The Saviours of the Welfare State?

The Saviours of the Welfare State?

What will the long-term legacy of Boris Johnson be? The American philosopher William James once said: “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” You would think that when Conservative cheerleaders like Daily Telegraph columnist Allister Health and The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson turn against you then your Barbour jacket might be on a shoogly peg. In unusually scathing form, Nelson wrote: “The lack of critical thinking and rigorous questioning [among Johnson allies] is widespread.”

There is a succinct summation for the legacies of Johnson’s predecessors over the last two decades and it is a litany of failure. Tony Blair is remembered for the war on terror, Gordon Brown for the financial crash, David Cameron for Brexit and Theresa May for being lousy. The word expected to define Boris Johnson is ‘sleaze’ but, contrary to growing pessimism from supporters like Heath and Nelson and polls tilting towards Labour, his party will stride to another comfortable majority when the pitiful alternatives are publicly realised.

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph on 22/11/2021

However, one legacy which has come under scrutiny again is the premiership of David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Less of a crescendo and more of a whimper, the 2010 General Election brought to an abrupt end 13 years of fresh-faced governance under New Labour. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition promised fiscal prudence and radical reform. What the country encountered was austerity and, indeed, the most severe reforms to welfare in a generation, pioneered by Lord Freud.

David Freud, great grandson of Sigmund, was appointed by David Cameron as Minister of State for Welfare Reform in 2010 and served until 2016. He worked closely with Iain Duncan Smith, who has since been knighted for his contribution. Regarded by many as the chief architect of Universal Credit, which is a cornerstone of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, other pillars included a spare room subsidy and increased number of sanctions – a term we used to apply to foreign dictators but now instead to benefit claimants.

Once described by political commentator Peter Oborne as a saviour of the welfare state, Freud broke rank last week in the House of Lords. In a stunning admission, he said the principal reason for introducing the benefit cap was not to save money as publicised, but because it was a policy which “polled off the charts”. He then went further by recommending Chancellor Rishi Sunak extend additional resources to “our very poorest citizens” and “to start getting rid of the excrescences like the two-child policy and benefit cap.”

As Lord Freud dismantled the entire foundation upon which his policies were erected before suggesting they be exhumed, I was reminded of the Prophet Isaiah, who in the seventh century BC, wrote: “Does the axe raise itself above the person who swings it?” His comments were virtually irreconcilable with Lord Freud of 2012 who claimed many use benefits as a “lifestyle choice” or Lord Freud of 2013 who said during a House of Lords speech that increasing foodbank use was due to the provision of “free food”.

David Cameron used to wax lyrical about his long-term economic plan to unravel damage done by Labour but his measures doubled the national debt in less than a decade from £958 billion to £1.7 trillion when he left office having also lost a referendum. And many Liberal Democrats claim they restrained the excesses of their coalition partners but where? Neither on university tuition fees, electoral reform nor public expenditure. This legacy resulted in electoral oblivion when, in 2015, they shrunk from 57 to 11 Members of Parliament

There was a reason these shysters earned the moniker of the ConDem coalition. You simply cannot entrust the fortunes of poor people with the aspirations of a rich and insulated elite.

Why Would an Independent Scotland Join the EU?

“On Wednesday, it is five years since the vote to leave the European Union. I am still stunned it happened.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph on 21/06/2021

On Wednesday, it is the five-year anniversary of the vote to leave the European Union and, although I voted to leave, I still find myself stunned by its occurrence. I recall popping another beer at 3am as Laura Kuennsberg shared her analysis of what was unravelling – she had no answers. Remain and Leave were exactly neck and neck and at a tally of around 4.7 million votes each. It was not until 4am when Leave stretched into an unassailable lead that the trajectory became vivid.   

Five years on and I still love my European compatriots and Europe for its countries, cultures and coastlines. I simply object to the cession of political and economic sovereignty that could rest with the people of Scotland. When, in January, we officially left, I stated in these pages that “hiring German cars, drinking French wine, eating Italian food, attending Dutch festivals and visiting Spanish cousins will be no less of a feature in my future as it was in my past.”

However, for those of us living in the culturally authoritarian and domestically lukewarm purgatory that is the political lot of one-party Scotland, voting in 2016 for Scots may feel pointless in hindsight. Our First Minister neither accepts the 2016 result nor the democratic mandate of the vote that preceded it in 2014. She intends, therefore, to assimilate an independent Scotland with the European Union, having stated in April an independent Scotland would not hold a referendum the EU.

