Stephen McLeod Blythe: Freedom of speech, Internet Law, and all things Digital Marketing

UK Immigration Injustice and the ‘Freedom of Movement’ – My Dog has More Rights than my Partner

A few years ago, I proposed to a blue eyed, blonde haired American girl named Grace. She lived in Denver, Colorado, and I in Glasgow, Scotland. I told her I knew it would be rough, but I was prepared to do whatever we had to so we could be together. We agreed that we would pursue the legal path of least resistance – which was for her to move to the UK. This was partly down to the minimum income requirements imposed by our respective Governments (I had a higher paying job at the time), but also to do with having more experience of the British legal system.

Despite being the lesser of two evils, the process itself was hellish.

There were endless contradictions, blatant flaws, and convoluted evidential requirements. Just when it seemed like we had gotten over one obstacle, another illogical one would present itself. Often, I would literally be ripping my hair out in sheer exasperation at the injustice of the whole thing. How could they get away with this? It seemed clear that the problems were there by design rather than incompetence. Every part of my being wanted to scream from the rooftops to tell people about what was really going on; to publicly question why – despite all of the rhetoric from the UK Government about wanting immigrants who add value to our society – my future wife was banned not only from working, but from volunteering.

I didn’t. To this day I am still wary of openly criticising the policies on immigration too heavily, as we are locked into the process for years to come. The decisions that we would be calling into question would be made by the very same people and organisations that could deny any of our future applications on a whim.

With just days before the people of Scotland decide to vote on independence, it’s important that I make this clear: The UK’s immigration policy is fundamentally racist, with the system deliberately left broken. As a result, British citizens have less rights in their own country than those from elsewhere in the EU.

Actual paperwork aside, here’s a specific example:

* Grace requires a specific residence visa to live in the UK. To avoid waiting weeks for a decision, we have to go to a dedicated UKVI (formerly the UKBA) office. As there is only one office in Scotland (with limited hours), this meant travelling to Liverpool to get an appointment. The cost for this privilege (which has to be renewed every couple of years) is around £1000.

* Each time Grace arrives in the UK, she has no automatic right of entry. She must present her passport and residence card, along with a completed landing form. Providing that entry is granted at the border, her passport is stamped with the entry date, and her fingerprints taken.

* If a German citizen came to the UK, they would have the right of residence under the European Union’s regulations on freedom of movement.

* The German citizen’s partner would automatically have the right of entry to the UK, as long as they were either travelling with them at the time, or coming to join them in the country. Their passport would not ordinarily be stamped, and they would not require any visa or residence permit, as they were there by virtue of the German citizen’s Treaty rights.

The UK cannot impose restrictions on the freedom of movement of citizens of the EU or their families (allowing for the relevant definitions in question), but they are able to impose whatever restrictions they like on their own people. This is because it is not counted as discrimination against the citizens of another member state.

In short, this means that because of Westminster immigration policy, I (as a British person) have less rights than somebody from anywhere else in the European Union.

In order to gain the same protection as other European citizens, I would first need to move to a different country within the EU, stay for three months (in the ‘pursuit of an economic activity’ – working, basically), and then return to the UK with Grace. This is a complicated route, and one established by the case of Surinder Singh.

So why does this ridiculous situation exist? Simple. The ideological pursuit of the Tory government. Hey, Better Together, right?

But hey, want to bring your dog with you from the USA? Not a problem.

Scotland Will Vote Yes

As far back as I can remember, I have had an innate longing for the independence of Scotland. When the unthinkable happened, with the SNP gaining a majority in the Scottish Parliament (despite all explicit designs to the contrary), I was sure that the (small c) conservatism in Scotland would mean that it would inevitably be a ‘no’ vote. We might have big baws in some areas, but we’re actually incredibly feart of taking steps into the unknown in practical terms; independence was just some inconceivable notion, an ideal that may be achieved in 30 or so years… if ever.

It may well be my own bias that is driving my perspective on this, but for the first time in my life, Scottish people seem to have a purpose greater than just our own immediate concerns. Rather than spouting pish about inconsequential events that are local to only us Glaswegians, the city is on fire with debate. Instead of small talk about ‘how our night has been’, the conversation of club patriots, taxi drivers, and bystanders alike has been alive with discussions about the fallacies and promises of the so-called ‘Better Together’ campaign. Anecdotal though it may be, my experience has been that of Scots passionate about asserting their own voice in the future of the country in which they live.

