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I am wondering, especially at this late stage, if it is worth asking people to register to vote. I always have in the back of my mind, for example, the anarchist types who don’t really agree with the state, think voting is a waste of time, and think direct action will do more good (if at all). I can sympathise with those people. In a way I can sympathise with those people who find the whole thing terribly confusing, or are sick of the whole thing, but…

At the same time, it still seems important to have some influence in the way the government is pushing things. Not just Brexit. Whether we want to see most of our major institutions and public services privatised or shut down. Whether we want a system which is fundamentally set up for rich capitalists, depriving those at the bottom of a decent life (or any life) or everyone. Whether we want a government which, in the nicest possible language, seeks to control the internet and undermine some of our civil liberties… maybe. And so on.

Much is made of the younger generations being the least likely to want to vote and there is a big push by some to get them to do so. This isn’t entirely a bad idea, as it means governments care more about the people whom they can win votes off. So, you get the triple lock on pensions but 18-21 year olds can’t get housing benefit, and tuition fees are sky-high. For example.

So, I’m not going to tell you you must register to vote, but I will say this- take an interest in how things are run, and be willing to make a change if you can. Don’t just fall back on the old excuses of “it’s not worth it, it’s too confusing”- just take some time to research. Read the manifestoes. Go to a local hustings event. Don’t necessarily follow the news, as it can be biased, but it is probably better than watching stupid crap that clogs up the airwaves and bandwidth elsewhere. Or read up on alternative ideas of politics.

And if you are going to register to vote- do it soon, as you only have until midnight. You  can do it here:

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

Now, it’s easy to treat the mainstream media or some sections of it as some kind of whipping boy. Those on both sides who like to accuse the BBC of bias, to those on the left who like to go on about the demonizing antics of the Daily Fail Daily Mail or The Sun whilst those on the right do exactly the same with The Guardian. Or the more conspiracy minded types- or at least those who have no truck with the ruling establishment – who consider that the entire mainstream media are not to be trusted at all and prefer some alternative media source, however biased and full of “fake news”. After all, it can be pointed out that often the regular media has not been above reporting “fake news” in the past itself. (But it is not as if alternative media on t’internet is automatically more trustworthy. There is no such thing as a totally unbiased, trustworthy source- or nothing we can be 100% sure is.) Now, much as in the past I’ve liked the BBC, I myself have a long tradition of shouting at the radio with regularity every morning, over some line it wants to push, or the antics of interviewers wanting to push from interviewees the line they want (though politicians are often all too keen to make a speech).

There are a couple of things that have drawn my attention of late in the British news media, relating to certain things within government that are legally impossible. One: that the sitting Prime Minister, currently Theresa May, has the power still to call an early General Election. Ignoring quite clearly a little thing called the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011, which quite clearly aimed to put a stop to that and requiring a motion, passed by a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons for this to happen, otherwise Parliament would sit for a period of 5 years. The other, similar thing is that Scottish First Minister Nichola Sturgeon is capable of threatening us with another Scots independence referendum at the time this country (Britain as a whole) needs it the least, in the vain hope the EU will let them back in with open arms. But, of course, she cannot do this without approval from Westminster, and before Brexit is concluded, Mrs. May is firmly opposed to any such undertaking. (Occasionally Tories are not without sense.)

I wonder what to make of Lansman and Momentum [left-wing Labour Party affiliated movement formed in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s appontment as leader] trying to get endorsement from Unite and take over the Labour Party, (Certainly some on the left do not like Lansman and ilk who they feel have launched a coup within Momentum, but that is beside the point). Look at the way the media are treating it as a “secret plot”- all the more to sensationalise it and possibly demonise those on the radical left. Or there are those who try and point out that the media- even the Guardian- are out to get Corbyn. Certainly they seem to be distorting facts about even when he is competent, but it seems a lot is left to be desired even then. Yet it is worth pointing out that any organ of the establishment and capitalism is not exactly going to give too much real space to anything that looks like socialism. Too much of a threat, I suspect.

Those who seem more conservative or nationalist leaning also seem to suppose that within the media there is some kind of “liberal elite”, affiliated with Europe to such an extent that they are out to derail Brexit by all counts. Maybe so. But then maybe the blogosphere is quite capable of producing its own twaddle. I’ll deal with that another time.

And then we have the narratives surrounding right wing populism in general. Particularly with Trump. Is this the reaction of a disaffected white working class? Perhaps there is some truth in this. Well, with Trump, I’ve heard allegation that those on lower incomes (perhaps however disproportionately from ethnic minorities) tended to vote Clinton, and not forgetting this was hardly a democratic result given Clinton actually won the popular vote.

Of course with Trump, too, they obsess over his tweets, his antics, his personality flaws, and whether or not the Russians hacked the election as to his actla policies- in other words, what matters.

Back here, it gets me how so much attention is paid when it comes to things like Brexit on what I would consider disgraced political has-been like Tony Blair (less respectable elder statesman, more potential war criminal and in hindsight less saviour than real destroyer of Labour?) The establishment looks like it will prop up those in its own club.

