Nicola Sturgeon plays coy

Scottish independence: new vote depends on Brexit outcome – Sturgeon

She said the chaos and uncertainty around Brexit made it clear that ill-informed or ill-judged decisions were a mistake.

“Clearly, if people in Scotland are being asked, given the opportunity to look again at the independence question, they have a right to have as much information as possible about what – if Scotland chooses to be independent, what our relationships will be with the rest of the UK and with Europe,” she said.

“And some of the answers to those questions inevitably depend on the Brexit outcome to some extent. And, therefore, I think it’s in the interest of allowing an informed decision to be taken about independence that we allow some of that clarity to emerge.

“Brexit is a good example of what happens when people take, in some respects, an uninformed decision about a big change. And when people, as I believe they will in due course, opt for Scotland to be an independent country, that should be on the basis of a genuinely informed decision about all of the implications and consequences.”

Evidently she is one of the few leading politicians in Britain doing any serious thinking about consequences. She is absolutely right that we have to wait for the political and economic fall-out from the Tory Brexit to settle before we know how to proceed on another Scottish referendum.

And she is doubly right to point out that in such a referendum, unlike in the Brexit one, the pros, cons, options and consequences should be clearly laid out for serious consideration by voters. Those arguing for an early referendum taking advantage of Brexit chaos are not helping the independence cause, nor the other nations in the UK. They are just trying to be selfish and take advantage of a disaster.

In the event of Brexit, I would support Scottish independence, because I think Scotland would have a brighter future in the EU than in a weak and isolated UK. However, this is not the time to be making such a decision. Sturgeon seems one of the few pols in Britain not losing her head when all about are losing theirs.

Theresa rides again!×31

And here she is at her most obtuse.

May pledge on Irish backstop alarms hard Brexiters

She pledges there will never be a hard border in Northern Ireland.

At her speech in Belfast, May said she would never allow a hard border to be erected on the island of Ireland.

“Northern Ireland does not have to rely on the Irish government or the European Union to prevent a return to borders of the past,” she said at a speech in Belfast. “The UK government will not let that happen. I will not let that happen.”

She’s opening and closing her mouth, and words keep coming out of it, but it is entirely unobvious what the words mean or portend for policy. Apparently there is some rabbit in a hat she means to pull out to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland even in the event of a pull-out from the customs union.

And she can’t say straight out she won’t pull out of a customs union because she needs the moronic Tory Brexiteers to keep her in Downing St. She has to speak in meaningless code to confuse both sides of her party a to what it is, if anything, she actually plans to do, besides warming her tootsies in front of the No 10 fireplace for as long as she can get away with it. What an appalling shambles of a government and political party. It’s a disgrace.

Are all males thugs at heart?

Liam Neeson: ‘I walked the streets with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by a “black bastard” so that I could kill him’

Neeson, who has starred in films such as Taken and Non-Stop, recalled being told about the rape [of an undisclosed person] after he returned from a trip overseas.

“She handled the situation of the rape in the most extraordinary way,” Neeson said during the interview, which can be read in full here. “But my immediate reaction was … did she know who it was? No. What colour were they? She said it was a black person.

“I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody. I’m ashamed to say that, and I did it for maybe a week – hoping some [Neeson gestures air quotes with his fingers] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him.”

Now let’s grant that Neeson is not the person now that he willingly describes he was at that point in time. Evidently, nothing came of his mini-crusade to kill some random black person because someone he knew got raped by a black person, and I am not posting this in order to attack or condemn him. It just raises some interesting questions, so let’s deal with them in the abstract.

First, no woman I’ve ever known has admitted to me she had been raped. So I cannot gauge what I would personally feel if a niece or friend said they had been. I suspect I might be angry enough to try to whack the suspect, but what Neeson describes, goes a few steps beyond. He first asks a reasonable question: who did it? Then he asks something I would consider out of the blue, that must have come from his or her circumstances: what colour was he?

And then comes something I don’t understand at all. He goes out with a cosh, hoping to attack some random black stranger in revenge for this vicious assault. To reiterate, Neeson says, “It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that,” so he understands the gravity of his actions. Had she said, no, he was white, would Neesom have prowled the streets looking for white men to cosh? Neesom doesn’t clarify anything here.

Now from what I’ve read and seen of Neeson, he seems a decent bloke, but here he is describing a violent and atavistic response that has purely racist overtones. Whatever he feels now, he obviously had issues then, or so he admits.