Instead, Ms Sturgeon intends to publish a “detailed prospectus” ahead of a second independence referendum, which would ultimately weld the concept of EU entry to the notion of independence. Selling Novichok in Häagen-Dazs packaging does not make it ice cream any more than welding oneself to a supranational bureaucracy is independence. However, a vote in the affirmative, if IndyRef2 ever takes place, would enable her to avoid the inevitably irreconcilable questions EU admission throws up.

One issue, raised by the Scottish economist Tony Mackay in a piece for the Sunday Times in May is “a free trade agreement [with the UK] would not be allowed if Scotland joined the EU because of the implications for other member states.” It is a simple but sobering reality when you consider Scottish exports in 2018 totalled £85 billion. £51.2 billion of this trade was with the UK, which accounts for 60%, and only 19% with European Union countries. This would be economically catastrophic.

Additionally, the other thing nationalists – or EU unionists – like to overlook is the fact no other nation with as a high a public sector deficit has ever gained entry to the EU. To get even close to the economic requirements, we would need to eliminate or reduce the public sector deficit as quickly as possible. This would inevitably mean an increase in taxation and cutting public expenditure. We are essentially talking about Austerity 2.0 and, according to Mackay, this could take five to ten years.

Another fly in the ointment, as recently highlighted by Daily Telegraph economist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, is how unlikely any incumbent constellation of right-wing parties capable of making a breakthrough in the 2023 Spanish election would be to hold back their veto on Scottish admission. Not to mention growing independence movements in Belgium, France, Hungary, Romania or Slovakia which would be buoyed if the EU representatives of those nations lifted their veto on Scottish access.

The last five years point to a union that is coercive rather than creative, insular as opposed to internationalist and rigid rather than radical. As the UK economy began to recover in May, it was revealed the Eurozone had plunged into a double dip recession and they have already laid down red lines as far as the Euro is concerned.

And for what reason precisely should we return to our vacated chairs at the European table? To posit the same question Anne Enger asked in 1994 when she led the ‘No to EU’ campaign during Norway’s referendum on the EU: “To what problem is the EU a solution?” Will the people of an independent Scotland want back into this deficient union and, if so, why not pledge to ask them?

Universities and the Stifling of Free Speech

“At no point, have I ever regarded defining a woman as someone who has a vagina as a contentious idea.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph on 21/06/2021

I would never have regarded defining a woman as someone who has a vagina and the capacity to reproduce nor stating men have a genetic disposition to be physically stronger than women as particularly contentious ideas. No so apparently as Abertay University student Lisa Keogh discovered when she stepped outside the institutional orthodoxy in the brave new world where absolute truth is contestable. Last week, she left disciplinary proceedings exonerated and will graduate with a degree in Law.

The University contests the idea this was about free speech but Lisa disagrees and last week we met to discuss the situation and outcome. From the outset, Lisa, 29, says she participated in a series of online lectures between December 2020 and March 2021 in a final module for her degree on ‘Gender, Feminism and the Law’. She has spent four years at Abertay and the final module covered several subjects including abortion, surrogacy, pornography, rape and rough sex.

Lisa said: “In one lecture, we discussed transgender rights, the vital role of equality in the legal system and I added we cannot always expect equal outcomes.” In her interactions with fellow students, she responded when asked what constitutes a woman and stated, in her experience as a former mechanic working in a predominantly male workforce, that men are genetically stronger than women. Lisa said: “There were times I needed to ask the blokes to do stuff for me and they did.”

On 16 April, Abertay University sent an E-Mail to Lisa stating: “The University has received an allegation that you have made inappropriate comments during class discussions which could be construed as discriminatory.” However, a statement issued by Abertay on its Twitter account on 9 June, said: “Lisa Keogh was not subject to disciplinary action for expressing so-called ‘unacceptable opinions’ about gender identity, or any other topic.” There is a clear conflict between these two statements.

While the University has a responsibility to investigate allegations of inappropriate behaviour as stated in the Student Code of Conduct, the first line of the E-Mail sent to Miss Keogh refers to “inappropriate comments” which implicates what she said but not how she said it. By publicly stating action was taken not over what she said, when their E-Mail indicates the opposite, they are massaging the truth in their statement, which said they received “a complaint about the behaviour of Ms Keogh”.

