We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Why has devolution not worked in a liberal direction?

Reading this Samizdata quote of the day got me thinking about why devolution in the UK has been a general disappointment and source of endless annoyance.

I remember when arguments were originally made for devolution, commentators would claim that devolution would work in the same way that the federal structure of the US works, or, for that matter, how the cantonal system works in Switzerland. By which they meant that if a state such as Zug in Switzerland or Wisconsin in the US tried a specific policy (encouraging cryptos, or enacting Workfare, to take two actual examples), that the perceived success or failure of these policies would be studied by other cantons and states. Hence the idea that devolution allows a sort of “laboratory experiment” of policy to take place. It creates a virtuous kind of competition. That’s the theory.

What seems to have happened is that since devolution in the UK, Scotland, Wales and to some extent, Northern Ireland, have competed with England in who can be the most statist, authoritarian and in general, be the biggest set of fools. Whether it is 20 mph speed limits spreading to many places and harsh lockdowns (Wales) or minimum pricing on booze and “snitching” on your own family for views about gender (Scotland), the Celtic fringe appears to be more interested in being more oppressive, rather than less. I cannot think of a single issue in which the devolved governments of the UK have been more liberal, and more respectful, of liberty under the rule of law. (Feel free to suggest where I am mistaken.)

One possible problem is that because the UK’s overall government holds considerable budgetary power, the devolved bits of the UK don’t face the consequences of feckless policy to the extent necessary to improve behaviour.

Even so, I don’t entirely know why the Scots and Welsh have taken this turn and I resist the temptation to engage in armchair culture guessing about why they tend to be more collectivist at present. It was not always thus. Wales has been a bastion of a kind of liberalism, fused to a certain degree with non-conformity in religion, and Scotland had both the non-conformist thing, and the whole “enlightment” (Smith, Hume, Ferguson, etc) element. At some point, however, that appears to have stopped. Wales became a hotbed of socialism in the 20th century, in part due to the rise of organised labour in heavy industry, and then the whole folklore – much of it sentimental bullshit – about the great achievements in healthcare of Nye Bevan. Scotland had its version of this, plus the resentments about Mrs Thatcher and the decline of Scotland as a manufacturing power.

I like visiting Wales – I went to Anglesey last weekend and loved it – and the same goes for Scotland. I can only go on personal observations in saying that I enjoy my trips there, and I have some family links to Scotland on my mother’s side. (My wife has some links to Wales.). But for whatever reason, the political culture of both places is, to varying degrees, absolutely horrible.

Maybe the “test lab” force of devolution will play a part in demonstrating that, as and when we get a Labour government for the whole of the UK, it will be a shitshow on a scale to put what has happened in the Celtic parts of the UK in the shade.

Samizdata quote of the day – Rishi Sunak’s Big Plan

That’s why I hate “devolution” and wish that a Conservative government had had the balls to roll it back. But I might as well want a pet unicorn as hope for any vision from a Conservative politician. All we get is a smoking ban and compulsory maths till 18. That’s Rishi Sunak’s Big Plan.


“At about midnight, I got a knock on the door”

This is not a quote about life under a Communist or Fascist regime. It is about life in Exeter University in 2018.

I heard about this story from an article by Sanchez Manning in the Mail on Sunday:

A philosophy student overheard through the wall of his room saying ‘veganism is wrong’ and ‘gender fluidity is stupid’ was threatened with expulsion by his university, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Robert Ivinson said he was disciplined after a student next door in halls of residence at Exeter University heard the comments then complained he had been offensive and ‘transphobic’.

Mr Ivinson, who expressed the views in a phone call to a friend, was hauled before university officials and put on a ‘behavioural contract’ for the rest of his studies.

This video made by the Committee for Academic Freedom shows Robert Ivinson giving his own account of what happened.

Mr Ivinson acknowledges that a legitimate part of the complaint against him was that he was speaking too loudly in the phone call in question so that noise was coming through the wall. However he says that the university hearing refused to separate the issues of him making too much noise and what he said in a private conversation being deemed offensive.

