected as Pope on the basis of traditionalist views, but then turns out to be a reformer.

2) Priests have to be both male and celibate. Now, there's nothing wrong with being either male or celibate (indeed I've had a degree of involuntary experience with both over the years), but it does mean you're selecting from a very narrow gene pool. The fact that such a disproportionate number of priests turn out to be abusers leads to the obvious suspicion that a certain category of person is being attracted to a celibate "profession" for the wrong reasons, and if that's the case surely the first thing you need to do is urgently broaden recruitment. OK, female ordination probably isn't going to happen for centuries (if ever), but given that married priests are already allowed in certain limited circumstances it really is hard to understand why the retention of the requirement for celibacy is such a red-line for the Vatican.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

When Britain first, at heaven's command, arose from out the azure main

Jo Swinson on Newsnight Scotland tonight, offering a list of "British" things we'd be bound to miss dreadfully under independence -

"We wouldn't have Team GB at the Olympics"

Can we have that in writing, please? I can see how that might mean we won't have Craig Reedie's vote come the independence referendum, but between you and me I think he was probably a lost cause anyway.

Swinson also offered a distinctly peculiar international comparison in an effort to demonstrate that a sense of Britishness can't possibly survive independence. She pointed out that Slovenians don't talk about being Yugoslavian anymore. Well, that's for a very good reason, Jo - Yugoslavia was an artificial construct that had no meaning outside the existence of the political state. By contrast, we all live on an island called Great Britain, and it was called that for centuries before there was an island-wide political state with its capital in London. But while there may not be a specifically Yugoslavian identity anymore, what certainly still exists is a transnational Balkan identity, and one that encompasses more than just the former Yugoslav republics. Interestingly, Slovenia is the only one of those republics for which the Balkan identity doesn't seem to have much of a pull, but I'm sure the fact that Swinson handpicked it for her example has got nothing to do with that. I'm sure it's also just pure coincidence that she preferred to talk about Slovenia's attitude to its Yugoslavian heritage, rather than, for example, trying to convince us that Danes don't feel remotely Scandinavian anymore because their country is independent from Norway and Sweden.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Haba Haba, hujaza kibaba

I follow quite a few fellow Eurovision obsessives on Twitter, and I spotted a tweet from one of them the other day expressing shame that an entry in Anders Behring Breivik's diary reveals him - bizarrely - to be a fan of the contest...

"May 14th : It's the Eurovision finale today. I just love Eurovision … ! :-) It's a lot of crap music but I think it's a great show all in all. I've seen all the semi-finals and will take the time off to watch it later today, online. My country has a crap, politically-correct contribution as always. An asylum seeker from Kenya, performing a bongo song, very representative of Europe and my country … In any case; I hope Germany wins!"

In truth, I think we Eurovision fans can actually be quite proud of the fact that he took such exception to the Norwegian entry, and Norway can also be proud that they chose a song partly in Swahili, performed by a Norwegian-Kenyan (not an "asylum-seeker"), in this year of all years. I must admit it wasn't my cup of tea, although the chorus was strong.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sorry, Norway : Iain Gray says you can't be Scandinavian anymore

As a public service, I thought I'd take my personal Tardis back to Oslo in 1905, and deliver an important - albeit probably unwelcome - message to the naive populace on behalf of Iain Gray MSP :

"Christian Michelsen's bizarre speech is just the latest attempt by his government to muddy the water over exactly what it means by independence...

The Norwegian government clearly knows how unpopular its separatist agenda is but attempting to water down the language isn't going to fool anybody.

Mr Michelsen's peculiar claims that the Scandinavian identity would somehow be enhanced by tearing Norway off from Sweden are utter nonsense. Either Norway is part of the Scandinavian political union or it is not."

So there you have it, people of Norway. Independence or a Scandinavian identity - it's entirely your choice, but stop deluding yourselves that you can have both. The idea that anyone in Oslo will still consider themselves Scandinavian after 106 years of independence is for the birds.

Questions to which the answer is 'either stop asking me these questions or the kitten gets it'

Many thanks to Cynical Highlander on the previous thread for alerting me to yet another in Labour Hame's ground-breaking series of 'impossible' questions for nationalists...

"There is a general consensus among nationalists and Unionists alike that Scotland is more than capable of governing itself, if it so chose."

I believe that's known as an assertion to which the premise, wrong. Although there's certainly such a consensus among nationalists, so maybe we could generously call it half-right at a pinch. In case anyone really is suffering from the delusion that most unionists accept that Scotland is able to stand on its own two feet, you might want to reacquaint yourself with a typical piece of comedy from David "Let's Make a Positive Case for the Union" Cameron. Oh, how we laughed.

Moving on...

"But just because you can do something, does that mean you should do it?"

Absolutely not. We could abolish Tuesdays, but we shouldn't. We could force asylum seekers to carry out a cull of badgers, but we shouldn't. We could make George Foulkes the next Secretary-General of the UN, but we shouldn't. The list of things that could be done, but that we nationalists don't want to do, is quite literally endless. So please set your minds at rest on that one, guys.

"California has one of the largest economies in the world. It has its own unique culture – as different to American culture in some other parts of the United States as the culture in some parts of Scotland are from some parts of England (and some parts of Scotland, for that matter).

And, like Scotland, California tends to vote (at least in national elections) rather differently from the rest of the country – consistently for the Democrat presidential nominee. It was once (albeit briefly) an independent republic and has been a member of the Union for half the time Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom."