By issuing this statement, Abertay University has at least been economical with the truth and at worst besmirched the character of a student by implicating her conduct without a shred of evidence when, in reality, she stated an opinion which happens to be endorsed by almost wholesale scientific consensus. And this, from an institution instructing people how to enforce the law. Lisa says: “I am upset about the statement because it could impact on my employability if people believe I am indeed abusive.”

Lisa, who was looking forward to her graduation ceremony but has decided against attending following her experience with the University, said: “I am so glad to be out of that stifling institution.” She added: “I am going to take the summer and enjoy it with my boys. I am keen to pursue opportunities to become a human right’s lawyer, to support children and those who are not able to access justice. I am passionate about ensuring every child has access to the same education and opportunities.”

When asked what she hopes will be the outcome of this situation, Lisa says: “I want universities to be safe places for open and free debate but a framework needs to be put in place around the disciplinary process to protect the wellbeing of students when vexacious and malicious complaints are made about them.” She adds: “Abertay talks about hurting the feelings of others but I have also been hurt by this process yet my emotions don’t appear to matter because I expressed the unorthodox opinion.”

As we drew our meeting to a close, Lisa reminded me that people fought for women’s rights and freedom of expression. While Abertay made the right decision in the end, what this shameful process, and particularly the public statement issued by Abertay University, reveals is that institutions which were once bastions of critical thinking are neither willing to defend truth nor students courageous enough to proclaim it. 

The Pornification of Scottish Education

“Do you remember your curricular experience of sex education? I recall the day I was first confronted with explicit images.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph on 31/05/2021

Do you remember your curricular experience of sex education? I recall vividly the day I and my primary school peers were offered a book and confronted with images of a sturdy male and hirsute female – both naked – as the teacher cautiously and carefully selected a reluctant victim to read the associated text. The eventual prey tried, with limited success, to read the words welded around these two denuded figures while tempestuously seeking to smother her titters, sniggers and guffaws.

I periodically revisit the question: “If the SNP were not in government, could anyone else do a better job?” For the most part, my response would be relatively lukewarm but the one area where I do feel much improved performance is compulsory is in education. When primary teachers were in training over a decade ago, Scottish education was the global leader. The standard was such that qualified teachers migrating to Scotland required an additional year of training to meet the criteria.

Scotland’s First Minister delivered a speech to teachers and educators in 2015 stating she was willing to put her “neck on the line on education.” Ms Sturgeon added: “I want to be judged on this.” Last July, however, the Scottish Government shelved its Education Bill and withdrew Scotland from international tables due to poor polling. The report card is clear – we are failing but, not to worry, we have just returned the SNP to government. It is only the academic futures of our children at stake after all.

One major recent development in sex education is the Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) materials, which reflects the introduction of legislation endorsing same sex marriage in Scotland in 2014. The Scottish Catholic Education Service states: “This guidance, which applies to all schools managed by local authorities, sets out the Scottish Government’s expectations in relation to the manner in which such education is conducted.”

From primary one, children are informed some families have a mum and a dad, some have two mums, others two dads and still others are made up of two dads and two mums, covering instances of divorce and remarriage. From primary two, boys and girls are informed about body parts including the scrotum, testicles, penis and vulva using naked cartoon images and told their peers are either heterosexual, lesbian, gay or bisexual. I do not object to most of this but for children aged five and six – really?

Level two materials, deemed appropriate for children in primaries five, six and seven, offer detailed descriptions of how to have sex, use contraception and what it means to be transgender. My primary concern here relates to a slideshow of fully naked men and women, where children as young as eight are informed: “If a man and a woman are having sex, and they both want to do it, the man can put his penis inside a woman’s vagina and gently move his penis in and out. This should feel nice for both.”

Third, fourth and senior level materials, for children in secondary education from 12 to 18 years of age, covers everything from the “safe” consumption of pornography to how a girl can go about an abortion as well as detailed depictions of how to engage in, I kid you not, masturbation, oral and anal sex. If you are sitting there wondering if I am overplaying the reality here and have taken leave of my senses, you can verify all of this with a moment’s glance yourself at http://www.rshp.scot.

