Populism Doesn’t Mean What You Think

Populism has become a synonym for ‘movement that we don’t like’ in the weird political universe of 2016/17. The truth is though, it isn’t some malevolent force which guides despots and dictators into power and herds the people towards some destination with lies and deceit, populism can be defined in many ways, but broadly it is this: a style of politics which aims to mobilise the population against a government controlled by an out-of-touch elite who only act in their own best interests – alternatively, a simpler version of populism is simply to support the concerns of ordinary people, or to in some way aim yourself at ordinary people.

When you say ‘I want to fight rising populism’, what you are actually saying is one of: ‘I believe the government is controlled by an elite, and I’m fine with that’; ‘I don’t believe there is such a thing as the political class’; or ‘I don’t think the government and political groups should support ordinary people or attempt to appeal to them’. If you agree with one of those statements, then feel free to keep using the word ‘populism’ in your rhetoric, because you are using it correctly. If you find yourself disagreeing with all three of those statements, then unfortunately, you are actually a populist.

The biggest irony of populism is that it is usually used as a negative term by those who mean other people’s populism. As an example, Tony Blair has recently launched an organisation to fight populism. Tony Blair, the man who swept to victory on a platform of mobilising the population against a government he depicted as controlled by an out-of-touch elite who were acting in their own best interests, through a mechanism of supporting the concerns of ordinary people and appealing to their interests. Or as it is commonly phrased, populism.

Another irony is any supporter of Jeremy Corbyn describing populism in a negative way. Populism is Corbyn’s ideology of choice – indeed it is the ideology that has represented the notion of opposition in the West for nearly one hundred years. Yes, it can often be used for negative means, but that is not a reason to bash the concept.

The irony of the Left using the term ‘populism’ in a negative fashion is particularly acute: anyone who has ever used the words ‘bourgeoisie’ and ‘proletariat’ unironically is a populist. People who wish to fight the dominance of the 1% or who believe that government shouldn’t be about decisions being made by powerful elites in backroom deals are populists, plain and simple. Karl Marx was definitely a populist, it is essentially the ideology that founded Left wing ideology, it is the ideology that guides it, and the opposite of populism is supporting a government which is out-of-touch with popular sentiments and doesn’t work in the interests of ordinary people. A Left wing example of a non-populist government might perhaps be the Soviet Union, but then again, the Left would probably argue that wasn’t real socialism, because of course, real socialism is populist.

When the opponents of Donald Trump denounce the fact that his election represented some populist uprising, with their protests which seek to mobilise the population against an executive they see as being an out-of-touch elite acting for themselves, they seem to be unaware of the irony. The Women’s March and the various other protests that have occurred since the inauguration of Trump are textbook examples of populism at work – the reason they are acceptable to those who denounce populism is that they are ‘good’ populists, but that doesn’t hide the fact that they are a populist uprising.

The thing about populism is that most populists don’t self-identify as such, and yet nearly everyone in politics is a populist. A politician who cares about the problems of ordinary people is a populist. A politician who believes that government should follow the will of the people is a populist. A politician who doesn’t believe government should be about an out-of-touch elite making decisions in their own best interests is a populist. Whether they are on the left, the right, or the centre; whether their rosette is purple, red, blue, green, orange, yellow or any other hue, they are a populist.

Like most ideologies, populism can be a force for good, and it can be a force for bad. Like any political era, it remains important in 2017 to stand up and fight for what you believe in. Like anything, it does not make your argument better to use a word you think sounds sinister to mean something you want it to. If you have to insult your opponents, actually use the words that reflect what they are doing – if you believe that they are lying, call them liars, if you believe they are engaging in demagoguery, call them demagogues, but don’t make standing up for the opinions of ordinary people into a negative concept because it suits your personal political agenda.

When you say ‘I am fighting populism’, what you are saying is ‘I support out-of-touch elites ruling over us’. When Seb Dance MEP justifies holding an amusing sign behind Farage by telling us he wants to ‘challenge populism’, what he is saying is he wants to challenge attempts to make government work for the people. That may not be what you mean, but that is why you should use the right words to make your argument. If you wish to protest Trump, that is your right, if you wish to protest Brexit, that is your right, but if you do so by using the wrong words, your argument starts to look much less coherent, and much less convincing.