I don’t particularly want to lay into Neeson, he didn’t have to admit what he told the interviewer, however, having admitted this horror in his past life, it was remiss of him to fail to explore it in more detail, and he will come to regret that. It leaves questions unanswered, and while Neeson today may be a reformed character from Neeson then, having gone this far, he would do well to go a hell of a lot further and explicate where his head was at the time, and what journey he took to get his head where it apparently is today.

This is a story not even half told.

Labour fission?

Rebel Labour MPs set to quit party and form centre group

Corbyn had this coming. Dire though May’s misgovernment has been, his dithering leadership of the opposition has been as bad, perhaps worse, because he is betraying Labour voters. He’d better hope May doesn’t go for another election because he and his party could be wiped out.

Admittedly, he is caught between Labour Leavers and Remainers, and has claimed to be in favour of simultaneously leaving AND staying in a customs union, despite having no say in forming its regulations. His position is completely illogical, especially as his heart remains with the Brexiteers, and it’s unclear where his head is. Certainly not in a leadership role.

As a result, neither side trusts him, because neither can believe he means a word he says. Rather like May and the Tories. Corbyn has deliberately put himself in a position where he is an ineffective opponent of Brexit, and hence of the Tory party that has embraced it. If he is still the leader of the party after the next election, whenever it comes, it will be of a rump party of little significance.

Again, I think there is a resolution to this conundrum. Unstitch the UK entirely and let the regions go where they will. Scotland would go back into the EU. England can go… well, let’s not go there.

Then there will be no reason to evacuate the royal family from any palace other than Balmoral.

Oh, the humanity!

Queen to be evacuated if Brexit turns ugly – reports

British officials have revived cold war emergency plans to relocate the royal family should there be riots in London if Britain suffers a disruptive departure from the European Union, two Sunday newspapers have reported.

“These emergency evacuation plans have been in existence since the cold war but have now been repurposed in the event of civil disorder following a no-deal Brexit,” the Sunday Times said, quoting an unnamed source from the government’s Cabinet Office, which handles sensitive administrative issues.

*roll eyes*

Any chance of evacuating the rest of us? Thought not.

Atheism: a dogma of its own?

The Four Horsemen review – whatever happened to ‘New Atheism’?

The “Four Horsemen” is a reference to four iconic (English speaking) protagonists of atheism who rose to prominence in the late 20th and early 21st centuries: Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, who all went on to write additional books following the 2004 9/11 terrorist attack in New York, giving rise to the “new Atheism” meme. This is them at their only publicised meeting together in 2007 that is commemorated in The Four Horsemen book reviewed in the linked article.

l to r: Hitchens, Dennett, Dawkins, Harris

First a wee disclaimer. I became an atheist in my mid teens, late 1960s- early 70s, long before I’d ever heard of any of these gentlemen. I was raised a Roman Catholic, and brought up with Holy Communion, Holy Confession, Holy water, holy this that and the other, bobbing up and down in the pews, pictures of the pope and Virgin Mary on the walls, muttering prayers and fingering rosary beads. I bought into all this, and cannot really explain why I lost the faith. It was a matter of erosion over a few years, not a sudden, logical revelation. Perhaps it was out of sheer boredom and repetition. Perhaps it was because I noticed Catholics didn’t get on any better, nor had better rationalisations for the world than anyone else. Perhaps it was because science and rationality interested me – though many famous catholic scientists have managed to reconcile rationality and religious faith. At any rate, it was cemented by the many cheerful atheists I met at university, virtually all scientists.

So, I lost my faith before I went to uni, but my apostasy was cemented by my experience there. My older brother, a math graduate, never did. We don’t discuss it at all, probably because his wife is even more devout than he is. The first of the Four Horsemen I ever read was at uni, and that was Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, some time after it was first published in 1976. Dennett, I didn’t come across till some time after 1995, when he published Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. Dawkins had already given me brilliant additional arguments to bolster and defend my existing atheism. Hitchen’s and Harris’s writings I am not too familiar with.

The point I am trying to make is that I was atheist long before the Four Horsemen came along, long before “New Atheism” became their sobriquet, and that there is nothing new about atheism. (To be fair, Dennett just went along for one ride, he was never part of the later cavalry charges.) It’s not that atheists never before successfully argued against religion, it’s the notion that after 9/11, atheism became a new movement that needed a new name. The criticism of it is that the protagonists are seen as increasingly dogmatic and hostile to religious believers, and especially to Muslims.

