Sep 10

Calum Crichton: A Strong Scotland: A United Kingdom

On Tuesday 2nd September I was asked by the Better Together campaign to give a speech to some students at the City of Glasgow College about the upcoming Scottish independence referendum. As a committed campaigner, I was delighted to accept the offer. I should say that Better Together did not tell me what to say in my speech. Therefore I take full responsibility for what I said. Below is a rough transcript of my speech, and here are the accompanying PowerPoint slides
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[Originally posted here, we have Calum's kind permission to reproduce his recent speech.]
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It is a great pleasure today to be here giving a speech on the referendum, and I thank Glasgow City College for inviting me along. As a student myself at the University of Strathclyde, this is a fantastic opportunity for me to speak to fellow students about the most important democratic decision Scotland will ever take: do we choose to separate Scotland from the United Kingdom and become an independent state, or do we choose to continue our union of partnership that we have enjoyed for over 300 years?
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The purpose of my speech today is to present what I believe is a wholeheartedly positive case for saying ‘no thanks’ to independence, and opting for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. For me, the case for union stems from three areas: an economic case, a political case, and finally an emotional and cultural case, which I believe there has not been enough emphasis on to date.
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The important thing to recognise here is that this choice is unlike any other we have had to make. This is not a general election, it is a referendum. If you voted Labour in 2010 and are unhappy with the coalition government, you have a chance to vote again in 2015. But the outcome of the vote in September will be decisive. There will be no going back. If you vote for independence there will not be a chance to vote again. If the vote is ‘yes’, Scotland will leave the United Kingdom forever. Independence is not for Christmas, it is not for New Year, it is not for six months where we can try it out. It is an irreversible decision.
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Now some might say that is the whole point. That’s fair enough. But it also means that we have to be 100% sure of the facts before we vote in September. As the Scottish parliamentary elections in 2011 demonstrate, a low voting turnout weakens democracy. We cannot risk a low turnout in a couple of week’s time. So I urge you all to think carefully about the decision before you, and I urge you to go out and vote in the referendum.
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I’ll start with the economic case for union. As a finance student myself, this is the argument that interests me the most. Winning that argument is also key to winning the referendum, if polls are to be believed.
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Now there’s been a lot of discussion of the last few weeks about currency. And rightly so, because a country’s currency is the foundation of its economy. Today, Scotland’s currency is the UK pound, which is one of the most trusted and secure currencies around the world. But if we leave the UK we choose to leave the UK pound. The SNP’s plan for a currency union has been explicitly ruled out by all three main UK parties. This is not because there would be bad blood between Scotland and the rest of the UK if the vote was ‘yes’, but because there are very sound reasons not to agree to it.
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As the euro-zone crisis has shown, for example, close political and fiscal integration is required for a monetary union to work. Yet the SNP have promised a much different fiscal policy to that in the UK. That may or may not be a good thing, but it is inconsistent with a currency union. Another major problem is the relative size of the Scottish and UK banking sectors. Scotland’s banking sector is over 12 times the size of its economy, compared to about 4 times for the UK. This means that the continuing UK would be at risk of providing taxpayer support to a troubled bank, but it is inconceivable Scotland could support the rest of the UK in a future crisis.
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So for me we face a clear choice in September: do we opt to continue with the strength, security, and stability of the UK pound, or do we gamble on Alex Salmond’s plan B?
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And what is Alex Salmond’s plan B? Well unfortunately there is yet no answer to that question. I’m often accused of scaremongering, being anti-Scottish, or talking Scotland down when I focus on currency. But asking questions is a positive and fundamental part of any democratic process. And independence is far too big an issue not to scrutinise. So when I say “what if we don’t get to keep the pound?”, and all I get told is “trust Alex Salmond”, I can’t help but think that’s far too big a risk to take. Why walk away from a currency that works for Scotland? Why gamble on Alex Salmond being right? This is a risk we do not need to take. We can keep the UK pound by voting ‘no’ in the referendum.
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A second big positive is the UK single market. It’s often said that you don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve lost it. I think that is true here. The UK single market is one of the most successful and free-flowing in the world. It’s interesting when discussing the EU we hear the SNP say being in the EU is important for trade. Yet Scotland exports over 4 times as much to the UK as we do to the EU, with approximately 70% of Scottish exports being sold to England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. So if the EU is important for trade then so must the UK.
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Right now Scottish firms have unimpeded access to the 6th largest economy in the world, and a market of over 60 million consumers as opposed to just 5 million here in Scotland. That promotes jobs, opportunities, competition, and brings economies of scale.
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Now of course Scotland and the UK would continue to trade with each other in the event of independence. But would it be as prosperous as it is now? The answer has to be no, because we know that border effects – differential tax, administrative, and regulatory procedures – matter. If they did not the US and the EU would not be negotiating a free trade deal. So we should not underestimate the advantages the UK single market brings to Scotland.
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Another economic benefit is the spreading of risks. Scotland has two main fiscal challenges over the long term that we need to consider: (1) the higher volatility on the tax side due to a greater reliance on oil revenues; and (2) the greater pressures on the expenditure side due to an ageing population. All else equal, it means that the gap between what Scotland receives in tax revenues and what it spends on public spending is larger.
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The Institute for Fiscal Studies have said that in order to enjoy long run fiscal sustainability Scotland would need £6 billion worth of tax rises and/or spending cuts. But we don’t need to do this. Right now our pensions are backed by the world’s 6th largest economy, we enjoy a welfare system based on need and not nationality, and oil revenues volatility is ironed out by the pooling of tax receipts. That stability is a much better choice for pensioners than going it alone.
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As well as spreading risks we also share rewards. For instance, by participating in the UK’s research network and infrastructure Scotland receives UK research funding above what its population share would suggest. Now we get this funding because we have world class universities – but it’s something that would be lost if we separated. Education is a great example of how we get the best of both worlds as part of the UK. We have our own education system in Scotland, decided by our own Scottish parliament – but we are also part of something bigger, and our education system benefits by being part of the UK. Why risk losing this?
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Finally, we pool resources across the United Kingdom. As I touched on earlier, Scotland has much greater tax receipt volatility than the UK due to the contribution of oil revenues. Yet pooling resources across the UK maintains the stability of public spending in Scotland. And we know that this works for us here in Scotland, because public spending is approximately £1,200 higher per person than the UK average. There are good reasons for this, such as the lower population density in Scotland and the elderly population. But the fact that we consistently enjoy higher public spending per head than the UK average is evidence that the UK’s fiscal model is successful in meeting Scottish needs. Why throw this away?
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And then there is the political case for union, and the fact that the United Kingdom offers Scotland much greater opportunities to participate in the international community. For instance, if we want to engage with advanced economies and emerging markets, and engage with countries on global issues such as tax avoidance: the UK is a member of the G7, G8, and G20. An independent Scotland would not be.
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If we want to improve global financial regulation: the UK is the 4th largest shareholder in the IMF. An independent Scotland would not be.
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If we want to tackle global poverty: the UK is the 4th largest shareholder in the World Bank, and has the world’s 2nd largest aid budget. An independent Scotland would not be.
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If we want to enhance global security: the UK is a permanent member of the UK Security Council and one of the most important players in NATO. An independent Scotland would not be.
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If we want to tackle climate change and encourage business investment around Europe: the UK has the same number of votes as Germany in the European Union. An independent Scotland would have less than Greece, in accordance with its population size.
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If we want to promote human rights around the world: the UK has over 270 embassies, a figure just short of what the United States has. An independent Scotland would have around 70 – 90, according to the SNP’s White Paper.
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If we want to establish fantastic opportunities for our businesses: the UK is the 6th largest economy in the world and has 169 UK Trade & Investment offices globally promoting Scottish businesses. This allows our firms to be part of a country with an unrivaled reputation of unique skills and a strong legal framework; it allows our businesses a truly global reach and an unparalleled network to tap into; and it allows our firms to promote their products, their services, their ideas, in every single part of the world. We know for a fact that an independent Scotland would not have this vast resource to offer – the SNP’s White Paper offered only 26 Trade & Investment offices.
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But it’s not just on the international stage that there is a political case to be made for the union, and we should not understate the benefits of devolution, which offers us the best of both worlds. The vast powers of the Scottish parliament allows key local decision making to take place: in important areas like health, education, transport, child care, social housing, and infrastructure. But we can be part of something bigger too, and work together to achieve more in areas where it makes sense: in defence, in international relations, or in fiscal transfers across the UK, where we are be part of a larger entity that pools its resources together and targets it to those areas most in need.
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Why build walls between the people of the islands, and create divisions where none currently exist? We have representation not only at the Scottish level, but at the UK level in one of the most powerful and respected political institutions in the world. Where is the benefit in swapping our 59 Scottish MPs for a single embassy in London? Devolved decision making in a UK context is a winning combination, and with a guarantee of more powers on the way in the event of a ‘no’ vote we should positively choose to continue the success of devolution and reject separation.
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And then we have the social and cultural case for union. In a recent speech the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said:

