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How much harm can one man do?

Donald Trump, president-elect

Donald Trump, president-elect

Donald Trump defeating Hillary Clinton wasn’t the result most of us wanted or expected, but it’s what we’ve got. The question now is what next?

Trump’s promises on the campaign trail were variously bombastic and implausible. He couldn’t keep them all, even if they were worth keeping, and many of them are not.

The parallel with Britain’s EU referendum is striking. A set of mutually incompatible demands and half-truths is no basis on which to chart the future of a country. The rest of the world looks on mystified, wondering who can make sense of all this.

And maybe that’s where there’s a glimmer of hope, the notion of who.

When it comes to Britain leaving the EU, we are taking a decision for a generation. Our constitution will be torn apart, our integration into the global economy dismantled, our citizens deprived of fundamental rights. We have a constitutional revolution but nobody to be held to account.  The prime minister was officially a Remain campaigner, in a modest sort of way, pledged now to make a success of a policy she opposed.  Many of the other Leave leaders are now scattered, and the rest will scatter soon.  If life outside the EU is worse than life inside, there will be nobody to blame.

With Donald Trump, though, it is not the constitution that might be ripped up but the government.  All kinds of awful things might follow from Trump policies, or what follows after Trump policies have failed, but there will be someone responsible.

When John Adams wrote of

a government of laws, and not of men

this is what he meant.  The concession speech by Hillary Clinton spoke of the importance of the constitution: the constitution is what Americans can cling to now.

What is Scottish nationalism for?

Alex Salmond, first minister of Scotland

Alex Salmond, first minister of Scotland

The publication last week of the Scottish government’s White Paper on independence, Scotland’s Future, an important question was settled.  What are the aims of an independent Scotland?  (Assuming, that is, that it gets that far).

Scottish nationalism started life as a republican, anti-militarist project: no to the monarchy, no to Nato, no even to the European Union.  But over time, it adapted itself to the desires of the Scottish people: an independent Scotland would keep the Queen and her royal family, it would remain in Nato (albeit a non-nuclear member) and, most notably of all, it would be a committed and enthusiastic EU member rather than the grudging attitude found south of the border.

The White Paper has taken this transformation a stage further.  Even more features of the current Anglo-Scottish union are to be retained: broadcasting (Scots love the BBC), and the currency (Scots don’t like the euro), are to remain shared.  So what will be different?

Scotland will defend the social democratic values of free health care and dignity for benefit claimants, values that are in retreat at the hands of the coalition government in London.  These values will be paid for by the exclusive claim on the UK’s North Sea oil reserves that the White Paper asserts.

Now, it might be said that some of these outcomes are not wholly within the control of an independent Scotland.  The BBC itself might have some say on whether and how it will offer the broadcasting rights to its programmes in a foreign country.  The division of the oil and other assets of the Anglo-Scottish union is surely a matter for negotiation between the two sides in the event of a Yes vote: the position outlined in the White Paper is the opening position of one of the two sides, not yet the final position agreed between the two of them.  And the remarkable prospect of creating a second currency union in Europe – between England and Scotland – deserves a blog post all of its own.

Does these rather high-flown hopes show that Scottish nationalism is, in the words of C J Sansom in the historical note that accompanies his rather fine novel of alternative history, Dominion,

the old myth that released national consciousness will somehow make all well.

He goes on:

Populist politicians like Alex Salmond ask people to turn their backs on the real social and economic questions and seek comfort in a romanticised and shared – often imagined – grievances.  National problems are always someone else’s fault.

Scotland is offered

the dead, empty heart of nationalism, always said to be unique in every country, always drearily similar.

Despite my gratuitous quotation of criticisms of Scottish nationalism above, I don’t share them.  Yes, the SNP arguments are based on some wishful thinking and some unreal assumptions, but no more than those from any other group of politicians.  It is part of the trade to make things up a little and to hope for the best.  It’s not pretty, but democracy seems to work best that way.  Perhaps it’s because voters cannot bear too much reality.

For example, here is a graph (from Fraser Nelson) showing how George Osborne has failed to meet his own projections for public sector net borrowing since he came into office in May 2010.

Public sector net borrowing and estimates (source The Spectator)

Public sector net borrowing and estimates (source The Spectator)

So, Alex Salmond is up to no tricks that his opponents have not already mastered.  An independent Scotland will be no better and no worse than the rest of the UK in that regard.  Between now and polling day on 18 September 2014, Mr Salmond has the opportunity to explain whether his social democratic vision of Scotland can be achieved by means beyond those that are dependent on remaining dependant on England.

We know now what Scottish nationalism is for, but can the same be said of Scottish independence?