You probably don’t believe that the best government is one which is run by an out-of-touch elite against the interests of ordinary people, so stop saying you do. Populism doesn’t mean what you think it does, and you probably are a populist.


Dear NUS

Dear NUS,

I’d like to start this open letter by congratulating you on successfully building an organisation out of your echo chamber. For most people, that is merely a pipe-dream, but you have successfully transformed the Twitter feed of a member of the Socialist Party into an organisation of unparalleled incompetence. Whether you are arguing for the abolition of prisons, failing to condemn ISIS, or single-handedly attempting to overthrow the government, you are certainly consistent in leaving your main legacy: a student body largely disengaged with student politics. One of the highlights of 2017 so far has been your attempts to destress our exams by providing light relief in the form of a group representing students at UK universities bickering about the relative merits of Israel-Palestine.

As a student at a Students’ Union outside of the NUS, the motives behind this letter may at first be unclear (not of course, that I expect anyone at the NUS to read it, you’re probably too busy correctly asserting that Donald Trump is not, in fact, your President), but the problem with the NUS affects all students, whether we finance your grandstanding or not.

First off, you do not represent all students. That became abundantly clear last year, when several Students’ Unions decided to depart your organisation, but has also been the case for some considerable length of time: Southampton, St Andrews and Imperial are just three examples. You also do not represent all of the students over whom you govern. Only 731 people voted in the election in which Malia Bouattia became President of the NUS – while we cannot play with turnout in the fashion so often used after general elections to invalid the mandate of the group elected, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume this isn’t a particularly high percentage of your membership, given that your own website boasts of representing over 600 Students’ Unions. Additionally, turnouts for delegate elections seem (from a scan of Google search results) to be generally low, suggesting that you do not in fact represent many students in any real sense.

This is problematic, because your pretence of a monopoly on student opinions, and the fact that due to your position as the ‘National Union of Students’ you have the most recognisable voice, mean that when people look at you, they think that all students are like that, degrading the ability of other student campaigners to lobby the public and politicians successfully.

Secondly, and following on, your very existence makes student politics a joke. There are real, genuine, important student issues to be debating and discussing. Transport, accommodation, education quality. Important issues like equality and diversity, representation of minority groups and international students are vital areas that always need to be looked at and addressed. The problem is, when an organisation that pretends to represent students is busy talking about ISIS and prison systems, that takes time away from its ability to actually represent students, and it makes student politics even more of a joke than it often is already. The truth is, while you say that you exist because no one takes student issues and student politics seriously; no one takes student issues and student politics seriously because you exist.

When students look to their Unions, they want to see them representing them. That means all students. A Union which has representatives who actively talk about overthrowing the Conservative Party does not speak for Conservative students, and breeds on university campuses a mindset in Conservative-backing students that they should keep their heads down and not express the fact that they are Conservatives. The compounding of shy conservatism may not seem like a bad thing to you, but it is – it is a bad thing because it disengages a whole generation of students from participating in student politics and encourages them to adopt a mindset of not admitting what they believe in. That is bad for them, and it is bad for you, as the voice of the Left on student campuses, because if Conservative students won’t argue with you, then you will never be able to convince them of your position because you won’t understand theirs. While your construction of a monumental safe space for your views will be welcomed by yourselves, it just means that more people will be put off politics, and that more Conservatives will drift to a place where they will constantly vote against you, but you won’t know enough about them to convince them back.

Disengagement isn’t just reserved to politically-active students who disagree with you, but it also extends to those who were disinterested in student politics in the first place. Let’s put it like this: if you aren’t interested in politics, are you more likely to become interested by watching quiet debate and discussion which you can engage with, or by watching angry protests and gesture-politics? What all of this disengagement does is weaken your voice and strengthen your echo chamber. It also weakens all of our voices, as a student body, because there are fewer of us willing and able to stand up and fight for students.

