Friday, 23 January 2009

Adherence to the EU or public safety?

I (in a post on my other, rather less restrained blog), and others, including the estimable (but equally, or perhaps more unrestrained) Devil's Kitchen, have already been heavily critical of the proposed EU working time directive. Now we have another reason to be opposed:

"Scotland's fire service is under threat from EU working hours regulations, according to a senior fire officer.

MEPs have been criticised for ending the UK "opt out" of the Working Time Directive, which prevents people from working more than 48 hours a week.

Grampian Chief Fire Officer David Dalziel said the rules would prevent fire stations using retained staff.

In Scotland, most fire stations are staffed by part-time fire fighters who have other jobs.

Mr Dalziel said restrictions on how long people can work could spell the end of the retained service and jeopardise safety.

It would also have a huge cost implication with budgets soaring to pay for more full-time staff, he claimed."

The Fire Brigades Union, as to be expected, branded it "scaremongering." Hmm, seems like a fairly realistic, facts-based observation of the situation by Mr Dalziel to me, but then I'm just a blogger. I mean, it's only 321 out of our 391 fire stations that are staffed by part-time retained fire fighters, that's not that many, is it?

EU directives should never fly in the face of public safety; I wish the UK had retained its opt-out from this one.

Ah Kenny, it gets better ...

Following on from my previous post on everyone's favourtie authoritarian nationalist dunce of a Scottish politician, Kenny MacAskill, it seems some in other quarters aren't too happy with him either:

"Attacks on Scotland's justice secretary for not attending a knife crime summit have been dismissed as "ludicrous"."

Of course it's ludicrous, Mr MacAskill's a busy man! Never mind that knife crime is one of the most pertinent violent-crime issues of the moment, in the whole of the United Kingdom, never mind just Scotland. Rather than be seen to be actively participating in a knife crime summit (how ludicrous!), oor Kenny is busy drafting a bill to criminalise fetishists ...

Extreme Sexual Images?

I'm two days late with this one, but I thought I'd pass comment nonetheless, on this article, relating to an issue I alluded to in a previous post - the legislation against "extreme sexual images" being brought forward in the Scottish Government's Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill.

"DOWNLOADING images of rape and possessing other forms of "extreme" pornography will be punishable by up to three years in prison under new laws to be unveiled next month, The Scotsman can reveal.

Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, has for the first time revealed details of his proposed crackdown on owning hardcore pornography that he claims is sexually and physically abusive and degrading to women."

Admittedly, it almost seems eminently reasonable at first glance. But, of course, the problem is, if "images" of rape or extreme sex are in fact performed or recorded between two consenting adults, this law is essentially interfering with what private individuals choose to do among themselves. If it could be proved that images of "rough" or "extreme" sex were not consensual, then that would be a wholly different matter, but that's not going to happen in most cases.

So the civil liberties question here is that of the Scottish government trying to regulate what individual adults watch in privacy. Are people who are, for example, into bondage, going to be criminalised for their fetish even if no one is harmed by it, with a possible 3 years spent in the nick for their "crime?"

Kenny MacAskill's justification is that of the typical moralising statist:
"We are intending to send out the message that this is frankly totally abhorrent. This is far from a victimless crime. Previously you could close down bookshops; now everybody has access to the internet. What is being portrayed in a number of these sites and DVDs is not erotic art – it's fundamental abuse of an individual and to consort with it is to support it."

It's abhorrent because the government says so. It's not a "victimless crime" either, because the government says so. Actually, it's not a crime at all, because the bill's not been put into law yet, so in his pomposity Mr MacAskill is getting a little ahead of himself, but that's besides the point.

It is, in the main, victimless, in that those who work in the porn trade, whether amateur or professional, do so out of choice. The minority that may be forced into it are undoubtedly suffering terribly and deserve justice, but that is what the police should be there for - as opposed to politicians criminalising the many.