John F Kennedy: The first order of business is for our European friends to go forward in forming the more perfect union

President John F Kennedy

President John F Kennedy

The nations of Western Europe, long divided by feuds far more bitter than any which existed among the 13 colonies, are today joining together, seeking, as our forefathers sought, to find freedom in diversity and in unity, strength.

The United States looks on this vast new enterprise with hope and admiration. We do not regard a strong and united Europe as a rival but as a partner. To aid its progress has been the basic object of our foreign policy for 17 years. We believe that a united Europe will be capable of playing a greater role in the common defense, of responding more generously to the needs of poorer nations, of joining with the United States and others in lowering trade barriers, resolving problems of commerce, commodities, and currency, and developing coordinated policies in all economic, political, and diplomatic areas. We see in such a Europe a partner with whom we can deal on a basis of full equality in all the great and burdensome tasks of building and defending a community of free nations. It would be premature at this time to do more than indicate the high regard with which we view the formation of this partnership. The first order of business is for our European friends to go forward in forming the more perfect union which will someday make this partnership possible.

From an address delivered by President John F Kennedy at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on 4 July 1962.  The full text is available here


Vince Cable: A transition from governance built around nation states

Rt Hon Vince Cable MP (picture Andrew Sales)

Rt Hon Vince Cable MP (picture Andrew Sales)

What will be the most important priority for the future well-being of both people and our planet?

Making a transition from governance built around nation states to one with a strong system of global rules to deal with shared problems such as climate change and lethal-weapons proliferation.

Rt Hon Vince Cable MP is secretary of state for business, innovation and skills and Lib Dem MP for Twickenham, interviewed in the New Statesman, 15-21 November 2013

How the world turns

Niall Ferguson (picture Harvard)

It is not only the world of politics that is turned upside down by the European banking crisis and the ineffectual way in which political leaders are dealing with it.  Historical and cultural commentators, too, are in turmoil.

Niall Ferguson, poster boy of Atlanticism, is interviewed in the Sunday Times (£) today, advocating a federal union of Europe:

I am not a federalist, but the costs of the single currency disintegrating are really so high and would impact so many people, that the only responsible thing for me to do is to argue urgently for the next step to a federal Europe. I see no alternative at the moment that isn’t a great deal worse.

Mind you, he has quite a good track record of supporting European integration, for many of the same reasons as this website.  See here, for example:

The choice is no longer between national foreign policies and a European foreign policy, but between national irrelevance and collective influence.

 and he was a supporter of the European constitution, as he explained here.

Will Self

But the traffic is not only one way.  The BBC website carries a piece by novelist and journalist Will Self, in which he writes that

For myself, I had always been an enthusiastic pro-European and an unashamed believer in a federal European state. Like many English people of my tastes and proclivities, I rather fancied myself propping up zinc bars, sipping pastis and listening to the musical chink-clank of petanque.

However, the experience of the EU is changing his mind:

But times and opinions change: the continent’s sixty year double-thinking reverie has turned the European dream into something of a nightmare … And you know, perhaps they – and we – should give up trying; an end to the European Union in its current banjaxed form might allow all of us to experience a new dawn,

Will Self’s despair at the difficulties encountered by the European Union is comprehensible, but Niall Ferguson’s explanation of the reasons why Europe needs to unite remains important enough for the project to be worth preserving with.  The world turns, but not that much.

The lady in the lake

Robert Montgomery plays Philip Marlowe in the 1947 film version of "The lady in the lake"

Taking a break from thinking about the future of the eurozone or the prospects for a UN Parliamentary Assembly, I took a trip to 1940s California in the company of Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s iconic, hardbitten private detective.  But amidst the glitz of Hollywood and the grime of Bay City, I found the same worries about public life and public behaviour as inhabit the rest of this website.

Here is police captain Webber, in “The lady in the lake”, explaining to Marlowe after two police officers have assaulted our hero while in the course of looking after a client:

“Police business,” he said almost gently, “is a hell of a problem.  It’s a good deal like politics.  It asks for the highest type of men, and there’s nothing in it to attract the highest type of men.  So we have to work with what we get – and we get things like this.”

Somewhere in a society, there will be power, and power can be misused.  In a democracy, we place most of that power in the hands of people we have chosen to hold it, but that power can still be misused.  So we need other constraints on the way in which power is used, outside of those imposed by elections.

The future of the eurozone will only be secured if the power of politicians to run up debts is controlled, given that the countries in the eurozone no longer have the power to print money to pay their bills instead.  World peace can only be secured if national governments are constrained in their ability to cause environmental or economic harm to other countries, or indeed their own citizens.  Captain Webber of the Bay City Police Department does not trust politicians limitlessly, and neither should you.

