Scrapping the union for a unicorn

In September the Scots will go to the polls, and a 300-year union saturated with a history of wealth, culture and power will be at stake.

Alistair Darling has done a fairly good job as leader of the ‘No campaign’; his grasp of the numbers in the television debate was firm. In many ways that embodies the No campaign: uncharismatic and unshakeably sensible.

The union is not perfect – all would agree. Following a No vote, which is very probable, structural changes will have to be made. Scotland’s relationship with the union is strange. It hands over taxes on its North Sea oil, in return for higher per capita spending than the rest of the UK.

It sends MPs to Westminster, which provides them with lesser representation in contrast to England; southerners dominate Westminster because of their huge population. There are more people in London than in the whole of Scotland, and England’s total population is five times the populations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland combined.

But Scotland, like Wales and Northern Ireland, was given a devolved parliament in the 1990s, which provides a Scottish administration to deal with purely Scottish affairs. England was given no such devolution: it was considered, as the historian Linda Colley so brilliantly puts it: “as the big sister whose reliability could be taken for granted”. But dominating the British legislature by no means makes up for lacking its own parliament. The English have grievances as well, which Westminster will have to consider.

At present, there are few people who feel properly contented with the Westminster style of government; English people north of the M25 feel that their needs are neglected (which they are); the south-east of England feels that its money is used for spending which doesn’t concern them (they’re wrong); and Scotland feels their oil money goes to the wrong people, and that they have an inadequate voice in decision-making (they too are wrong, but we should try to accommodate them, for old-time’s sake).

The rise of UKIP is one indicator of that. I’m not for a moment suggesting that voting UKIP is a legitimate means of protesting against the establishment; its arguable whether voting for UKIP is even an acceptable way of conducting yourself in 21st century Britain. UKIP’s policies are more “establishment” than the establishment. An Englishman voting for UKIP will be trying to deal with a general feeling of mistrust towards the political class as a whole; its out of the question that he’s misplacing his angst. A vote for UKIP is a vote for isolationist, medieval thinking about everything from gender rights to British identity. It relies on a complete unwillingness to accept that times have changed, and that Britain can no longer act independently and with the brash arrogance that formerly characterised our foreign policy. Diplomacy rather than weaponry will define the following century, and we had better get used to conciliation in Brussels, rather than the tantrum-throwing of which our European partners have begun to tire.

When you weigh up the growing feeling of under-representation among all UK citizens with growing political apathy, and what borders on a psychopathic hatred of the entire political class; a far-sighted (not to mention wildly idealistic) chap might consider a whole-sale reform of the British political system.

Not too long ago I would have considered regional assemblies for the whole UK; but I doubt now whether such a system would be accountable and familiar to the citizen.

It’s clear that we need a national legislature: but at present its decayed and corrupt. The House of Lords is a remarkable relic of medieval politics. Having a queen is quirky, and can be passed off as a mystical eccentricity to amused foreigners; the Lords are a blatant symbol of elitism and clientelism. We would be better off- in this one, isolated instance- in taking a lesson from the Americans.

The US senate acts in much the same way as the House of Lords- but its elected, and gives equal representation to each of the Union’s component parts: the states. Two senators for each state. The Lords could act in a similar way; reform of the Lords is inevitable, but we should use this opportunity to give each component part of the UK an equal voice.

Several voices have started to sing a similar tune; Chris Huhne in his article for the Guardian wrote: “Lords reform could be part of the package for fair geographic representation”.

The House of Lords is useful as a chamber of experience and expertise, but too often senility is confused for these qualities. Prime Ministers use peerages as rewards for big party donors, which has led to a bloated chamber, now only second in size to the Chinese National People’s Congress among legislative bodies all over the world.

How would these ‘new lords’ be elected? I suggest creating an assembly for England, and sending delegates from all four national assemblies to the House of Lords, of course in equal numbers. These delegates could be selected by lottery, possibly – but these are questions for much drabber men than myself to deal with.

Enjoy what remains of the British summer.

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Gaza and the Zionist project

Of all Britain’s imperial mismanagements, promising a relatively small strip of Mediterranean coastline to two separate ethnicities who had been fighting over this land for millenia before our arrival was a decidedly silly thing to do.

With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the overstretched, and now fundamentally weakened imperial powers of Britain and France carved up the Arab world for their own ends following the First World War. The divisions they drew bore little relevance to ethnicities on the ground; which is why you now find the Kurdish people split between the nation states of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Under the amazingly lax supervision of the Ottomans (who set a model for ideal empire building in my opinion, by allowing regional people to retain their ethnic identities and religions so long as they paid taxes for the Sultans) the Arab world had protection, unity and stability. But this “Colin Firth of empires” had been going since 1453, and WWI found it at the end of a long spiral of decline.

Germany and the Ottomans made an alliance on the unclear understanding that the Ottomans would be required to strike a blow against the British Raj in India, supposedly by instigating jihad movements on the ground. This never came through, although the Empire soon succumbed to a combination of war and internal clamours for reform, and the last Sultan went into exile on 17th November 1922.