A fortnight ago, the Legatum Institute’s Centre for UK Prosperity reported Scotland’s educational performance is poorer than the rest of the UK. They state primary pupils in Scotland are achieving six percentage points below the UK average expected standard for literacy. The Sunday Times columnist Gillian Bowditch wrote: “Education, once Scotland’s proud boast, is now our national disgrace.” She added: “The pandemic will pass but the educational morass will remain.”

In a city which has, in recent years, topped European tables for underage teenage pregnancy, the Scottish Government appears to be trying to compensate for its regressive levels of attainment with a progressive agenda on culture. Who cares if we fail on literacy if we are leading the way in new social trends? However, in doing so, rather than protecting the innocence of future generations they are, in fact, exposing them to material that robs them of precisely what it means to be a child.

Lessons Learnt on the Campaign Trail

“Exactly six weeks ago I handed in nomination papers to stand as a prospective parliamentary candidate for Dundee City West.”

EWAN GURR: The election votes are counted, the parties are taking sides and the rest of us are heading for political purgatory – Evening Telegraph

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph on 10/05/2021

Exactly six weeks ago I, for the first time, handed in nomination papers and the cash required to stand as a prospective parliamentary candidate for Dundee City West. So conflicted have I felt in recent years by the poverty of political options available, I have writhed between contributing towards a trajectory I oppose and squandering a democratic opportunity my grandfather fought on foreign shores to defend. Having been a historic ballot-spoiler, I have found this position increasingly untenable.

A fortnight beforehand, I and an equally contorted cohort of like-minded sojourners set up a political party to put our prospectus to the people. Restore Scotland, alongside 24 other political parties, stood in this election in some or all parts of Scotland. Setting up parties appears to have become a favoured pastime during the pandemic, probably because actual parties have not been permitted, and although many will now dissolve or disband, we are already planning ahead.

We had a spread of policies but most who backed us did so on our unique platform of support for Scottish independence outside the European Union. Many others keen for Scotland to become a politically and economically sovereign nation cooperating globally joined us as members during the election period. Despite launching only 50 days before polling day, we secured an admirable 410 votes (1.3%) in Dundee City West and polled thirteenth out of 18 standing in the North East Scotland region.

Weathered politicians may become immune to this but I was humbled at the election count last Friday seeing hundreds of ballot papers pass by with a cross next to my name, each of which represented a person with their own concerns for the future. I was similarly moved by the number of E-Mails asking for my views on everything from abortion and poverty to climate change and women’s rights as well as many other issues important to those seeking representation.

In my last political column before publishing guidance kicked in, I predicted the SNP would fall just shy of a parliamentary majority stating: “The political noise in recent weeks reminds me of 2016 when a majority was also considered inevitable but D’Hondt is a cruel mistress.” I added that, aided and abetted by the Scottish Greens, I thought the SNP would secure support for their domestic agenda. My parting shot was: “Other than that? My overarching prediction is a return to business as usual.”

Sure enough the SNP gained a seat and the Scottish Greens picked up two. Scottish Labour lost two, the Liberal Democrats lost one and the Conservatives stayed the same. Overall, precious little has changed. The Yes side still declare a mandate for a second independence referendum and the No side still state the opposite. Both Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson deepened the roots of their supremacy this week, entrenching their political commitments while enlarging the threat to the union.

Michael Gove, who holds UK responsibility for the union, was respectful in his dialogue with Andrew Marr yesterday as he offered congratulations to the SNP. He fended off claims of future legal action and stressed the need to work together on recovery as “Team UK”. He also stated there were more votes for pro-union parties which, by a margin of 43,049 votes, is true even if it does not alter the overall parliamentary metric.

Nicola Sturgeon, by contrast, said legal action would only take place if there was a refusal to accept the wishes of the Scottish people. Following Michael Gove, Ms Sturgeon said to Andrew Marr “The people of Scotland have voted for the SNP on the strength of offering, when the time is right, an independence referendum.” So, for those of us who take a voyeuristic interest in the legislative trajectory of Scotland, the next five years may well feel like political purgatory.

At a time when people seek meaning, I sympathise with author Douglas Murray who suggests in his bestselling The Madness of Crowds that those with a political interest should seek to integrate it into their lives with great care. He writes: “Politics may be an important aspect of our lives, but as a source of personal meaning it is disastrous.” He adds: “One of the ways to distance ourselves from the madnesses of our times is to retain an interest in politics but not to rely on it as a source of meaning.”