No group of nations in the world – not the European Union – and not even the federal state of the U.S. – have approached what the four nations of the UK have achieved across national boundaries by pooling and sharing our resources to equalise incomes and opportunities between nations.

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And he is right. The United Kingdom is a unique family of nations comprising Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. And together we should be proud of what we have achieved and do achieve in the world.
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The fact that we have pioneered around the globe, ended slave trade, built the NHS, established the pension system, and created the BBC.
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The fact that we are a country that celebrates diversity within itself, allows for different expressions of national identity, accommodates different legal systems, and does so against a background of mutual respect for each other’s traditions, the rule of law, and democracy.
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Or how about the fact that we are part of a country where the concept of pooling and sharing resources across our four nations is a treasured one? As Gordon Brown has said, these are achievements no other group of nations in the world can boast, and we should take pride in what we do as one United Kingdom.
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And finally I’d like to finish on a personal note. To me, the UK is much more than just a country. It is a family. I was born in Manchester and have lived in Glasgow since I was 7. I have never felt a foreigner in my own country. And I don’t want to. I love being Scottish, but I love being British too. Why should that be frowned upon? Why can we not be proud to be part of a larger family of nations?
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I remember when I was at secondary school choosing which university to go to I was always told by my teachers to look outwards, not inwards, and to broaden my horizons as far as possible. Yet looking inwards and narrowing my horizons is exactly what Alex Salmond is asking me to do.
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To me, there is nothing remotely ambitious about walking away from the United Kingdom that Scotland has played a large part in creating. And there is nothing remotely progressive about turning our back on the partnership we have, choosing instead to create borders and divisions where none currently exist. Making that positive choice for Scotland to remain part of our United Kingdom is not just a matter of the head, but of the heart too. Voting ‘no’ in the referendum is not a vote against Scotland: it is a vote for a strong, confident, and ambitious Scotland as part of an outward-looking, successful, and prosperous United Kingdom that offers opportunities for everyone, regardless of their nationality. That is a much bigger idea than separatism.
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So let’s confidently say ‘no thanks’ to independence. Let’s instead choose to keep Scotland’s greatest ever invention: the United Kingdom.

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Sep 08

Chris Jaffray: Why does the nastiness of the SNP go unreported?

Chris Jaffray is an exiled Scot in England. He is a graduate of Leeds University looking to start a profile as a blogger.Chriss Jaffray (Square)

Some commentators such as Alex Massie, David Aaronovitch and Daniel Hannan have drawn comparisons between the belief that Scotland should leave the United Kingdom and that Britain should leave the European Union. Aaronovitch claimed Farage and Salmond both want you to believe in ‘outtopia’, and Massie said arguments are often parallel, those wanting out shout about democracy while those wanting to stay in shout Armageddon after you leave.