For "albeit briefly", read 26 days. Yes, that's right, California was an independent republic from June 14th to July 9th, 1846. By contrast, the united and independent kingdom of Scotland was (with a few minor interruptions) in existence from the year 843 until 1707 - that's a grand total of 864 years. Still, 26 days...864 years...these are pretty similar numbers, right?

As for being a "member of the Union" for less time than Scotland has been part of the UK, it would be a touch difficult for that not to be the case, given that California wasn't even colonised until the late 18th Century - and even that was only a very half-hearted colonisation effort by the Spanish.

Anyway, this was all just a mere preamble to the main question, which this time is really two questions. Drumroll, please...

"Should California secede from the Union...?"

Answer : Yes, if it wants to. But not if it doesn't.

"...and are those Californians who wish to remain American guilty of being “anti-Californian”?"

Answer : No, although I think we can safely assume that anyone who ever dared to suggest that Californians have a right to self-determination on the subject would probably be considered "anti-American". It's rather easy to qualify as an anti-American, I've discovered - you might remember that it transpired I was one myself (a neat trick given that I'm a US citizen) after I suggested that massacring countless thousands of Japanese men, women and children with nuclear weapons in 1945 may not, on balance, have been the most humane act in history.

So, once again, fairly straightforward questions to answer, although as usual they give rise to a number of intriguing questions that our Labour friends might care to answer themselves. For example -

1) Was the person who devised this question Alex Gallagher, a friend of Alex Gallagher, or someone who has been reading a little too much Alex Gallagher?

2) Why do you seemingly consider it impermissible for Scots to believe in independence without first turning into Little Hitlers and telling Californians, Bavarians and citizens of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast that they have to change their constitutional status against their will?

3) If the status quo in California is such a splendid model for Scotland to emulate, could we please have Californian-style powers for the Scottish Parliament now? If not, why not?

I'll even be extra-generous this time and give it a full eight minutes before I declare these questions UNANSWERED.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Brits In

I'm not surprised Pete Wishart's article on how Britishness may well survive and flourish after Scottish independence has provoked such an instant reaction. After all, it strikes at the very heart of one of the articles of faith of unionism, namely that while a dual Scottish/British identity is possible within the context of union, somehow the prospect of independence forces people to choose. Hmmm. We only have to look as far as Scandinavia to recognise that argument for the nonsense it is.

David Torrance's response to Wishart is, as you'd expect, exceptionally well-written, but in places it seems to be a classic example of someone saying things that don't really make a lot of sense in an extremely elegant way. For instance -

"Yet on another, the politics of national identity, Wishart appears almost as confused as he claims Britishness is. Surprisingly, he concedes the geographical dimension almost straight away (why? It’s integral to so much of the argument, not least in terms of oil)"

Why concede the geographical dimension, ie. that someone from Scotland is by definition British? Because it's true. Scotland is geographically part of Britain in an unambiguous way that Northern Ireland unionists would love to claim for themselves, but can't. If Torrance thinks this statement of the bleedin' obvious has any bearing at all on whether a state called the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (ie. not "Britain") would have a claim on Scottish natural resources, he's the one that's confused. It certainly appears that it'll be a jolt for some to discover that being British does not mean the same thing as being part of a state that has London as its capital city.

"Now I wouldn’t quibble with this assertion, far from it, but Wishart singularly fails to – although it is implied – articulate a definition of “Scottishness”, which presumably he believes exists. “Cultural Britishness is then a rather curious construct that can be almost anything, and usually is,” he writes..."

When people talk about what they identify with being Scottish, in my experience it's usually things like "the scenery" or "the sense of humour". Torrance might well scoff at such sentimental notions, but they're a hell of a lot more concrete and instantly understandable than the attempts to define Britishness that Wishart rightly dismissed as ludicrously contrived, such as Michael Portillo's offering that it's all about "anti-fanaticism".

"Wishart then offers a generous – and actually quite convincing – definition of Britishness (“great historic cultural achievements…pride in our victories in the wars we fought together”), but then spoils it by labelling this “the social union” which, of course, is a relatively recent Nationalist construct. “Our gripe”, explains Wishart, is with the “current political arrangements within the United Kingdom”. Doesn’t it occur to him that those “political arrangements” were central to the cultural achievements and wars he rightly lauds?"

But these are simply immutable facts of the history that has shaped us as Scots. They don't tell us anything about the suitability of those political arrangements for the present or the future. For good or ill, the modern face of India has been partly shaped by the British colonial legacy, but that doesn't mean independence isn't right for India now, or for that matter that it wouldn't have been right for India long before it actually happened. Indeed, one of the aspects of Britishness that Wishart identifies - and Torrance ignores - is our collective shame over the crimes of slavery and colonialism. And as for wars, Torrance might want to reflect on the fact that many independent Commonwealth countries found no difficulty in fighting alongside Britain in the Second World War - something that is conveniently edited out of the British national myth when we talk of a "small island nation standing alone in 1940".

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A few hours ago, Allan of Dispatches from Paisley left a comment here suggesting that an independent Scotland in "the EU/Euro" would look like "lunacy" in present circumstances. Well, the euro is one thing, but the EU? Looking at my trusty map of western Europe, it appears there are very, very few "non-lunatic" countries left these days - and the UK isn't one of them.