May 27, 2015

The dis-United Kingdom

Filed under: Britain, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Mark Steyn on the result of the British general election:

It would be churlish to deny oneself the pleasure of hooting at the politico-media establishment, but, when that’s done, this is a deeply unhealthy electoral result. The Conservatives won because Labour got wiped out in Scotland and the Liberals got wiped out in England. But the reality is that, for a supposedly United Kingdom, the country no longer has any national political party. England and Scotland have taken on the characteristics of Northern Ireland — hermetically sealed polities full of weird, unlovely regional parties (“SNP”, “Conservative”, “Labour”) that have no meaning once you cross the border, and whose internal disputes are of no relevance to the other three-quarters of the kingdom: Nobody outside Ulster cares about “official” Unionists vs the more red-blooded Democratic Unionists. And so it goes with the Scots Nats and Labour in Scotland: nationalist socialists vs unionist socialists; Likewise, with the Tories and UKIP in England: transnationalist conservatives vs nationalist conservatives.

Wales is the exception that proves the rule, where UKIP outpolled Plaid Cymru, albeit with no seats to show for it. The Scottish National Party got 4.7 per cent of the UK vote, and 56 seats. UKIP had nearly thrice as many voters — 12.6 per cent — but only one seat. That discrepancy is because there is no longer any such thing as “the UK vote”. I far prefer the Westminster first-past-the-post system to European “proportional representation”, but it only works if you have genuinely national parties. If the system decays into four groups of regional parties, the House of Commons will look less and less like a genuine national parliament, and more and more like some surly conditional arrangement — Scottish Kurds, Tory Shia and seething Labour Sunni triangles.

The composition of the new house would strike any mid-20th century Briton as freakish and unsettling. It’s a bit like Canada in the Nineties — where Reform couldn’t break out of the west, the Bloc Québécois dominated Quebec, the rump Tories clung on in the Atlantic provinces, and Ontario and a few seats hither and yon gave the Liberals their majority. The difference is that the Bloquistes are pretend separatists; the Scottish National Party are not.

And that’s before you take into account the competing nationalist dynamics of the Anglo-Scottish victors: secession from the UK north of the border and detachment from the EU south. Cameron is a wily operator and one notices he uses the words “United Kingdom” far more than his predecessors. But saying will not make it so.

May 5, 2015

The weirdness of the British political situation

Filed under: Britain, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Charles Stross calls the current situation a “Scottish Political Singularity”:

The UK is heading for a general election next Thursday, and for once I’m on the edge of my seat because, per Hunter S. Thompson, the going got weird.

The overall electoral picture based on polling UK-wide is ambiguous. South of Scotland — meaning, in England and Wales — the classic two-party duopoly that collapsed during the 1970s, admitting the Liberal Democrats as a third minority force, has eroded further. We are seeing the Labour and Conservative parties polling in the low 30s. It is a racing certainty that neither party will be able to form a working majority, which requires 326 seats in the 650 seat House of Commons. The Liberal Democrats lost a lot of support from their soft-left base by going into coalition with the Conservatives, but their electoral heartlands — notably the south-west — are firm enough that while they will lose seats, they will still be a factor after the election; they’re unlikely to return fewer than 15 MPs, although at the last election they peaked around 50.

Getting away from the traditional big three parties, the picture gets more interesting. The homophobic, racist, bigoted scumbags of UKIP (hey, I’m not going to hide my opinions here!) have picked up support haemorrhaging from the right wing of the Conservative party; polling has put them on up to 20%, but they’re unlikely to return more than 2-6 MPs because their base is scattered across England. (Outside England they’re polling as low as 2-4%, suggesting that they’re very much an English nationalist party.) On the opposite pole, the Green party is polling in the 5-10% range, and might pick up an extra MP, taking them to 2 seats. In Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party (who are just as barkingly xenophobic as UKIP) are also set to return a handful of MPs.

And then there’s Scotland.

Having lived through a couple of near-national-death experiences here in Canada, I’m less than enthused that the country of my birth is now having similar threats from the Celtic fringe. I’m a fan of Charlie’s writing, and I think he’s someone who thinks interesting thoughts, but I hope he’s wrong in this area.