Though Mr Ivinson appears perfectly reasonable, indeed likeable, in his video, I would like to believe that there is something missing from his account – because I do not want to believe that a British university can have fallen so far from what a university is meant to be. The Mail on Sunday article says “Exeter University was approached for comment but did not respond.” I shall be most interested to see what the University’s response turns out to be.

It gets cold in rural Scotland and there are often power cuts. Tough.

Andy Wightman describes himself as a vegan who drives an electric car, does not fly, and lives much of the time off-grid using solar power and wood fuel. In this article in the Scottish current affairs magazine Holyrood, bearing the title “Why the ‘ban’ on wood-burning stoves ignores the needs of rural Scotland”, he writes,

Since 1 April, it is no longer permissible to install a direct-emission heating system (one which produces more than a negligible level of greenhouse-gas emissions) in a new-build house or conversion. This is a ban on oil, coal, gas and wood-based heating systems.

But in response to a fair degree of upset from across rural Scotland in recent weeks at this apparent ban – however partial – on wood-burning stoves, ministers were at pains to point out that this was not, in fact, a ban. Why?

Because, according to the Scottish Government, they can still be installed in new homes to provide emergency heating. The government claims that this concession “recognises the unique needs of Scotland’s rural communities”. The problem with this sophistry is that the Building (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2023 define emergency heating as an installation to be used only in the event of the failure of the main heating system.

So people can install wood-burning stoves at a cost of anything between £5,000 and £10,000 to be used for a few days per year and, therefore, it’s not a ban.

He then discusses some of the reasons why even very environmentally conscious people who live in the remoter areas of Scotland might want to heat their houses using wood-burning stoves, and continues,

It is, in fact, how I want to heat a house I am in the process of building myself. After a lot of careful consideration, I decided to install a log-gasification boiler as the main heating system. Such boilers are more than 90 per cent efficient, they feed a very large accumulator tank of hot water, and only need to be fired up every two to four days.

The wood will come from thinning from a forest that I manage locally, cut with a solar-powered chainsaw. There is no market for this kind of low-quality timber from small woods. If I cannot use it for heat, it will lie and rot – and produce carbon emissions – on the forest floor. The fuel wood will emit two per cent of the carbon being absorbed annually by the forest from which it is sourced.

The house design is rated B for energy efficiency (falling short of A by only two points) and is rated A for carbon emissions. I have planning consent and I even have a grant and loan offer from the Scottish Government to install the boiler.

Due to technical issues, however, I have yet to submit the final application for a building warrant. This will now as a matter of law be refused and I will incur the expense of revising the planning permission, commissioning new engineering assessments, and preparing a revised building-warrant application. I will also need to reject the grant and loan offer.

If you live in Edinburgh or Glasgow, however, you can still install a wood-burning stove even where you don’t need one and even when it contributes to significant levels of particulate matter pollution. In rural Scotland, you can live in or near a forest, perhaps off grid, but you are not allowed to use what is still a renewable low-carbon fuel when appropriately sourced and combusted.

The Metropolitan Police would like to apologise for the wording of their previous apology for threatening to arrest a man for being “openly Jewish” near pro-Palestinian demonstrators

Courtesy of the Telegraph, here is the video of a policeman warning a man that being “openly Jewish” in the vicinity of pro-Palestinians was “antagonising”. The Daily Mail has a pretty good account of the affair here.

I can feel a smidgen of sympathy for the cop. It was, as the Metropolitan Police say in their apology for the wording of their previous apology, a “hugely regrettable” choice of words, and typical of the abandonment of policing without fear or favour when it comes to Muslims, whom they fear and favour, but people talking under stress often do use words they later regret.

I feel no such sympathy for Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, the person wrote the first apology. He was not on the street trying to think on his feet while being shouted at. He was sitting in an office with time to choose his words. The words he chose were these.

The video posted by the Campaign Against Antisemitism will further dent the confidence of many Jewish Londoners which is the opposite of what any of us want.