Perhaps the main difference between traditional atheists like me and the New Atheists, is that we tend not to dabble in evangelical atheism – candidly, I confess to having been a protagonist of atheism on subscribed message board, in some cases taking to religious fundies on their own boards, though this was in the prehistorical days before the public free-for-all that is Twitter – while they go out and proselytise like any preacher, delightfully giving interviews to the media whenever possible.

On to the sardonic review (I have no reason to suppose the Guardian reviewer, Steven Poole, is prejudiced against people of any or no beliefs, and make no assumptions about his own possession or lack of them).

New Atheism’s arguments were never very sophisticated or historically informed. You will find in this conversation no acknowledgment of the progress made by medieval Islamic civilisation in medicine and mathematics – which is why, among other things, we have the word “algebra”. The Horsemen assume that religion has always been an impediment to science, dismissing famous religious scientists – such as Georges Lemaître, the Catholic priest who first proposed the big bang hypothesis, not to mention Isaac Newton et al – as inexplicable outliers. At one point Harris complains about a leading geneticist who is also a Christian. This guy seems to think, Harris spits incredulously, “that on Sunday you can kneel down in the dewy grass and give yourself to Jesus because you’re in the presence of a frozen waterfall, and on Monday you can be a physical geneticist”. Harris offers no reason why he can’t, except that the combination is incompatible with his own narrow-mindedness.

For these men, rationality is all on “our” side and evidence-free faith is all on “their” side. But faith is very much a movable feast: Hitchens himself, in his sad late persona as a useful idiot for the Bush-Cheney regime in the mid-2000s, notably kept insisting – in the face of no evidence – that Saddam Hussein had possessed a working nuclear-weapons programme, which proved that it had been right all along to invade Iraq.

I believe it’s a reasonable argument to make that atheism can descend into becoming a dogma, if one abandons scepticism and acquires blind faith in one’s position. We see this happening in politics today all over the world, but it isn’t exactly a new development – it’s probably as old as politics itself. The New Atheists are certainly sceptical of religion, and rightly so, but post 9/11, less so of the policies of rightwing governments, and especially of their actions against Islamic countries.

Poole doesn’t just call out Hitchens and Harris, he criticises Dawkins as well in this light.

Dawkins became a leading social-media troll, with tweets such as this from last summer: “Listening to the lovely bells of Winchester, one of our great mediaeval cathedrals. So much nicer than the aggressive-sounding ‘Allahu Akhbar.’ Or is that just my cultural upbringing?”

Yes, it probably is. Carillons give me a headache. Not a fan of Twitter myself, and think that if you want to style yourself as a philosopher, best to avoid it. If you dabble in the same pool as President Trump, you will not come up smelling of roses. Now, Dawkins has written many excellent books on evolution and how it support atheism, but here he’s descending into crass propaganda without much thought. I respect his prior work, but when Poole remarks, “[Dawkins] has a bright future ahead of him leaving pointless online comments below newspaper articles”, he has a point.

Dawkins gives the impression that he’s not against the great Christian scholars, architects and artists, but is not willing to give Islamic scholars, architects and artists any credit whatsoever. I suppose the Taj Mahal is an aberration. Touch of hypocrisy, maybe?

And here is an another issue – the entanglement of some of the Four Horsemen with the alt-right. “Alt” means not specifically Christian, but secular.

The intellectual path followed by Harris is most balefully illustrative of the poisonous seeds that were always present in New Atheism. At one point here, the men admire themselves for their willingness to consider truths that might be politically dangerous. For instance, Hitchens says, if the notorious hypothesis of the 1994 book by Richard J Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve – that black people are genetically inferior in intelligence to white people – were true, it shouldn’t be ignored. Luckily, Hitchens hastens to add, that example is not viable. Later on, however, Harris brings up the argument again. “If there were reliable differences in intelligence between races or genders,” he begins, before Hitchens cuts him off dismissively. “But I don’t think any of us here do think that that’s the case.”

Hitchens might have been too generous. In 2018, Harris caused a storm by inviting Murray on to his podcast for a weirdly uncritical two-hour conversation. Murray, Harris claimed, had been the victim of a terrible “academic injustice” for the way in which his notions about the inherent cognitive inferiority of some “races” had been rejected by the scientific establishment. (Lest you worry about Murray, be reassured that he is still a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which is funded by the ultra-conservative billionaire Koch brothers.)