Whatever you think of the UK Union and European Union, whether in in (almost all of Labour and the Lib Dems, lots of Tories too), in out, (UKIP, Hannan), out in (the SNP), or out out (a rarity which proves some things really are beyond left and right – Jim Sillars and Douglas Carswell) it seems a fair point that Scottish separatism is treated with greater respect than UK separatism. UKIP and the SNP are not the entirety of the out forces in their particular field, but taken as broad representatives the SNP have been given an easier ride. If you don’t believe that, take a look at the media hate campaign which UKIP encountered before the European elections. Why is this?

There are two reasons, as far as I can see, and both relate to power and your view of power. Scottish nationalism can lend itself to a view of the powerful against the powerless. It presents the poor Scottish as oppressed by the bigger bully that is England. Jim Sillars infers this when he repeated his tireless line ‘the greatest myth we have had bestowed upon us is the myth of our own inadequacy’. (Here’s a secret, Yes talk about Scotland’s inadequacy more than No). Lesley Riddoch added to this with her ridiculous piece in the Scotsman about how the Commonwealth Games were Scotland coming to believe in itself. At this stage, I must ask what planet these people are on.

Take a look around you: there has been a Scot in cabinet every year since 1990; two of the last three Prime Ministers and Chancellors were Scottish; and even when the Tories came in in 2010 there were two Scots in cabinet. A casual follower of politics on the BBC will travel no length before encountering a Scot: Andrew Neil, Kirsty Wark, Jim Naughtie. The Premier League has been won by two Scots as managers, and never by an Englishman, no matter how much Kevin Keegan would have loved it. The British Medical Association is known as the Scottish Mafia because of its plethora of Scots near the top.

The notion that the Union is oppressing Scots is ridiculous, but this portrayal gives the SNP an edge over UKIP. They are believed to be against the wealth of London and the Tories, whereas UKIP are seen as up against a low skilled Romanian migrant at worst and a Brussels regulator at best.

The second is their contrasting plans for ‘outtopia’. UKIP has tacked away from its right wing roots of late, pandering to old Labour votes, but before this its endgame after Brexit seemed to be a libertarian society, ‘keeping the flame of Thatcherism alive’. The SNP’s endgame, despite corporation tax cuts, was a ‘fairer, more socially just Scotland’, and other vague nebulous things.

There are still massive problems with this as a nationalist concept. What if you disagree? How many times have the SNP looked for reasons to tell someone their opinion is irrelevant – and even in the first debate Salmond tried to question the Scottishness of Darling. There is an authoritarian strand in Salmond and the SNP which loathes all other opinion. He said in that debate a ‘majority’ voted for him in 2011. This  is not true, a plurality did. 55 per cent of people voted for other parties. He does not speak for Scotland. What of the rare brand of Scottish Tories, 416,000 of them? Can they express their view in an independent Scotland? Can the growing number of people who voted UKIP?

If you think this is a sensationalist portrayal of Salmond and the SNP, look to the criminally underreported documentary on Channel Four which shows they have been intimidating businesses. Businesses have said they fear ‘retribution’ further down the line. Business may well fancy its chances better in the Union, but Salmond and the SNP cannot handle this proposition. They have a narrative of their Scotland, anyone who does not subscribe this is regarded as somehow not properly Scottish. If this is no xenophobic nationalism what is?

Jessica Elgot asked in the Huffington Post ‘Could Scottish independence be the first nationalist movement that ethnic minorities don’t feel threatened by?’ This misses the point. Scottish Nationalism since the 1970s has been the fusion of nationalism with ‘social justice’, so of course minorities do not matter to it. The divisive nature comes when people dispute the ends and means. When people disagree about the ends and means of the SNP they are told their opinion cannot be heard.

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Sep 05

Pearl of Tyburn: Unionists must stay calm and stay the course

Pearl of Tyburn’ is a regular contributor to Open Unionism and practising Catholic from the United States. She is the founder of Union Jack Chat

I’ve noticed recently there has been something of a downswing in the mood among in the Unionist camp, with people vocally blurting, “I don’t know what will happen now! I don’t know what will happen now!” Of course, we never did have a crystal ball to show the outcome beforehand anyway, but up until recently, quite a few of unionists had been hoping for and predicting a grand-crash-victory in favor of the Union, with the Nationalist number pounded down to the bare minimum so they could never rise from the ashes to haunt us again.

But then their came the “big bad boost” for the Nats over the last week, with the pollsters scurrying to update information, and often conflicting each other in the process. Panda Bear Salmond’s theatrics on TV in front of a stacked audience didn’t help things much either.

Okay, so the chance of winning an overwhelming victory is pretty much sunk at this point. The Nats have done well, admirably well from an unbiased standpoint. Of course, most of this success is thanks to melodramatics and blatant manipulation of the facts, but they have inspired almost half of the Scottish people with a dream and a sense of community feeling. Sadly, Better Together chose not to appeal to the romantic side of human nature in addition to the practical side, and have suffered for it. As a romanticist by nature, I know how that sort of approach just fails to cut the mustard.

But all this aside – there is presently no cause for despair. We’re still ahead by roughly six points, even with the “disastrous debate” impact. We may not be able to win in an overwhelming tidal wave, but we still can win, even if it be a typical status quo 1-2 per cent minimum victory. What we have to make sure of is that we make good use of this advantage, hold the line at all costs, and get every single vote possible from the “don’t know” camp. This can be done by grassroots Unionists getting out there and being passionate about it, as long as they don’t abandon ship in these last few weeks and let the Nats yell them down and scare them off.