And don’t get me started on the way the news media seems to give so much space to celebrity related stories, the royal family, the ongoing doping and other corruption scandals within the world of sport, and indeed sport in general. These things are peripheral to the real issues facing the world at present, some of which are completely ignored.

And how the terrorist threat seems to be magnified beyond all proportion, when cars probably kill far more people than terrorists. And as for state actors, their stupid wars, mismangement, public service cuts…

Of course many today decry the internet age, the financial unviability of news media, and how it means the death of good quality journalism in favour of talentless hacks. But even as a kid I recall hearing how journalists- and let’s not forget politicians- were among the less trusted professions even back in the ’90s, as far as the popular imagination is concerned. There has long been the fact of advertising pressure on commercial media, the clear division of  bias in most of the British press, and state powers leaning on the lot – including the supposedly unbiased public service BBC.

Whatever media one chooses to trust, we must always critically evaluate, fact check, and question whether there truly is such thing as an unbiased source. Ever.

Well, this post has been something of a stream of consciousness semi-rant, and more to do with politics again. But ne’er mind. Maybe one day I will add some variety to this blog again. But first, I must post something.

Before I aim one day (when I can a. be arsed and b. become somewhat more knowledgable on such matters, which I probably never will be enough) to write some long treatise on what would make the ideal democracy, perhaps it might be beneficial to share one or two thoughts.

And here is one. There are always some banging on about how this or that party or candidate is bad because they do not “listen to the people” or put into practice “the will of the people”, and conversely, some others are better because, finally, they are in fact doing that very thing. Of course, this is what is supposed to happen in a democracy, right? The actual people are more in touch with what their own needs are, and the realities on the ground, than a bunch of over-expensed career politicians who have spent very little time in the “real world”, you think, or even the would-be experts in their ivory towers. Right?

Except, as many critics point out, many people are not always as intelligent or well-informed on many issues, they may form views and make decisions based on blind ideology and received wisdom rather than actual rationality and facts, and so on. For some, this is a reason to either abandon or limit democracy in some way, or an argument for representative democracy so that those best able to make decisions and have the time to become informed will be able to do so. As long as, it is assumed, they are in some vague way generally following “the will of the people”.

It is my thought that sometimes, these detractors are true in their diagnosis, but not always in their cure. Representative “democracy” often ends up turning into nothing more than choosing once every four or five years who exactly we want to rule over us and do politics on our behalf, and so to avoid becoming well-informed or engage our critical thinking faculties, to become involved in the debate to the point that we have to question and analyse our well worn ideas. At least if the elected politicians screw up, we can claim it is their fault for being corrupt imbeciles who took us along for a ride, or at least we voted for the other guy, or moreover, none of them ever listen to “the people” so why bother being engaged? It’s never our fault.

Another thing that certain people banging on about “the will of the people” fail to realise is that “The People” does not necessarily mean them and their mates, to the extent others should not be trying to form a contrary view. Even if their viewpoint is the majority (or at least the dominant viewpoint of those who are not the middle-to-upper class, well-educated elites) that does not mean it cannot be challenged, or that it might not be, well, wrong. People not agreeing with you doesn’t mean you are being ignored or sidelined. Especially when it’s by those who think that your views or actions are genuinely reprehensible.

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except those others that have been tried from time to time. No, it’s not a perfect system, but just maybe, the solution is not less democracy but more and better democracy. Democracy I think should not mean mob rule, or tyranny of the majority in the sense that majority opinion should silence or shout down minority opinion. This is why I think that legitimate freedom of speech and expression is of paramount importance. The relevant information must be available. Radical or novel ideas which might be right should not be ignored in favour of comforting old myths and the standard way of doing things. (If people want to argue for open borders, little to no interference in the operation of the free market, abolishing capitalism altogether, then let them.) Of course, note I said legitimate freedom of speech and expression. It is my contention, that freedom of speech is about the freedom of ideas and information, not an excuse to attack, insult, or ridicule, to threaten, or act in ways that might actually cause harm for particular people. Of course I can see there are times where one would want to limit that, such as those who advocate hate-speech laws or no-platforming agendas. But I would hope that such people (and their detractors) consider that it is best served when those speaking or expressing their thoughts do directly threaten others in so doing, or step outside the bounds of reasonable discourse. Marginalizing ideas or shutting them down does, I think, not remove them, simply creates resentment and allows those who hold them the opportunity or find other ways to organize and come back with a vengeance. Those seeking to remove fascism or other intolerant or hateful ideologies might need to consider not simply making these views unacceptable in that way, but rather dismantling them, exposing their flaws, and above all, be better able to communicate with those disaffected people who turn to such when things are not going well – and offer something better, which I hope they have.

But I digress. In short, democracy can work – but it will only work if all the people have the opportunity to participate on an equal and open basis, are able to have their views and decisions have weight, are willing to debate in a calm, rational manner and listen to each other, critiquing and adjusting our views as necessary, and are willing to make rational, well-informed decisions as best possible. It may not always work, but there you go.