Equally, your latest hair-brained scheme is to thwart the government by boycotting the NSS. As a student at a university which will not be boycotting it, I have a natural inclination to welcome this particular policy, as the likelihood is that my university will shoot up the league tables, but this is a policy which is deeply damaging for current and future students, and shows a level of muddled reactionary thinking which is (even by your own standards) deeply misguided. If students don’t fill in the NSS, then the value of their degree programme goes down, by simple merit of decreasing its position in the rankings. Additionally, the value of the degrees done by second and first years decreases, because the NSS is used by universities to make vital improvements to the way in which courses and programmes are delivered – failing to provide that feedback means you are inflicting second year students with existing problems in degrees. Finally, you are robbing future students of an opportunity to accurately assess their university options. As a body that claims to be for students, you are acting against them in this. Not only that, but it is amusingly ironic as an action. You don’t wish for the government to increase the cost of courses, so you are boycotting the NSS and thus decreasing the value of them instead – with either policy the cost per unit of the course goes up, you just feel better if it is the latter case.

If you want to overthrow the Tories, NUS, then set up a political party. If you want to abolish prisons, or not condemn ISIS, or have schisms involving Mossad, then please do them in your own time – I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be engaging in your politics, I’m asking you not to do it in the name of all students. As a student who is not in the NUS, I ask you not to degrade my ability to make a difference.

Stick to what you do best, facilitating grassroots campaigns and providing people with cheaper stuff. Leave the politics to the students.


Lessons from 2016

2016 has been a year which has challenged the traditional political consensus. Brexit was delivered against all odds – a victory for all those who had campaigned against the undemocratic nature of the European Union, the unfair system of immigration it created whereby people from 27 countries are prioritised over people from the other 169, and the restrictions on policy choices available to British voters at the ballot box that membership of the EU brings with it. That victory, in spite of the ad hominem insults thrown at Leave voters, should teach valuable lessons on how to conduct a campaign in 2017.

The ultimate difference between the Leave campaign and the Remain campaign was twofold: the Leave campaign was positive and optimistic; and the Remain campaign offered very little by way of emotive arguments. The oft-quoted phrase that summed up the referendum (and perhaps 2016 as a whole) was Michael Gove’s quip: ‘People in this country have had enough of experts’. This is not strictly true, but what is true is that people don’t respond well to simply being told they should support a cause because they should – they want to be given an emotive reason why they should back it.

2016 has shown us the need for political campaigns to make an argument that combines emotive and logical reasoning – it isn’t enough to simply assume that people agree with your positions, you have to persuade them to agree with you. Likewise 2016 proved, once and for all, that negative campaigning is ineffective – particularly if people don’t believe what you are telling them. Merely having the support of an ‘expert’ isn’t sufficient to win you an election, and likewise fear and negativity (the weapons of choice of the Remain campaign and Zac Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign) aren’t as impactful as a positive, optimistic message.

The election of Donald Trump also compounded the argument that governments need to do more to prove they are listening to the will of the people. While Brexit vindicates David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum on EU membership, as it proves the demand for a referendum was overwhelming more accurately than any opinion poll; Donald Trump is a reflection of an American establishment that has systematically failed to respond to its voters. Barack Obama was elected as a force for change in 2008, and so it was in 2016. Moreover, Trump’s election proved that insulting supporters of your opponents is unlikely to convince them to change their minds.

What does that mean for 2017?

The reactions of many to Brexit and Trump suggests they haven’t learn the primary message of 2016: voters need to be convinced of your position through discussion and debate, however objectively correct you think you may be. Those of us who believe in the value of democracy and tolerance have to work harder than ever to defend them.

2017 will see big electoral chances for Le Pen in France, Wilders in the Netherlands, and Alternative für Deutschland in Germany. Those fighting against them would do well to learn the lessons of 2016: when making the case against a populist demagogue, make it with passion, conviction and logic, and don’t insult those you are seeking to convert.


Communism fails because there is always a Castro

Watching the outpouring of political platitudes and grief on Saturday, one would never have guessed that the man who had died ruled Cuba from 1959 to 2006 without election before handing over to his brother. Nor that he was a dictator who had routinely rounded up and imprisoned people because they opposed his politics, who brutally suppressed freedom of expression, and who executed countless people during his four and a half decades in charge of one of the world’s poorest nations. It turns out, if the question needed to be asked, that building a few schools and some hospitals is enough to tip the balance between brutal totalitarian and champion of social justice.

The amusing hypocrisy that the same people who call Castro a champion of social justice are the same ones who got ‘Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead’ to number two in the UK charts doesn’t go unnoticed, but the silence over Castro’s barbarity does not dispel the fact that the world leader who best summed him up was Donald Trump: ‘a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people’.

