Sunday, 19 September 2010

Aggressive Secularism

During his visit to Scotland and England, the Pope has warned against 'aggressive forms of secularism,' which he claims exists within the UK. One might imagine that men and women of faith were afraid to walk down the street lest they encounter gangs of aggressive secularists lurking on every street corner.

What do these secularists do? Well, they publish books and articles, appear on television, and campaign and organise to reform the law. Many, such as Richard Dawkins and Polly Toynbee are also atheists and publically express these views. Often they are polemical, but consider also how many religious leaders claim that those without a faith are, by virtue of this fact, stupid or immoral? A common quotation is from Psalms (14) goes "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.' " I have seen it posted on church hoardings locally. It continues "They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good." although they usually leave that bit off.

To be fair, the Pope did not use these words on his visit here and the churches that dislayed it were not of his denomination. But he did make links between atheism and Nazi Germany. Of course atheism and secularism are not the same thing but the atheism movement in the UK, with the exception of a very few hardline communists, is also secularist. Indeed, many people with faith are also secularist; it just means creating a level playing field for people, whatever they choose to believe.

Unlike the Pope, I only know Nazi Germany as history. But any regime that rounds up and murders Jews and Jehovah's Witness can hardly be described as 'secularist.'

Scotland has had and continues to have a problem with religious violence. There is the Protestant/Catholic sectarianism that can occasionally flare into violence. In the UK and beyond there is Islamist terrorism. However, I am not aware of any problems caused by atheists or secularists.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Should auld acquaintance be forgot?

Last night I ran into an aquaintance of some 20 years. He was not really a friend, just someone I have known and say hello to. He used to be in the SNP and moved to the SSP long before I joined the former. From members of my party that remember him, I have learnt that he was one of the more radical, and some would say hot-headed, elements. So as the party turned more professional (maybe to him conformist and boring), a necessary step towards our 2007 victory nevertheless, the SSP became more suited to him.

He has now quit politics. Towards the end he had followed Tommy Sheridan to the new Solidarity party. But now he is no longer a Trotskyite activist. Although you should never make a statistical inference from a sample of one, individual cases can illustrate a more general trend. Many of its activists, who were committed and well-intentioned if somewhat naive, worked hard for their beliefs. They then tore themselves apart over the private life of their founder and most charismatic advocate. The SSP was an interesting experiment in Scottish politics. Remember in 2003 they won 6 seats! Most of them now have now hung up their trestle tables - Trots love street campaigning with trestle tables on which to place petitions for some obsure cause or other.

Please note that as election agent for Chris Stephens (SNP Holyrood candidate for Glasgow Pollok), I do organise streetwork with balloons, wee saltires and even a piper but have absolutely banned the use of trestle tables because of their Trotskyite associations.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Feed the World

News has come in this week of rising food prices, particularly cereals - it is the result of a world-wide shortage. It will means a few pence on the price of bread, corn flakes as well as meat, dairy products and eggs. The reason why the price of animal products will rise is because cows, pigs and chickens are fed on cereals. For those in the developed world, this will not be welcome news. For the poorest in the Third World it could leave them hungry.

There are particular reasons for the current food inflation such as the crop failure in Russia. But there is also an underlying problem, which if not addressed will leave millions starving. There is enough food to feed the world; there is enough land to give everyone a reasonable diet. Undernutrition and starvation occur because of poor allocation. But the developed world uses far more than its fair share. Leave aside the problem of Western obesity here, the reason why we consume so much is that we grow plants and feed them to animals and then eat them or their products (milk and eggs). This is very inefficient. It takes many kilos of wheat or soya to produce one kilo of beef, pork, chicken or cheese.

The planet could just about cope with this but the Third World is now producing a 'middle class' who use their increasing income on luxuries. They aspire to a Western diet of meat once or twice per day rather than once or twice per week or month. With limited supply (only one planet) and increased demand, prices rise. As they buy meat, eggs and dairy they increase the number of animal mouths to feed and literally take the bread or rice away from the very poor, who cannot afford the higher prices.

Over the next few years this problem will become more accute and no one has really thought how to deal with it. A free-market solution will lead to the unacceptable consequences of selective famine. Science may save the day by finding even more intensive forms of farming but there is no guarentee this will succeed. There then remain three options:

(1) World War II style rationing: Of course it would only apply to meat, eggs and dairy. There would no reason to ration sugar or vegetable fat or for that matter soap or clothing, as happened then. There would actually be no need to ration (caught) fish or hunted animals (e.g. game).

(2) Production quotas: The government decides the amount of beef, pork, eggs etc that may be produced. This is currently employed to preserve fish stocks. Of course, the prices will rise.

(3) Extra taxes on the problem foods so that consumption is reduced. This has the advantage over (2) that the money from higher prices goes to the government and not as excessive profits to the producers. Thus other taxes can be cut or public spending increased.

(4) Voluntary cutting down of animal products: This means meat once or twice a week. Soya mince, sausages, milk etc. can be eaten with a clear conscience.

Many people are opting for this semi-vegetarian lifestyle. It is actually more healthy.

