Dissenting Radical

The Common Good: A 'Christian-Left' perspective on radical theology, progressive politics, authentic culture and sustainable living.

Month: January, 2017

Conservatives against Trump

Where are the real conservatives? I’m not a conservative (as I’ve posted here), but there used to be – on both sides of the Atlantic – a moderate, pragmatic conservatism that one could at least understand and respect.

Those conservatives really thought that they were upholding traditions, institutions and values that were important, that contributed in some way to the maintenance of a society that – if not good, exactly – was at least broadly acceptable and better than untried alternatives. They had a certain sense of public duty, integrity, responsibility and decorum.

They were even willing to make reforms – incremental, cautious ones, but reforms nevertheless – in response to real public grievances, because their interest was in maintaining the whole, not in squeezing every drop of out the economy or the planet and then watching society go down in flames. 

But where did these people go?

In America, it’s not enough for Democrats, hipsters, college kids, feminists and minorities to oppose Trump – there are just not enough of them, and they occupy only half of the conversation. The Republicans need to find the sense and the courage to oppose him too.

If conservatism as a mindset and ideology has anything of value to contribute to public debate, it is its insistence on the need for wise, competent and responsible leadership, acting through stable, lawful, established institutions. Trump is the antithesis of all that. His volatile temper, rapacious appetites, crass populism and petty hunger for revenge all make him the very opposite of the conservative archetype of a good leader.

Its time for the tweedy, old fashioned rich white men to take a stand.

Scotland’s European Futures: Mapping the Alternatives

A Guest Post by Derick Tulloch

The Scottish Government has correctly focused on single market membership. The absolute red line is EEA membership. And that can be achieved either by full EU membership or via EFTA

It’s worth separating this into 4 strands.

1 what is the preferred outcome?

Personally that is EEA membership. Not bothered by which route.

Achievable by either staying in the EU, joining EFTA or EFTA first then EU after a vote.

2 What is the easiest and most practical to achieve?

Depends on whether the EU is prepared to state openly that we would remain a member in advance of any vote. And on the attitude of 27 states + several devolved regions, all of whom have a veto.

Inherently easier to agree with 4 in EFTA than 30. Scottish EFTA membership would strengthen that organisation without overwhelming it. So there are advantages for them.

On the other hand, we have friends in high places in the EU.

3 What route is least able to be influenced and sabotaged by rUK?

Particularly politically. Perception is paramount. ‘Spain will veto EU membership’. ‘EU won’t negotiate with a non-independent nation”. “Scotland’s deficit is too high for EU membership”. Like it or not those slogans have traction with waverers, even through they are lies.

No Spanish veto over EFTA membership!

4 Last but not least. What is likely to garner the most support for Yes?

Would 33% Yes/EU membership folk go for EFTA first, at least as a step towards full membership? We need to find out.

The 11% Yes/Leave EU would grab it.

If so that’s 44% right there.

And the 2014 No/EU folk? Attract half of them and we’d start the campaign well over 50%

Everyone knows the polls haven’t changed because the 11% or so No to Yes have been balanced by 12% 2014 Yes/Leave moving to No. We need the lowest risk compromise that brings those folk back on side. Plus something attractive to those who currently want both EU and UK membership.


In 2016 I took a bit of an intellectual break from the study of constitutions. I mean, it was still my profession, but I deliberately chose, for one year, not to make it my hobby and my obsession as well. For the first time since 2007, I did not have either a PhD thesis or a book project on the go. Instead, I spent my spare time cultivating other hobbies and interests instead, like building my model railway. If I did any reading outside of work, it was mostly leisure reading that was, at most, only tangentially related to my subject. And of course, I spent much of 2016 dealing with the baby, and much of my mental space has been occupied by baby-related things.

But 2016 is over, and if we learnt anything from it, it is that the principles and foundations of democratic constitutionalism are under some stress, even in what we thought were established and staple democracies. While I sympathise to a great extent with those populists who are angry at the failure of smug, corrupt, selfish, out-of-touch elites, I’m worried about the dangers of authoritarian demagoguery. Real constitutional democracy – not crass populism, its cheap counterfeit – is needed now more than ever.

I have also become convinced that in order to save and strengthen constitutional democracy, we need to go deeper than we have in the last 30 years. We are not living in the 1990s anymore, where we can assume that there is a harmonious and uncomplicated relationship between economic liberalism and democracy; indeed, the two are now in great tension, and that tension is exacerbated by social, cultural and technological changes – not to mention climatic and demographic changes – that are putting great stress on democratic systems. The restoration and renewal of constitutional democracy may require far more than just institutional tinkering: it may require us to consider how to reinforce the moral, ethical, cultural and material foundations on which we seek to build a democratic state.

So my resolution in 2017 is to undertake my next book project. This will be my fourth book about constitutional matters, but my first not to have a Scottish focus. Instead, it deals with constitutions more generally, examining through a series of historical case studies why we have them, what they do, why they matter, and how they interact with political, legal and socio-economic realities.