Originally written for the Strathclyde Telegraph.
If you are leaning towards a Yes vote in 2014, here is a task for you: think of a single way in which Scotland is guaranteed to be better off long-term if independent.
I will hazard a guess that a Tory-free government is the first thing most of you thought of. But now ask yourself this: what makes you so sure an independent Scotland will never vote in a Tory or right-wing government? Sure, the Tories only polled around 13 per cent in the last Scottish Parliament election but 50 years ago they got well over 40 per cent of the Scottish vote in general elections. Electoral outcomes change over time and there is no evidence to suggest the Right cannot rise again in Scotland- it is a myth we are more socialist than England.
The same logic can be applied to foreign policy, Trident, welfare and any other policy areas nationalists claim will be radically revised. The referendum is a vote on the constitution, not SNP policies, so all future governments elected in an independent Scotland will not be bound by nationalist preferences.
Put simply, going independent would be a shot in the dark. There is not a single way in which an independent Scotland is guaranteed to be better off long-term. Nationalists know this and that is why they alter their argument to reflect changes in the country’s political mood as the years go by. Escaping the clutch of the London Tories is at the heart of their present ‘case’ but what was their motive for secession when Churchill was leading the war effort or Attlee was creating the NHS and welfare state?
To paraphrase The Newsroom’s Will McAvoy, if 10 Nobel Prize-winning economists walked into Alex Salmond’s office and presented unquestionable evidence that Scotland would be worse off independent, he would ignore it. Nationalists see independence as an end in itself and do not care about the ramifications. They are being deceitful by suggesting their anti-Toryism is why they support independence.
I believe you should vote No in 2014 as devolution has delivered the best of both worlds. The Scottish government has autonomy in a significant number of policy areas, while the UK provides us with collective security and international clout. It also ensures Scotland and England remain economic partners rather than competitors for jobs and investment. The Tories might be a nuisance, but that’s democracy for you.
There have been two constants in the Queen’s life since she ascended the throne: her family, and the support of her loyal subjects. The Diamond Jubilee celebrations were an enthusiastic endorsement of the Royal Family, which solidified its constitutional position for the foreseeable future. An Ipsos MORI poll published at the end of May suggests support for the monarchy is at an all time high; that is the uncomfortable fact that republicans- including myself- find hard to stomach. They (I say ‘they’, not ‘we’, as I’m not involved in the republican movement) simply cannot understand why the monarchy is so popular.
As a result, they often appear pompous and smug when dealing with this republican kryptonite. Poly Toynbee summed up republican arrogance in her Jubilee article: the fickle public don’t have a clue! The people Toynbee and others look down on make up 80 per cent of the British population. This fatal assumption- that anyone pro-monarchy is an idiot- is ignorance personified because the opposite is closer to the truth; republicans have never been smart enough to articulate their vision. Or rather, their textbook anti-monarchy arguments have failed to resonate with the British people.
The republican case must be entirely reworked. For a start, the charge of unaccountability levelled at the Royal Family must be dropped. Republicans must accept the public do not care the Queen is unelected. Nor is there an appetite for a referendum to ‘settle the issue’. It cannot be justified- at least for the time being- spending considerable public money on a referendum with a foregone conclusion.
Usually tied to this is the argument that monarchy is unnecessary nowadays. This is the main reason why I personally describe myself as a republican. Our democracy took root centuries ago so I believe our monarchy is outdated by the same length of time. But this argument has a flaw: it implies that all monarchies are the same. This is, of course, not true. Our Queen’s symbolic and apolitical status pales in comparison to the absolute power of the Saudi King. This argument will not satisfy the Royal-friendly public.
Neither will the lazy argument that the Royals are freeloaders. Royals are British diplomats and collectively rake up thousands of public appearances and official engagements each year. The Queen alone notched up 444 (57 abroad) in 2010– not too bad for a woman in her 80s. Their commitments to charities are also outstanding. Prince Charles is patron of 400 organisations and personally set up 18 of his 20 Prince’s Charities, which raise over £120 million each year. Successive generations have served in the British Army. Princes William and Harry’s services are ongoing, while their father and grandfather also served for years. Royals often have ‘real’ jobs because, contrary to popular belief, not all of them receive public money. For example, the Duchess of Kent is a musician who has taught in primary schools. The Royals generally have a strong work ethic and that cannot be seriously denied.