Despite all of the odds, I believe that we are going to vote for independence.

It’s not been a straightforward journey. The debate has been fraught with mediocrity and nonsense. Up until recently, I have dismissed out of hand any claims about supposed bias from the BBC. As far as I’m concerned, impartiality from an institution is not demonstrated by their failure to give substantial time to your particular political view. Often, despite being pro independence, I would despair over such cries, vehemently defending the broadcaster’s reputation and stance. However, in the past week I have witnessed, with disgust, the blatant spin of desperate claims dug up by those who are in opposition to independence. To me, the BBC’s Political Editor Nick Robinson has never been a particularly likeable fellow, but is one who I’ve always had the utmost respect. Despite wanting to root for his defence, I couldn’t quite believe that he would have the audacity to give a bare-faced lie about the supposed failure of the First Minister to answer a question when the contrary was so clear. (Context here.) I am genuinely stunned at how clear the attempted manipulation of people has been displayed in general.

Anecdotal though it may be, the overwhelming majority of people that I have contact with are in favour of a vote for yes vote for independence. This isn’t about nationalism – something that people outside of the effects of the debate find hard to realise. This isn’t about some (yawn) Braveheart notion of Bannockburn and Scottish identity. Scots (adopted or otherwise) easily see through the token gestures offered by a desperate political elite. We easily dismiss the duplicity of career journalists like Nick Robinson, or the hypocrisy and cynicism of the tactical deployment of Gordon Brown in a failed campaign to stick with the status quo. We know that there are larger forces at play that twist news stories to confuse and manipulate feelings about everyday costs and job creation or maintenance such as that in the case of Asda, Standard Life, or RBS.

As was noted at the time of the SNP landslide in the Scottish Parliament a number of years ago – the Scots have proven to be amongst the most sophisticated, and unpredictable of voters in Europe (if not the world). I do not believe in polls, or the false comparisons between those with differing methodologies. I believe that the Scottish people are going to vote yes. Why? Because for once, Scotland feels alive.

I believe Scotland is going to do it. We are going to vote yes, and take responsibility for our own decisions, rather than blame successive Tory Westminster governments that we can easily claim not to have voted for.

As tough as it might have been at times, I just hope that we retain the same level of peaceful physical decorum and respect as we have afforded each other so far. We don’t need to look too far across the water to see how different it could well have ended up. I am proud to be Scottish, and excited to be part of this part of our history. All that said, I’m sticking my neck out to say: Aye, it’s going to be a Yes. I’m fascinated to see what happens next.

Scottish Independence: Why I Am Voting Yes

Scottish Independence

In less than two weeks, the people of Scotland will have voted on whether or not we wish to be a country independent from the existing United Kingdom.

There has been a huge amount of debate, which predictably hasn’t all been the most civilised at the best of times. I’ve tried to resist the urge to get involved in every online discussion, confining my personal views to in-person gatherings of a few friends (and over a lot of whisky). The times I have chosen to delve in, I’ve been attacked (from both sides) in the most bizarre and arbitrary ways. Like many others, I feel like it’s often more hassle than it’s worth to nail your colours to the mast.

All of that said, I passionately believe in Scottish independence. I don’t expect you to agree, but it would be remiss of me not to explain why.

Here’s the main reasons why I am voting yes:

The following is dependent on the understanding that despite the current political union, Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are all distinct countries. If you disagree with that premise, then that becomes a whole different set of questions.

Constitutionally, Scotland’s people have no practical say in the government of the United Kingdom.

For me, this is the most important reason of them all.

Even if every eligible Scottish voter was to vote for one single party (and that’s not too far off the truth), it would make no real difference to the outcome of the UK General Election. As a result, there is very little pressure on governments in Westminster to listen to the needs of those in Scotland. How can there be accountability if there is no way for Scottish voters to impact those who get into power?

Scotland has a distinct political identity from other parts of the UK, with different priorities and problems. This is evidenced by the different approaches to issues such as higher education funding, and the detention of families seeking asylum.

If the Scots want to vote for the Tories, or decide to have nuclear weapons on the Clyde, or to ditch the European Convention of Human Rights… then that is fine. Ultimately, whether Scotland votes to the left, right, or middle is irrelevant. Whatever the choices though, let’s make sure that the people who live in Scotland decide for themselves, and have a real say over the government that holds power over them.