Well, there’s only one day left to go before the dread EU Referendum is upon us Brits, and we decide once and for all whether we want to remain a part of it or not. Some of us will have already done postal votes and for them, the decision has already been made. Others will have already voted at the tradtional polling stations. For me, even with only a few hours to go before the close of polls… well, that’s another story.

To begin with I was definitely on the Leave side, and it’s quite surprising how much of this had to do with the one thing most secularists would be mortally afraid of if you mixed it with politics: my Christian faith. There are actually a few more conservative Christian types who actually think our membership of the EU contravenes the will of God, that when God divided the nations at Babel and later set their borders, this was somehow a good thing in order to prevent some of the worse abuses of power that sinful human nature could produce. This kind of argument I will best leave to one of my former pastors to make- see [1]. On top of this, there were even arguments to the effect that since the Queen had made in her Coronation Oath to do various things including upholding the Christian faith and so on, this was actually a covanent with God and the secularizing tendencies of pan-European institutions were somehow about us breaking that covenant. Even one book I read contained an alleged prophecy stating that we should come out of Europe because it would align itself with the Antichrist before The End. I kid you not.

Now, of course, when I looked into it, there seemed to be plenty of good secular reasoning to back this up. When you looked at, say, the Greek crisis and what the EU has forced (against the declared democratic will of the people) upon it in terms of austerity, to keep the Euro alive, we get one example of why it seems that this kind of power structure is no good- it undermines democracy and national sovereignty. How many referenda have we also had in the past on the EU constitution or other treaty changes, in various countries, where the EU basically said “Wrong! Do it again! Let’s hear the right answer!” And then there’s TTIP- the pending trade deal that might allow corporations to sue governments and force the privatization of the NHS. Not to mention the litany of regulatory blunders as part of things like the Common Fisheries Policy which, in setting quotas to conserve fish stocks, only forced fishermen to throw back perfectly good, and perfectly dead, catches of fish back into the sea. Or the various problems which the Common Agricultural Policy, farm subsidies &c. might likewise cause. (You hear little of butter mountains and wine lakes these days, however. Though that make a good idea for a short story- Jenny Everywhere in Surplusland, maybe?)

All this led to some pretty unpleasant conclusions- like voting for and supporting parties I was somewhat uncomfortable with, i.e. UKIP. The more I heard about it and the actuons of some of its members (everything from bigoted remarks to their voting records for MEPs inside the EU, which seemed counter-productive), the more I grew concerned, but, as I knew the candidate for our area personally, I thought maybe they’re not all that bad, and frankly, some of their manifesto ideas seemed to make sense at the time. Sadly, of course, their attitude to climate chainge (unrelenting skepticism) was not one of them, their economic ideas are unflinchingly neoliberal and this conflicted with some of my inner leftie tendencies which still remained after all this time.

Of course not all my Christian friends were in favour of UKIP and leaving the EU. Most of these being the leftty activisit types whom I knew through SPEAK or those who knew them, who probably had a very different idea of what Christianity was to some of my church friends- much more inclied towards social justice issues and less upon (where it infringed on worldly politics over evangelism at all) personal moral issues and would be religious liberty. Many of these people were astounded I’d even want to consider, at least, supporting UKIP. No matter how much I’d try to say they weren’t that bad really, I had to wonder.

Of course now I left the church (one of whose members is the local UKIP candidate), and with spending more time amongst those of a more radical leftist bent, I had reason to want to reconsider my views on the matter.

Now, when all that’s said and done, there are several things that really get me about this referendum business.

First of all, as has been pointed out in the mainstream media quite constantly, there have been claims of scaremongering from both sides. Typically one side will come out with some claim, and the other side will try and rubbish it or try to point out flaws. The Leave campign seem to provide some of the more egregious examples, like the alleged money we supposedly spend on the EU which when things like the rebate is taken into account and the fact we get some back anyway, and any savings we make from it form a minuscule part of government spending- we will not have all that much more to spend on the NHS. That even assuming the offset in economic losses will make it meaningless anyway.

Worst of all is all is the way in which the immigration issue has been so much of a big deal. The Leave side have been hinting, for example, that Turkey might join the EU and bring millions more immigrants to th UK, using the refugee crisis as leverage (even in spite of the fact that we are not inside the Schengen area and those trying to climb on lorries desparate to reach the UK are hardly going to be deterred by Brexit). Yes, it is true that there is ultimaely so much space to go around, so many houses, so many hospital beds. Perhaps free movement of labour does seek to drive down wages and conditions as immigrants might have a lower level of demands in terms of wages (which are naturally higher than in their home country anyway). But at the same time, immigrants can also pay taxes, start businesses, possibly fill the jobs British people would seek to avoid anyway, and actually be of benefit to our eeconomy instead of a burden. How much of the pressure on our poblic services is not in fact down to austerity? How much of the housing crisis is really down to bad policy or even markets? How much of the business with jobs is down to neoliberal notions of shareholder value trumps everything? Frankly, this is more about scapegoating those less fortunate than us instead of blaming the real people responsible- the rich and powerful. Exploiting xenophobia and Islamophobia.