Hear hear.

The Radical Roots of International Women’s Day

“International Women’s Day affords us all a vital annual reminder of the historical struggle women, and other groups, have faced.”

Ewan Gurr: Remembering my gran on International Women’s Day 2021 (eveningtelegraph.co.uk)

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph on 08/03/2021

Today is International Women’s Day and it is 110 years since the first one was held, having been discussed at the International Socialist Woman’s Conference held in Germany in 1907. This was a historical moment in which the women’s movement was radical in nature and known for its campaign for electoral participation. Writing for slow news website Tortoise, Liz Moseley lamented this loss of radicalism, saying: “The whole IWD thing has gone… well, it’s all a bit ‘bake sale’ isn’t it?”

True though this may be, International Women’s Day affords us all a vital reminder of the historical struggle women, and other groups, have faced but also offers the opportunity to reflect upon those women who have shaped, and continue to shape, who we are. I think of my mum, my wife, my daughters, my gran, my mother-in-law, my sisters-in-law, and, today in particular, my grandmother – who passed away in 2008 – but left an indelible mark upon my life.

Else Louise Nitsche was born in 1922 in the small West German town called of Kamp Lintfort, only a 30 minute drive from the Dutch border. She grew up in a slice of history wedged between the First and Second World War and married Charles – my grandfather – who fought on the opposing side for the British Army. You can imagine the visceral racism she experienced, as a native German, marrying a British-born man and relocating to Scotland a few years after the end of the War.

My grandparents were as much a debating society as they were a family. I spent much time with my grandad Charlie, who died when I was ten. Part of the Forgotten Army stationed in Burma, he carried lifelong trauma and hated the triumphalism of war movies. My gran told me he came home drunk one night and, like the feisty protective woman she was, she held her three boys – my dad included – behind her as she wielded a frying pan at him if he dared come near. He decided against.  

Her hospitality was second-to-none. Like most women of her time, she could rustle up a meal with minimal provisions and made many traditional German dishes with sweet, sour and pickled flavouring, including sauerkraut, red cabbage and pickled green beans. Always on the hunt for a bargain, my dad reminded me of the time towards the end of her life he offered, as a church minister, to do her funeral and she responded, saying: “Great! That’ll save some money.”

The word ‘radical’ is defined as “affecting the fundamental nature of something”. Born only 15 years after the first International Socialist Woman’s Conference held not far from her home, Else might not be the kind of woman you would describe as radical in a political sense but she definitely was on a personal level as she certainly affected the fundamental nature of those she raised, myself included.

Scottish Politics Needs an Injection of Integrity

“Where are the feminist MSPs affronted by attempts to impede a process in relation to the handling of sexual misconduct?”

Ewan Gurr Archives – Evening Telegraph

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph on 22/02/2021

Last Thursday, the corporate body of the Scottish Parliament agreed to publish the controversial submission made by Scotland’s former First Minister Alex Salmond to a Holyrood inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Approximately one week earlier, The Spectator won an Edinburgh High Court action as judge Lady Dorrian permitted its public release. The decision was heralded by The Spectator chairman Andrew Neil as a “good result for holding government to account.”

The SNP has been reluctant to publish the submission made by Scotland’s former First Minister, having voted down its release into the public domain on two previous occasions. Additionally, the SNP-chaired Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints decided not to publish the submission in January. On all occasions, the stated concern is Mr Salmond’s account may breach a court order to retain the anonymity of any or all complainants.

One complainant, whose identity was concealed on The Sunday Show, described the actions of the Committee as “more traumatic” than the High Court trial itself, saying she had “a glimmer of hope in a Committee” she expected would be “impartial” and able to “properly investigate the government”. To the contrary, she feels her “very personal experiences [have been] exploited for their own self-serving political interests” rather than addressing sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace.

Having read Mr Salmond’s submission, it is clear why the SNP did not want this information in the public domain, which has nothing to do with being able to identify complainants. To the contrary, it has everything to do with the fact a former First Minister claims the current First Minister misled Parliament by claiming she first heard of allegations when he visited her home on 2 April 2018. Mr Salmond’s submission states: “That is untrue and is a breach of the Ministerial Code.”  

