Saturday, 11 November 2017

These Islands

It's a while since I've posted on here - my day job sometimes has to be allowed to take over my life. One extracurricular thing I have found time to work on - very much in the spirit of this blog - is a forum called These Islands. I have agreed to Chair the organisation and we launched in London and Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago. For those interested the full text of the speech I gave at the launch events is up on the These Islands website and copied below.


These Islands came about because a group of us were drawn together, first by a shared sense of frustration, but then by a shared sense of opportunity.

Through both the Scottish Independence and EU referendums we were frustrated with the poor quality of political debate and – particularly during the Scottish Independence referendum – we were disappointed with the lack of a well-articulated positive case for the United Kingdom. One of our Advisory Council members, Professor Nigel Biggar, sums this up rather well when he refers to the “faltering inarticulacy” of those trying to explain what the United Kingdom is good for.

But we recognised that this was at least in part because the white heat of a referendum campaign isn’t the time to start making what are often subtle, emotional and nuanced arguments – arguments that take time to develop, rehearse and share, and that need to be allowed to sink in to the wider public consciousness.

That’s when we stopped asking why others weren’t doing a better job of leading this debate, and started asking ourselves why we shouldn’t do it. That’s when our frustration turned to a sense of opportunity, when the idea for These Islands was born.

As an entrepreneurial businessman I’ve learnt to try and surround myself with people smarter than I am. By working with co-founders Tom Holland and Professor Ali Ansari, I had achieved that on day one – and together we set out to recruit an Advisory Council to help us.

We wanted to bring together a group who would represent all four nations of the UK and bring a wide variety of perspectives – including from outside the UK. We were overwhelmed with the response we received. As you can now see on our website, our advisory council of 33 members features not just some of the finest academic minds in the UK, but leading business people, representatives of multicultural Britain, great communicators, and passionate campaigners.

What you might notice missing from our advisory council is serving politicians. This was an explicit decision – the three peers we have on our Advisory Council are cross-bench peers. We made this choice because we believe we have to be above party politics, that this is a cause that needs to think beyond electoral cycles. The subject we’re dealing with here – the very future of the United Kingdom – is frankly too important to be left to politicians alone.

So how do we intend to harness the power of this group, what are our ambitions?

To capture this in a phrase: These Islands is a forum for debate which stands unabashedly for the view that more unites the people of the United Kingdom than divides them. In practice this means we want to stimulate and steer a positive national debate, something we aim to do initially through publishing a series of Briefings and Papers.

Briefings will be short, factual pieces, aimed at ensuring that any debate is well-informed. If you like, these will be our attempt to fight the tide of “fake news” and misinformation.

Papers will be more substantial and – critically – contributed to and peer reviewed by our advisory council. I’ve had the privilege of chairing three advisory council meetings to date and I can assure you: that process works.

The papers will be around three broad themes.

Firstly we aim to explore the Moral case. Many flinch at the use of the word “moral”, but we don’t think we should. Our first published paper – by Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Christ Church, Oxford University – does an excellent job of confronting the moral question head on when it asks: What is the United Kingdom Good For? I urge you all to read it.

Secondly we want to discuss the Multicultural case. The United Kingdom has allowed four separate national identities not just to survive but to thrive within it. That is surely something to be celebrated. But beyond that, these islands have a proud history of welcoming immigration. Some of the strongest senses of British identity are to be found among the UK’s ethnic minorities. These plural or hyphenated identities – British-Asian, British-Muslim, British-Caribbean, British-European – stand testament to the fact that “Britishness” can be a truly multicultural form of identity. We think that’s a fact that’s worth recognising and celebrating.

Our third main theme is the Economic case. The order of these themes is not an accident. Too often the economic case is presented as somehow distinct from the moral and multicultural cases – as the rational case that stands apart from the emotional. The truth is that the economic case only exists because of the moral and multicultural cases. Our widely shared commitment to economic pooling and sharing is the practical manifestation of what might be termed an “implicit moral contract”: that wherever you live in the UK, wherever you come from, whatever your heritage, you should be entitled to certain standards of healthcare, of education, and of welfare. So while we will explore the economic practicalities of how our constitutional settlements work, we want to place this in a wider context, to make it about more than just “putting a pound sign in front of everything”.

There are other themes we’ll explore – how best to care for the wildlife of these islands, for example – but our three core themes will be moral, multicultural, and economic.

Finally, it’s worth adding that our approach is not one of uncritical cheerleaders for the United Kingdom, as defenders of the status quo. We recognise that the UK needs to continually evolve, that problems exist that need to be addressed, and that we have to react to the changing world around us.

So that is how we come to be here and broadly what we aim to achieve. But we will fail if we are not heard, if we don’t succeed in stimulating a quality debate. That is our challenge – and why we hope to engage the interest of opinion formers and thought leaders like many of you in this room.


Please visit These Islands to learn more


Anonymous said...

Well done Kevin. Penicillin for the virus unscrupulous separatism that has infected our politics.

Alastair McIntyre said...

I really hope you will explore all the organisations that Britain is part of around the world which might be termed as our "soft power". And certainly we need to look at the Commonwealth as part of a future Britain.

Hope this works out for you.


Glenn Middleton said...

You cannot make the case for Scottish Independence, because the numbers don't add up. The SNP couldn't be honest as to the cost of setting up an independent Scotland.

Who is really willing to pay the billions to set up an independent Scotland?

Scotland like the rest of the UK, has to wake up to a problem, the loss of jobs to automation,by 2030 it is estimated nearly 1.2 million jobs could disappear, if that is the case, any independent Scotland would be doomed to fail

Drew said...

Interesting work Kevin and I'll be following with interest.

For me, the paradox that lies behind the UK is whether we want to be an ethical and moral force for good in the world committed to peace and protecting the global environment or whether we want to continue to be a highly advanced, leading economic and military power in the world, enjoying the same production and consumption of depleting natural resources.

It is very difficult to achieve both at the same time.

For Scotland, our part of the bargain is we enjoy higher spending for public services and a better standard of living than if we were independent, as part of the UK.

In return the UK gets from Scotland full military and strategic control of the whole of the landmass of the main islands of Britain, which gives the UK reach into the North Atlantic and makes up the GI-UK Gap region, vital to NATO protecting the region from Russian naval and air interests.

As a result we allow the MOD to use large parts of our countryside and marine environment for basing not just the nuclear weapons but also testing and practising conventional weapons with live ammunition, both below and above the surface and into the wider atmosphere.

The Holy Loch clean up operation and impact on the environment when the Americans left was significant and our own armed forces have a much bigger footprint in Scotland, with the MOD as one of the biggest landowners here.