Let’s stay together

By Citizen Sane

I recognise I’m not the best-qualified person to talk about this. I’ve probably been to Scotland five, maybe six, times in my life. All visits but one were for work rather than pleasure. On every occasion I’ve only stayed in Edinburgh, apart from some fleeting visits to Glasgow and Dundee for meetings. There is, I think, some Scottish blood on my mum’s side of the family. Or maybe my dad’s. I forget. But really I’m about as English as you can get, by lineage and by character. Not just English, but southern English. Not just southern English, but from the London area.

I am, to quote from an episode of Blackadder, about as Scottish as the Queen of England’s tits. But I’m still extremely fond of Scotland, the Scottish people and value their place within the United Kingdom.

I was once rather keen on the idea of wholesale constitutional change. My wish list would have specified a codified constitution, a bill of rights, the establishment of a republic, proportional representation, an elected House of Lords and substantial devolution. Some of these, I am still in favour of. Others, not so much. These are not things to be meddled with lightly, on the basis that – despite its faults – our political system is one of the best in the world. We have a stable, peaceful, prosperous union of countries and a robust democratic polity rivalled only by a small number of other liberal democracies. Sometimes you need to remind yourself, bogged down as we all get by gripes and complaints with The System, that we are extraordinarily fortunate to live in the United Kingdom. To anyone who disputes this, I say: there are approximately 190 countries in the world – name more than, say, ten where you could enjoy similar personal, artistic or religious freedom, or a higher standard or living, or a lower level of corruption in public life, or greater opportunities or political stability or…. the list goes on.

Of course, somebody will point out A, B, or C as evidence that the UK is a declining state, or a corrupt tin pot country but they’re fooling nobody. Tell that to the billions of people who would no doubt swap their country for one like ours, or the tens of thousands who make it to our shores every year, for various reasons, all in search of a better life.

As it is no doubt apparent by now, I fervently hope that the No vote prevails in the Scottish independence referendum. The United Kingdom has, by and large, been an extraordinary success for centuries. I’m no flag waving ultra patriot, but it seems self-evident that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are far greater than the sum of their parts and it would be an egregious act of vandalism to breakup that successful union for what seems very narrow reasons – mostly predicated on a nationalism that is no less ugly or pointless or boring than any other. I don’t describe myself as an English national; I describe myself as British and other than stoking the coals of vestigial Scottish national pride, cannot see a single valid reason for voting for independence. It will not benefit the Scottish people, it will not benefit the rest of the UK.

Given the lack of a coherent economic plan, the ‘independence’ would be fatally compromised anyway: the proposal is for a currency union with rUK, which, even if this were to be agreed – and all the major parties and the Bank of England have rejected the idea – would immediately cede control of monetary policy and interest rates to what would now be a ‘foreign’ country. Longer term membership of the EU would have to be renegotiated and, in the event that Scotland decides to join the euro, independence would be watered down further still as economic policy transfers to Brussels and Frankfurt.

Scotland – with its population of just over five million people, representing just 8% of UK GDP, dependent on a highly variable income from oil, exposed to any future banking crisis due to its substantial financial sector – would become a third tier backwater nation in a much larger European union. So I have to ask: by what definition is this ‘independence’ and who benefits?

Vote NO, Scotland. For everyone’s sake, but especially yours.

The Scottish independence referendum has not been “great for democracy”

By Stuart Ritchie (@StuartJRitchie)

“Whatever happens on September 18”, goes the current saying, “this has been a great time for democracy”. The Scottish independence referendum has, we are told, galvanised thousands of previously apathetic voters, leading to a ‘renaissance’ of political discussion and engagement. The problem with this feel-good argument is not just that it is a cliché, regularly and boringly repeated in newspaper columns and on social media. The problem is that it is wrong.

It is certainly true that an unexpectedly high percentage of the Scottish electorate—97%, in fact—are registered to vote. In itself, this would indeed be encouraging. The referendum is the talk of every town, every office, and every pub; discussion is by no means restricted to journalists and other politics obsessives. But it is the quality of much of the discussion that is cause for concern. These newly-energized voters are not, as the ‘democratic renaissance’ crowd would like to believe, engaging in-depth with the economic, political, and philosophical questions that surround such a momentous decision. Unfortunately, the ‘Yes’ side of the argument is afflicted by three ailments, none of which lend themselves to the improvement of democratic debate. They are glibness, self-pity, and conspiracy-theory thinking, and I shall discuss them in turn.