Defenders of communism, and particularly its Marxist variant which shall be the focus of this piece, argue that the problem with communism is not in its theory, but in its execution – no state has ever achieved ‘true communism’, they argue. The problem, alas, is with both.

Marxism dictates the need for a socialist revolution to overthrow the existing regime and replace it with a communist one. This communist regime (or dictatorship of the proletariat) would then repurpose the means of production, redistribute society’s wealth, ‘re-educate’ the public to create a society conducive to a stateless communist utopia, and then fall away into oblivion leaving the aforementioned stateless communist utopia behind. That’s a fairly broad overview of the theory, but it’s enough for the purposes of this analysis.

The most logical place to start is at the beginnings of a Marxist transition. A socialist revolution is bad for two main reasons: firstly, the very notion of a revolution in modern society (where nearly all nations are democracies) is underpinned by a minority group seizing power, contrary to the will of the majority; and secondly it breeds the sort of climate that Mikhail Bakunin (who lost the ideological battle for the Left to Marx) warned of – that is to say that the manner of the revolution creates a state in its own image. The reason that so many communist leaders are military leaders: Castro, Mao, Stalin, Kim Il-sung, and others; is that revolutions are, by their very nature, led by military figures. That creates a state ruled by ruthless leaders who aren’t afraid to kill their opponents to cement their position.

That brings us on to the need for a communist state to have unrivalled supremacy over the politics of the society it governs. While Marx never ruled out democratic transitions, given the scale of transformation required for a dictatorship of the proletariat to be established, a successful democratic transition seems unlikely. Democratically imposed communism itself often leads to rigged elections (see Guatemala and Venezuela), the imprisonment of opposing thinkers, and the proscription of opposing political parties, and so the end result is the same.

Moving on from the transition to the actions of the dictatorship established to create a Marxist wonderland. In practice, Marxist re-education usually follows the same pattern (in spite of the ‘superb’ education policy pursued by Castro’s Cuba): suppression of freedom of expression, executions, arrests, manipulation of information, and propaganda. Every attempt to impose universal ideology: be that an ideology of fascist creed, communist creed, or liberal creed; has failed because people will always believe in different things – unfortunately, where you couple a brutal leader and a desire for universalism, that universalism is imposed brutally.

To repurpose the means of production and redistribute the wealth of the nation (neither of which are particularly liberal, but their merits aren’t relevant for this discussion), the creation of an extremely powerful, centralised state is required. If you need convincing of this, look at the authoritarian nature of every communist state ever created, or for that matter, look at the centralisation of power required by nearly every ideology left of centre. A powerful authoritarian state with only one party creates a powerful incentive for selfish politicians to take control of the system.

Thus, even if an ideologically pure, selfless leader came to power, even if they were able to consolidate power peacefully, there will be a point at which someone inevitably needs to succeed them. The power imbued within that leadership position will be much more attractive to selfish people than selfless ones, and that is why leaders like Stalin emerge and successions in countries like the Soviet Union and China have to be carefully managed and frequently result in murders and violence.

The dictatorship and ruthlessness required to create a Marxist utopia are the very reason that such a utopia can never be created. Wherever that much power is concentrated in the hands of such a small elite, the state will continue to act in the interests of the dictators who rule it. There is always a Castro standing between Marxist theory and Marxist reality, and presuming a circumstance in which there isn’t is simply unrealistic.

Those who would argue that Castro was more than the selfish, brutal dictator outlined in this article might take a moment to consider some interesting little pieces of information. While Jeremy Corbyn considers him a ‘champion of social justice’, Fidel Castro left office in 2006 with a net worth of $900 million (around a quarter of the net worth of Donald Trump) – not bad in a country where the average salary was $17 per month in 2015. The hundreds of political prisoners and political executions tell us a lot about Fidel’s softer side; while his government’s efforts to limit his citizens’ internet access and generally curtail access to information and freedom of expression show us that this man was clearly a champion of social justice.

Alas, Castro is but the most topical example one could use to highlight the failings of Marx’s main philosophy. Regardless of the means by which you create it (and especially if those means are revolutionary), a dictatorship of the proletariat will always create a state which must be brutal in dealing with its opponents, centralised in its management of society, and attractive to those who would use it to their own advantages, like Fidel Castro. Such a state does not need the addition of ‘of the proletariat’ and will never fall away, because human nature doesn’t work like that.