What am I doing? I am a consequentialist vegan. The only animal products I eat are honey and, occasionally, eggs from my sister's pet chickens - they are pampered family pets that will not be killed when they get old and stop laying. I do so for reasons of animal welfare. But the economic (or perhaps humanitarian) arguments, I find, are more and more compelling.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Labour's Love Lost

I have not blogged for a while and the reasons are (1) a trip to Switzerland (2) a virus that laid me low for a couple weeks and (3) loss of my Internet connection (along with land line and cable TV) - now fixed. I hope to blog more often in future.

In a past blog I mused whether Labour would tear itself apart after defeat as happened in the 80s. It seems this is happening and there are parallels in that they are looking back and asking what they should have done when in power or trying to justify past decisions. Mandelson's and Blair's books are adding fuel to the flames of fratricidal warfare. Leaving out the personality clashes between Brown and others, let's look at the arguments.

On the Blairite side, we have Blair stating that he could not deviate '1 millimeter' from New Labour. I can understand why Blair and Mandelson felt prior to 1997 that they had to move the party to the right. They had lost 4 elections and left-wing politics do not play well in the parts of 'Middle England' they had to win to form a government. They were playing it safe. In hindsight, Labour were going to win in 1997 even if they had repeated their 1992 stance; it is just that the majority would have been smaller. Short of utter incompetance or total sleaze in their 1st term they were going to win in 2001 - the economy was doing well. They could have moved somewhat to the left and stayed in power but chose not to do so. 2005 is more difficult to call, but if they had stayed out of Iraq, the they might have won again even with a more social democratic agenda.

Brown has yet to show his hand in the debate, but on the left there are those to will argue that had Labour been more left wing they could have held on in 2010. Now, this election was decided by the swing in England. Did the English vote Tory to punish Labour for not being left wing enough? Well, this was exactly the kind of nonsense touted in the 80's for the 1979 defeat. They lost because the economy went pear shaped and the English did not like Brown.

Of course, Scotland was prepared to vote Labour in large measure in 1992 as well as 1987, 1983, 1979 - need I go on? So what are the Scottish Labour Party to do? Well, as unionists they have two options: either remain centerist to keep the English happy or stick to their left-leaning inclinations and remain in opposition for a generation. There is a third option: a social democratic Scotland and a centre-right England. It would suit both nations but they can't consider that because, well, they are unionists.

Friday, 2 July 2010

The Anglocentric Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrats claim to be the party of devolution and federalism. Yet their actions do not always bear this out. This is not English chauvinism (that's the Tories) but it is thoughtlessness, which is so sadly characteristic of our neighbours to the South when it comes to Scottish matters.

In 1992, Paddy Ashdown, the then Lib Dem Leader, faced the embarassment of a matter of his private life being brought into the public domain. I shall not comment further on the nature of that matter since, in my view, it was no one else's business. He applied for and gained an injunction from the English courts banning publication. This would have worked except he forgot that Scotland had a separate legal system and an interdict (even the terminology is different) was require here too. Anyway the Scottish press ran the story and the matter became public.

Nick Clegg's decision to hold the referendum on (partial) voting reform for Westminster on the same day as the Scottish and Welsh general elections shows the same lack of foresight. Just imagine turning on the TV to have a party election broadcast then followed by a referendum broadcast from the YES or NO campaign about an entirely different parliament. Imagine also two totally separate sets of TV and radio debates. The whole thing is just messy and badly thought out.

Our Freedom!

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister of the UK, has today put up a new website, in which members of the public can recomend the repeal of unnecessary laws. it is called 'Your Freedom'. Well, the top of my list is the Act of Union of 1707. Someone has got there first and I recommend that everyone post a short message in support as I have done. You will find it at:

Thursday, 1 July 2010

The Wisdom of Bjorn and Benny

I remember as a teenager the Conservatives' election victory in 1979 and watching in horror the destruction they wreaked on the economy and society generally. As we view the situation today, I could quote Hagel or even Marx but, there again, neither ever won the Eurovision Song Contest. Abba did and in the words of their successful 1974 entry "The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself."

The then government's main priority was reducing inflation, which was blamed on the previous Labour government. A rise in VAT, cuts in benefits and public services and the subsequent inevitable rise in unemployment were a price worth paying. Failure to address inflation with obsessive zeal would result in economic chaos. There was no alternative. In hindsight, although inflation was a problem, they went far to far and unnecessarily destroyed huge chunks of economic capacity in the process. Now, replace 'inflation' with 'the deficit' and notice the similarities with the present.

The current administration is often referred to as the 'Coalition Government' but, in a sense, all governments are coalitions since all major political parties are themselves informal coalitions. The 1979 government was no exception. The traditionalist right of the Tory party joined forces with the free-market radicals, the disciples of Milton Friedman, which included Thatcher herself. But she could not govern without the One-nation Tories or Wets as they came to be known. Some such as Carrington and Heseltine went along with the monetarist experiment as it was then called. Others such as Gilmour, St. John-Stevas, Pym and Prior mounted a totally ineffective internal opposition and were cast into the wilderness.

There are very few One-nation Tories left. Their role is now played by the Lib Dems. The Orange-book Liberals led by Nick Clegg will, I suspect, go along with the deficit reduction dogma. Other elements in the Lib-Dems may try to oppose but without any serious effect.

And what of the Labour Party? Will it tear itself apart as it did in the eighties? I watch with interest.