January 19, 2015

QotD: Austria becomes Austria-Hungary

Filed under: Europe, Government, History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Shaken by military defeat, the neo-absolutist Austrian Empire metamorphosed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Under the Compromise hammered out in 1867 power was shared out between the two dominant nationalities, the Germans in the west and the Hungarians in the east. What emerged was a unique polity, like an egg with two yolks, in which the Kingdom of Hungary and a territory centred on the Austrian lands and often called Cisleithania (meaning ‘the lands on this side of the River Leithe’) lived side by side within the translucent envelope of a Habsburg dual monarchy. Each of the two entities had its own parliament, but there was no common prime minister and no common cabinet. Only foreign affairs, defence and defence-related aspects of finance were handled by ‘joint ministers’ who were answerable directly to the Emperor. Matters of interest to the empire as a whole could not be discussed in common parliamentary session, because to do so would have implied that the Kingdom of Hungary was merely the subordinate part of some larger imperial entity. Instead, an exchange of views had to take place between the ‘delegations’, groups of thirty delegates from each parliament, who met alternately in Vienna and Budapest.

The dualist compromise had many enemies at the time and has had many critics since. In the eyes of hardline Magyar nationalists, it was a sell-out that denied the Hungarians the full national independence that was their due. Some claimed that Austria was still exploiting the Kingdom of Hungary as an agrarian colony. Vienna’s refusal to relinquish control over the armed forces and create a separate and equal Hungarian army was especially contentious — a constitutional crisis over this question paralyzed the empire’s political life in 1905. On the other hand, Austrian Germans argued that the Hungarians were freeloading on the more advanced economy of the Austrian lands, and ought to pay a higher share of the empire’s running costs. Conflict was programmed into the system, because the Compromise required that the two imperial ‘halves’ renegotiate every ten years the customs union by which revenues and taxation were shared out between them. The demands of the Hungarians became bolder with every review of the union. And there was little in the Compromise to recommend it to the political elites of the other national minorities, who had in effect been placed under the tutelage of the two ‘master races’. The first post-Compromise Hungarian prime minister, Gyula Andrássy, captured this aspect of the settlement when he commented to his Austrian counterpart: ‘You look after your Slavs and we’ll look after ours.’ The last decades before the outbreak of war were increasingly dominated by the struggle for national rights among the empire’s eleven official nationalities – Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Romanians, Ruthenians, Poles, and Italians.

Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.

December 29, 2014

QotD: Austria-Hungary and the national minorities

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

How these challenges were met varied between the two Imperial halves. The Hungarians dealt with the nationalities problem mainly by behaving as if it didn’t exist. The kingdom’s electoral franchise extended to only 6 per cent of the population because it was pegged to a property qualification that favoured the Magyars, who made up the bulk of the wealthier strata of the population. The result was that Magyar deputies, though they represented only 48.1 per cent of the population, controlled over 90 per cent of the parliamentary seats. The 3 million Romanians of Transylvania, the largest of the kingdom’s national minorities, comprised 15.4 per cent of the population, but held only five of the Hungarian parliament’s 400-odd seats. From the late 1870s, moreover, the Hungarian government pursued a campaign of aggressive ‘Magyarization’. Education laws imposed the use of the Magyar language on all state and faith schools, even those catering to children of kindergarten age. Teachers were required to be fluent in Magyar and could be dismissed if they were found to be ‘hostile to the [Hungarian] state’. This degradation of language rights was underwritten by harsh measures against ethnic minority activists. Serbs from the Vojvodina in the south of the kingdom, Slovaks from the northern counties and Romanians from the Grand Duchy of Transylvania did occasionally collaborate in pursuit of minority objectives, but with little effect, since they could muster only a small number of mandates.

In Cisleithania [the German Austrian half of the empire], by contrast, successive administrations tampered endlessly with the system in order to accommodate minority demands. Franchise reforms in 1882 and 1907 (when virtually universal male suffrage was introduced) went some way towards levelling the political playing field. But these democratizing measures merely heightened the potential for national conflict, especially over the sensitive question of language use in public institutions such as schools, courts and administrative bodies.

Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.

