Another Path

Christopher Harries

The agitation for Welsh independence continues, Yes Cymru boasts of a surge in membership while the academic Laura McAllister continues to write about the future of the Union.

Two- time Plaid Cymru parliamentary candidate McAllister has previously written of her belief that the Unionists would ultimately be the ones who destroyed the Union, now this analysis could have some merits.

There indeed appears to be a crisis of confidence within the ranks of those who identify as Unionists. Missteps in response could inadvertently fuel the separatist movements rather than dampen them.

Some Unionists have come to believe that the Union can survive through constitutional reform with enhanced devolution that would create a confederal, United Kingdom.

Such an approach would be misguided, moves towards such a body would further weaken the integrity of the United Kingdom. The confederal approach ignores the reality of the last twenty years, devolution seen as the means of reconciling national identity within the United Kingdom has merely created a viable framework for independence.

In addition to creating a viable framework for independence, devolution has also created a cycle of agitation. Cardiff Bay may have responsibility for devolved powers however irrespective of the devolution settlement Westminster receives the blame for Wales woes. Just look at how the campaign group Yes Cymru often asserts that Westminster is failing Wales.

Any challenge to this narrative receives the response that despite devolution Westminster is responsible for funding and so any failings are excused due to inadequate funding. So the cycle of blame continues despite Westminster having passed competencies to the devolved institution, with Westminster now presented as a miserly impediment.

At the same time as being presented as a miserly hindrance, the notion of Westminster funding infrastructure projects like the M4 relief road is criticised, as an assault on devolution. So one way or the other, Westminster will be subject to flak, acceptance of the status quo will not get the validation of the separatists.

So the time has come for Unionists to chart another path. This path requires Unionists to be more assertive and reclaim the debate. To do so changes the nature of the relevant independence debates.

The Union is not merely a development body to fund infrastructure project and the constituent nations. Those of us, who have lived across the United Kingdom know that it is a paradox, four nation-states yet at the same time one. Different in their own way but at the same time bonded by history and culture.

If the separatists can frame the United Kingdom as a mere political union, it is disposable. Nationhood is a romantic notion, so Unionists must counter the lure of independence by asserting the reality that the Union has evolved to become a nation in its own right.

To reframe the debate to reflect reality allows Unionists the opportunity to fight this debate on equal terms. Language alone will not suffice, however, and so Westminster often maligned must become savvier to avoid fueling the separatist narrative. The government of the United Kingdom must be must not be perceived to treat any of the constituent nations differently.

When the First Minister, Mark Drakeford wrote to the Chancellor before the implementation of the Firebreak lockdown requesting the Job Support Scheme start a week earlier than planned to provide support to those impacted by the Firebreak lockdown. The Treasury rejected the request, the Secretary of State for Wales suggested on social media, that the Welsh Government when requesting this also failed to ask for an extension to the Furlough scheme. Did Treasury officials lack the initiative to propose an extension of the Furlough scheme in the circumstances?

Whether this is entirely accurate of developments, it certainly fitted a narrative. A narrative where England is treated differently to the other constituent nations, decisions are made, implemented and then funding allocated out as a consequence via the Barnett formula.

In the Letters page of The Spectator last week, was a piece by Mr Wheeldon from Peniel. In that correspondence, Wheeldon set out the eminently sensible suggestion that the Westminster government should look to intervene where a devolved institution was failing to deliver like health or education. This transference

To change approach can safeguard the integrity of the United Kingdom, changing perception both in rhetoric and action. The time has come for Unionists to make the case that the United Kingdom is not just an ‘insurance policy’. Westminster must be more proactive and intervene where necessary assuming responsibility for services if the devolved institution is failing to deliver for the people.

Losers’ Consent

Christopher Harries

For any democracy to function, it requires losers’ consent. That foundation principle where those standing for election accept they may not prevail and respect the result accordingly.

In recent years can we be sure that all those involved in the democratic process have abided by this principle?

Granted not all have been as transparent as explicitly stating they do not respect the result of the ballot, colourful language is instead deployed to mask the intent and actions.

In the United Kingdom, following the referendum on membership of the European Union how often did we hear the accusations of foreign interference? 

Again in the United States of America, following the election of Donald Trump as President, the narrative became one of foreign interference.

Were concerns about possible foreign interference about protecting the democratic process or de-legitimising the result?