The democratic deficit is the price Norway pays for being outside the EU

Outside and Inside - Norway’s agreements with the European Union (published by Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Some British Eurosceptics continually refer to the Norwegian model of being outside the EU but able to trade with it.  As it happens, the Norwegian government has just published a comprehensive review of its relationship with the European Union (“Outside and Inside – Norway’s agreements with the European Union”,

Of particular note is the following section (starting on page 7):

The most problematic aspect of Norway’s form of association with the EU is the fact that Norway is in practice bound to adopt EU policies and rules in a broad range of issues without being a member and without voting rights. This raises democratic problems. Norway is not represented in decision-making processes that have direct consequences for Norway, and neither do we have any significant influence on them. Moreover, our form of association with the EU dampens political engagement and debate in Norway and makes it difficult to monitor the Government and hold it accountable in its European policy.

This is not surprising; the democratic deficit is a well-known aspect of the EEA Agreement that has been there from the start. It is the price Norway pays for enjoying the benefits of European integration without being a member of the organisation that is driving these developments. Although the democratic problems are as great today as they were 20 years ago – and have in fact increased – this is a situation that the broad political majority has been willing to accept and that many have become accustomed to.

Radoslaw Sikorski: I fear Germany’s power less than her inactivity

Radoslaw Sikorski (picture Poland Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

The break up of the eurozone would be a crisis of apocalyptic proportions, going beyond our financial system. Once the logic of “each man for himself” takes hold, can we really trust everyone to act in a communitarian way and resist the temptation to settle scores in other areas, such as trade? Would you really bet the house on the proposition that if the eurozone breaks up, the single market, the cornerstone of the European Union, will definitely survive? After all, messy divorces are more frequent than amicable ones.

What, as Poland’s foreign minister, do I regard as the biggest threat to the security and prosperity of Poland in the last week of November 2011? It is not terrorism, and it is certainly not German tanks. It is not even Russian missiles, which President Dmitry Medvedev has just threatened to deploy on the EU’s border. The biggest threat to the security of Poland would be the collapse of the eurozone.

I demand of Germany that, for its own sake and for ours, it help the eurozone survive and prosper. Nobody else can do it. I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say this, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear its inactivity. You have become Europe’s indispensable nation. You may not fail to lead: not dominate, but to lead in reform.

From a speech by Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, in Berlin on 28 November 2011.

Read the whole speech here Sikorski on the EU Nov 2011

And a commentary in the Economist here

Charles Darwin: man ought to extend his social instincts

Charles Darwin

“As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.”

Charles Darwin (1809-1882), from “The descent of man” (published 1871)


“State, Faith and Nation – the European Conundrum” (14 September 2011)

The 33rd Corbishley Lecture will be given by Professor Joseph Weiler on “State, Faith and Nation – the European Conundrum”, on Wednesday 14 September at 6.30 pm in the House of Lords

by kind courtesy of WPCT Patrons Lord Tomlinson and Lord Williamson, and with special thanks to the Mercers’ Company for their generosity

The lecture will be preceded by a reception from 6 pm and is free of charge

The 2011 Corbishley Lecture will explore the many challenges to secular and religious relationships of Europe’s new plurality  and the implications for integration and peaceful co-existence of its multiple identities and allegiances. The lecture will be followed by a wide-ranging discussion.

This year’s distinguished Corbishley lecturer is Professor Joseph Weiler, Joseph Straus Professor of Law and European Union Jean Monnet Chair at the New York University School of Law. From 1978 to 1985 he was a member of the Department of Law at the European University Institute, Florence, where in 1989 he was co-founder of its Academy of European Law.

Last year Professor Weiler acted as attorney for the Italian and other governments in the landmark Lautsi case on the prohibition of the crucifix and other religious symbols in public schools. Speaking after the successful outcome of their appeal against the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling he said,

“Europe is special in that it guarantees at the private level both freedom of religion and freedom from religion, but does not force its various peoples to disown in its public spaces what for many is an important part of the history and identity of their states, a part recognized even by those who do not share the same religion or any religion at all”.

Professor Weiler is a committed member of the Orthodox Jewish community in the Bronx. In 2003 he published a best-selling book “A Christian Europe”.

The 2011 Lecture is the 33rd in the series held in memory of Father Thomas Corbishley, former Master of Campion Hall, Oxford, and Superior at Farm Street, London.

To register, please e-mail or write to Mrs Win Burton, Secretary, WPCT, 134 Main Road, Long Hanborough OX29 8JY;  a ticket will be issued shortly before the event with instructions for security and entrance to the House of Lords.