September 18, 2014

Scotland at the crossroads

Filed under: Britain — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:52

As I’ve said before, I would prefer that Scottish voters decided to stay within the United Kingdom, but if they choose to go, let ’em. I haven’t lived in the UK for many long years (I was still a child when my family emigrated to Canada), so many of my thoughts about England and Scotland are snapshots from my early years with brief impressions gathered during all-too-few visits on holiday. As a result, I don’t feel in any way qualified to speak about the political situation there (I barely feel qualified to speak about the Canadian political scene). Today’s vote will have long-lasting effects, regardless of how many vote Yes and how many vote No. Canada today is still impacted by Quebec’s cycle of separatist activity, despite the fairly convincing result of the last Quebec election.

I still don’t really understand why Scottish “independence” will mean Scotland leaving the UK (which is within the EU) only to immediately turn around and petition for admission back into the EU … why not try actual independence instead? If ignorant, meddling bureaucrats in London are bothering you from afar, why replace them with even-more-ignorant, meddling bureaucrats in even-further-away Brussels? It seems daft.

Others see this as a golden opportunity … for England. Here’s Perry de Havilland explaining why he wants the Scots to vote Yes:

I am of the view that English political culture has become steadily more toxic, hollowed out by multiculturalism and moral relativism, resulting in shocking incidents like the Rotherham scandal. Indeed the Tory party is hardly a conservative party at all, and is increasingly interchangeable with Labour and the LibDems. The mere fact the Tories chose David Cameron as leader tells you something about the state of the Stupid Party, a man unable to win an outright majority against probably the most inept, least charismatic and most spectacularly unsuccessful Labour Prime Minster since Harold Wilson. Yet the best Cameron could manage was a coalition.


But it has long seemed clear to me that as toxic as the political culture had become in England, it is even worse in Scotland.

And so my support for an independent Scotland is not because I do not think there are many fine classical liberals and other friends of genuine liberty north of the border, but rather there are just not enough of them. It is an exercise in ‘political triage’ on my part. Much as I would love to see Scotland once again embrace Adam Smith and Hume, I cannot see that happening any time soon. I may admire those willing to stay and fight for a better Scotland than the one they will get under the likes of Salmond, but I think it is a fight they cannot win.

And that is why I support Scottish independence. I see it as a gangrenous limb in need of political amputation, or we risk loosing everything it is attached to.

Richard Anderson also thinks a Yes vote might be for the best:

Despite the frequent comparisons between Quebec in 1995 and Scotland today the situations are in fact vastly different. Quebec leaving Canada is a basic existential question. Scotland leaving the UK simply isn’t. For all my tremendous fondness for traditional Scottish culture, and the amazing accomplishments of that once magical land, the place is today a vast albeit scenic welfare trap. It took 220 years to go from Adam Smith to Trainspotting, yet that hardly captures the conceptual distance travelled. When the British Empire fell Scotland, which had its greatest years because of the Empire, fell that much harder.

Scotland leaving the UK, however emotionally traumatic, would be a political blessing to the rest of the Union. Those 40 or so reliable Labour seats vanishing, as if by magic, from Westminster and by default shifting the political spectrum significantly rightward. Perhaps rightward enough that Nigel Farage & Co scare the Cameronistas toward something resembling Thatcherism. Had Quebec separated in 1995, and the country remained together, much the same thing would have happened in Canada.

Then there’s the economics. An independent Scotland would be Greece with better drinking opportunities. An England without Scotland would, by contrast, be a resurgent economic power. It’s like kicking your deadbeat brother off the couch and onto the street. Your living room smells better and the money you saved from the repair bill can be invested in some nice ETFs. Perhaps the deadbeat will learn some responsibility in the process. You’ll learn the beauty of peace and quiet. Once upon a time Scotland was the engine that helped drive a great empire, today it’s 5 million mouths that the taxpayers of England can ill afford to feed.

More than three centuries ago Scotland sacrificed the romance of independence to practical economic necessity. It seems they are on the verge of doing the exact opposite now. They are abandoning economic reality for a romantic fantasy spiced up with vague images of a social democratic utopia. A fool and his money are soon parted. That’s a bit of wisdom the Scots of old understood so very well. The tragedy is that their descendants understand it not at all.