According to the deal, Britain was given the Mandate of Palestine. Which meant we had to govern the region until they could ‘stand on their own’. However, the Balfour Declaration was essentially an invitation for the Jews to start colonising the region, and although 61% of Jews in Israel still have Mizrahi descent (Middle Eastern Jews, as opposed to European or African) the Holocaust catalysed huge waves of Jewish immigration from Europe, thousands of Jews wishing to regain the Holy Land from which they were so cruelly evicted by the Romans thousands of years before. This resulted in a Jewish ‘terrorist’ insurgency against our governance of the region. There was also Arab unrest against us, it should be noted. However, British forces left in 1948, and the State of Israel was declared.

The Arab nations fell on Israel like a pack of jackals, and through a series of wars in the coming decades, Israel threw the Egyptians and Jordanians back into the desert, and occupied 50-60% of the land allotted to the Palestinians by the departing British. Through this they built up a powerful military machine, and that strange, simultaneously defensive, expansionist, insecure and victimized mindset has remained with them throughout their brief history.

I tell you all this, not just because I enjoy giving historical lectures, but also because its imperative to understanding the Gaza crisis. When you take this conflict out of context-which is clearly Sean Hannity’s favourite thing to do, in pretty much every situation- you end up with a skewed version of events, and one which holds others to ridiculous moral standards without evaluating the conduct of our own allies.

I support the Zionist project; I support the right of the Jews to have a nation of their own; a place to call home; a haven against the anti-Semitism which is still so rife in many parts of the world. Most of all, I think a people who have been landless for millenia deserve a place to call their own.

But my goodwill does not extend to unconditional tolerance of the belligerent militarism which now pervades their society. That anti-Semitism isn’t going away when the world hears about babies being blown sky-high from the latest round of ridiculously disproportionate violence against the people of Gaza.

Historically, the Arabs are the wronged party. Their own belligerence comes, as with Israel, from a history of insecurity from oppression. Hamas’ refusal to agree to ceasefire in the last few days, whilst the people of Gaza were being killed, was not only monstrous but inconceivable to people in this country.

However, there lies the crux of this issue. British people can wail all day long about the methods Hamas uses to achieve its aims; but the reality is that we haven’t grown up under a crushing military occupation; we haven’t been segregated from our neighbours, and then crowded into blockaded ghettos (that’s right, the Israeli story contains many disgusting ironies). We haven’t had our food rationed out to us by Israeli soldiers, and our ancestral land occupied by a self-righteous nation with all the backing of the New World Order.

People in the West can’t conceive of that situation, so criticising Hamas for its methods is futile and self-aggrandizing, as well as astoundingly hypocritical.

When you take ‘terrorist’ down to its most basic definition, a ‘terrorist’ is one who uses violence to achieve his political ends. But isn’t that what America has so courageously done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam and countless others places, where the leaders or political model was of a nature that America decided it did not approve of? Terrorist methods were also employed against the evil British in the Revolutionary War. #youshouldneverhavewon.

When you consider the biggest ‘terrorist’ to be one who instigates the most terror, Israel takes 1st place by a long shot. In every military tussle with Hamas, their use of force has been massively disproportionate to the offense against them: “Kill three of us, and we’ll nuke your neighbourhood”.

Hamas fires its rockets at Israeli civilians because:

a) They need the world to sit up and take notice of their plight. The Western news cycle is famously fickle, and their cause is lost if they don’t make Western citizens lobby their governments for a less understanding attitude towards Israeli atrocities.

b) They probably consider each Israeli to be an equal cog in the Zionist mission. I’m not for a second condoning such a view, but that’s probably how they feel. Although the militarization of Israeli society, including the three-year conscription for young Israeli men and women might be a factor.

c) If Hamas was to fight fair in every encounter, it would be wiped off the face of the earth. The Israeli military machine is the best funded per capita in the world. They have the full, pretty much unconditional support of Washington, and the Iron Dome missile defense system stops all but a few of Hamas’ rockets.

d) Terrorist organisations across the world use guerilla warfare when they can’t win a conventional war: so it was with the Taliban, and the Boers in South Africa. Such tactics almost always have their way, the only way a modern army can conquer such tactics would be a scorched-earth policy, which no modern nation-state can be seen to implement these days.

To conclude, Israel has no inclination to stop the horror in Gaza whilst the casualty score remains so lopsided. Hamas is pretty much powerless to do anything but fight to the bitter end. Although it pains me to say it, America might have to take the lead here. Of course the Jewish lobby is almighty in Washington, but only they can reign Israel in. The Zionist state and its military machine is wholly dependant open billions of aid dollars from the US (tax dollars, I might add). It’s highly unlikely that a nudge from them wouldn’t go a long way to dismantling some the illegal settlements on the West Bank.

If they could humiliate Britain by forcing our hand over the Suez crisis, they can certainly do this.

Damn…..why isn’t there an almighty British lobby in Washington?