Then again hte Remain camp isn’t so much better- even suggesting the security of Europe might be threatened if we left, that the economy would take a nosedive- admittedly, hough many economists back that one up. Typical of the tit-for-tat mentality in the debates, the Leave campaign immediately hit back and rubbished these claims, reckoning, for example suggesting that the economists who make such predctions also failed to predict the 2008 financial crisis. And the business interests who favour Europe? They said the same thing about is joining the Euro, didn’t they? And as history has proven, maybe our not joining it turned out not to be such a bad idea after all.

There is also the suggestion that Brexit is all about right-wing values and hate, which it should not be- it is not about personalities, who our awkwards bedfelows might be, but on the issues. Just like I could not care less about all the celebrities and political dinosaurs the campaigns wheel out (why should we care so much partiucularly about what celebritiess have to say any more than anyone else?) nor do I care if Farage, Boris and their ilk are campaigning for Leave. After all, I don’t like Cameron, Osborne or those dinosaurs as Blair (the man who brought us into Iraq), or all the heads of corporations who want us to stay in, but they are all supporting Remain.

One thing I am very skeptical of is the claim that the EU has ben instrumental in securing peace in Europe. Never mind that the institutions which would later develop into the EU were mostly a Western affair, and for the four and a bit decades after WW2 the biggest possible threat to peace was the tension between capitalist Weat and “communist” East, dominated by Russia/the USSR which covered a good chunk of eastern Europe and is satellite states a good chunk more? That, although the EU now encompasses much of Eastern Europe and some parts of the former USSR, there are yet more tensions between it (and the West in general) and Russia, which is not part of the EU? What about Ukraine? What about the former Yougoslavia 20 years ago? So what good has the EU done for peace? Can anybody really tell me if the last 70 years since WW2 has not had a resumption of major conflict on the level of the two world wars, has not been in spite of, rather than because of the EU? I would welcome suggestions.

So, what of the Left case for “Brexit”, sometimes referred to as “Lexit”? Wasn’t the Left traditionally Euroskeptic back in the ’70s? Well, we’ve seen sadly little of it. Despite the fact that there are a few trade unions (RMT?) supporting it, a few within Labour (not Jeremy Corbyn however, who seems to have gone over from his original euroskepticism to support the normal party line). There are of course a few on the fringes- George Galloway of Respect, the Socialist Labour Party (something to do with Arthur Scargill methinks) and the like. The Morning Star newspaper seems to have carried plenty of columns arguing a left case for leaving the EU. But we see little of this in the mainstream media- it’s all Cameron and Osborne on one side and Gove an Boris Johnson on the other. I mean, even UKIP has been complaining that Farage has been sidelined in the debates, but he gets more prominence than any on the left arguing for Brexit. The fact is that, for all the worker’s rights, environmental protections (you know, like those fishing quotas) and whatnot that came from the EU,  it still a neoliberal-oriented organization and no-one on the left who wants to remain in the EU argues for it without hoping for substanitial reforms. The only worry is that with a Tory government in power- and especially if Cameron has to step down- a lot of these may be eroded further. We worry about TTIP, but if we make the much-vaunted trade deals on our own, how do we know they won’t be as bad as if not worse than what we might get out of TTIP- which we cannot influence if we leave, along with our comrades across the Channel. But to suggest the EU is internationalist- well, it actually is a regional trading bloc at odds with some other parts of the world, and actually discriminates against those outside the EU with regards to things like free movement rights. Much hope for world socialism there? Doubt it.

Nevertheless, I came across a film which makes the case for “Lexit”, which might be worth a watch. [2]

And another article (shared through a friend) which suggested that we’re basically screwed either way. [3]

So, I’m out to vote. If you are eligible to vote (and are not an anarchist who doesn’t beleive in voting in principle), I encourage you to do so if you have not already. I doubt I can influence anyone at this stage with an article like this, and frankly don’t want to. I barely know myself. But there you have it. As ever, confused.

 

[1] http://riversofwater22.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/an-open-door.html?spref=fb

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pq72f81kkM4

[3] http://www.thecanary.co/2016/06/21/the-eu-referendum-is-one-of-the-cruellest-tricks-every-played-on-the-british-public/

(Edited from a post on the Powerswitch forums)

With election time coming up, and with it being a messy one in which many people are hoping or wishing that minor parties might have some chance to influence things in parliament, some people are questioning whether an alternative to the first-past-the-post electoral system (in which people make a single vote for who they want to be the member of Parliament for their local constituency and the person with the most votes wins, then the party which wins the most seats gets to form a government) might have helped those parties do better. UKIP are polling even higher than the Liberal Democrats and yet (perhaps due to a fall in support) are, according to some sources, unlikely to win even some of the seats they were gunning to get, such as Farage’s hopes for South Thanet. As for the Greens, well they’re polling lower, but some want them to have more influence as an alternative to the same old politics which even UKIP isn’t much of an alternative to (if not, in their view, even worse). Perhaps an alternative: AV (rejected by the majority in a referendum as being too confusing), STV or even full-on proportional representation, might help to stop the same old same old ruling the show every time?