Now to be generous, some individuals may have acted on a desire to protect democracy, yet, others sought to wage a form of lawfare to try and frustrate results which did not sit with their world view or politics.

There is a place for the legal process if there are genuine grounds for concern however this should not be an avenue to try and prevent democratic choices from being implemented or ignored.

With the eyes of the world on the United States, let us not hold Trump to a different standard. His conduct with the result in the balance is as deplorable as Hilary Clinton blaming her loss on Russian interference or those in favour of Remain who sought to use the courts.

We should hope that in time, politics on both sides of the Atlantic matures and returns to the days where those who lose come to accept the result rather than seeking to circumnavigate or denigrate it.

Victim Blaming

Christopher Harries

Earlier today, Politico published a tawdry opinion piece by Farhad Khosrokhavar which sought to pin the slaughter of Nice upon what he dubbed fundamentalist secularism.

Let us be under no illusion. Fundamentalist secularism did not inspire the decapitation of Samuel Paty or the slaughter of the Notre-Dame de l’Assomption Basilica in Nice. The inspiration for such slaughter was radical Islam.

Secularism did not force Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov to behead Paty, nor did fundamentalist secularism force the Kouachi brothers to storm the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and commit murder.

Plain and simple, this is an attempt at victim-blaming. Indiscriminate violence or a death sentence is not a legitimate response to what some perceive as blasphemy. 

Rather than France’s supposed love of blasphemy stigmatising and humiliating moderate Muslims, the gratuitous violence by their fellow adherents in response to blasphemy profanes the faith of other Muslims. For those Muslims who quietly observe their faith, respect the law and live in peace to be seen as of the same faith as those who commit such atrocities is the real humiliation.

Let us stop trying to absolve perpetrators of such barbarism of responsibility. Would we try to excuse perpetrators of a crime like rape and instead try to blame the victim, on the basis that maybe their outfit or conduct encouraged such a crime to befall them? 

Vive la France

Christopher Harries

Another week, another act of barbarism on the streets of France. A febrile atmosphere is developing as the secular, French Republic comes to know the pernicious Islamic extremism. 

Rhetoric could be excused and dismissed, yet slaughter on the streets is far more difficult to ignore. Violence is not a new phenomenon, yet the frequency is making it difficult to forget. The murder of three including decapitation at the Notre Dame Basilica in Nice followed mere weeks after the beheading of Samuel Paty. Paty, a history and geography teacher from a suburb of Paris, ended up butchered for daring to show a Charlie Hebdo cartoon of the prophet Muhammad to a classroom of students.

The Charlie Hebdo cartoon that provoked fury and led to the beheading of Samuel Paty.

Earlier this month, President Macron positioned himself in a speech as a defender of the French Republic. In the speech, Macron announced a plan to tackle separatism. Particularly Islamist separatism while acknowledging France had failed its immigrant communities. 

In the wake of the beheading of Paty, Macron announced “We will not give up caricatures and drawings, even if others back away” action was also taken with the state forcing the closure of a mosque which had published videos agitating action against Paty, the deportation of foreign nationals and the dissolution of some non-governmental organisations.

This rhetoric from Macron has provoked outrage in the Islamic world. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey has described Macron as mentally ill, while there are boycotts of French goods.

Rhetoric will not suffice, further steps must be taken to challenge this pernicious ideology. Thinking about this subject reminds of the paradox of tolerance outlined by the philosopher, Karl Popper. As Popper described it “in order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance.” 

As Ayaan Hirsi Ali outlined in The Spectator, in practical terms, Macron can do this by utilising French Law, such as a denial of citizenship to those foreign citizens deemed to have assimilated. Tackling the dissemination of ideological extremism by other nations and strengthening immigration considerations.

It is also worth considering that the perpetrators of the two recent acts of savagery were not born in France. In the case of the murder of Paty, the perpetrator was an eighteen-year-old refugee called Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov. While the perpetrator in Nice according to France’s chief anti-terrorism prosecutor, is a Tunisian national who entered Europe last month, having crossed the Mediterranean. 

This highlights some of the risks posed by illegal crossings, namely we cannot be sure of the identity or intent of those making the crossing. Given the illegal crossings over the English Channel, we should be vigilant that a wolf may seek to enter the United Kingdom in such a manner. 

To talk about France is not to ignore the issue here in the United Kingdom. We have experienced the violence of Islamic extremism from suicide bombings and acts of barbarism. We should take similar action to avoid a replication of such recent horrors on our streets.