Update: According to the Weekly Standard, I’m totally underestimating the seismic shift if the Yes campaign wins … it’ll be Red October on the Clyde:

It is not at all far-fetched to imagine Vladimir Putin offering financial aid to a post-independence Scotland that will inevitably face severe economic challenges.

The price for that aid might include, among other things, basing rights for Russian military and naval forces. Certainly there would be little or nothing that the United Kingdom could do if an independent Scotland decided to rent its deep water submarine port at Faslane to Russia’s Northern fleet or if it let Russian maritime air patrols fly out of former RAF air bases.

That would essentially mean a shifting of NATO’s frontier hundreds of miles to the West and a revolutionary change in the balance of power in Europe.

September 12, 2014

Scottish businesses face a “day of reckoning” after a Yes vote

Filed under: Britain, Business, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 16:04

Usually, when someone is planning to punish their political enemies, they keep quiet about it until the votes are counted. The former deputy leader of the Scottish National Party is pretty forthright about just who is going to be facing punishment if Scotland votes yes:

Former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars has claimed there will be a “day of reckoning” for major Scottish employers such as Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Life after a Yes vote.

Speaking from his campaign vehicle the “Margo Mobile”, Mr Sillars insisted that employers are “subverting Scotland’s democratic process” and vowed that oil giant BP would be nationalised in an independent Scotland.

Earlier this week, a number of banks, including Lloyds Banking Group and RBS, said they would look to move their headquarters south of the border in the event of a Yes vote.

Mr Sillars, who earlier this week claimed he and First Minister Alex Salmond had put their long-held personal differences behind them to campaign together for independence, also revealed that he would not retire from politics on 19 September but said he would be “staying in” if Scotland became independent.

He claimed there is talk of a “boycott” of John Lewis, banks to be split up, and new law to force Ryder Cup sponsor Standard Life to explain to unions its reasons for moving outside Scotland.

He said: “This referendum is about power, and when we get a Yes majority, we will use that power for a day of reckoning with BP and the banks.

“The heads of these companies are rich men, in cahoots with a rich English Tory Prime Minister, to keep Scotland’s poor, poorer through lies and distortions. The power they have now to subvert our democracy will come to an end with a Yes.”

If I had any investments in Scotland, I would be calling my broker to review them in the light of this pretty specific set of economic and political goals for an independent Scotland. It won’t be a safe place to invest any kind of retirement savings if Sillars represents more than a fringe of the SNP.

September 11, 2014

Would Scottish separation resemble the “Velvet Divorce” of Czechoslovakia?

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:40

At the Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin looks at the breakup of Czechoslovakia and compares the possible UK-Scotland divorce in that context:

One relevant precedent is the experience of the “Velvet Divorce” between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, whose success is sometimes cited by Scottish independence advocates as a possible model for their own breakup with Britain. Like many Scottish nationalists, advocates of Slovak independence wanted to break away from their larger, richer, partner, in part so they could pursue more interventionist economic policies. But, with the loss of Czech subsidies, independent Slovakia ended up having to pursue much more free market-oriented policies than before, which led to impressive growth. The Czech Republic, freed from having to pay the subsidies, also pursued relatively free market policies, and both nations are among the great success stories of Eastern Europe.

Like Slovakia, an independent Scotland might adopt more free market policies out of necessity. And the rump UK (like the Czechs before it), might move in the same direction. The secession of Scotland would deprive the more interventionist Labor Party of 41 seats in the House of Commons, while costing the Conservatives only one. The center of gravity of British politics would, at least to some extent, move in a more pro-market direction, just as the Czech Republic’s did relative to those of united Czechoslovakia.

If the breakup of the UK is likely to resemble that of Czechoslovakia, this suggests that free market advocates should welcome it, while social democrats should be opposed. Obviously, other scenarios are possible. For example, famed economist Paul Krugman claims that Scottish independence is likely to result in an economic disaster, because a small country without a currency of its own cannot deal with dangerous macroeconomic crises. I lack the expertise to judge whether Krugman’s prediction is sound. But it does seem like there are obvious counterexamples of small countries that have done well without having their own currencies; Slovakia is a good example. Moreover, although Scottish independence advocates today claim that they will stick to the pound, they could reverse that decision in the future.