But is it really the right way to go?

The reality is that the first past the post system is definitely fit for purpose if we understand how it’s designed to work.

Basically people are so obsessed by the party system they fail to see it’s about voting for the person as well as simply the party. What is really not fit for purpose is that we have no real separation of powers between the legislature and the executive- the latter being made up from whatever sitting MPs lead the party with the most seats or whatever coalition is formed that can gain the confidence of the House (and the Crown). In something more like the American sort of system, where the executive is elected separately from the legislature, only with the difference of having direct election of the head of government rather than the questionable electoral college system that exists Stateside, we would not need to worry about FPTP with respect to electing members of parliament.

Now certainly if we were to maintain this lack of separation of powers, some sort of alternative voting system which still allows us to have a specific local MP who is directly accountable to the electorate in a given locality might be a worthwhile compromise, but a full proportional-representation system would not be something I could support, as it removes that link and does not give us any idea (beyond party leadership) who are the people who will be elected to Parliament.

Thoughts, criticisms, elaborations most welcome.

As apparently NATO are beefing up security therein and the powers that be reckon Putin and the Big Bad Bear actually poses a real risk. And it’s come up on Question Time but need to follow it more closely.

I honestly don’t get it, to be fair. Seems like posturing. I don’t really understand quite what is going on in the Ukraine, whether the so-called “pro-Russian” rebels are being backed by Russia, or actually are a false-flag type operation involving actual Russian military. Or if the current administration in Russia is as “Nazi” as some make out, just because of that Right Sector lot. Or if there was not some skullduggery on even the West’s part in the overturning in the old regime in [Ukraine, presumably].

I am not too sure I can trust our own powers that be any more than I do Putin on the issue. Just because Russia might be involved in the Ukraine, doesn’t mean it will be in the Baltics. I mean, surely Ukraine once was Russia, or at least part of it. The Baltics have passed between various powers over the years.

Yet I can see the real fear those countries may have. Once part of Russia, then gaining their independence, then losing it again to Stalin’s Soviet Union. Russia is right on their doorsteps, Britain is not. My late Estonian grandfather, I am told, couldn’t go back (part of having to do with having fought for the other side- which along with the fact of my other, late German grandfather, causes some mild embarrassment when talking to British war veterans, even if thy are sympathetic) and became a displaced person. It would just have been too dangerous for him. Yet old Blighty took him and others like him, in.

Listen to the pro-Western and pro-Russian commentators, you get two completely different versions of events. Question is, who do you trust? Again, I have no answers. Do any of my readers?

[ERRATUM, 15th March: As noted in the comments below it was presumptuous of me to suggest that “surely Ukraine once was Russia, or at least part of it”. I did have the Kievan Rus in the back of my mind when thinking of this, however, it is of fairly little relevance to the modern nation of Ukraine or its people. After all Estonia and presumably the rest of the Baltics also weren’t really a “proper” nation (independent, self-determining and recognised as such) until recently (i.e. last century or two) and were part of the Russian Empire too for some time, as well as being passed between various European powers. I suspect I may be corrected further on this, though.]

I get an email in one of my several e-mail accounts (one used largely for this very purpose) from campaign group 38 Degrees, telling me to write to my MP expressing my feelings on the vote Parliament has been suddenly recalled to vote on. Thing is, they don’t have a position, and give out opinions of various members who hold completely opposing views, as well as resources outlining the case for both sides.

Now there can be little doubt that IS are a particularly nasty bunch who are quite willing to murder anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their particularly narrow and extreme view of Islam, and need to be stopped somehow. The question is as to whether, as for example the Stop the War Coalition might put it, intervention of this nature won’t end in disaster, bombs will end up killing ordinary civilians innocent of the crimes of IS, and be subject to mission creep, be it boots on the ground or “accidentally” hitting targets belonging to and servicing al-Assad’s regime– the same Assad who has apparently given his blessing to intervention against IS? The situation on the ground appears to be a total mess, and we intervene at our risk, perhaps. We don’t know how it will end up.

All in all, armed conflict and the morality of engaging in it are very tricky matters. The only thing I know is, sometimes they appear necessary but the wrong people all too often sadly get hurt. So, what shall I be writing to my MP on this particular matter? Nothing, probably, for what can I write that will be meaningful?

Last night I began with what must seem like a somewhat desperate plea for the Scots to think of the rest of the UK when voting in the referendum today. I promised I would go into more detail about why I believe this is important. As I have left it too late in the day to affect the polls, which have now closed, and given that realistically an obscure blog with a handful of readers, written by an Englishman, is going to do much to change the outcome of the vote anyway, I wonder if it is worth it. But, a promise ought to be honoured; given my poor track record in previous years of posting what I wanted to post, this most definitely needs to change.