Bad Campaign Against Antisemitism for posting the video that dented the confidence of many Jewish Londoners by making them aware of something that actually happened!

Assistant Commissioner Twist continues,

The use of the term “openly Jewish” by one of our officers is hugely regrettable. It is absolutely not the basis on which we make decisions, it was a poor choice of words and while not intended, we know it will have caused offence to many. We apologise.

The issues at the heart of these protests are complex, contentious and polarising. When the challenges of public order policing are layered on top it becomes a very difficult environment for frontline officers to work in.

In recent weeks we’ve seen a new trend emerge, with those opposed to the main protests appearing along the route to express their views. The fact that those who do this often film themselves while doing so suggests they must know that their presence is provocative, that they’re inviting a response and that they’re increasing the likelihood of an altercation.

Consider those words “their presence is provocative, that they’re inviting a response”. What do they teach at Hendon Police College nowadays? Because three decades of universal condemnation of the phrase “she was asking for it” and the mindset behind it have clearly had no effect.

They are also making it much more likely officers will intervene. They don’t do so to stifle free speech or to limit the right to protest, but to keep opposing groups apart, to prevent disorder and keep the public – including all those taking part in or opposing the protest – safe. That is, after all, our primary role.

It is up to us to review these interventions and to determine whether we are getting the balance right, adapting our approach as we do so and making sure officers are supported to make the right decisions using all the powers available to the. We will continue to do so following this most recent protest and ahead of future events.

Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist.

Samizdata quote of the day – 1945 in reverse?

The result is that American public debate has shifted in a way that has taken America’s allies – and many Americans themselves – by surprise. The public takes peace for granted. “To some extent we are paying the price for our own success. In several generations now we have not had to deal with certain types of situations, or only very narrow slices of generations have had to deal with them since we’ve eliminated the draft. And so increasingly America is just in a very different place psychologically,” says Dr Haass.

In other words, Trumpism will not die with Trump, argues Mr Arnold, and betting British security on 300,000 swing voters every four years is not a viable long term policy.

“Trump is unpredictable. As military people say, hope cannot be part of the strategy. We have to understand there is a risk and we need to be ready for this risk,” says Mr Zagorodnyuk.

“And as such we need to understand what we are going to do to be self-sufficient. And it is actually possible. It is difficult but it is possible, especially with this massive technical transformation of the landscape of the world.”

Roland Oliphant

The placard was right

When I saw the headline of this article in the Independent, “Sending climate protesters to prison shows the law is an ass”, which you can also read on MSN here, I put the ignition key in the snark machine.

I read the strapline “A pensioner is facing two years in jail for holding a placard outside a court. It is a worrying case that casts a shadow over our jury system of justice”, said, “Yeah, right”, and turned the key.

I saw that it was by Alan Rusbridger, former editor of the Guardian, and powered up the mighty engines.

I read the following, “Trudi Warner is, in many ways, an unlikely rebel. The 69-year-old former child mental health social worker is, in her retirement, a keen organic grower, and last year spent part of the year looking after sheep on the Isle of Eigg” and, toes twitching with anticipation, moved my foot over the go-pedal. Far from being an “unlikely rebel” Trudi Warner is as conventional a rebel as ever picked a caterpillar off an organic lettuce and took it out to start a new life in the garden. I was about to push the pedal to the metal when…

I realised that Alan Rushbridger was right.

I had been waiting for the half-line in the eleventh paragraph where this “lovable pensioner” was revealed to have harassed travellers or vandalised a work of art. It never came. Trudi Warner really is being prosecuted solely for standing outside a court and holding up a placard saying,



That’s it. That’s all she did; hold up that placard near a courtroom. And as Mr Rushbridger says, the statement on her placard correctly states a precedent that goes back to a famous case of 1670, in which a jury stubbornly refused to convict two Quaker preachers of preaching to an unlawful assembly despite being imprisoned for two days without food.

One may or may not agree with Trudi Warner’s opinions on the “climate crisis” (I do not), but it is bizarre that reminding jurors of what was once a revered legal principle should become a crime merely because the reminder took place near a courtroom, the very place where such a reminder is most necessary.