Centralisation, curtailing freedom of expression, revolution – these are ideas that a modern, progressive society should be replacing with devolution, free speech, and democracy. The people who laud Castro as a hero and a progressive seem to have lost touch with what it is to be a progressive.

Fidel Castro was indeed (to use the unintentional pun everyone else seems to be using) a revolutionary figure in 20th Century politics, but Castro’s legacy should not be in his healthcare system or his education system, it should be in the suffering and persecution he brought upon those who disagreed with him. Fidel Castro’s Cuba should stand as a warning marker against authoritarianism and Marxism – let the end of Castro’s era be the end of an era of failed politics.

To those who advocate and seek to bring it about: communism will always fail, because there is always another Castro.


How the Boundary Changes Will Revitalise British Democracy

The independent boundary review has been a source of controversy in recent months, and yet it seems like a perfectly reasonable idea. Putting aside the specifics of the changes – whether or not you think certain wards would be better in certain constituencies – and looking at them purely objectively, there seem to be far more advantages than downsides to the changes.


Firstly, equalising the size of constituencies seems a perfectly reasonable democratic desire. If we want a democracy that fairly represents its electors then it would make sense for every representative to speak for as similar number of constituents as possible. Accusations that this is unfair because recent changes to the Electoral Register have left people out of the figures are not entirely unfounded, but the simple fact is that the best aggregator of how many electors are in a constituency has to be the number of registered electors at the previous election – this isn’t a perfect figure, but it’s not as if these boundaries couldn’t be altered in future to account for population changes.


In this sense then, the boundary changes will create a more equal representation and thus a fairer and better democracy – unless of course, one believes that the electors of the Isle of Wight should have around 5 times less representation than those of Na h-Eileanan an Iar, or that English electors should have 1.3 times less representation than Welsh electors on average.


If we accept it reasonable to have equal representation for every elector in the country, then the main objection to the concept of the boundary changes must be that reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600 will adversely affect the quality of representation.

This argument doesn’t seem to stand up to scrutiny, if only because fewer MPs ties in with the increasingly decentralised approach to power being taken by government in recent years. If it follows that fewer MPs leads to further devolution of areas of legislative control to regional centres of power, then we will see an increasingly important local government – able to make a real difference to its constituents. This will have benefits for both local government and local people: local government will have more power to influence policies in the local area and thus will be taken more seriously by voters, bringing more scrutiny, accountability and higher turnouts; while local people will benefit from having a much more personalised system of policy-making, where they can influence their legislators because they are based much closer to them, and where they can enjoy policies that are inherently grounded in local contexts and needs.

Representation will also be improved if the public have more faith in their representatives. One of the biggest concerns people have about MPs is that they simply cost too much. For these people, the boundary changes must surely be a way to reduce the costs associated with government. 50 fewer MPs means 50 fewer MPs’ salaries; 50 fewer teams of MPs’ staff; 50 fewer sets of expenses; 50 fewer offices – the list can go on and on.

With a reduced number of MPs we can see a further decentralisation of powers to local government and a resultant revitalisation of British democracy – where the decisions that affect Southampton get made in Southampton, and important decisions on local policy get made in local areas across the United Kingdom. Boundary changes will lead to a more representative and democratic Britain – a Britain where central government costs less and local government does more, and that can only be a good thing.


Whatever Happened to Liberal Values?

This is not an article about Donald Trump. It is an article about his victory, but it is not about him, or his supporters. This article is about the death of liberal values brought about by their rejection by the very people who claim to uphold them.

Democracy is the pinnacle of all social liberal values. It represents the unique combination of tolerance, equality, freedom of speech and choice, and all of the other values than social liberals advocate. One cannot have these values and not believe in democracy – even to say that we should live in a society with liberal universalism or a benevolent dictatorship is to take away freedom of choice and the idea that all people are equal and thus entitled to an equal say.