As for Mr. Darling, Better Together, Mr. Cameron, and the British political parties – I’m not going to criticize them too harshly, since I do believe their hearts are in the right place. But the average people are going to have to make up for where they lack.

What disturbs me most is that some Unionists have concluded that a small victory would be something of a disgrace, and would be just about as bad as a defeat. I totally disagree. On September 19, nobody is going to care by what percentage the victory was won by. Yes, it will no doubt mean that the hoard of would-be-Wallaces will reemerge in 10 or 15 years, clamouring for independence all over again so they can be bigger fish in a smaller pond.

Yes, a political survival in September is not going to guarantee a revival of Britishness nation-wide. But if anything, it is a gamble for time to change things around us for the better. Besides, even if I felt certain that he UK was doomed to fall in 15 years, in 10 years, in 5 years – I would still consider gaining that extra time well worth the fight.

I’m not going to pretend I know how all this is going to turn out in the end, because I don’t. But there is one thing I am sure about: this cause is worth fighting for, once, twice, a hundred times. It’s not just about keeping a small island unified under one government. It transcends the British people themselves.

What we are fighting for is what Britain represents to the world: hard-won lliberty and the rule of law; unity that respects diversity; steadiness in the face of Irrationality; continuity to counter unthinking change; a strong foundation on which great structures can be built. For all her past sins and present failings (or perhaps because of them), the world needs Great Britain. She represents us all.

But there is a fear I have. The fear is that the Unionists themselves will be their own worst enemy through a vice that goes beyond simple complacency: it is pride. Perhaps this has been the most deadly chink in British armor from the beginning of their history. The realisation that there is no landslide victory in sight and that almost half the Scottish people are in favor of splitting the union has wounded British pride. In some quarters, I think the attitude is that if we can’t have it all, we won’t have it at all. This is when the reigns can begin to slacken. This is when the space for the nationalists to squeeze through to victory can start to open.

But it must not be so.

Besides, whatever happened to British claims that they did best when up against a wall? Wellington commented after Waterloo, with his typical frankness, that the battle for Europe was “The nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.” Throughout British history, it has been a refrain that those crafty islanders had a canny way of rebounding on a knife’s edge of victory and defeat. I know, it is part of a mythology, romance for the simple-minded and all that. But look at where ignoring romance has got Better Together! If the British people could just believe in themselves enough, and perhaps take courage from the old stories which show that heroes fight and God is still alive, I wonder what victories could be won.

So we must not mope in corners or demand all or nothing. We must not think too far ahead or bite our nails about the return of the Nats a decade or so hence. We must not lament about when we did or failed to do over the course of long, drawn-out, altogether taxing “neverendum”. We must hold fast to what we know to be true, and fight for what we love, as individuals as well as members of a common cause. Let us look ahead, to the final stretch of this race, instead of peering back over our shoulders. As a certain famous cigar-smoking Brit said in another moment of crisis: “This is not the end, not even be the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.”

There is one more analogy I have to make. In The Lord of the Rings, individual actions affecting the bigger picture is beautifully portrayed by the British Catholic author. It is a matter of Providence working through broken vessels who answer the call to duty in the hour of darkness, whether it be by defeating a monster thought indestructible or sparing a creature whose fate would save the world. My point is: never despair of making a difference, no matter how inadequate or alone you feel at times. And for a touch of whimsy (and since ranting Nats often have a certain orc-ish resemblance…), enjoy the following from King Aragorn:

“Hold your ground! Hold your ground! Sons of Gondor! Of Rohan! My brothers. I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!”

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Aug 31

Andrew Charles: Even a No vote in Scotland will change the Union

Time has flown somewhat since the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and leader of the independence movement in Scotland, Alex Salmond, signed an agreement as to the terms of a referendum. So, will Scotland be an Independent country?

Going by continuous polling data this does not look likely; however on September 19 I do believe that the United Kingdom and it’s relationship with its regions will be different. If Scotland does go its own way the world as we know it will be different, but even a ‘No’ vote, which is likely, will alter relationships within the Kingdom. The devolution of corporation tax powers and anything else Salmond may demand may seem like small ‘meat’, but any variation from the ‘norm’, i.e. any differentiation from Westminster with regard to policy, will break the very social and cultural ties held dear and those which have held and maintained the Union between the regions of this United Kingdom.

Why one might ask? Scotland may not be an Independent country on September 19, but it might well achieve the means to become one through being able to ‘go it alone’ on numerous policy differentials. This has already taken root in some senses with varying prescription charges, care of the elderly, and higher and further education: small things, yes, but with further economic and tax raising powers the very heart of what ties the UK together can be shaken.

Salmond is playing the long game. It’s a win-win situation for him come the 19th no matter what – and little do we know it. Do not think Salmond is going anywhere after the referendum: nationalism will be very much alive and support for the SNP may even increase.

All of this will effect the political ties between Westminster and its regions, a negative effect of devolution when power is spread and diffused from any one place. Devolution may have its benefits, but there is a price and the keys to Scotland were handed over to the political establishment of Scotland in 1999. Charles Darwin may have been an Englishman, but his theory of evolution can apply to the political world also.

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Aug 28

Effie Deans: It’s the SNP’s attitude to democracy that worries me most

Effie Deans is a Scottish unionist and enthusiast for Russian literature. She blogs at the Lily of St Leonards. The original post appeared  here.

Back in 2011 something massively unexpected happened: the SNP won an overall majority in the Scottish parliament. This was unexpected not least because even Labour at the height of their popularity could not win an overall majority at Holyrood. They always had to govern in coalition. Indeed the Holyrood voting system was designed so that it would be nearly impossible for one party to rule on its own.