The alt-right is not known for its devotion to reason and rationality either. It may be little more than a backlash against what it sees as political correctness: moderation in foreign policy, support of economical deprived people, fairness for racial and sexual minorities, respect for and preservation of the environment, affordable health care. It’s hawkish against Islam and supportive of war against Islamic nations as well as terrorists. However, parroting phrases like “It stands to reason that…!” is always a very weak substitute for actually producing and substantiating reasons with evidence.

The irony is that the alt-right extremes of New Atheism begin to share many of the domestic and foreign policy goals of America’s indigenous Christian far right. It might even be said that on some issues, they read from the same Common Book of Prayer.

Corbyn reaps his just reward

Theresa May given boost with seven point Tory poll lead as Jeremy Corbyn calls for snap general election

Theresa May has been given a boost as the Tories surged to a 7 point lead over Labour in a new opinion poll, as Jeremy Corbyn issued a fresh call for a snap general election.

The Labour Party slumped by six points from 40 per cent to 34 per cent in the past fortnight, according to a survey by Opinium for The Observer, seeing them leapfrogged by the Conservatives who went from 37 per cent to 41 per cent.

It’s not so much that the Tories are leaping ahead because of their reckless – or is it wreckful – position on Brexit, it’s because Labour is haemorrhaging Leavers to the Tories, and Remainers to the Lib-Dems.

May’s approvals on Brexit have only edged up, they are still abysmally low. Corbyn’s approval ratings, have crashed, and I think deservedly so. He’s been seen through as well. From The Guardian:

Approval for May’s handling of Brexit had increased slightly, while support for Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the issue has slumped to an all-time low. May’s approval ratings on Brexit edged up slightly to -30%, with 25% approving and 55% disapproving. Her rating had been -33% a fortnight ago.

Meanwhile, Corbyn’s net rating on the issue is now -44%, with 16% approving and 61% disapproving. His rating was -40% in the last poll a fortnight ago. Only 42% of current Labour voters approve of the way Corbyn has responded to the government on Brexit, while a quarter (26%) disapprove.

If there were some way of pulling a literal plug and sinking Britain, between the two of them these gormless goobs would find it.

Opinion on Brexit itself hasn’t changed much.

There were small signs to encourage No 10 about support for May’s Brexit deal. While the deal is still seen as bad, outright opposition has dropped off in the past weeks. Currently, 15% think May’s deal is good, while 45% think it is bad. In the last poll, only 12% thought it was a good deal and 50% thought it was bad.

Most people would back staying in the EU over May’s deal. If a referendum were held with a choice between the two, 45% would vote to Remain, while 38% would vote for the deal. More than half (55%) of Conservative voters now think their MPs should back the deal, up from 48% last week.

Perhaps May’s do-nothing-while-seeming-busy strategy to delay any decision till it’s too late and leave Parliament with the choice of her botch or disaster may be paying off. She’ll certainly go down in history. Way down.

Unless of course, a second referendum

Fight for ‘people’s vote’ is not over yet, say campaigners

Proponents of a second EU referendum are urgently trying to fight back against the impression that the plan might be doomed after a series of setbacks, arguing that it will gain renewed support as other options fall away.

A proposed cross-party amendment to Theresa May’s Brexit plan calling for a “people’s vote” was ditched due to limited support days before Tuesday’s Commons votes. MPs then dismissed other amendments aimed at giving the Commons more control over the process.

While conceding some damage, proponents insist that if May is unable to forge a consensus, the looming prospect of a no-deal Brexit could focus minds.

“We know it’s often people’s second-best choice, not their first choice, so people will only come to it when other alternatives have been exhausted,” said Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP. “We’re getting closer to the moment where what will be on the table is either no deal or a people’s vote, and at that point I think we’ll see a lot more people coming in.”

This would be the most democratic option – let the people decide on the efforts of the last two years.

While I would prefer this as the most democratic option, there are a lot of caveats. First, there is no current parliamentary majority for it, and only speculation that one could form before March 29.

Second, even if a parliamentary majority coalesced between now and then, who would frame the questions, and what should they be? Each of the multiple sides might insist on their own being included.

Third, even if the questions were decidable, there is no reason to suppose the ultimate vote would be any different, or even more decisive. For Remain to win and be conclusive, they’d need a bigger majority than Leave had before, and there is no guarantee of this, because even though public opinion has moved against Brexit, it’s not by such an overwhelming majority that MPs would be willing to risk more chaos in an indecisive outcome.