First, glibness. An all-purpose political tactic has been seized upon by the Yes campaign. It is the following: any objection to your beliefs, however earnest, well-researched, or authoritative, can be dismissed as ‘scaremongering’ (see also: ‘bullying’, ‘bluffing’, and ‘blustering’). This indolent refrain is regularly deployed as a way to close down debate and ‘monster’ one’s opponent: after all, if the First Minister of Scotland can use this approach repeatedly in debates and interviews, why shouldn’t the average Yes activist? It hardly needs be said that this is not conducive to well-informed discussion. If newly-engaged voters have been taught by Yes activists that this is how political arguments should be conducted—assume the worst intentions of your opponents and on that basis dismiss their arguments—they have been sold a pup.

Second, self-pity. Many pro-independence campaigners believe themselves the victims of a biased, pro-establishment media. Undoubtedly the media has made missteps during the campaign (missteps which have favoured both sides and are completely to be expected). However, the main target of the Yes activists’ ire has been, perhaps surprisingly, the BBC. Yes campaigners have repeatedly held protest rallies against perceived ‘BBC bias’ outside the headquarters of BBC Scotland in Glasgow, complaining petulantly that the rallies are not immediately made front-page news afterwards. They point to an analysis by a Media Politics academic at the University of the West of Scotland who purports to show that the BBC “has not been fair or balanced”. Many of the assumptions of this report are questionable at best, and most importantly, the analysis did not appear in a peer-reviewed academic journal, instead being published as a column on a politics website.

Even if it were shown convincingly that the BBC (or any other media outlet) asked more questions of the Yes campaign than it did of the No, it would not necessarily be evidence of bias. The burden of proof is on those arguing to make such a major change to the status quo, and they should thus be able to defend it against robust questioning. However, for many pro-independence supporters, journalists are not simply questioning them in order to shed light on the many questions that arise about possible independence. Instead, they are part of an organised ‘anti-Scottish’ cabal. Impugning the motives of journalists is an ugly business, and is a conspicuous feature of demagogic, anti-democratic countries from Russia to Venezuela. The current situation in Scotland is, of course, far from that in those countries, but the fact that the comparison is even possible, and that the Yes campaign is encouraging new voters to be not just sceptical, but utterly cynical about the media, should worry those who care about the vital role journalism plays in democratic debate.

If the media has been organised to do Scotland down, does this mean that there exists a larger conspiracy? For many Yes activists, the answer is, well, ‘yes’. This is the third weakness of the Yes campaign: conspiracy theory thinking. Of course, the main three UK political parties are unionist, so we can expect them to support the No camp. But many think they are going further. Take, for instance, the story that has feverishly been passed around social media, that the ‘world’s largest oil field’ has been discovered off the Shetland Islands and hushed up by David Cameron (who secretly visited it during his recent trip to Scotland). A recent YouGov poll showed that, unbelievably, 42% of Scottish voters believe this theory is correct. The poll also showed that 26% think that MI5 is involved in trying to stop an independence vote (a theory not ruled out by the First Minister), and no less than 19% think that the referendum itself ‘will probably be rigged’ (a message spread around Yes Facebook groups that voters must bring a pen to the voting booth, lest the shadowy powers-that-be rub out their pencilled cross with an eraser).

That YouGov poll—and it is just one poll, though one carried out by an authoritative and respected polling company—paints a grim picture of the outcome of the referendum campaign, suggesting that baseless, tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories are rife among the Scottish electorate. These theories are not the foundation either of a new progressive state (after a Yes vote) or a process of healing within the UK (after a No vote). Incidentally, such beliefs are also regularly found in conjunction with the kind of default anti-West mindset that will be familiar to readers of the Gerasite blog.

I should stress that I am not arguing all Yes campaigners engage in these closed-minded tactics and mindsets. Far from it. But those who are arguing that the referendum has revitalised Scottish democracy would do well to consider the glibness, self-pity, and conspiracy theories of the Yes campaign, and reflect on whether these are indicative of a positive, valuable debate.

Outside the poky little world of Scottish nationalists, clouds are gathering. It is difficult to argue that the optimal response to an ascendant China, a revanchist Russia, and an eruption of vicious terrorism in the Levant is the breaking of the back of one of the world’s most powerful, liberal democracies. Foreign policy has largely been off the table in discussion of Scottish independence, with both sides content to discuss mainly domestic issues. This is perhaps a good thing; there is no conspiracy theory, after all, like a foreign-policy conspiracy theory. But, as with many of the other big issues in the campaign, we have had precisely no answers to how an independent Scotland would deal with these critical geopolitical issues. Given the First Minister’s previous statements, and given the tendencies of the Yes campaign described above, we can only hope we won’t have to find out.