I am far from an expert on the situation and this is not an academic blog, rather meant for personal observations on life, the universe and everything so what follows here is only my understanding based on what I have picked up on the news. So, without further ado:

 

1. The economic uncertainty.

The Yes campaign of course claim they will be able to continue to use the pound in a formal currency union with the Bank of England continuing to be lender of last resort, etc., but as pointed out that will require the approval of the continuing UK. And given the whole debacle with the Eurozone crisis of the past few years, naturally there is some reluctance to enter into that. And given some reports that some of the alleged mainstays like oil reserves, access to ready markets in the EU if Scotland is denied immediate membership and so on (though whether a free trade agreement, like I’d hope for an exiting UK, could at least be negotiated I don’t know) and the fact of probable lack of investment due to all the uncertainty, will Scotland’s economy really be in the right shape to not drag us down?

Of course there is always the possibility that EU membership for an independent Scotland would mean them joining the Euro, and if not, they could use the pound anyway, as Salmond forced Darling to concede in the debates. Or even use the US dollar, or probably even the Turkish Lira or Bitcoin or come to that. There are threats that without the currency union, Scotland might not agree to take its share of the UK’s current national debt, which will further place a burden on the much smaller rump-UK tax base. I doubt we down here would care much for that.

Of course, all the tax revenue that comes from Scotland, and the probably dwindling oil revenue, cannot be passed to the rest of the UK, which is for Scots certainly a good thing, and probably seeing so much of that money going to further enrich the London elite won’t make us in poor old North-East England cry. But, a less than open border might well affect trade too, especially for those businesses close to it.

And all this uncertainty is probably going to deter investment even further, if we find out by tomorrow Scotland has voted Yes.

2. The political spectrum.

This BBC article suggests that without Scotland in the 2010 elections, the Tories would have a majority in the House of Commons, and would not even need to form a coalition in order to force through so many of the unpopular policies the Yes campaign claims to want rid of in Scotland (some of which won’t even affect Scotland anyway, like NHS privatization)

Or take a look at the election map from Wikipedia. Note that in England there are a few chunks of red in a sea of blue. Much more red and yellow in Scotland than the measly little bit of blue you can see. Also note where those chunks of red are-no doubt the old industrial heartlands that have been eroding over the years, and certainly hate the Tories every bit as much as your typical Scot. Yet none of us ae able to become independent.

Of course it is hardly like Labour has had a much better track record with popular policy decisions, and the Lib-Dems are in fact in coalition with the Tories which says enough. But certainly what we will see (if whoever it was that said that it might refocus the efforts of the English left-wing to appeal more strongly to English concerns and head off the current shift to the right) a shift in the near-term political spectrum of Britain which could mean the Tories are more likely to dominate, than it would otherwise have been. Not being firmly either on the left or right, and even being kind of a reluctant UKIP voter (not that I like all their policies and ideas, least of all on climate change, and am in two minds about others- simply on the EU question and one or two of their more social-conservative, if not economic-conservative viewpoints), this might not seem like a bad thing you might think, but I think a change in the corridors of power now and then might be good even if they all are as bad as each other in the long run.

3. Trident.

Of course, many English people I know don’t really want the questionable use of funds to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent we cannot under normal circumstances use and probably would never need to, let alone have terrible destructive potential if we did. But if Scotland becomes independent, then eventually we Sassenachs are probably going to have to go to all the trouble and expense of relocating the base of operations for it. I’d certainly not want to see it in my back yard either, thanks.

4. Effect on the North East of England?

There have been fears, right since suggestions the SNP might lower corporation tax might mean investment that would have gone to my area would instead go to Scotland. Already we have seen, for example in my hometown, a certain major business locating an office in Scotland it might have here. But with the economic uncertainty mentioned above, this might be a bit of a non-starter.  There have also been fears that a new international border might cause problems for businesses and workers on either side of the border.

There are, also on the other hand, moves by local authorities in the region to work more closely with Scotland to forge new links which might be in our economic interest, then perhaps independence might not be such a bad thing.

5. Good old Auntie?

Yes, there are many people who hate the BBC as biased, on both sides of both the border and the political spectrum. Or they hate the way it handled the whole Jimmy Saville thing, or the payouts to its executives, or the fact its current funding model is essentially a TV tax in all but name, irrespective of whether you want to watch the Beeb. But if plans to split off BBC Scotland to form a new Scottish Broadcasting Service, what does this mean for the funding of what is left? If the SBS does exchange programming, will it be forced to stump up the cost (and vice versa) commercially, and will that cover the shortfall?

6. But what about a No vote?

I have heard from certain people I’ve been talking to that as part of a sweetener to tempt undecided Scots to vote “No”, then even more funding could be diverted to Scotland than is currently delivered by the Barnett Formula. I certainly don’t think that will be too popular in the rest of the UK, if taxpayers have to foot the bill. And what of “devo max” type sweeteners, in the absence of a truly federal UK? Hardly think this is fair either but then, perhaps we might get stronger calls for an English Parliament, stronger powers for the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies (unless reunification looks more promising after all), and a reduced Westminster in other words, a truly federal UK? I’d like to hope so, but it remains to be seen.

I leave you with two BBC articles on the issue, which probably will explain it much better than I can. Just to annoy all the anti-Beebists (as distinct from the Auntie Beebists 😉 )

I also invite comments, ideas, constructive criticism and especially corrections.