Since a reminder evidently is necessary to the legal authorities, here is a picture of the plaque in the Old Bailey commemorating that case:

Photo credit: Paul Clarke, Wikimedia Commons

The plaque says,

Near this Site WILLIAM PENN and WILLIAM MEAD were tried in 1670 for preaching to an unlawful assembly in Grace Church Street This tablet Commemorates The courage and endurance of the Jury Thos Vere, Edward Bushell and ten others who refused to give a verdict against them, although locked up without food for two nights, and were fined for their final verdict of Not Guilty The case of these Jurymen was reviewed on a writ of Habeas Corpus and Chief Justice Vaughan delivered the opinion of the Court which established The Right of Juries to give their Verdict according to their Convictions

46% of British Muslims say they sympathise with Hamas

“Only one in four British Muslims believe Hamas committed murder and rape in Israel, report reveals”, reports the Telegraph.

Only one in four British Muslims believe that Hamas committed murder and rape in Israel on Oct 7, a major report has found.

46 per cent of British Muslims said they sympathise with Hamas, according to a poll commissioned by the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), a counter-extremism think-tank.

Later in the article Fiyaz Mughal, who has done as much as anyone alive to work against Muslim extremism, is quoted as saying, “The Government has got to provide better guidance for teachers, schools and education establishments.” He is not wrong as far as it goes but I don’t think sending even a really super government guidance circular to education establishments is going to be much help now:

Younger and well-educated Muslims were the most likely to think Hamas did not commit atrocities on Oct 7, with the proportions rising to 47 per cent among 18 to 24-year-olds and 40 per cent among the university-educated.


An Excel table giving the full results of the polling carried out by J.L. Partners for the Henry Jackson Society can be downloaded from this link. Two polls were conducted, one of British Muslims over the period 14th February – 12th March 2024 and one of the British public in general over 4th – 6th March 2024.

Samizdata quote of the day – we are inching towards totalitarianism

Somehow we have arrived at a place that the West never expected to inhabit. A generation after the collapse of the most powerful totalitarian regime in modern history, the “free world” has apparently lost its grip on the relationship between moral values and political decisions which was once its greatest strength.

The idea had seemed to win out against all the odds: that a government could uphold fundamental first principles of justice, liberty and the authority of the law while still responding realistically to changes in popular opinion and social conditions. This was a truly miraculous understanding of the relationship between morality and politics and, difficult as it might have been to manage, it seemed to deliver the life most people wanted.

It’s hard to believe but we might be witnessing the end of it.

Janet Daly (£)

Samizdata quote of the day – Useless Scottish Conservatives edition

This [Tory] weakness and mealy-mouthed reluctance to hit back at legislation that Rowling has described as ‘ludicrous’ and many believe is the most dangerous threat to free speech ever enacted in the UK, is as puzzling as it is maddening. There is surely a great opportunity here for the Scottish Conservatives, if only they could grasp it. The Tories should be at the forefront of the opposition, not loitering in the shadows. And some sort of clear and robust opposition is desperately needed. No one yet knows what the immediate or long-term effects of the Act will be, but the options appear to be bad, awful and downright terrifying. While the police have now said they will not prosecute Rowling following a deluge of complaints against her, they will certainly have a much-expanded workload for years to come. That means they will likely have to give up on even more of the common variety of crime. And they only recently declared that they would not be investigating allegations of wrongdoing without leads or CCTV footage available.

Philip Patrick

Maybe the Tories think they can outsource civil liberties protection to the writer of children’s books and a comedian. Perhaps it is for the best.

Free speech in the UK – a proposal from the Adam Smith Institute

Adam Smith, the Scottish intellectual figure most famous for his Wealth of Nations (1776) book, would, I like to think, have been deeply unamused by the abominations coming from the Scottish Parliament in recent times. The Adam Smith Institute, the UK think tank bearing the great doctor’s name, writes the following article. I pray the indulgence of the reader, and ASI, in quoting the article in full. I hope that this appalling Scottish piece of legislation fails, that those who seek to enforce it are humiliated and mocked.