But, Kenny tells us, what is being portrayed is not "erotic art - it's fundamental abuse of an individual." Besides from the fact that I never knew Mr MacAskill was such a keen observer and expert on "erotic art", although I'm sure such knowledge would intrigue the tabloids, he fundamentally misunderstands what constitutes "fundamental abuse of an individual". Abuse of the individual is, pure and simple, when he or she is coerced by external forces, and thus the sanctity of his/her free choice violated. If someone consents to being in a bondage or rough sex scene in a hardcore porn flick, how is he/she fundamentally abused? It's nonsense. Mr MacAskill is justifying this proposed law based on his morals and value-judgements - that this type of erotica isn't "erotic art", that it is "abhorrent". Well why are your morals better than mine, Kenny? I say people should be able to watch whatever images they want in the privacy of their homes, so long as no one else is harmed. If they are, that's a different kettle of fish, but that's the job of law enforcement to sort out, not for the law itself to brand all extreme fetishists as evil criminals.

Ironically, then Susan Smith enters into the article, on the government's side, explaining how it didn't take her long to find "scenes of brutality" on the internet, but proves my point about victimless crime by saying:

"While the videos I found were clearly not of real rapes..."

Before, of course, going on to moralise about how terrible it is that these videos nonetheless are glorifying rape. Firstly, you know what, I think it's pretty nasty myself too. But you know what I'm going to do as a result of not particularly being a fan of extreme BDSM porn (Bondage, Domination and Sado-Masochism)? Here, wait for it, drum roll ...

Not watch it.

Because at the end of the day, it is fantasy, images, supplying a very miniscule niche of (in my opinion - not that it matters) very weird people with what they want, in the vast majority of cases doing no harm to anyone else. I'd rather they spent their time watching imaginary rape as opposed to going out and doing it themselves. And I'd rather the government weren't moralistically claiming the authoritarian right to snoop in on people's homes for what they watch within the privacy of them. Why is imaginary rape worse than imaginary murder? What's next, banning all Jason Statham films because they glorify shooting people and battering them to death?

Becky Dwyer, spokeswoman for CAAN, hits the nail on the head:
"There are sites out there depicting real abuse; evidence of real crimes being committed. Instead of going after those, catching the perpetrators and putting an end to real harm, the government has gone for the easy option of criminalising pictures of mostly legal activity and demonising a bunch of adults whose main crime is the desire to interact with one another in the privacy of their own homes."

Perhaps Mr MacAskill, expert on "erotic art" that he is, can tell us why he hasn't identified the sites depicting real abuse and gone after them to the full extent of the law, as opposed to making our lonely spotty lanky-haired teenagers watching bizarre stuff on the net wanted criminals?

It's depressing how, day by day, the SNP seem to be no less - in fact, probably more - nannying and authoritarian than their Labour predecessors. Why bother with independence? What would be the damn difference?


Today, The Scotsman is reporting on the publication of MSP expenses for last year - or at least it was kind of published, although "much of the detail" of extra claims "was hidden", apparently. Super. Nice and transparent.

Of course, all this was the cue for the parties to start sniping at each other, trying to claim moral superiority for having milked the taxpayer slightly less than opposing parties, but really just ending up looking pathetic and petty.

A Lib Dem spokesman had the gall to scoff at Jim Mather, Enterprise Minister, for spending £256 quid on books, saying:

"We now know why Jim Mather hasn't been speaking in parliament much. He's been too busy reading these books he's asking the taxpayer to pay for."

This, when six out of the top ten claimants were LibDems, and their leader Tavish Scott at numero uno with extra claims of £54,000. The bleated excuse is that Mr Scott has to fly to and from Shetland. So, of course, does Alastair Allan, MSP for the Western Isles, but somehow he's managed to only spend £36,000.

Hell, at least Mr Mather is reading; he might learn something. Though perhaps not, if, as reported, he's sticking to autobiographies of luminaries of waste-of-space economic buffoonery such as Alan Greenspan.

The Scotsman also informs us that:

"There were some eyebrows raised at some of the claims, in particular a five-fold increase in the party leaders' allowance from £5,776 in 2006-7 to £27,193 in 2007-8.