…and Wales, and Northern Ireland… but including them in the title wouldn’t have been as funny. No, I am not meaning to be insulting your great nation at all, simply to consider a side of the issue only a few people have bothered to discuss: that of independence, or lack of it, on the rest of the UK.

It has long bothered me that whilst I had thought he Union was a two-way partnership, that only Scots get to decide who breaks it. Apparently (and I am sadly too lazy to read the details, but hopefully will tomorrow) the Act of Union has nothing in it to override what seems to be the overriding principle of self-determination, that Scots get to decide how they are governed (though the rest of us don’t get decide not to be voted by Scots- but given the most obvious recent example of that was Gordon Brown, maybe that’s not so bad a thing). It is certainly true that the Scots Parliament of old was led into union by some conniving and possible arm-twisting (their economy having collapsed following failed colonial adventures in Panama) but it’s hardly like the government of England was anything like what we’d consider a democracy today, with universal suffrage to elect an MP to represent you absent let alone referenda. Now Scots get democracy to decide the fate of the Union, but the English do not, even though, as I will point out, it will affect us in several key areas.

But on the plus side, ignoring the democratic deficit south of the border, northwards we see quite the opposite picture: a predicted 80% turnout, lots of lively debate, people getting engaged in the issues which rarely happens with day-to-day national, local or international politics. More controversially, 16-17 year olds are allowed to vote, which some say might be too young, but it is at least the age when people start to develop the true ability to make their own independent decisions, not simply those they have learned from their elders (thanks to some old Robert Winston documentary for that half-remembered tidbit) and, after all, it’s a potentially irreversible decision which will affect the young.

The fact is that what Scots are voting on will affect both Scotland and the rest of the UK. From the currency union issue, to Trident, to investment here in the north of England (which might be affected by proposed cuts to corporation tax in Scotland, though this may be of little effect in the sea of other economic troubles Scots may face), to the political balance in Westminster. Even good old Auntie Beeb loos set to be affected, with the creation of a separate Scottish Broadcasting Service out of the existing BBC Scotland, no to mention all those licence fees the BBC can’t live off anymore. And the alternative, no plus “devo max” might mean Scots are even more disproportionately funded well by now than the rest of us- not only unfair, but who picks up the tab?

And for all the Yes campaign’s going on about Scotland being free of the distant, Tory-led government in Westminster pushing NHS privatisation, the bedroom tax and a whole host of other policies. Guess what- neither do we. Look at any electoral map, and you’ll find that there are plenty of non-Tory seats in many areas of the North of England, which is also neglected by the powers that be in London in favour of the capital’s wealthy and powerful interests. Many of us don’t want Trident any more than you do. But we don’t get to be separate from all this- yes, we had the regional assembly thing but that had few powers, and it got rejected.

I aim to elaborate on this tomorrow when I’m less tired. And maybe mention the odd possible positive for us south of the border too. But time is short, and I wonder who will read this or be affected by it before they go to the polls tomorrow. Indeed, postal voters will have cast their ballots already. But if any Scot is reading this, remember: it affects both you and us, and please consider this when you do vote. I won’t tell you how, as that is the nature of democracy which I believe pretty strongly in (not in the same way I hope to believe in God, as democracy is not infallible). Indeed, as I said, I am excited that so much lively political activity is indeed taking place. I hope it all works out for the best.

… so it might as well be now.

Reviews of 2013 I think might have to go by the board- I might yet complete that article but seems a bit late now March is well underway. (Doesn’t time fly!)

And 2014 has had it’s fair share of crazy goings on. As if we hadn’t enough turmoil in the world, now it’s the turn of Ukraine. I rather wish I could understand the whole business, but I only half remember the kicking out of some leader as part of the Whatever-It-Was revolution some years back and now they’re back for Round 2. (I really need to do more research.) What I do know is that there seems to be tension between the main part of Ukraine which is looking towards Western Europe for support, whereas the ethnic Russians in Crimea and the east are obviously still wanting to stick with the Big Bad Bear for support. That Crimea “should” be a part of Russia again seems only right to me- as it was only in the Soviet days it became transferred to what I presume was the Ukrainian SSR and stayed after independence. But, with Russian troops being sent in to protect their holdings, and what seems like a fair amount of intimidation and trying to force their hand by turning off the Ukrainian TV channels in favour of Russian ones- talk about objectivity? I think not!- this referendum looks somewhat likely to be skewed in its outcome.

It would seem that whatever the Western governments might say about it being illegal, international law is barely worth the paper it is printed on. After all are the same Western governments not also guilty- do we not recall that little thing a few years ago known as the Iraq War? Of course Saddam Hussein was, by all accounts, a thoroughly nasty piece of work, and Iraq was not de jure annexed by the United States or Britain. But an invasion, on shaky pretences which turned out to be false, of a country without waiting for genuine UN approval, is not something that I thought was done in the modern world. Yet when Russia decides to take back what was pretty much rightfully its in the past anyway, with what seems to be the backing of at least some of the population, in he midst of a chaotic and questionable turn of events in Ukraine, it’s all bad.