All of the above assumes that an independent Scotland will be able to stay in the European Union, and that there would be free trade and freedom of movement between it and the remaining United Kingdom. If the Scots get locked out of the EU or prevented from interacting freely with the UK (perhaps as a result of backlash by angry English public opinion), Scottish independence becomes a lot less viable and a lot more likely to cause serious harm on both sides of the new border.

September 9, 2014

UK re-runs Canada’s 1995 near-death experience

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:32

Andrew Coyne points out some of the parallels between the 1995 referendum in Quebec and this month’s referendum in Scotland:

It has been an entertaining, if unnerving, couple of weeks, recalling the referendum of 1995 and speculating about what would have happened had the separatists won. Now, thanks to the Scots, we may be about to find out.

Next week’s referendum on Scottish independence is indeed looking eerily reminiscent of the 1995 near-disaster: the same early complacency in the No camp, the same unbridled panic as the Yes side surges in the polls; the same unappealing mix of threats (“one million jobs”) and accounting on the No side, the same fraudulent claims (“we’re subsidizing the English”) and utopian fantasies on the Yes; the same blurring of the lines on both sides, independence made to look like the status quo (“we’ll keep the pound”) even as the status quo is made to look like independence (“devo-max” is the British term for special status). Add a charismatic Yes leader and an unpopular, seemingly disengaged prime minister, and the picture is complete.

Learning nothing from our experience, the Brits made all the same strategic errors we did, first conferring an unwarranted legitimacy on the separatist project, then attempting to pacify it with powers and money, only to watch it grow more ravenous in response. They have ended up in the same game of heads-I-win, tails-you-lose: a No vote simply marks the launch of the next campaign, while a Yes, supposedly, is forever.


We should not underestimate how much of separatism’s decline in this country can be explained by sheer exhaustion, especially post-Clarity Act. A great many soft nationalists, for whom it retains a romantic appeal, were persuaded it was simply too arduous an undertaking, full of too much uncertainty and upheaval. But if that premise appeared to have been debunked — if the British pull off the same quick divorce that the Czechs and Slovaks did in the 1990s — we might yet see the issue resurface. You see, the Parti Quebecois would crow? It is just as we told you. And Britain, of all places, has proved it.

The Russian-Ukrainian War

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:16

Paul Goble summarizes Konstantin Gaaze’s ten questions and answers about the war between Russia and Ukraine:

Gaaze’s first question is “Why did we (they) act as we (they) did with them (us)?” His answer: “President Putin considers that the Ukrainian state exists only because he agrees to its existence.” Consequently, “Moscow has acted from the false hypothesis that ‘Ukraine is not a state,’” something for which several thousand people have already paid with their lives.

But Kiev, the Moscow writer says, has also operated from a false hypothesis.” Ukrainian leaders believed that “Russia will not provide essential assistance to the local uprising in the east of Ukraine because it is intimidated by Western sanctions.” But Moscow isn’t, and it has intervened. Consequently, Ukraine has had to fight, and many have suffered as well.

His second question is “What has been obtained and how did the war end?” In Gaaze’s view, “the east of Ukraine belongs to people whose names we in fact do not know. Kiev has lost part of its territory but forever have been marginalized the future of the non-existence Novorossiya.”

“It will never become part of Russia,” Gaaze says, but “in the near term, it will not be part of Ukraine either. Millions of people thus are condemned to live in an enormous Transdniestria, to live between two armies, one of which (the Russian) is committed to destroy the other (the Ukrainian).” The first is only waiting for the order to do so.

Gaaze’s third question is this: “Was Putin fighting with Ukraine or with the West?” the answer is with both, but the results are different. “Kiev did not lose the war, but it did not win it either. The West,” in contrast, “lost the first round of the new Cold War. Moscow did what it wanted,” while the West did not act decisively because of various fears about the future.

“But the first round of the cold war is not the entire war,” Gaaze says. The West can recover. NATO can rearm. “There will be other rounds,” and Russia “will not be able to win them.”