Much of the detail of this was hidden, but parliamentary sources said that most of the extra claims were down to support costs for former Labour leader Wendy Alexander and ex-Liberal Democrat leader Nicol Stephen."

Everyone's favourite fraudster, i.e. Wendy Alexander, appears to have been at it again. As for raised eyebrows, I can tell you that both of mine are so raised that they've crossed my hairline and are no longer visible.

What the hell's with the more-than-quadrupling of the party leaders' allowance? Oh yes, I forgot, the details "are hidden."

Nice to know our lawmakers in Holyrood are tightening their belts along with the rest of us.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

A Very Belated Happy New Year from Scottish Libertarians!

From Scottish Libertarians, and more generally the UK Libertarian Party, I wish you all a very belated Happy New Year, and hope it brings you good things and goodwill. I must apologise for my distinct lack of presence over the last few weeks - I've been on what might be described as an extended festive hiatus, darting between Glasgow (where I work and study), Edinburgh (where a lot of my friends are), North Berwick (the closest thing I have to a hometown), and my family home in the East Lothian countryside. And I think it's probably fair to say that, from Christmas Eve to about the 2nd January, when I wasn't travelling around I was probably drunk. Then me and a couple of friends piled into a car and when on a little road-trip jaunt down to Manchester and then Newcastle on the 3rd, which was very good fun.

Now though, I'm back at Uni and all's set to continue this blogging lark.

So, with the Libertarian Party having just past its first-year anniversary, I'll give you my take on how things have been going, for us and the country, and the highs, lows, trials and tribulations of a nascent political party.

I think, overall, it's been a good year for libertarians in the UK. We now have a party we can belong to without having to hold our noses. Many libertarian-minded people talk about trying to change bigger parties (Tories, LibDems, UKIP etc) from the inside, but I'm fairly doubtful about the possibilities of managing to do that. I feel the statism is far too entrenched in every one of the big three parties, plus the SNP in Scotland, for significant change towards a more libertarian stance to occur. I'd personally rather be member #78 of the Libertarian Party, small as we may be, than number 20002 of the Tories. The influence I, and every member of us who wants to be active in the party, can wield over policy discussion, events organisation, media co-ordination, allocation of funding, etc etc, dwarfs beyond all comparison any such influence I could have in any other party - libertarians in other parties tend to be sidelined as "maverick" types. Such proximity to the day-to-day running of the party that we have as members really means it can feel like our party. A strong sense of internal democracy has arisen from the debate and discussion we have on, well, pretty much everything, and every member who is willing to put his two cents in has his opinion valued equally. Knowing the power each of us has in the party, and in turn, the responsibility, really does motivate you to get on and do whatever you can in whatever time you can find to get active, and participate.

I've amazed myself with the amount of time and effort I've been willing and able to put in for the party, from organising the formation of Scottish Libertarians, to blogging, to leafletting, to trawling the streets of the East End of Glasgow to get 10 signatures for our (failed) attempt to get on the by-election ballot, to going to party meetings and get-togethers in England, to chatting about the party in the pub. It's a great feeling to find a cause you believe in like that, where you're willing and motivated to work for something greater. It's sometimes difficult to gauge general public opinion, esconced as I often am in blogosphere, but I do think libertarianism is finding a wider audience, and the word, at least, is entering more into the public consciousness, as well as some of the ideas. David Davis came out and said, bizarrely, that "The only Libertarian Party is the Conservative Party" - shortly following our invitation to Davis to join us after his pro-civil-liberties stand on 42 days detention . David Cameron felt the need to come out in his party conference and expressly tell us "I am not a libertarian," before totally misinterpreting the basis of the philosophy. This, as opposed to saying "I'm not a socialist", which his grassroots may have found a little more reassuring.

There is widespread disillusionment with a lot of what has been going on in this country; I think we're seeing the beginnings of an anti-government backlash from the bottom-up, centred around ideas of individual freedom, with our money, our private transactions and activities, our personal data, and our civil liberties. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm far too optimistic. But only time will tell.