But lots of Scots who would not normally vote SNP decided to give them a chance. Lots of Labour supporters were sick of Labour back then. The SNP campaigned well, Mr Salmond was popular and many Scots thought: why not give them a chance? Independence wasn’t mentioned much during the campaign and anyway, voting SNP seemed safe enough even for those of us who supported the Union. They couldn’t possibly gain an overall majority could they? But they did.

The SNP knew full well that their victory was something of a fluke.  It surprised even them. They also knew that they had not won overall power because the majority of Scots wanted independence. But it immediately became clear that they were going to use their power to try to achieve that end. Well fair enough. Everyone knows that the SNP is the party of independence.

Important!

Why shouldn’t they try to achieve their long term goal? Why not indeed? There are however, ways of ruling that are an abuse of power and which go against the traditions of Scottish and UK democracy.

The fact that you win an overall majority does not mean that you can do just anything. It would clearly be an abuse of power to win an election and then abolish all other parties and all future elections. But it’s also an abuse of power not to take into account the views of the minority and to govern without consensus. It’s this above all that the SNP have done. As soon as they gained their majority in Holyrood, they began to abuse it.

It would have been a gesture that they intended to govern with consensus if the SNP government had picked a presiding officer from one of the other parties. But no, she had to come from the SNP. It would have been a gesture towards consensus if the SNP had allowed their MSPs to sometimes vote with the opposition. This is a useful way in which a party with an overall majority can be held in check. But there has been no dissent, no rebellions and the SNP members vote as if they were members of the Supreme Soviet rather than the Scottish parliament.

The Scottish parliament lacks a revising chamber to act as a check and balance on the government. The intention was that committees would be the equivalent of a revising chamber, telling the government when it had made mistakes or when it needed to think again. But the SNP immediately started to undermine this system by establishing absolute majorities in each committee and ruling out any dissent. Again this is counter to the traditions of Scottish and UK democracy.

One of the most important features of democracy is to have an independent, impartial civil service. These are the people that provide continuity between governments and also act as a check and balance on governments, preventing abuses of power. There is a tradition in Scotland and the UK that there is a distinction between party and government. You cannot for instance use general taxation to fund party activities or election activities.

The reason for this is that the state is much larger than any opposition party. In countries like Russia where the distinction between Mr Putin’s party Edinai︠a︡ Rossii︠a︡ [United Russia] and the state has been abolished, no other party has a chance for the whole civil service works in Mr Putin’s party’s interest. It is for this reason that a fully independent civil service is so vital for a functioning democracy.

But the SNP have used the Scottish civil service to produce propaganda and party political manifestos. Civil servants as well as state employees like academics have been threatened that it is not in their interests to say anything contrary to the SNP’s policies. The White Paper “Scotland’s Future” does not even attempt to be objective. It is an election manifesto in all but name. State funds have been used to fund the SNP’s campaign for independence. Websites and other government literature is blatantly party political. When I mention this to SNP supporters, their response is always we won an overall majority so lump it. But Mr Putin also won an overall majority and now the Russians must lump him forever.

If the SNP win the independence referendum, they will be in charge of the divorce negotiations. No doubt others would be involved also, but we’ve seen by how they run Holyrood, that these others would not be able to outvote Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon.  It would be a Scottish parliament with an SNP overall majority right up until Independence Day that would vote on these negotiations, and which would be able to put SNP policies into any Scottish constitution.  They could put in what they like. Who could stop them? They have an absolute majority and we’ve already seen how they use it.

What happens if the SNP lose the referendum? Here we really see their attitude to democracy. I don’t know a single No voter who would not accept the result of the referendum as decisive. If Yes wins, we all accept that Scotland will become independent. But I hardly know a single independence supporter who will cease to campaign for independence after a No vote. Some of them are planning to wait as little as five years.  Oddly they think it is democratic that if No loses the result is decisive, but if Yes loses it isn’t.

The independence referendum is the SNP’s policy from first to last. It is a direct consequence of Scots voting for them in 2011 and would not be happening otherwise. The best guide to how an independent Scotland would be is how the Scottish Independence Party behaves now. They complain about a non-existent democratic deficit. The real democratic deficit is how they rule Scotland. Lots of Scots must be wishing they hadn’t voted for them in 2011. Don’t make the same mistake in 2014.

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Aug 24

Chris Jaffray: A tale of two cities, and the waste of devolution

Chriss Jaffray (Square)Chris Jaffray is an exiled Scot in England. He is a graduate of Leeds University looking to start a profile as a blogger.

In response to complaints that Scottish nationalism is ‘nimbyist’ in regard to issues such as removing trident or creating a better society, its proponents have claimed that they will ‘shine a light’ to others elsewhere. Their model will be so great, it will be emulated. However, the Scottish Parliament should take a look at the light shone by the local authority in Manchester, which has done far more than they have to eradicate social deprivation.

Whisper it quietly, but devolution has not been great for Scotland. The SNP banner of independence, ‘decisions about the people of Scotland should be taken by the people of Scotland’, is in fact an argument for localism. However this localism has been infected by nationalism, which seeks to draw divisions. Games have also been played in hope of gaining independence, rather than seriously addressing the issues Scotland faces.

The first example of these is income tax. The Scottish Parliament has the ability to vary income tax by three per cent, which it has never used. Labour are guilty of this as well as the SNP. Labour deserve some leniency that the SNP do not. Their rule in the devolved Parliament was a time of steady and consistent economic growth. The SNP have ruled since 2007 when the crisis hit.

They complain about ‘Tory cuts’, but if they believe in spending why have they not raised taxes to offset this? Because it is in their interest to make the status quo as bleak as possible, in order to make the need for independence greater. They want people to believe the Parliament is impotent, whereas actually it has power it simply chooses not to use. Their approach to independence it to show Scotland could, should and must become independent. The ‘must’ is made to seem so by making the parliament seem impotent.