Likewise, there is no valid economic case against the monarchy. It cost £38.2 million in 2009-10, working out at only 62p per person. Considering the financial return the monarchy generates through tourism promotion, charity work and the economic boosts delivered by weddings and Jubilees, this is a bargain.
There are certainly some luxurious aspects of a Royal lifestyle but that does not mean life is easy. The Queen cannot, for instance, perform the everyday task of going to the corner shop for a morning paper. Instead, she spends almost every moment of her life under armed guard. It is not an exaggeration to say she is a prisoner in her own home; travelling from A to B requires careful and precise planning. She is under continual surveillance from the press who scrutinise her every move, word and facial expression. There is enormous pressure on her to perform the way the public ‘expects’ her to perform. This is a job she inherited, not chose, so I dare say there are times she wishes she had a normal life.
For republicanism to progress, all of these tiresome arguments must be discarded. Republicans should instead campaign for monarchical reform, a cause much more likely to find sympathy with the public.
There are many avenues of reform that should be advocated. Firstly, the monarchy should be stripped of the few political powers it possesses. Secondly, the monarchy should cease being strictly hereditary. When King George VI died, his wife- better known as the Queen Mother- lost her title as Queen. Likewise, Camilla and Kate will lose the title if their husbands die first. This is because they are not on the line of hereditary succession. They should retain the title unless they voluntarily abdicate. Thirdly, and related to this point, the recent sex equalisation reforms should be built on. Female Royals not on the family bloodline- Camilla and Kate- can become Queen but males- Prince Philip- cannot become King. Kings are historically viewed as superior so males not on the bloodline do not receive the title. If William and Kate’s firstborn is a girl, her future husband should be titled ‘King’. Finally, there should be a degree of symbolic reform; for example, the abolition of the compulsory oath of allegiance in Parliament. MPs represent the British people, not the Queen. They should not pledge their loyalty to our unelected Head of State if they do not want to.
Staunch republicanism is unhelpful and doomed to failure. As a democrat first and republican second, I accept the public’s wish to retain the monarchy. The republican movement must do the same and find ways of consolidating monarchist and republican views. This means campaigning for reforms that are more likely to find favour with the public. If the republican message does not change, the movement will continue to consign itself to irrelevance.
Several news stories have interested Stop the War- the self-appointed leaders of Britain’s anti-war movement- over the past two weeks. There was Tony Blair’s ‘return’ to domestic politics at a Labour Party fundraiser; Stop the War vowed to block the re-emergence of this ‘war criminal’. There was the announcement that the long-awaited Chilcot report will not be released until next year; Stop the War gave a rambling anti-Blair response. There was a series of bomb attacks in Iraq which left over 100 people dead; Stop the War blamed Blair, rather than the perpetrators. And there are daily reports on the escalating Syrian crisis, including credible claims that the Assad regime could use chemical weapons on its own people. Unsurprisingly, Stop the War continues to condemn the mere thought of intervention.
These responses from Stop the War highlight the unpleasant features of the entire anti-war movement: hypocrisy, double standards, the inability to debate, an immunity to reason, and amorality.
But it is also very seductive, particularly to younger people. I was once fervently anti-war so I understand why people are attracted to the likes of Tony Benn and George Galloway. It is unfortunate that great, eloquent critics of the movement do not command the same levels of attention. Nick Cohen has written an excellent book on the movement but he does not arouse the same interest as the loveable Benn. The late Christopher Hitchens was a fantastic polemicist but so is the more well-known Galloway. It is a sure bet that many people are passively anti-war simply because the opposing message has not been properly articulated to them.
This has enabled the movement to operate without proper scrutiny. It has slandered our former Prime Minister as a war criminal to such an extent that it is now arguably commonplace to think it is true. The Iraq War’s legality can indeed be contested but Stop the War decided long ago there is no need for debate; it was undeniably illegal and Blair is akin to Charles Taylor and Slobodan Milošević. Thank god they are here to keep us in the know!
The anti-war movement has no right to use the terms ‘illegal’ and ‘war criminal’ because it has no respect for the law. If every lawyer on the planet concluded the Iraq War was 100 per cent legal, Stop the War would dismiss them. The War would still be ‘illegal’, Blair would still be a ‘war criminal’ and the movement would continue making his life difficult.