We saw widespread support for David Davis when he resigned and won re-election based on an anti-Big-Brother-state platform. We've seen continuous opposition to our expensive and wrong military adventures abroad. We've seen revulsion at Gordon Brown, well, in general, but mostly at his profligate spending, high-tax regime, and his disregard for liberty and democracy, primarily, I think, through the non-referedum on the Lisbon Constitution.

It's quite clear that this government has been in power for too long. Bloated, corrupt, illiberal, incredibly wasteful, deceitful - we've seen an opposition MP detained by 20 anti-terror police and taken into custody for 9 hours; we've seen anti-terror legislation abused to financially interfere with Iceland; we're seeing our Treasury embarking on a ludicrous policy of economic recovery that merges ultra-Keynesiam with a sort of refined Mugabinomics. We need to face facts: you can't spend your way out of a recession. Gordon's spending can explain in large part why Britain is so far down the shitter next to our first-world neighbours. In fact, we actually have no money left to spend anyway, we can barely fiddle our interest rates any lower, and borrowing from abroad is going to become increasingly difficult as our national credit card approaches "Maxed Out." The solution from the government? Turn on the printing presses, or as its known institutionally, commence "quantatitive easing". And then, pardon my french, but we're really b*ggered.

In the 1930's, Hayek won the Nobel Economics Prize for showing how Roosevelt's policies prolonged and deepened the Great Depression. The current downturn is almost a textbook case of the central premise of Austrian economics - the most well-known being Ludwig von Mises - the theory of the business cycle, which explains how central banks use their levers of power - the power to set interest rates - and induce artificial booms and busts through the flow of credit (or lack thereof), which cause "bubbles" - distortions in the markets where the easy credit is most used during the period of credit expansion (in the case of this recession it was primarily in real estate, although we also saw it in commodities too) and which, eventually, pop, as the housing bubble did following the Federal Reserve, and other banks around the world, tightening their monetary policy - i.e. raising rates.

Yet, it seems, nothing has been learned, and the policies of Brown and his fellow "progressives" - Barack Obama, for example - such as slashing rates, spending, borrowing - are on course to take us to, like a film director releasing a terrible Hollywood sequel into the cinemas, "The Great Depression II: This time it's really bad." If we see any sort of recovery as a result of these policies, it will, I think, merely be a brief and illusory one. I pray I'm wrong, but adherents to Austrian economics usually aren't. One such man, Ron Paul, who ran for President, has been predicting with striking accuracy for years the crisis we're now in. Peter Schiff is another one.
Couple this gloomy economic outlook with the ascent of "communitarianism" - a sort of Rousseau-ish ideology, brother of socialism, that sacrifices individual liberty and democracy for the good of the community. Very prominent in the EU, who have taken it to a grander scale, willing to sacrifice the sovereignty of nations for the good of the "European community" - no matter what we peasants think. In the UK, our personal details are stored on massive databases, easily abused and "misplaced", with some of the most god-awful data protection in the world. We have been branded an "Endemic Surveillance Society" by Privacy International, with unaccountable faces watching our steps on city streets, one camera for every 14 of us. We have more CCTV than any other nation on Earth - and no, not per head. More.

Things don't look pretty. But I think this is where the backlash has come, and will continue, to come from.

One of the most successful things we did in the past year was our 1984 campaign on November 5th, when we co-ordinated the delivery of a copy of George Orwell's prophetic work to every MP. The campaign escalated into something much bigger than we could have predicted, with well over a thousand books going out, only 71 actually sent by party members. Jacqui Smith, apparently, got six copies! Despite our best efforts, only 3 MPs mentioned they'd received it - Glasgow's own Tom Harris, plus Kerry McCarthy and Paul Flynn. News of the campaign flew around the net (just google it) but sadly the Mainstream Media didn't pick up on it, though I rather think they won't pick up on much we have to say or do until we have some sort of electoral presence.

Anyhoo, November 5th became Liberty Day, and on top of the 1984 campaign, some of our members, and some non-members, went on a little jaunt to Downing Street dressed all funny, and got stopped and searched by a squadron of PCSO's and Policemen - you can view the excellent photos from the day here.