As part of their ‘gradualist’ approach to independence there have been many other efforts to make it seem as though Scotland is a different place, showing that the SNP’s concern in the devolved government has been with appearance rather than reality . Fraser Nelson said someone inside the Scottish establishment point out to him:

The struggle, he said, is all about small gestures, words and actions that would make it look as if Scotland was already independent. If there was a natural disaster somewhere, then Scottish aid should be sent on aircraft taking off from Glasgow. Ideally, appoint some pretend ambassadors. Find examples where Scotland can pick a fight with England – then make sure Scotland is on the right side of that fight.

What has not been addressed in all of this is the real issue of Scotland: areas of social deprivation.

This is the SNP’s Catch 22: had they managed in seven years to reform Scotland’s welfare system and repair lost ghettos of poverty then wouldn’t the need for independence be gone? Working class support for the SNP has always been greater than that of the middle, both electorally and in terms of voting for devolved parliaments. They could have tried, had they rejuvenated lost areas like Easterhouse, to say it would get even better after independence, but this would scarcely have seemed credible. They have had to hold back in power to keep the need for independence alive. The devolved parliament had to look impotent.

What are the real issues facing Scotland? If you could change one thing about it, what would it be? To an outsider it seems a relatively wealthy country, and it is not out of sync with the rest of the United Kingdom in terms of patterns of unemployment and growth. The real issue is the lost community of Easterhouse within Glasgow. It is an area where life expectancy is lower than in Afghanistan or Gaza. Niall Ferguson explains it in The Ascent of Money as an ‘Africa within’ where people have no access to credit, but rely instead on loansharks for money.

The great recession of 2008 meant little to people living here. It is an area immune to economic cycles. The SNP would hate you to mention it, but it was the sight of this which led IDS to return to politics after his dismal stint as Tory leader with the aim of reforming welfare.

Why then should Manchester shine a light? Simply because its use of local government has addressed problems of social deprivation in a way the SNP have not. Manchester, like Glasgow, was once a heartland of industrial Britain. When accessing the condition of the working people in England it is no shock Engels went there. The sound of its decline can be heard in the misery of music in the bands it has produced, from Joy Division to the Smiths. Now it is a thriving city.

The Association of Greater Manchester Council Authorities was set up in 1986 and has led to Manchester’s regeneration. The Office for National Statistics found in 2012 that whereas in 2004 it was in the top five of UK workless cities, in 2012 it was no longer in it. The council has powers over tax and is responsible for regeneration and growth. It is Manchester’s city centre which has been their main success and has seen a surge in private sector employment.

This has come about because of the transport links brought about due to the local councils, which combined the authorities of ten shared councils. Transport links to the city centre have helped people into jobs. 75 per cent of residents in 2011 were happy with the area they lived in. Given Glasgow is the one area of Scotland Salmond can bank on to vote for a new country, you can assume satisfaction is lower there.

The one criticism of this has been that inequality has risen over the period. Perhaps the reason the SNP have not carried out any reform of this kind in Glasgow is that they claim to believe inequality is a bad thing. Is it really though? Sunderland and Burnley are among the most equal cities in Britain and are home to very few opportunities. Poverty and worklessness have been reduced as inequality rose.

Not all regional councils have been a success: Birmingham has not done as well as Manchester, and Bristol has not had the transport reforms it needs since being the only city to opt in for a major in 2012. But the Nationalist tactic was to portray the north of England as an ally and the south as the enemy. The devil however is always in the detail.

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Aug 16

Union Jack Chat with “Bonnie Lass”

These are some excerpts from five interviews that Pearl of Tyburn has worked on over the past few months for “Union Jack Chat”. She hopes to demonstrate the broad spread of Unionism and diversity of its adherents, bringing to life the human side of the movement by talking to activists, sympathisers, and ordinary British citizens of every stripe who believe that the unity of the kingdom should be preserved.

Excerpt from Interview with Bonnie Lass, Resident of the Edinburgh Area, released on the 28th of March, 2014  

Pearl of Tyburn:  What do you think of the Scottish Parliament and other home rule bodies within the UK? And what’s your answer to the claim that complete independence would make Scotland more of a force to be reckoned with on the world stage?

Bonnie Lass:  Well, I was delighted when we got the Scottish Parliament as it meant we were able to concentrate on purely Scottish issues, some of which Westminster doesn’t know or doesn’t care about. But I don’t think that independence would make us more a force to be reckoned with.   Having “home rule” doesn’t necessitate independence from the Union. One alternative which is spoken about is ‘devo-max’, which seems to mean we would keep the status quo but, that the Scottish Parliament would also be given more powers, perhaps in taxes etc. That could be a good alternative in my opinion.

If you are a unionist and would like to contribute towards UJC, please get in touch and we shall forward your details.

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Aug 08

Chris Jaffray: RBS in an independent Scotland

Chris Jaffray is an exiled Scot in England. He is a graduate of Leeds University looking to start a profile as a blogger.

‘Dear Fred,

I wanted you to know that I am watching events on the ABN front closely. It is in the Scottish interests for RBS to be successful, and I would like to offer any assistance my office can provide.

Yours for Scotland, Alex’.

Chriss Jaffray (Square)The Scottish referendum being brought to a head seems linked to the great recession of 2008. The recession seemed to signal an end to faith in the New Labour modus operandi, and with harsher economic circumstances the appeal of radical change becomes greater.

The SNP had won the Scottish election in 2007 but had required cross party support. It was the devastating win of 2011, intended to be impossible under the electoral system, which meant the referendum had to be held. It handed the SNP a mandate to hold the question they are in politics for.

In this post-crash environment a simple question has been put to supporters of an independent Scotland: ‘What would you have done if RBS had collapsed and you had been independent?’

There seems to be little contention in the notion that, had everything else been the same, Scotland’s fate would have been that of Ireland or Iceland: she would have been bust and in need of an international bail out. This has been met by two responses, neither of which are plausible.