I have resisted writing about the Salmond / Sturgeon relationship because comment on personal relationships does not, I believe, add value to discourse on politics and feels mildly voyeuristic. What has, however, purged me from the trenches is the lack of political commitment to democracy, as evidenced by the unwillingness to release documents that would traditionally be in the public domain. In most circumstances, withholding such information would have been viewed as an untenable position.  

For all the nationalist complaints of cronyism and corruption, short shrift is given to those at Westminster responsible for the unwarranted withholding or careless handling of sensitive information. In 2017, the current Home Secretary Priti Patel was sacked from a former role for withholding two trips she had taken to Israel on the taxpayer’s coin and, in 2019, the current Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson was sacked for a leak at a confidential National Security Council meeting.

Where is the commitment to democracy or even the feminist SNP MSPs who should be affronted by attempts to impede a process in relation to the handling of sexual misconduct allegations? Scottish politics urgently need an injection of integrity.

Different Approaches to Tackling Poverty

“The Scottish Government is taking a different route on poverty and this will be an important issue, politically and constitutionally.”  

Ewan Gurr: ‘Benefit rises at forefront of public consciousness’ (eveningtelegraph.co.uk)

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph on 15/02/2021

On two occasions, once after leaving school and another time following redundancy, I fell upon the mercy of the welfare state. Therefore, when I have previously written about the social security safety net, I have done so both with personal and professional, lived and learned, experience. This, coupled with many years working alongside people experiencing poverty, is why I believe in the welfare state and why I have not, during more fortunate times, objected to paying the higher rate of tax.

The subject of increasing benefits is understandably at the very forefront of public consciousness. The reason is the UK Government is considering making the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, implemented in March 2020 to support claimants, a permanent fixture. Last Wednesday, an article uploaded on the Evening Telegraph Facebook page regarding the uplift stimulated 178 comments and multiple shares. Doing so would cost the taxpayer £6.6 billion per year and that focuses minds.  

Not everyone, for fair and considered reasons, believes the same and those who do not have been unfairly besmirched for being hard hearted. However, I, evenly spliced between the political left and right, believe in both supporting people to both survive but also to strive. This was the heart of William Beveridge who, in founding the welfare state, challenged opposition claims of feather-bedding, saying: “Adventure comes not from the half-starved but those who were well fed enough to feel ambition.”

The UK Government has been openhanded in the dispensation of over £317 billion to, in the inimitable words of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, put their “arms around the nation” and has been whimsical in spending on other issues of questionable concern. In November, for instance, at precisely the same time as UK Ministers were straining every sinew over whether or not to invest in free school meals, they proudly announced a £16.5 billion increase in defence spending.

Where do our priorities lie when we are willing to spend tens of billions protecting ourselves from an international threat that may or may not even exist when we are so unwilling to spend a third of that sum supporting our own citizens through a time of unrivalled financial hardship? This is why the UK Chancellor’s budget statement in March matters. It matters economically to the 5.7 million Universal Credit claimants but also politically to the Prime Minister in his withering relationship with the union.  

The reason I say this is because, from today, thousands of families become eligible for Scottish Child Payment, a new benefit designed by the Scottish Government precisely to lift children out of poverty. The Scottish Government is taking a different route on poverty and, for all its domestic faults, this is and will continue to be an important area as the governed consider whom they wish to govern, politically and constitutionally.    

Thank God Churches Are Finally Waking Up

“Even during the Spanish flu epidemic, Christians did not socially-distance, self-isolate and shield themselves from the evident needs of society.”

Ewan Gurr: ‘Thank God churches are finally waking up to crisis’ (eveningtelegraph.co.uk)

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph on 08/02/2021

A group of Scottish church leaders from various denominations have submitted a letter to the Scottish Government contesting the legality of new restrictions upon religious assembly, stating they are “a significant interference with the freedom of religion.” A separate letter submitted on behalf of the group by legal firm, Lindsay’s, requests a judicial review stating new restrictions violate human rights legislation and adding that Scotland is the only UK nation to close places of worship.

In a recent letter printed in a weekly magazine, Peter stated: “I am writing to express the shame I feel as a lifetime church member.” He conveyed his solemn dismay at the overwhelming response of nationwide churches to the pandemic. In his letter, Peter said: “Here was the greatest opportunity in 70 years to demonstrate care for our fellow people.” He added: “I hoped that there would be thousands of church members flocking to help the lonely and isolated. But I find my local church locked.”

