Yes, Protest Does Matter.

In the past week, we have seen peaceful protests around the world, in response to the actions taken by Donald Trump, as he has assumed the American Presidency.

Despite not having attended any of the demonstrations myself, I’ve been troubled by the fervent reaction against those who have done so, and the poor arguments that have been made against speaking out. So, without passing comment on the content of any of Trump’s policies or actions, I’ve decided to address the common criticisms publicly:

1. Protesting doesn’t make any difference.

I almost can’t believe that this statement is still being uttered in 2017, after all that has been written, and after we have seen and to-this-day celebrate the outcomes of peaceful protest in the past.

The ultimate goal of protest is obviously to bring about change, but few who take part in any single act of resistance are naive enough to believe that that one particular event will have devastating political ramifications on its own. Movements are built over time, and are successful by building the pressure on those in power.

In this particular situation, there is a real chance that sustained protest can have an impact on the policies of the Trump administration. The Republican party is not full of evil people, and many viscerally disagree with his approach to many issues, but at present feel unable to speak up against them. If all these people hear is silent indifference to what is going on, they are far less likely to have the courage to take the first steps themselves in opposition.

For many, even if there is absolutely zero chance of political change, demonstrations are still immensely important. First and foremost, they are about standing up and publicly stating that you refuse to quietly accept actions that you fundamentally disagree with, and may otherwise be powerless to stop. It’s about demonstrating to other people who facing the brunt of the effects that they are not alone. That’s why they are called ‘demonstrations’.

I won’t draw comparisons between Trump and Hitler at this point, but I do find it rather curious how one of the biggest questions people have when looking back at history is how the German population could possibly have let fascism take hold, seemingly without much protest. I wonder how many people were dismissing those who spoke up, with the same argument: ‘Protesting won’t make a difference’.

2. It’s a foreign country. It doesn’t have any impact on you or people you know. Focus on your own issues.

There are a few constitutent parts to this. Firstly, this kind of statement is often made in a blanket fashion, completely ignoring the personal relationships that the person on the receiving end may have. Where their wife may come from; where their friends may live; where the company their work for is based, for example.

Secondly, even if a person has zero personal ties to the US, the idea that we could close our eyes and ears to what happens outside of our country is a non-sequitur. In fact, it’s the worst kind of nationalism. Following the argument through logically, no Scottish person should ever speak about the evils of apartheid – because it was a South African issue. Neither should the UK have gotten involved in the Second World War. There are innumerable examples of why this doesn’t hold water.

There is a valid criticism to be made of people who only care and speak up about what they see on the news in a foreign country, whilst acting completely indifferent about what is happening in their own back garden. However, that sort of criticism can only be made with in depth knowledge of a person and their motives, and is certainly not something that should be applied with a broad brush to people whose background you have no idea about. Just because somebody is concerned about the actions of Trump, doesn’t mean that they aren’t equally as passionate about the right wing agenda of the UK Government, or that they volunteer at a local foodbank every night.

All of this aside, the reality is that what happens in America does impact what happens in the UK. The policies and rhetoric of the most powerful man on Earth, who leads the biggest military superpower in modern history, who happens to be our supposedly closest ally, definitely has repercussions around the globe. To pretend otherwise is simply foolish.

To bring it home, so to speak: the ‘solidarity’ word is one that comes with a lot of baggage, but it is exactly what protest is often about: making a statement about what kind of society you want and believe in, even in spite of everything that may be happening elsewhere. It’s about saying: ‘The most powerful nation on the planet may be targetting refugees, but we won’t accept those same actions here.’ If all the protests in Glasgow yesterday achieved was to make a single refugee feel more welcome and secure in their adopted city, then they were already a success.

3. The American people chose to vote for Trump. Get over it.

This is one of the most ridiculous assertions of the lot. The idea that once a political party or candidate wins an election that they are infallible, and should be immune from any sort of criticism is ludicrous. At best it is complete hypocrisy on the part of those uttering this nonsense, and at worst an extremely dangerous perspective, that results in human rights abuses in countries like Turkey and Russia.

4. Protesters are just idiots who are virtue signalling whilst contributing exactly zero to the cause they’re apparently so passionate about.

This is pretty much a word for word comment from someone who didn’t approve of the demonstrations held in Glasgow yesterday, but the language is similar to a lot of others.

Here’s how ‘virtue signalling’ is defined:

virtue signalling (US virtue signaling)

noun [mass noun]

the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue: it’s noticeable how often virtue signalling consists of saying you hate things | standing on the sidelines saying how awful the situation is does nothing except massage your ego by virtue signalling.