Not all democracies are the same, but all elections are fought under the same basic premises: all candidates fight under the same system, play by the same rules, and accept the result even if they lose. That is why it matters that Donald Trump indicated he was unlikely to accept the result, and that is why it matters that his opponents refuse to accept his victory. It isn’t liberal or democratic to contest an election once you have lost – if you have an issue with the Electoral College system, protest it beforehand and keep protesting it afterwards, but if you would have been happy with your candidate winning the election and losing the popular vote, then your problem is not with the system but with the fact that people voted for your opponent.

Tolerance is another vital liberal value which has been sorely neglected since the election. There has been broad-scale use of ad hominem attacks – words like racist and misogynist have been thrown at anyone who voted for Donald Trump. Cases of assaults on Trump supporters have been reported – even on Americans based abroad who voted for Donald Trump – have soared.

That, however, is not the most worrying sign for liberal values. The number of people who have talked of the need to ‘re-educate’ voters who don’t espouse the same brand of politics as them has been, frankly, terrifying. Others have stood by and not objected to this call for re-education, and have equally failed the notion of social liberalism – whatever happened to that great tenet of liberal thought: ‘I detest what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’?

Because Trump’s supporters are (accordingly to the ever-reliable opinion polls) predominantly white, working-class men with less education than their Clinton-voting counterparts, there have been people actively and openly discussing introducing intelligence tests for elections. Perhaps, they argue, only those who are educated should be able to vote? After all, they know better what the solutions to the nation’s ills are?

Such a shift in social attitudes is beneath us. Our ancestors fought and died for progress: for the rights of all people to share an equal say in our nation’s future, an equal vote in our ballot boxes, and an equal right in our courts. Disguising illiberalism in the guise of liberal universalism doesn’t make it less illiberal. Democracy, freedom of choice, and tolerance tell us that, even if we disagree with people’s choices, they have a right to make those choices, and in 2016 we must respect the fact that America chose Donald Trump. Trump’s voters deserve to be heard as much as Clinton’s – silencing them, ignoring them, telling them that they are racist or misogynistic, these are not liberal, they are socially authoritarian actions.

The risk we run in a liberal society is that people may disagree with us, and sometimes those people win. True liberalism is about accepting dissenting opinions, challenging and debating them, and ultimately yielding and accepting new realities when we lose the argument. Social authoritarianism is about only allowing one point of view and one opinion, and saying things like (and this is more or less a direct quote from someone during a discussion of Trump last week): ‘our ancestors fought for liberal values and equal rights, and allowing people like Donald Trump to be elected is a betrayal of those values’, as a justification for denying the democracy our forefathers fought for is as much a betrayal of liberal values as anything Donald Trump could possibly do.

Democracy and liberalism go hand-in-hand. To achieve a free, prosperous, democratic, tolerant, liberal society, we must not give in to the temptation to be undemocratic. Sometimes the candidate we don’t like wins (Clinton would have been no better, but that is a debate for another time), but the way to show tolerance and liberalism is to accept the result and make the best of the new reality.

Americans unhappy with Trump’s platform should lobby him and their representatives to implement a more liberal one. People around the world should continue to fight for what they believe in. ‘Re-education’ is never the answer, removing rights is never the answer, calling people names is never the answer.

Let’s return debate to society. If you believe something is an inherent fact in politics, you’ve already lost the debate. Let’s talk about immigration without the name-calling. Let’s talk about issues objectively. To give the people who were shocked by the election of Donald Trump the answer to their question: when you refuse to debate about something, you can’t change anyone’s mind; when you issue an ad hominem attack when someone disagrees with you, undecideds are unlikely to be any more supportive of your position.

The way to be liberal is to debate, to debate, and to debate again until you have won the argument. Stop telling people what to believe, and start telling them why to believe it – because the way to beat populists like Trump is to engage with their voters, and the way to understand why people vote for something is to ask them. If you aren’t willing to talk to people and you can’t make any more argument than a vague assertion that you are right, then can you really be surprised when people disagree with you?

Trump’s victory is not the worst thing to happen to liberalism in the western world. It is the wake-up call it has needed.


To Scotland, One Union Must Matter

Two years ago, Scotland spent months debating the merits of independence. In September 2014, they voted overwhelmingly to remain in the United Kingdom – by a margin of over 10% and 500,000 votes. One would not believe that such a debate had taken place with today’s rhetoric.