The first, which comes not necessarily from the SNP but more from a non-partisan independence supporter of an independent Scotland, is that of course regulations would have been better in an independent Scotland. The crash, they claim, was the product of the big bang deregulations of 1986, which of course Scotland never voted for. The second response came from the SNP at the time. The claimed that Scotland would only have been liable for 5 per cent of the bailout costs. The Bank of England would have stepped in with the rest, assuming a currency union.

Let’s deal with the second proposition first. When arguing for a currency union, the SNP have talked about transaction costs and nothing else. This is only one side of the arrangement, and they are surely delusional if they think it will take place. When the United Kingdom was involved in bailouts, notably that of Ireland, it was met with immense frustration by the British electorate, who were themselves facing a rough few years ahead at the time. Are we really to believe the rUK taxpayer would have happily contributed 95 per cent of the tab of a bailout if Scotland had left the union? The fact David Cameron opted out of any further eurozone bailouts, with support from the public, should tell the SNP all they need to know about their plans for a currency union.

Onto the first, more general response. The preface to this piece refers to Alex Salmond’s support for the RBS takeover of ABN AMRO. This was a fateful mistake by RBS – there were problems before it, but this was the final nail in the coffin. Barclays was also pondering taking over the Dutch bank. Had it succeeded, it would now be partially owned by the UK taxpayer (a fate that it, of all the major banks, avoided).

Alex Salmond seems to have emerged largely unscathed from this letter. This is testament not to the idea that he is so dynamic a politician politician that he is believed, but rather he is fortunate in his opponents. Alistair Darling is the only politician I can recall calling him out on this, and he is not a towering fixture of Scottish politics beyond the referendum.

The rise and fall of RBS was separate to affairs of the City of London. It was a definitive product of Scotland. Salmond and co. embraced it for this reason. Indeed if we look at the narrative which surrounded the rise of RBS, it is the very rhetoric of the Scottish Nationalists. When Salmond claims this week that the Commonwealth Games will outdo London 2012, this is the very school of thought which led him to encourage the growth of RBS: a desire to outperform London. With this in mind it is scarcely possible to believe it would not have been championed in an independent Scotland.

Fred Goodwin, it has to be said, wasn’t a nationalist. Many close to him believe he is an anti-devolutionist who votes Conservative. Howevver his predecessor George Mathewson was (this is part of the reason he was not knighted) and he took great delight at RBS being the second biggest bank in the UK. When RBS had to relocate near the turn of the millennium there was no question of it moving down to London – Deloitte moved to Edinburgh to audit its accounts. The nationalists pledge to outdo the ‘dark star’ of London which sucks resources from the remainder of the United Kingdom. The growth of RBS fits this perfectly, for it was a vintage Scottish bank outside London. Thus they cheered on its rampant expansionism, and would have done so had Scotland been independent.

This is not to claim RBS collapsed as a result of the idea of an independent Scotland. My claim is that Scotland and the champions of not independence are not and were not immune to the failures of the UK regulators and politicians over the banking crisis – indeed, very much the opposite. An independent Scottish government would have encouraged the growth of RBS, just as the devolved one did, because its growth fits well with its view of the world: that Scotland ought to compete with and outdo England, or London as is most often the case.

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Aug 06

Matthew Hudson: Major was right – independence would diminish Scotland’s global role

Matthew HudsonMatthew Hudson hails from Buckinghamshire, England. His belief in the cause of unionism comes from the fact that his ancestry comes from all corners of Britain, and he feels more shaped by Britain as a whole than its separate component parts.

On September 18 2014, there will be a referendum in which the people of Scotland will vote to decide whether or not Scotland should secede from the United Kingdom. There has been a drive for a degree of independence in Scotland since the 1970s, and despite proving very divided on the issue in 1979 by the end of the 1990s the Scottish people were given their own Parliament. In 2011, the apparently unthinkable happened Alex Salmond and the Scottish Nationalist Party won an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament.

There have been many arguments deployed by both sides in this long constitutional struggle. The demand for a Scottish Parliament was met with the famous West Lothian Question. Alex Salmond’s assurances of a post-UK currency union were flatly annd unanimously rebuked by the UK parties. There have also been a handful of stunts – see Salmond smuggling a saltire into Murray’s Wimbledon final against Djokovic.

Yet despite decades of struggle, the Scottish people have shown their support still lies with the Union: 45 per cent of them in a recent poll of over 1000 voted that Britain should remain a Union, 11 per cent more than the opposition.

One key element of the independence campaign, perhaps slightly ironically, is the idea that Scotland could join the European Union in 18 months. In June Sir John Major pointed out the implausible nature of this statement, saying entry “may take years – and may be probable – but is by no means certain”. Major then went on to make the point: is it not bizarre for the SNP to campaign to leave one highly successful Union, whilst applying to join another far less successful one that is seen – even by its most ardent advocates – to be in serious need of reform?”

Despite a rocky period in office, Sir John won the highest popular vote of any Prime Minister in British history in 1992 with a campaign centred on a passionate defence of the Union. He is also the architect of the UK’s accession to the Maastricht treaty. No matter what you think of his stance on either devolution or Europe, there is no denying that he is a well-informed and experienced statesman whose views are not easily dismissed.

Another key point about the idea of Scotland leaving Britain and joining Europe is the fact that Scotland has always been well represented in the British Cabinet: famous Cabinet ministers include Donald Dewar, Danny Alexander and Gordon Brown. If Scotland chose to leave Britain it would lose that level of representation, and as Sir John pointed out, in “contrast, Scotland – as a mere  one per cent of the population of the EU – will be guaranteed no senior roles at all”.