It might not respect the law but the movement is quick to praise legal experts who think (or thought) the Iraq War was illegal, such as Sir Michael Wood, Jack Straw’s former chief legal advisor. It is, however, equally quick to condemn those who take the opposite view. The Hutton Report was dismissed as a whitewash. The Butler Review was cherry picked for evidence that fitted the anti-war agenda. The countless other inquiries were responded to in similar fashion. Stop the War is on alert to reject the upcoming Chilcot Report but will not hesitate to pinch passages that prove Blair’s ‘guilt’.
My gripe with the movement is not the anti-war stance but its lack of objectivity. As we have seen from the responses to the Iraq inquiries, the movement fails to properly engage with contrary evidence. It is so attached to the anti-war mantra that all opposing views are deemed irrelevant.
It chooses instead to exploit the deaths of Iraqis to paint Blair as a mass murderer. Stop the War has exonerated the perpetrators of the latest Iraqi atrocity and has left the blame at Blair’s doorstep. All terrorist attacks against civilians have been excused as a just and reasonable response to the US-led invasion. Unsurprisingly, it has overlooked the fact that terrorist groups used the invasion as an opportunity to launch a sectarian war.
I have probably given the impression that I am an avid Blair supporter but I am certainly not a ‘Blairite’. I disagree with many of his policies, particularly his post-9/11 assault on civil liberties. While I believe he deserves credit for confronting Saddam Hussein, he has had dubious relationships with other brutal dictators. He publicly praised Hosni Mubarak, who was subsequently jailed for life for overseeing the murders of democracy protesters. He offered a ‘hand of partnership’ to Colonel Gaddafi while in office and stayed in touch with him after leaving Downing Street (Gaddafi even referred to him as a ‘good friend’). More recently, he has been working closely with, and advising, the hardline Kazakhstan regime.
Blair’s foreign policy double standards would be a legitimate area for Stop the War to exploit but, naturally, it is guilty of the same thing. It defended the President of Iran from the charge of anti-Semitism but fell silent when he publicly denied the Holocaust. It rightly condemns atrocities committed by Israel but is silent on Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.
Stop the War falls silent whenever the facts on the ground do not comply with the anti-war agenda. During last year’s ‘illegal’ (that’s right: an UN-backed no-fly zone was illegal!) Libyan crisis, it was more concerned with NATO’s involvement than with Gaddafi’s crimes- including his threat of a genocide in Benghazi. The intervention was instead portrayed as an ‘imperial’ invasion to re-establish western dominance in the region. The use of British weapons by Gaddafi’s forces was inexplicably used as a reason to oppose the intervention and, predictably, their use was the fault of Britain, not Gaddafi. Most shamefully of all, Libya’s post-intervention problems, such as the lynching of black men, have been implicitly blamed on NATO.
The movement has reacted in similar fashion to the Syrian uprising. According to the UN, over 10,000 people have died since the uprisings, many of whom have been killed in orchestrated massacres by pro-government forces . There is broad international agreement that a stand- however small- must be taken against Assad’s regime. But the movement’s anti-West convictions are so deep-rooted that it cannot, even for a moment, entertain the notion that some form of intervention would be in good faith. Admittedly, there are some anti-war writers who have objectively (or have been objective as much as they possibly can be) made a case against intervention. Such anti-war writers, however, appear to be in short supply as almost all of the Syria pieces on Stop the War’s website are laced with textbook anti-West diatribe.
But what all anti-war writers have in common- whether objective or not- is an inability to recognise that the West could make a positive difference in Syria. It has been over a year since the uprising began and the world has watched thousands die as the atrocities pile up. The ‘leave it to the Syrians’ approach has failed but the movement has nothing else to say.
It is the Syrian crisis that truly shames the amoral Stop the War and the broader anti-war movement. There is a humanitarian emergency that the international community could relieve but the movement would prefer to leave civilians to their fate. Like with Iraq, like with Libya, it is interested primarily in its own anti-West agenda. The humanitarian emergency- whether stubborn anti-war supporters can admit it or not- is being used to advance this agenda. Anyone who takes exception is dismissed as wicked, evil, imperialist, or a war criminal.
It is unfortunate that this movement has not been exposed for what it really is. If only Benn or Galloway would change his mind…
(Note: To be clear, I am not necessarily calling for direct military intervention in Syria. The conflict is extremely complex but I believe any international contribution to the overthrow of Assad would be morally justified. As to the type of contribution, I shall leave that to the experts.)