The clamour to remain in the European Union at all costs in other high Remain areas of the United Kingdom have been much more muted. Gibraltar, with a Remain vote of 94%, has committed to staying within the United Kingdom – their Chief Minister told a UN gathering: ‘There is absolutely no chance that Gibraltar is going to be bartering its British sovereignty, in exchange for…any one of the…advantages we enjoy as members of the European Union’. Northern Ireland’s First Minister has been equally assertive, committing Northern Ireland to ‘looking towards the opportunities of Brexit’. Nor has there been any notable independence movement emerge in London.

So what has changed in Scotland since 2014? Not a lot it would seem since Alex Salmond called upon ‘all Scots to follow suit in accepting the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland’ – alas it would seem his successor as First Minister did not hear that particular speech.

EU membership was a key topic of the Independence Referendum. Scottish voters were convinced that a vote to Leave the United Kingdom would bring with it the loss of EU membership – that still holds true. If Scotland were to go independent, so the rhetoric goes, they would be able to remain in the European Union as a continuing state. While Nicola Sturgeon would have us believe this, the credibility of the claim is unfounded. Unfortunately for Scotland, EU member states have vetoes on new members – some SNP supporters have claimed no state would block their accession, but unfortunately they would.

Spain would veto because of Catalonia’s separatist ambitions; if they didn’t then Belgium would because of Flanders’; if they didn’t then Germany would because of Bavaria’s; if they didn’t then Italy would because of their various separatists; one could go on – the shortest way to say this is: someone would veto Scotland’s accession to the EU.

When the referendum on Scottish membership of the United Kingdom was won, a clear mandate was given that Scotland was to remain a part of the United Kingdom, come what may. Not a part of the United Kingdom where it wanted to be, but a part of the UK with the good and the bad. As Angus Robertson, SNP leader in the UK Parliament, said on the 14th October 2016, ‘Remain means Remain’.

The SNP would argue that they have a mandate for ‘IndyRef II: The IndyRef Strikes Back’ because their 2016 Scottish Parliamentary election victory was based on a manifesto including a commitment to hold another referendum if there was either a) evidence that independence was the preferred option of the Scottish people, or b) a significant and material change in circumstances. With Scottish independence polling at just 43.2% in an average of polls taken since the 23rd June – 1.5% lower than the Yes vote in 2014 and still trailing those opposed to it – one cannot see any logic in the former justification for reopening the debate. Likewise, as the United Kingdom has not yet left the European Union, there is no current justification for the latter case – we do not yet even know what Brexit will look like, and thus no significant and material change can possibly have occurred.

There is no case for Scotland to go independent, simply because of the EU referendum producing a result to Leave. Without clear evidence that the Scottish people desire independence, and without clear evidence that Brexit will harm Scotland (let us not forget that 1 million Scottish people voted to Leave the European Union), it is simply premature for the SNP to propose a second referendum now – it looks a lot more like political opportunism, then responding to the will of the people.

The case for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom is strong. We share a common language, a common history and a common island – we even have the same complaints about the weather. Scotland in the United Kingdom gets far more autonomy and far more powers than nearly any other non-independent entity in the world, without any of the costs. They get to elect representatives to their own parliament, to make their own laws; while sending representatives to Westminster to influence national laws (even in areas where Scotland would not be affected). Better still, for every 1 MP an English voter has, a Scottish voter gets 1.05.

Our nations are far more prosperous together. 64% of Scotland’s exports go to rUK, which would be heavily hit by independence. Of course, economics should not be the main reason for Scotland to stay in the UK – that reason is that there are no benefits to leaving.

Claims that Scotland must throw off Westminster for Brussels seem absurd. Claims that they should have open borders with the European Union, even if that necessitates a border between themselves and rUK, equally so. Of course, both of those conditions are based on the vaguest of assertions that Scotland would negotiate their way around the countries worried about separatism and those worried about another net beneficiary from the EU budget signing up to join the European Union.

More than the negative reasons why Scotland shouldn’t stay, are the positive reasons they should stay. Scotland and rUK have more in common than that which divides us. Weather, football, queuing – we despair over the same things. Putting aside division and working together to create a global, outward-looking Britain is what is needed. Nicola Sturgeon’s opportunistic attempts to divide us should not succeed – Scotland, we are, by far, Better Together.