September 1, 2014

Unionists fumble by letting Labour drive the “No” campaign in Scotland

Filed under: Britain, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:13

In the Telegraph, Sean Thomas says that the self-loathing tradition among Labour intelligentsia makes Labour the worst possible party to make the case for union, even though Labour stands to lose far more electorally than any other party:

It’s often been observed that a certain type of British Lefty hates Britain – and that they reserve particularly hatred for Englishness. Back in 1941 George Orwell made this acute remark:

    England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution.

So what’s new? The difference today is that this shame and self-hatred now dominates Left-wing thought, whereas it was once balanced by the decent Left: who were proud to inherit the noble traditions of radical English patriotism.

[…] The latest polls show that the United Kingdom is close to breaking up. This is a remarkable state of affairs when you consider that, a year ago, polls were two to one against partition. How has this occurred? Because we have allowed the British Labour party to lead the No debate.

This was a disastrous decision, given that, as Orwell noted, Labourites and Lefties revile and deride so many of the things perceived as quintessentially British. Take your pick from the monarchy, the flag, the Army, the history of rampant conquest, the biggest empire in the world, the supremacy of the English language, anyone who lives in the countryside, the national anthem, the City of London, the Royal Navy, a nuclear deterrent, the lion and the unicorn, duffing up the French, eating loads of beef — all this, for Lefties, is a source of shame.

The result, north of the Border, is plain to see. Whenever the passionate and patriotic SNP asks the No campaign for a positive vision of the UK (instead of dry economic facts, and negative fear-mongering) all we hear is silence, or maybe a quiet murmur about “the NHS”. Yes, the NHS. For many Lefties, the NHS &mdah; an average European health system with several notable flaws — is the only good thing about Britain. It’s like saying we should keep the United Kingdom because of PAYE. Thus we tiptoe towards the dissolution of the nation.

There is a deep irony here. If Scotland secedes it will hurt the Labour Party more than anyone, electorally. But such is the subconscious hatred of Britain and Britishness in Lefty hearts, I believe many of them think that’s a price worth paying: just to kick the “Tory Unionists” in the nuts, just to deliver the final death-blow to British “delusions of grandeur”.

August 25, 2014

Counting down to Scotland’s decision

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:23

While I’d prefer to see Scotland stay as part of the United Kingdom, lots of Scots would prefer to be independent of the UK. What I don’t understand is the idea that Scotland needs to be free, independent, and pleading and begging to be accepted into the EU. Isn’t that just trading distant uncaring bureaucrats in London for even more distant, even more uncaring bureaucrats in Brussels?

There are plenty of English cheerleaders for the “no” side, but there are also folks in England who’d prefer to see Scotland go off on its own:

In polite society, the correct opinion to hold about Scottish independence is that the Union must stay together. But I’ve been wondering: might not England thrive, freed from the yoke of those whining, kilted leeches? The more you think about it, the more persuasive the argument seems to be.

I’ve been invited to debate this question — whether or not we long-suffering Sassenachs would be better off without our sponging Caledonian neighbours — in early September, at a debate held by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.


Let’s consider for a moment how Scotland herself might fare. In my view, she would be well served by some time alone to consider who she really is. Historically, Scotland was renowned across the world for entrepreneurial spirit and engineering genius. Both reputations have been lost after a century of Labour government and the overweening arrogance and control freakery of the trades unions.

These days, Scotland is more commonly associated with work-shy dole scroungers and skag-addled prostitutes than with the industriousness of Adam Smith or with its glorious pre-Reformation spirituality. Sorry, no offence, but it’s true.


Returning to England, then, let us imagine a Kingdom relieved of burdensome Scottish misanthropy. Surely it would experience an almost immediate burst of post-divorce gaiety. Think of our city centres, free of garrulous Glaswegian drunks slurping Buckfast tonic wine, or English literary festivals liberated from sour, spiky-haired Caledonian lesbians hawking grim thrillers about child abuse.

And here’s one last, even more delicious prospect: right-on Scottish stand-up comedians permanently banished to Edinburgh, where their ancient jokes about Thatcher or the Pope will make their equally ossified Stalinist audiences laugh so bitterly that Scotland’s famously dedicated healthcare workers will be left mopping up the leakage.