The letter was a response to an earlier article in The Spectator where Jonathan Beswick explained his reasons for reopening the local parish church against government diktats. Father Beswick wrote: “The Christian faith is grounded in the central mystery of the incarnation: the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” He adds: “God did not reside on Mount Sinai reissuing successive tablets of stone. Rather, he got stuck into the mess and mortality that is the lot of the human race.”

I wonder what Jesus would make of it all. The pandemic of his day was leprosy and levitical law was like government guidance. Lepers wore a mark like our use of face masks, track and trace required them to shout “unclean” to anyone nearby and they lived in a perpetual state of quarantine. No sooner had Jesus set foot off the mount having delivered his signature sermon to the last, the lost and the least than he is met by a leper. Rather than turn away, he broke restrictions and reached out to the man.

From centuries of poverty alleviation to the pioneering of education, healthcare and welfare provision, the church has historically been at the vanguard of social progress and a whistle-blower to disrupt the continuum of political, economic and social inequality. Churches feed our hungry, house our homeless and enlighten our children and, even during the Spanish flu epidemic, Christians did not socially-distance, self-isolate and shield themselves from the needs of society. They did what Jesus did. 

Over 2,000 Old and New Testament scriptures implore Christians to serve the poor, the needy, the widow, the orphan and victims of injustice. Throughout the pandemic, many others, including my wife and I, have been confronted with family and friends who have tested positive and for whom we have provided hot meals, groceries and newspapers. I am pleased the church has woken up because a hurting world awaits.

Can the SNP Hold it Together Until Independence?

“As sharks encircle the SNP, the question is can they hold it all together until they secure another independence referendum?”

Ewan Gurr: ‘Can SNP hold it together and secure referendum?’ (eveningtelegraph.co.uk)

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph on 01/02/2021

The ultimate measure of political success is predicated upon whether or not you managed during your term in office to turn your vision into a reality. Amongst the annals of undisputedly successful UK Prime Ministers would be the likes of Clement Attlee, David Lloyd George and Sir Robert Walpole. Some might even cite recent premiers like Tony Blair and David Cameron, who both achieved relative success, even if each of their legacies will be defined by one word – Iraq and Brexit respectively.

But what of devolved leaders? I wonder how Alex Salmond, for instance, when he was appointed leader of the Scottish National Party in September 1990, would have defined success. I think he would state reopening a Scottish Parliament, winning the confidence of the Scottish electorate to govern and pursuing Scottish independence as among his key priorities. These he did but some of his goals remain unattained – t0 secure independence, establish a Scottish state and seek EU readmission.   

By any metric, the SNP is one of the UK’s most successful parties. Despite having lost the independence referendum in 2014, its membership quintupled to the extent they even overtook the Conservative Party as the UK’s second largest party in 2018 before Theresa May’s resignation. However, the failed push for a second referendum and leaving the EU have been obvious setbacks to them. The forthcoming election in May will be about one thing – securing a mandate for independence.   

Polling for The Sunday Times last week revealed over half of Scots want another referendum in the next five years, would vote for it by 52% to 48% and pointed to Boris Johnson as the biggest driver for independence. In an interview with the BBC regarding his visit to Scotland last week, I said we should always welcome him as the democratically elected leader of the UK but he must also be aware his appearances tend to tweak support for independence by a percentage point or two whenever he does.  

Things are neither terrific nor terrible for the SNP right now. Optimists might say they have won every election in the last decade and point to unassailable polling ahead of May as well as 20 consecutive polls highlighting support for independence. Pessimists might say Nicola Sturgeon still has to present evidence on her handling of accusations of sexual harassment regarding Alex Salmond and point to the exodus of young members last week over the SNP’s stated indifference towards transphobia.

The last few days have been particularly challenging after a highly controversial and tense meeting of the National Executive Committee on Sunday led to a split vote on placing BAME and disabled candidates at the top of ballots for regional lists with the casting vote of the chair passing the motion. This was followed 24 hours later by the sacking of its high-profile and feminist Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South West, Joanna Cherry, who has served on the frontbench since her election in 2015.

As sharks begin to encircle the SNP, the question is can they hold it all together until they secure another referendum? The suggestion in their 11-point plan published last week of a dummy referendum with no democratic legitimacy is a nonsense and not one, even I as a supporter of independence, would participate in. If Scotland is to become independent, then it must do so by adhering to the principles of democracy.