 

On the other hand I have started dabbling with an interest in the history of the Soviet Union and Russia in general. Whether I can find anything about the Ukraine or Crimea in actual book form I don’t know. What I have managed to get is the following:

– “Life in Russia” by Michael Binyon. Binyon was at one point foreign correspondent for The Times for the then USSR, and manages to get a mixture of his own experiences, some interviews, and even references to the Soviet press itself for what is a surprising look (given the Cold War era it was written in) at the pre-Glasnost USSR. It is quite well balanced, neither railing against Communism nor without a sense of its shortcomings, and demonstrating what life was like for ordinary people.

– “On Socialist Democracy” by Roy Mevedev, who was a Soviet dissident who was interested in reforming the system from within, and apparently agreed with a lot of what Gorbachev was doing, before history overtook matters. He is still thoroughly Marxist-Leninist, and therefore I would probably not want to hold entirely to his views, but he has a lot to say about the rigid bureaucratic nature of the system and its failings, and how dissent is necessary. He also heavily criticises Stalin and attempts to rehabilitate him posthumously.

Quite a few interesting arguments about democracy reside in this book, which could well form the basis for the article I mean to write on the matter some day. The idea being that, in a totalitarian system with no real freedom to offer criticism of the system, the system cannot function adequately. Of course I question whether that has to be in a movement like revolutionary socialism, which is ideologically constrained. In order for a truly democratic society, the people should be able to choose what direction they want their society to take and to do so without bloodshed. (Alas I dream.) Of course I would hope, as a Christian, they would follow in the ways of the Lord, impossible also under an atheistic ideology that only tolerates religion on sufferance and as long as it doesn’t rock the boat. (Or in other words, not too different from what the West is becoming with creeping secularisation and unbelief, albeit yet without any real persecution.)

But I digress.

The book isn’t really history as such, but does offer an insider’s view of what was going wrong with Soviet Communism and how it could have been fixed within the system.

-“Survey of Russian History” by BH Sumner. Seems to be an overview of various aspects of Russian history. Dated now (written in the ’40s) but what I could find cheaply at the time when bought in a bookshop in York. I am sure my fellow members of counter-factual.net could recommend some better ones.

-“The Princess of Siberia” by Christine Sutherland. Bit of an odd one this and bought on a whim, it’s about a certain Princess Maria Volkonsky, wife of one of the leaders of the 1825 Decemberist Uprising who followed him all the way to exile in Siberia away from the Tsarist court. By the looks of it something of a romantic, idealist figure.

I don’t know what insight I’ll get with these books if I can ever get round to reading them all. But it is a start.

And, in all this, jobs are to be done. I wonder if I am slipping with the jobseeking habits, but I’ve managed to have some success from the mad push in December. Firstly I get no less than three interviews in one week. All unsuccessful, but with one coming from a speculative application and still managing to impress the employer and leave them willing to forward my CV to partner organisations and clients, another one willing to take me on for voluntary work/work experience, and then I get a part-time self-employed job distributing Betterware catalogues. I am seriously. seriously wondering whether I cannot simply make more of this and “sign off” the “dole” as the whole jobseeking thing and the Jobcentre is getting to me. Or, is that just me needing to wake my ideas up once more? I really don’t know what to think. I suppose I could make some money from this- possibly more than the “dole” on a good week, but it’s not a regular income and I’d have to work hard at it and really know what I was doing.

What I do know is that whatever I am doing now should ultimately be regarded as a stepping-stone to other things, and giving up applying for other jobs ought not to be something I should do.

Back to the Ukraine. I recall a rather interesting post Christopher Nutall, a fellow counter-factual.net member of note, wrote (http://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/a-lesson-from-the-ukraine/) about how the Ukraine should have kept its nuclear weapons for the day the Big Bad Bear threw out the rulebook and started giving it trouble. The idea of nuclear weapons has always been confusing for me- whilst I can see the deterrant potential, these wepaons not only have the power to destroy the world as we know it, worst case scenario, but what happens if every nation feels the need to have one? What about North Korea? And is not even the major powers and so-called “responsible” nations having it not encouraging such questionable regimes to pursue their own nuclear ambitions? Non-Proliferation Treaty or not, as I said, international law ain’t worth the paper it’s printed on half the time. Yet even the North Korean regime surely isn’t so irresponsible as to sacrifice its own self-interest by actually launching the few piddling nukes it has and essentially getting slammed hard by the Americans and the South, with probably China pulling the plug on support. So, why even bother with non-proliferation, especially since there are so many advantages to having nukes to defend yourself against a powerful and encroaching neighbour?

 

Maybe I should stop worrying about these things and start being busy with my own affairs, I guess. I waste far too much time on such matters. And other distractions.

 

Watch this space, I hope, for rants on the decline of Stockton High Street, more musings on religion, politics, current affairs, life, the universe and everything, and more anime reviews. I could at least do Wings of Honneamise, which was an interesting and quite unusual film sadly unreleased on DVD in the UK. (Like I care… I still prefer VHS*, heh, heh, heh…)

 

* I be a sad retro-obsessed fool, I be.