The Conspiracy Fallacy

by David Paxton

Writing refutations to the arguments of conspiracy theorists seems as difficult and brave as clubbing seals. But anyone who has ever publicly expressed even moderate support for military intervention has inevitably encountered various leaps of logic from the keyboards of conspiracy theorists.  Their personal imperviousness to sensible debate and their theory’s superbug-like inability to die off suggests there is something to be said for trying to understand their process, if it can be called such. Besides, I like clubbing seals.

Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

This is advice conspiracy theorists simply cannot take.  Everything is deliberate.

Cui bono: “as a benefit to whom?”

This is the logic that says umbrella salesmen make the rain. A conspiracy theorist’s favourite.

Furtive fallacy: Significant facts of history are necessarily sinister

This is a form of paranoia, it’s not the acceptance of conspiracy theories as much as feeling the necessity for them to exist.

The denial of the first example, the overuse of the second and the possible affliction of the third are all common features in conspiracy theory argument. I think another one is also often evident and although related to ‘cui bono’, constitutes a distinct fallacy. This is to be called the factum ut faciat or the made to make fallacy. (I’ve added Latin for extra pretension) It is defined below:

“Faciens hoc ergo factum ut faciat hoc” (“made this, therefore made to make this”) is an informal fallacy (of the questionable cause variety) that states “Since event x caused event y, event x must have been instigated to bring about event y.” The fallacy lies in coming to a conclusion of causality based solely on the outcome of events, rather than taking into account other factors that suggest the outcome is incidental or requiring evidence to demonstrate intention.

The following is a simple example: The chip pan fire caused the house to burn down, therefore the chip pan fire was started with the intention of burning the house down.

A prime example of contemporary usage would be: “America couldn’t have invaded Iraq in 2003 without the public anger from 9-11. Therefore 9-11 was an inside job undertaken to enable the war in Iraq”

So, when you hear something along the lines of  ‘Obama withdrew troops from Iraq and created ISIS deliberately to create the chaos to er…. put them back in’, asserted without evidence, know that this is the factum ut faciat fallacy.

H/T  @jonathanMetzer  for the Latin

PS: If you think one of the many existing informal fallacies would already include this, please let me know.

Russell Brand and the vacuity of a faux revolutionary

This is a cross-post by Tom Owolade (@owolade14) at Politics Ad Infinitum

The imperishable author and raconteur Mark Twain once opined that if you “give a man a reputation of an early riser, he can sleep till noon”.

In a culture which is noted for being meretricious, so called “celebrities” who have the appearance of erudition and speak in grandiloquent soundbites tend to be exulted to a quasi-cultish degree. One notable example of such a trend is Russell Brand.

For one thing, Brand’s characteristically mellifluent rhetoric is underpinned by platitudes; his modus operandi, as stated in an interview with Mehdi Hasan is to instigate a “revolution of consciousness”. What exactly does that mean? It sounds erringly similar to the inchoate ramblings of a LSD induced post-modernist Gallic philosopher.

As a an apparent revolutionary he also to tries to discourage people from voting. Except that by relinquishing your suffrage one is not engaging in a revolutionary act, but is instead engaging in the actions of a reactionary troglodyte; It undermines an essential component of being a democratic citizen and effecting political change.

The most noble and praiseworthy actions of English radicalism was campaigning successfully in compelling Parliament to assign suffrage to all members of society. Arguing against voting constitutes an egregious inversion of such struggles- which made democratic citizenry an inalienable right.

The apotheosis of Brand’s moral retardation however finds form in his contention that David Cameron is a more imminent threat to Britain than the soi-dissant ‘Islamic state’. Not only does this underplay the evident existential threat of IS by framing them as only “abstract” and “conceptual” threats- such a juxtaposition between heinous barbarians and a Tory toff is actually indicative of Brand’s perverse moral calculus.

Mr Cameron, though he has many faults, does not subjugate women to slavery (a significant affront to gender equality), he does not evangelise unrestrained hatred to those who don’t adhere to his religious beliefs ( a significant affront to secularism) and most importantly he does not engage in genocidal practices (which is a significant affront to humanity).

Yet by framing Cameron as more of a threat than IS, Brand is engaging what has characterised the far left since their dalliance with Stalinism: dysphemistic masochism and euphemistic impartiality. “We are responsible for IS and shouldn’t do anything” (paralysing the possibility of any coherent strategy to counter the group and absolving them from any moral responsibility for their abhorrent actions). “The west is a greater threat to the world than IS”, oh really! A coalition of governments which at the very least entertain the realisation of enlightenment values is worse than fascistic, internecine zealots.