It makes you wonder whether we shouldn’t offer up Liverpool as well, to sweeten the deal. After all, the north of England is in a similarly bad state. What do you reckon of my modest proposal? Would a taste of the Calvinist lash persuade that feckless and conceited community to get off its behind and look for work? Why not let Holyrood underwrite their disability benefits bill for a while, and see what happens?

August 21, 2014

Jacques Parizeau planned a unilateral declaration of independence after 1995 Quebec referendum

Filed under: Cancon, History, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:26

In the Montreal Gazette, Don Macpherson discusses a new book by Chantal Hébert to be published soon:

They don’t make sovereignist leaders like they used to. It’s hard to imagine any candidate for the Parti Québécois leadership matching the combination of Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard in the 1995 sovereignty referendum.

That referendum wouldn’t have been held without Parizeau’s single-minded pursuit of sovereignty. And the sovereignists wouldn’t have come within fewer than 55,000 votes of winning if it hadn’t been for Bouchard’s ability to gain voters’ trust.

Yet, as a forthcoming book shows, Bouchard did not trust Parizeau — and with reason.

Not only did Parizeau, who was premier, unscrupulously use Bouchard to deceive voters about his intentions, he intended to shove Bouchard aside after a Yes vote so he could make a unilateral declaration of independence.

The book is The Morning After, written by widely respected Ottawa journalist Chantal Hébert. It’s to be published early next month.

It’s based on recent interviews by Hébert and commentator Jean Lapierre (my fellow CTV Montreal political panellist) with political leaders of the day about what they would have done after a Yes vote in 1995.

Update: Paul Wells says the book also discusses an improbable Saskatchewan separation move if Quebec had left Confederation.

A team of Saskatchewan officials worked quietly to develop contingency plans in the event of a Yes vote in the 1995 Quebec referendum — options that included Saskatchewan following Quebec out of Canada, a new book reveals.

Roy Romanow, the premier of Saskatchewan at the time, never told his full cabinet about the secret committee’s work, Romanow told Chantal Hébert, author of The Morning After: The Quebec Referendum and the Day that Almost Was, to be published by Knopf Canada on Sept. 2. Maclean’s has obtained a copy of the book.

“Filed under the boring title of Constitutional Contingencies — a choice intended to discourage curiosity — [the Saskatchewan committee’s] work was funded off the books, outside the provincial Treasury Board process, the better to ensure its secrecy,” Hébert writes.

The committee considered a lot of possibilities for the chaotic period Romanow anticipated after a Yes vote — including Saskatchewan seceding from Canada; a Western union of Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia; abandoning the Canadian dollar to use the U.S. greenback; and even annexation of Saskatchewan, and perhaps other provinces, to the United States. “In the eventuality of a Yes vote, clearly you need to examine all your options,” Romanow says in the book.

Apparently 1995 was even more of an existential moment than we knew at the time.

July 23, 2014

Closing the Eastern Ukraine pocket

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:28

CDR Salamander links to a recent Ukrainian report that seems to show how far the Ukraine forces have come since May in reclaiming territory from the “separatists”:

Click to see full-size image

Click to see full-size image

Look at what has happened in the last two months.

1. Ukraine secured its maritime territory.
2. Ukraine managed to re-establish control over most of its borders – though in a thin salient in some places. Not firm control as we know traffic is getting through, but at least partial control to the point they are willing to claim it.
3. They are pushing to widen the salient in the south while increasing its SE bulge, pushing north along the Russian border.
4. From the north, they are pushing south along the Russian border.
5. Yes kiddies, we have a classic pincer movement to envelope a pocket of the enemy, nee – a double envelopment at that. As a matter of fact, a secondary double envelopment is about to take place in that middle thumb centered on Lysychansk – or at least there is an opportunity for one.

Cut off the Lysychansk based separatists there while at the same time cutting off their unopposed access to the Russian border – and then you can destroy the pro-Russian separatists piecemeal at your leisure.

A quick Google search for “ATO progress map” also turned up this map posted to Twitter a couple of days ago by Viktor Kovalenko:

Click to see full size image

Click to see full size image

As the original CDR Salamander post points out, these are based on claims by one side so apply whatever filters you feel are needed to counteract any PR or propaganda bias.

