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

1 comment:

Stuart Winton said...

Can't say I'm overkeen on your philosophy, but an articulate and compelling analysis nonetheless.

However, I can't see much electoral appeal in legalising drugs, whatever the rights and wrongs of the issue.