Three and a half years ago, the ASI published a position paper and draft law proposing a “UK Free Speech Act” which would, if enacted, forever remove the regulation of nonviolent political discussion from the remit of law enforcement in the United Kingdom.

The censorship provisions of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 (the “Hate Crime Act”), entering into force this week, are deeply offensive to freedom of expression, and the only way to stop them is to implicitly repeal these new rules with UK-wide protection for freedom of speech.

The Hate Crime Act contains three provisions in particular – “aggravation of offences by prejudice,” “racially aggravated harassment” and “stirring up hatred” – which are, at least as-described, descriptions of the sort of speech that most members of polite society would rightly oppose as a personal, moral matter.

However, if we look at the substance of the language employed by the new laws and its derivation from similar, viewpoint-neutral English rules – in the case of the stirring-up offence and the “racially aggravated harassment” offences, the “alarm or distress” language from the English Public Order Act 1986, and in the case of the stirring-up offence only, the historic “threatening, abusive, or insulting” language from that same law – we know that these rules have proven capable of extremely overbroad application in England, and these new rules will prove just as terrible, if not more so, if allowed to stand in Scotland.

The position, outlined in a 2020 paper for the ASI, and the applicable English legal rules, remains entirely unchanged. It suffices for present purposes to note that existing English laws, which are nowhere near as intrusive as the new Scottish ones, have already been used in England to, variously:

· threaten a schoolboy with prosecution for nonviolently holding up a sign calling the Church of Scientology a dangerous cult;

· arrest republican protestors in the vicinity of King Charles’ coronation for nonviolent picketing;

· convict a protestor for nonviolently saying David Cameron had “blood on his hands” for cutting disability benefit at an event where the then-PM was speaking;

· convict protestors against the war in Iraq for nonviolently expressing their points of view in front of soldiers of the British Army returning home from that war;

· arrest students for nonviolently saying “woof” to a dog;

· arrest a woman for nonviolently praying silently; and

· arrest a preacher for nonviolently reading from the Bible, in public, verbatim.

The existing rules should have been repealed years ago, but few UK lawyers, being unaccustomed to an American perspective on free speech jurisprudence and thus unable to see that the frog was starting to boil, seemed to notice very much as the English judiciary lost its way after issuing its landmark, pro-free speech decision of Redmond-Bate [1999] EWHC Admin 733. In a few short years, the English courts went from protecting controversial speech to routinely acquiescing to the criminalization of what, pre-1999 at least, would have been entirely lawful, if somewhat controversial, expression (see: Norwood v DPP [2003] EWHC 1564, Manchester Crown Court ex parte McCann [2002] UKHL 39 and Abdul v. DPP [2011] EWHC 247).

The provisions of Article 10 of the European Convention concerning freedom of expression, enshrined in domestic law by the UK Human Rights Act, are little better than window-dressing. They have been of no assistance whatsoever in protecting English speakers of controversial ideas since that law’s enactment; indeed, the Human Rights Act may have harmed the cause of free speech in the country by formalising the broad derogations from that right permitted under Article 10(2) which have been abused, time and again, to stifle discourse.

Put another way, our experience with the English rules, in particular the Public Order Act 1986 but also the Malicious Communications Act 1988, and Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, is that their application, especially in the last 25 years, has been subjective, unpredictable, inconsistent, politically-motivated, sometimes capricious, and thoroughly chilling to speech.

The Scottish law turbocharges all of these problems by abandoning viewpoint-neutrality and expressly targeting “culture war” issues around questions of identity within the four corners of the statute. This is particularly the case when we look at the “aggravation of offences by prejudice” law, which states that age, disability, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, and transgender identity are all to be considered when sentencing people in Scotland for criminal offences.

The problem with this, of course, is that merely talking about these issues and causing offence is already capable of constituting a crime under the Public Order Act 1986, both in England and in Scotland, and the Public Order Act was being abused in both England and Scotland to suppress speech even before the Hate Crime Act entered into force.