I believe that Scottish people need to take responsibility for their own decisions, and not just whinge about ‘the English’, or Thatcher, or ‘that government we didn’t vote for’.

As the result of the makeup of the UK government, Scots currently have the most convenient get out of jail free card in any debate. Sure, it might be awful how immigrants are treated, or that we sent troops to Iraq in pursuit of a war that was later discredited, but hell… we didn’t vote for the government that made those calls anyway.

This is a dangerous situation, which only serves to increase complacency. Things might suck, but that’s not really our responsibility. We’ve been marginalised politically, so they can sort it out.

Scotland has to take responsibility for its role and actions in the world – both the successes and the failings – not just hide behind the current political situation. An independent Scotland will no longer be able to blame all of our flaws on our neighbour south of the border – which can only be a good thing.

Scots have no business voting on issues that only affect English people. The West Lothian question needs resolved once and for all.

This anomaly created by devolution remains unresolved. Funny how nobody really likes to bring that up now though, eh? Political parties (mostly Labour) have cynically abused the fact that Scottish MPs can push through their own selfish policies against the wishes of local people. This has to stop, and independence is the logical resolution. Leave decisions that affect people in a particular area to those that are elected to represent the people that live there.

Here’s what I’m not concerned about:

There’s a whole host of common issues that are brought up in the course of almost any discussion about independence, despite their basis being shaky at best. Most of these are addresses in the pro-independence publication the ‘wee blue book‘. Here’s a few in particular that I hear often, and that I’m not concerned about.

Division

Denying self determination on the basis that we should seek to avoid disagreement is fundamentally flawed. We do not live in one state-less, unified world; determining the limits and practicalities of political power is something that is perfectly normal.

Asserting that your own people should make their own decisions is not about encouraging conflict but about taking self-responsibility. Voting for independence isn’t a statement against any neighbour, but an insistence that you have the right to control the decisions that affect your future. We support this in plenty of other situations, so let’s not reverse that because it doesn’t suit us with regards to Scottish independence.

Giving up your right to have a real say in your life in order to avoid conflict is neither a healthy, nor sustainable option – and a bad argument for rejecting independence.

Currency and Borders

The contention that an independent Scotland would not be allowed to use the Pound is sheer fantasy. There are plenty of examples throughout the world where currencies are used with no formal approval from the originating country. Anybody who takes this position is simply playing a card to try and put pressure on people to vote no. “Well, if you vote yes then you can’t have our money!!” – it’s pish, pure and simple.

I almost can’t quite believe that the question of borders is even realistically being pursued as an issue. We already have a prime example of where a ‘foreign’ country has open borders with the UK in our neighbours across the water in the Republic of Ireland. There are specific agreements that regulate the movement of people across these borders, and the idea that this couldn’t be extended to Scotland is nonsense. Like currency, it may well require negotiation, but to use as a weapon to dismiss independence is either ignorant of wilfully misleading.

Europe

Want to talk about conflict? The UK government consistently leads us into conflict with our closest of allies in Europe. Specifically, the current CON-DEM coalition is seeking to have us withdraw from many of the international agreements and unions that bind us together – including those that assure the protection of basic human rights. That isn’t just about being able to chuck some terrorist with a hook out of the country when we feel like it by the way – but the formal rescindment of our commitment to the end of capital punishment, and the use of torture.

With regards to Scotland’s membership of the European Union, the European Commission has said that they would give a definitive answer to the question if asked. So why don’t we have that yet? Because only the UK Government can formally request them to do so. They won’t.

That aside, this situation is without precedent in the EU. There are countless people in Scotland who have been European citizens by dint of the UK’s membership for decades. If independence nullified that overnight, there would be a far bigger headache than any administration would be able to handle – including those who are currently in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland through the rights of their partners. The European Community was not designed to allow for countries exiting, but to reduce barriers, harmonise laws, and further entrench members. It’s in nobody’s interests to exclude Scotland from the EU.

Whatever you decide, if you can vote, make sure that you do. This isn’t just some drop in the ocean like so many other elections, but one where what you vote can really make a difference. Demonstrate just how important this is, and whether the ultimate choice is to affirm the union, or declare independence, don’t let Scotland be dismissed.

WordPress.com Legal Hall of Shame

Every day people make attempts to censor bits of the Internet they don’t like.

Working at WordPress.com, we get our fair share of these. We’ve published a list of some of the worst offenders in our Hall of Shame.

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Take a look here:

http://transparency.automattic.com/hall-of-shame/