It is things like this that make me think we, and the libertarian ideals, may have a future - the idea that you own yourself, that you are sovereign, and that you should be given the freedom to make the choices that affect you - not government bureaucrats - in what you consume, what you spend your own money on, what you do, how you look, and so on and so forth, provided you do not harm the reciprocal rights of others.

But it's not easy for the LPUK at the moment. We're, comparatively speaking, tiny. A few grand in the kitty - barely enough to run a Westminster or Holyrood by-election campaign. Our membership, though it has been increasing steadily, has not risen at a pace some of us had perhaps hoped. On the media front, as I've alluded to it has been slim pickings for us. Alex Singleton at The Telegraph dismissed us as "undermining liberty", but what is it that they say about all publicity? Some of our leadership have been involved in a few radio interviews, and one televised debate on Sky News, all of which you can browse here, and the claim to fame of yours truly was my published letter on behalf of the Party in my local paper back home. We've also had a few stalled attempts at election campaigns, but now I've think we know what we're doing on that front, and we plan to stand candidates in local elections later this year - and, if Big Brown deigns it fit sometime this year that democratic mandates should come before his "long-term vision", perhaps in a general election too.

As the Beatles were fond of saying, it's a "long and winding road, tha-at leads, to your door (Gordon)." Who on Earth can possibly say if we'll ever get there? On Yahoo Political Q&A forums, someone posed the question, no idea who:

"Do you think the UK Libertarian Party will get very far?

I mean, they are in favour of free immigration. Isn't that something
the island doesn't need. Already, people are saying that too many people are
moving to Britain. Wouldn't that go against the libertarian party?"

To which one person replied: "No, I don't think so."

Oh well.

But funnily enough, our immigration policy is one that seems to have disgruntled a few, as although for us the end-game is an open borders policy, we currently favour a points-based system until the welfare state is overhauled. For this, we've been dubbed "ex-BNP members in disguise", "scum", "closet racists in denial", and "patently NOT Libertarian."

Which illustrates rather neatly that you cannot please everyone, and certainly not every Libertarian - I think the formation of the Party in the first place was a monumental achievement, as Libertarians are renowned for being notoriously difficult to organise. "Herding cats" is, I believe, the common meme. We have our Randians, or Rights Theorists, our Consequentialist Minarchists, our Republicans, our Monarchists, our Anarchists, our kind-of-Lib-Dem-supporters, our pro-choicers, our anti-abortionists, our lefty-libertarians and our righty-libertarians, and probably plenty more I've neglected to mention. But such is LPUK life.

All this said, it was a good year for us. A long, hard year, yes, but I think we're all thoroughly enjoying ourselves - when we're not undergoing one of our periodic bouts of anxiety at the state of the nation. Our last meeting was our AGM in York, which was a fun affair - a constitutional amendement there, a speech here, and then a long stop-off in the pub afterwards, where it emerged that our Party Leader, eloquent and passionate though he may be, is no pool shark - I slaughtered him on the pool table.

What's ahead for Scottish Libertarians? Well hopefully, as The Joker put it, "there's a lot of potential for aggressive expansion." I hope to get us registered as an official regional branch of LPUK in the coming months, and to increase membership, continue to try and establish the blog, and engage in debate with people across the political spectrum. I'm under no illusions that libertarianism has a particularly wide audience in Scotland at present, but it would to change that, even incrementally. In the short-term, watch this space for posts on, among other things, a proposed meet-up for Scottish Libertarians, probably in Edinburgh, and probably sometime in February, and also a post or two on the incoming Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill in Scotland - I received some generously informative e-mails from Consenting Adults Action Network (CAAN) on passages in the Bill concerning extreme pornography that seem distinctly unreasonable and authoritarian.

In the meantime, if you support us but aren't yet a member, hell, why not gies us yer tenner and join? I can do with all the help I can get!

Join LPUK link

Or if you fancy helping boost our funds, hell, feel free!

Donate to LPUK link

Onwards to 2009!

Dan Vevers

Scottish Libertarians