Only last month transgender activists sought to have J.K. Rowling arrested there after English prosecutors declined to prosecute her for prior “gender critical” remarks. The Hate Crime Act now requires Scottish judges to take into account Rowling’s motivations when judging her speech, which we think would be fairly described as emanating from the identitarian, and therefore definitionally “prejudicial,” ideology known as second-wave feminism, and would require, in a Public Order Act 1986 prosecution for those feminist remarks, for a Scottish judge to consider a sentencing enhancement.

It makes no sense to criminalise these conversations. Indeed it makes sense to expressly legalise them, given that national politics seems, increasingly, to cluster around identity issues and, in a democratic society, require their open discussion in order for these disputes around the proper ordering of society to be satisfactorily resolved.

On the gender theory question, in particular, the debate seems to be between, on one side, critical theory-informed intersectional activists who seek to view all power relationships through the lens of what they call immutable characteristics, and on the other, we see a coalition of classical liberals and religiously-minded traditionalists from the usual suspects like the Catholic Church but also newly aggrieved groups such as traditionalist Muslim parents of schoolchildren. As the fact that the Prime Minister himself felt the need to chime in on these matters this week plainly evidences, identity issues, whether we like it or not, now sit squarely at the centre of contemporary UK political discourse.

We take no view on the merits of either “side” here, because taking a viewpoint does not matter and, in any case, is inadvisable, to the extent anyone here at the Institute plans on ever setting foot in Scotland again. This is because it is now quite unsafe, legally speaking, to take a vigorously-defended public position on these questions in Scotland from any perspective, as long as there is a hearer who is offended enough to file a police report against the hearer’s perceived political enemies, or calculating enough to pretend to be so offended.

To see how the Hate Crime Act potentially cuts in all directions, we need look no further than criminal complaints which have already been made under the new law. See, for example, the fact that Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf, the law’s primary advocate and promoter, was immediately reported by the Indian Council of Scotland to the police for thoughtcrime contained in a speech he himself delivered in Scottish Parliament in 2023 as soon as the Hate Crime Act entered into force. Under the new regime, even the First Minister will need to take care not to express those same thoughts in the same manner again.

There are not many reasonable people who wish to live in a country where the first response to any political disagreement is to call for a speaker’s arrest. Nonviolent speech should never warrant a violent response. Yet, as was proven on day 1 of this new law, we already see that the Scottish law will be used, and is being used, to call down state-sanctioned violence, namely arrests and imprisonment, to suppress broad swathes of viewpoints from all political quarters.

To the few back-benchers who are engaged by this pertinent issue: This is the hill to die on. Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, has said he opposes the Scottish law.

Push the Prime Minister to back up that opposition with decisive action. Permanently abolish political censorship enforced at gunpoint. Enact the UK Free Speech Act.

So there you have it from the ASI. I endorse every word.

Samizdata quote of the day – has British conservatism lost its way? (Spoiler alert: yes)

First, we have got to a point where there is huge ideological flabbiness and confusion in the party. This stems ultimately from a lack of hard thinking. It has of course always been true, and famously, that the Conservative party is a broad church containing many different kinds of opinion. That is true, but it still can’t contain every kind of opinion. Traditionally, the Conservative Party has had within it a range of views on economic policy, from strongly free market to a softer bigger-state conservatism, but it was always anchored by a strong collective belief in the nation, in standing up for the United Kingdom, and in social conservatism. But this has changed in recent years. The accommodation to the trends of secular progressivism and liberalism, about which I shall say more in a moment, and the changes in the composition of the parliamentary party which this has entailed, have dragged the party to the left on social issues. There is now a strongly socially modernising wing within the Party which, at times, and on the fringe, veers into active support of “woke” values. So the Conservative Party is now all over the political spectrum, socially and economically. It is no longer sufficiently distinct from the Labour Opposition either economically or socially. No wonder strong conservatives are drifting away.

– Lord Frost, discussing has British conservatism lost its way?