My use of collective pronoun above is of course conceptual because Russell Brand is really a narcissist of the worst kind: one who views himself as noble and intelligent and self-effacing. One who is probably all too aware of the sophistry inherent in his polemics but continues to peddle them so as to assuage the spineless status of pretentious, lazy liberals.

One who is devoid of any genuine principle- appearing on Russian state tv propaganda– and one who has the nauseating audacity to inaugurate “the next Orwell” as if he were a notable expert on Orwell- or on anything for that matter.

Oh, and he isn’t fucking funny either.

The other 9/11

This is a cross-post by Twlldunyrpobsais (@twlldun) at Twlldunyrpobsais

When that bunch of cheery medievalists flew their captives into the Twin Towers 13 years ago today, I think they probably weren’t expecting to have some of the impact they actually did.

We all know why they did it – to provoke the US into coming after them, in the hope that the ensuing showdown would force muslims worldwide to rally behind their banner. The results of that we could describe as, well, distinctly mixed.

However, the repercussions of that day have given birth to some weird and wonderful consequences – the continuing media career of Yvonne Ridley, or ongoing national political career of George Galloway, for instance. Or a number of Hollywood movies which destroy entire city blocks in an act of catharsis (but this time, the heroes arrive to save the day, go Tony Stark!). Help for Heroes. Etc Etc.

One of the most transparent recent manifestations, however, has been “The Other 9/11″ meme.

I was raised in a left wing household. An exceedingly left wing household. And I am, as regular readers of this blog will no doubt notice, somewhat of a history nerd. Suffice to say, I was aware of Pinochet, Allende, Chile and all issues concerning 20 years prior to the more recent 9/11.

Here’s my memory of how we commemorated 11 September, 1973, on the liberal left, for the years 1974-2000:

Tumbleweed

No. Wait. There must have been some commemoration, right? On the liberal left? There must have been? I mean, I’m sure there was. The odd concert here. Maybe the odd candlelit vigil there. But I don’t remember the anniversary being, well, noted. Not really.

You know, I don’t want you to get the wrong message about what I’m saying here – in those years, we on the left were more than aware what had happened on that day. We were more than aware of the repercussions of it. And we were aware that many amongst our political elite – step forward Mrs Thatcher, step forward Mr Reagan – were happily making kissy-kissy with Pinochet (We could have a big debate here about how “complicit” the US were in the coup if we wanted, but to be honest, I’m unsure whether it’s worth the effort – the fact that this “complicity” is heavily disputed and disputable in the realms of historical fact appears to have passed much of popular culture by, and it’s taken as a given the US were behind the coup when the truth is much more complex and nuanced, even if you do accept US involvement*). But I don’t recall any call to commemorate the anniversary of that bloody and horrific act of right wing savagery prior to…well, around about 2005. Definitely after the 30th anniversary and before the 40th anniversary, the calls came to “not forget the other 9/11″ quite regularly.

Why did it emerge then, do you think?

A charitable reading of the situation would be that the generation who had been radicalised by the Chilean coup had reached the age where they had an impact in media and they could then tell us about it.

Only, that’s a bit of a lie, isn’t it? The people who had been radicalised by it were in media all along. What had happened in Chile was in media all along. We all knew about it. There was no need to commemorate because we had not forgotten about it. It was a cause celebre on the left when I was 10. It remained a cause celebre on the left when I was 30.

So, you know why the “remember the other 9/11″ thing came about, don’t you? Come on, liberal lefty, admit it. Be big enough to own this. It came about because you thought the US was getting too much sympathy for 3000 people dying in a terrorist attack. It came about because you didn’t like how the US responded to that. It came about because you thought the US was – essentially – a force for evil in the world. And you wanted to remind the world of the evil it had done. The evil like “the other 9/11″. It came about because you wanted to minimise the more recent one. It’s the passive-aggressive ‘Death to America’.

Not pretty, when you look at it square in the face, is it?

 

*The reason I would have the argument, by the way, is not to defend the CIA or the USA, but because it stops us analysing properly why precisely Allende’s regime was so vulnerable to a coup. It stops us analysing where the first democratically elected Marxist government in South America failed, in favour of the Deus Ex Machina of the CIA man. Fine, if you want your world Manichean, with black hats and white hats, and noble Allende done down by the evil US (and, it goes without saying that the coup was not something I support, supported, minimised or excuse in the slightest), but not very helpful if you want to learn the actual lessons of what actually happened.