April 22, 2014

A “Western colony for gays and paedophiles” versus “a superpower empire that was not conquered by anybody”

Filed under: Europe, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:02

David Blair compares the two revolutionary movements in Kiev and in Donetsk:

They are bitter enemies, but they run revolutions in much the same way. Here in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” – as pro-Russian demonstrators like to call this part of eastern Ukraine – the protests look much the same as did in Kiev during the February Revolution.

Once again, everything happens around occupied government buildings, where you find barricades piled high with tyres, passionate speakers and vitriolic propaganda, all surrounded by masked men with clubs and iron bars. The pro-Russian protesters of Donetsk took up their cause in bitter opposition to the Maidan revolutionaries of Kiev, but their methods are pretty much identical.

Earlier today, I spent some time behind the barricades of what was once the administrative headquarters of Donetsk region. This 11-storey building is now the seat of power for the “Donetsk People’s Republic”, which plans to hold a referendum on whether to join Russia by May 11. A triple rampart made from tyres laced with barbed wire now protects the building, manned by sentries in miners’ helmets and black balaclavas.

From a wooden stage in front of the building, a constant relay of speakers calls down fury and vituperation on the new government in Kiev and their supposed masters in America and Europe. There is an epic imagination to the crudeness of the propaganda.

My favourite poster shows a crying baby above a picture of Adolf Hitler and an assortment of drag queens. “Where will your baby live?” asks the caption. “In a Western colony for gays and paedophiles? Or in a superpower empire that was not conquered by anybody?” The latter sentence is accompanied by a picture of a jubilant infant raising both tiny fists in triumph.

April 20, 2014

If Scotland chooses separation, should it take Northern Ireland too?

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Patrick West believes that Scotland should include Northern Ireland in its new country if the separation vote succeeds:

[A union] between England and Wales could, possibly [succeed]. Despite the wishes of Welsh (and indeed English) nationalists, the two countries are physically and economically linked – just have a look at the commercial relationship between Bristol and Cardiff or Liverpool and north Wales. But Northern Ireland would resemble a very odd third partner in this hypothetical, slimmed-down UK, cut off by the sea and by culture (there are no peace walls in England and only Southport has annual Orange Order parades).

So, I have a better suggestion: if Scotland declares independence, shouldn’t Northern Ireland go with it? No, let me rephrase that: if Scotland becomes independent, it has a moral obligation to take Northern Ireland with it. Ulster is, after all, far more of a Scottish colony than an English one, demographically speaking. From the reign of King James VI of Scotland (who also became James I of England in 1603), Ulster was disproportionately colonised by Scots (many of whom later left for America to become ‘Scotch-Irish’), which explains why Presbyterianism was always a more popular denomination in Ulster than the Church of Ireland. The Scottish legacy is also reflected in efforts in recent decades among Protestants to cement an ‘Ulster-Scots’ culture and language. While you will see the Scottish saltire at Orange Order marches, you won’t see an empty-handed Cross of St George.

The two lands are united in their love of and hatred of Glasgow’s two football teams and by simmering sectarianism. The Scottish National Party (SNP) was very keen to jump on the Braveheart bandwagon. Why not go even further back in time? Parts of Ulster and Scotland were once united in the sixth and seventh century in the kingdom of Dalriada. The revival of this ancient kingdom, should Scotland vote ‘Yes’, would make much more sense than Northern Ireland’s continued bondage to England. After all, most English people are notoriously ignorant about Ulster. During the Troubles, the English regarded the province with a mixture of irritation and indifference, which is why the IRA in the 1970s knew that England would only take notice if there were bombs on the mainland. ‘They’re both as bad as each other’ and ‘fancy fighting about religion’ were the two common reactions. To the English, the Northern Irish are a foreign people, which is why they found the grating, mangled accents of John Cole and Ian Paisley so amusing – so otherish, so strange.

There has been little love in the opposite direction. To Irish republicans, England was always the occupier, and most Ulster Catholics had good reason to come to dislike the English after 1969. It was with English accents that they heard their houses raided, their husbands and brothers interned and shot. Meanwhile, Ulster Protestants have always – with fair reason – suspected that London wanted to rid itself of the Six Counties, hence the actions of 1974 and 1985 (even 1912), when ‘loyalists’ rebelled against a perceived perfidious London government.

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