It seems plausible to argue that with independence Salmond’s Scotland would actually be abdicating a large amount of influence. Through the UK Scotland speaks with the voice of a country that is still of global significance. What will America’s interest be in a small country that has compromised NATO’s nuclear umbrella? Why would Europe – itself containing several countries that wish to give no encouragement to their own separatists – give Scotland a painless route to entry, let alone a handsome share of the prizes? With devolution in place the main purpose of independence must be to gain control of foreign policy – and Scotland’s global influence and power would pale in comparison to Great Britain’s.

To conclude it seems that, as John Major has pointed out, Scotland has a lot to lose and not much to gain with independence. Perhaps that is the reason for the Scottish people’s stubborn support for the Better Together campaign.

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Aug 01

Pearl of Tyburn: A united Kingdom of Ireland?

‘Pearl of Tyburn’ is a Catholic and unionist sympathiser from the United States, and founder of Union Jack Chat, a project which wants to interview a wide variety of unionists. She also blogs at Longbows and Rosary Beads.

Kingdom of Ireland 2My opinions on nationalism in Scotland and Ireland differ to some extent. For the former, quite obviously, my belief is that the movement is generally self-serving rubbish generated for nothing and based on nothing except erratic emotions and blatant power plays. While I still don’t necessarily agree with the latter, and heartily denounce terrorism on both sides, I can better understand Irish nationalist ideology and have some sympathy for the desire to bring about a United Ireland, just as I sympathize with the concept of retaining a United Britain.

The British establishment, with its protectionist governments, religious prejudices, and cultural biases has had a history of being deplorable to the Irish people, lending fuel to the fire in a violent cycle of tribal sectarianism that still lingers on in the Emerald Isle. While the bulk of the Scottish people did indeed adopt a strong sense of Britishness during the 18th century, the Anglo-Irish Ascendency could easily claim Britishness while the common Irish people continued to be scorned as barbarians and second-class citizens.

In spite of such obstacles put up by the ruling regime, most of the Irish continued to cling to their Catholic Faith and Gaelic culture. In the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Protestant governments stopped just short of genocide to make them abandon their identity, they just held fast to it all the more. “No Surrender” was the Catholic maxim as much it was the battle-cry of the Protestant settlers. Cromwell, who was instrumental in wiping out or selling off almost one half of the Irish Catholic population, made a snarky comment him being unable to get the people to “let go of their beads.”

That having been said, there was any number of times in history when relations between Ireland and the rest of The British Isles might have taken a turn for the better. Had Mary I succeeded in turning England Catholic again and cementing papal support for her claim to Ireland, the lack of religious animosity would have softened the blow of conquest. Had the King James II managed to secure lasting religious toleration for both Catholics and Dissenters, it would have been more natural for his three kingdoms to draw together. The main moment of decision was in 1801 when King George had the opportunity to embrace Catholic Emancipation and refused to do so. And the Potato Famine is a subject far too broad to cover in depth here, but suffice to say, the British government cared more about not offending the Anglo-Irish land-owners than giving proper aid to the starving Irish populace.

All these things are tragedies, since the union of Britain and Ireland could have been a great success story beneficial to The British Isles as a whole. As ever, I believe they would have been “better together” in the long run. But things happening as they did, it is little wonder that the Irish people became more and more disenchanted with monarchial government, which they saw as representative of their woes, and wanted to get themselves out from under the British establishment. To do so, Republican activists often exaggerated past sufferings to make the “Sassenachs” guilty for everything, including unavoidable social and economic changes. Anglo-Irish and Scots-Irish cultural achievements became purposely disconnected with the “real” Ireland, and anything good that developed during the time when Ireland was in the union was overlooked.

Thankfully, historical and cultural studies in Ireland are gradually embracing a broader, multi-faceted approach. Emerging on a world stage, she is beginning to view things through an international lens, as is highlighted in the excellent documentary series The Irish Empire. While Northern Ireland still has its troubles, the goal of creating a peaceful settlement is still being pursued with a reasonable amount of success, and The United Kingdom and The Republic of Ireland have made closer moves towards friendship than ever before, with an excellent example set by Her Majesty, The Queen.

But even with all this (or perhaps because of all this), I wonder if having Ireland divided is really a tenable position. It’s not just a matter of geography, after all, but contains manifold psychological factors on both sides. I have quite a few Ulstermen for friends, some of whom have done so much to support me in my unionist efforts. They rightly dread they would lose that very important aspect of their identity and economic security should a reunification of the island ever take place. On the other hand, I cannot help but sympathize with those who have always seen Ireland as a single nation and would like to see it reunified once again. It’s a form of “unionism” when you get down to it.

I personally would be more than pleased to see the day that all of The British Isles were reunited into a single entity, but I highly doubt that is one the horizon. I do wonder if a compromise might ever be agreed upon if push comes to shove regarding reunification, something to the effect of Ireland, north and south, being reunited as a separate entity, but then becoming a commonwealth realm with the British Monarch as Head of State. Ireland would be equal to The United Kingdom of Great Britain under the title of The Kingdom of Ireland. And she could finally update her mediocre flag. The harp and the crown on a green field, please? And maybe the cross of St. Patrick in the corner? And maybe they could also settle on a decent national anthem with enough punch to be inspirational, but not so much as to start radicals to rioting again.

For this to be even vaguely workable in a broader context, I would advocate stronger ties being generated in The Commonwealth and the restoration of the title “British Commonwealth”, so that Britishness can clearly transcend The United Kingdom itself. Some have suggested the production of a single currency and interchangeable citizenship within The Commonwealth. While this may be virtually unworkable in reality, I think that theoretically it would serve to build a stronger sense of unity among them. All these ideas are a bit outside-the-box, but I believe in thinking outside the box. It is only when inexperienced people stop trying to present new solutions to old problems that things become hopeless. To hold to the “No Surrender” tradition that Irishman of all backgrounds have passed down, we must never let that happen.

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