\I would argue that they should reframe the referendum structure, and use a single transferable vote strategy, rather than a blunt two-question position. Thus they could have three questions: Remain? Leave with some sort of customs union deal? Leave outright, consequences schmonsequences?

Voters would rank these options in preference, 1, 2 and 3. If no question received a majority on the first count, then the option that came last is eliminated, and the second preference of those ballots is then added to the top two, leading to a majority for one of the remaining options.

The STV or some version of it is more nuanced and fairer for all the positions involved, and acknowledges the result of the initial referendum, inviting people to reconsider based on the antics of the Tory and Labour front benches over the last two years,and the information that’s been revealed since then.

British pols, however, are wedded to the first past the post system as this preserves their seats and prevents more representative outcomes in parliamentary elections. Using it in a referendum this important would be a major precedent for them, and they would be hard put not to reform the electoral system in general for parliamentary elections to match. There’s already precedent in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and in Northern Irish and Scottish local elections for doing it this way.

I am not sure a majority of Westminster MPs who hold their seats only by a plurality rather than a majority would be at all happy to see this.

From the anals (sic) of ‘What the fuck?’

Brexit: Whitehall officials begin ‘serious work’ on UK staying in EU customs union as way to rescue deal

Whitehall officials have begun “serious work” on the UK staying in a permanent EU customs union as a route to rescuing the Brexit deal, despite Theresa Mayruling out the move, The Independent can reveal.

Preparations are underway at a high level, amid a belief the beleaguered prime minister will be forced to offer the potentially crucial compromise to Labour.

NOW, they are “beginning” serious work on a customs union? What bullshit is this? This is work that should have been started two years ago as part of general preparations for any sort of exit, and no exit at all. It’s a bit late now, without an extension of Article 50, which the cretinous and untrustworthy May has vowed not to request, to keep the fascistic anti-European wing of her horrible party on her side.

May’s “plan”, if rudderless leadership can be characterised as a plan, has been to obfuscate and delay, do nothing substantive till March 29th rolls around, and Parliament is forced to choose between a no-deal crash out, and her Botched Brexit. Her “backstop” – what the fuck does that actually mean? – has always been fuzzy blather to paper over the cracks on the Tory party, no-one having the least clue how it could ever be implemented in order to keep an open Irish border while the UK leaves the customs union. May’s deal is a classic example of a political oxymoron that will go down in political science textbooks for decades to come.

The True Blue Brexiteer, of course, doesn’t give a shit about an open border in Ireland, they just want to justify their xenophobic jingoism.

The only way of keeping an open border is a permanent customs union of some sort. It’s obvious to anyone with more awareness than any sort of Brexiteer that the best way of doing that is to abandon Brexit and stay in the EU. That way we can participate in forming EU policy, rather than slavishly following it.

Recent votes in Parliament, have established there is likely to be no majority for a sensible Remain outcome. Both May and the idiot Corbyn have split parties on that. So barring a political miracle with MPs coming to their senses – and where have they been known to do that before? – the ONLY option becomes a permanent customs union outside the EU. I think at this point, that’s the only way Parliament can force May and Corbyn to finally get their fingers out their asses and actually, for once, do something sensible and constructive that can at least keep the UK in one piece, instead of allowing a political and economic disaster to happen.

Corbyn and May may fancy themselves as masterly Machiavellis, but they are just bumbling ditherers without a hope between them.

If they fail on this one, and right now they both look like they want to sail off into the Brexit sunset regardless of consequences, they endanger the unity of the UK. The SNP keeps looking better and better. I’ve put their New Year calendar on my fridge door. Once, it would have gone straight in the cardboard recycling box.

So what has happened between 1975 and 2016?

Mostly the Tories, Margaret Thatcher, then austerity under Cameron and May. With Blair we got the Iraq war. Nothing positive there, and he did nothing to change conditions under the Tories.

Labour had done little to improve the circumstances of the working classes, and Tories had overreached themselves to reduce them. For a generation, little had improved in the UK. So when the opportunity to speak out against the status quo that wasn’t helping appeared, the Brexit referendum, a slim majority of voters took it.

This is a Tory Brexit, they wrecked it and they own it. They made the lives of working stiffs harder and harder, then they wondered why those stiffs voted against the EU. The vote wouldn’t improve anything, it would make things worse. But what better to stick it up David Cameron?

The result is catastrophe. Thanks to the Tories.