On its own, the phrase is seemingly innocuous, but more and more frequently it is now being used to dismiss people who are taking a position that others disagree with, without them having to actually intellectually engage with that position. It’s become one of the lazy phrases like ‘fake news’ that I can’t stand, as it doesn’t actually mean anything in practice.

Given that the phrase is based on intent, the only way ‘virtue signalling’ could accurately be ascribed to those who chose to demonstrate against Trump or his actions, would be if the person using it knew those intentions. In other words, they would need to know the specific motivating factors involved… something that is clearly impossible when applied to a group.

It’s probably worth being crystal clear on this: disagreeing with your position doesn’t mean that somebody is ‘virtue signalling’. It means they disagree with your position. Challenge them on their arguments, not with some spurious empty phrase that only serves to shut down discussions that you can’t handle.

Trump image by Gage Skidmore – used under CC-BY-SA 2.0 license

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Scotland, get ready to fight

Earlier today, we woke up to the terrible realisation that the UK had narrowly voted to leave the European Union. This was an outcome that I ultimately expected, but facing the stark reality of the situation has still left me feeling numb, and in shock. Opening my eyes to see ‘Nigel Farage declares independence day’ and ‘British Pound drops to a 31 year low’ on my phone’s lock screen is something I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to forget; reminiscent of a dystopian nightmare rather than reality.

To make things worse, the dogged, often proud ignorance of those smugly celebrating victory in the immediate aftermath has been staggering. As I write this, I am overlooking the City of Barcelona, and being here only renders the sadness even more palpable, and even harder to believe. 

However, this is not a drill. This is the real deal. Like it or not, the U.K. Has voted to leave the EU, and the question is what we are going to do about it now.

Many legal commentators have pointed out that the referendum isn’t binding. Whilst technically correct, this ignores the political reality, and does nothing but give a false sense of hope to those who are hurting most at this point. Of course the legal position should be stated, but it must be done holistically, not in a theoretical vacuum. There is no realistic chance of Westminster refusing to honour the outcome, nor should there be. I despise and despair at how the vote went, but the result must be respected. 

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that she plans to prepare for the possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum, in response to 62% of those who voted choosing to remain. She is right to do. The SNP stood for election to the Scottish Parliament just a few months ago with a clear indication that they would seek another referendum in this precise scenario. There are many who will not like this, but the Scottish people chose to return them to power in Holyrood knowing this. Just as the result of the EU referendum must be respected, so must that be.

We were told during the last referendum that ‘the only way to ensure Scotland’s continued membership of the EU is to vote to remain part of the U.K.’. For those of us who do not wish to see us removed from the EU despite a majority vote to remain, independence is the only possible solution. If that last shred of hope is to be realised, we need to be prepared for the fight of our lives. This is it. There will be no third chance. 

The last time we had a chance to vote on Scotland’s independence, it caught many of us by surprise. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like even the vote itself couldn’t possibly be actually happening, up until the last few weeks. That is not the case this time around. We have woken up; we know the score, and if we want to have any chance of success we need to start preparing right now. 

Yes, we were told that a vote for Scottish independence would mean economic chaos… Leaving the EU… Cutting off ties with our neighbours… Jumping into the unknown… and yes, all of those arguments seem null given the inevitable Brexit fallout. However, we cannot rely on this alone to make our case. We need to be smarter in how we approach things, and have better, concrete answers for issues like currency. I have faith that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP will be able to put together a solid case, but it’s up to us to make it compelling. 

Here are some general things that we need to start doing, from this point on:

  • Push for Scottish independence. We cannot rely on Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP alone to call for a second referendum. If we want it, we have to demand it. It’s now or never. Write to your MSP… Tweet them… Sign the SNP’s pledge of support. Do as much as you can to demonstrate the appetite that exists. 
  • Nail your colours to the mast early. In the first referendum, many of us waited far too long to express and articulate our positions, in order to avoid causing problems with friends or family. By the time we did, it was too late. This time, we have to speak up loudly, firmly, but politely. People will value what you think, and this is too important an issue for you not to be heard. Set up your own blog, write letters to newspapers, create music or other art… Just make sure you speak up.
  • Understand your arguments. It’s not enough just to want independence and argue with whoever disagrees. Get informed and understand why you believe what you do, and be able to articulate it. Don’t just reel off platitudes; be smart.
  • Challenge misinformation. Far too often during the EU referendum, we failed to challenge those making sweeping statements, in order to avoid the potential conflict that would come along with engaging. As difficult and frustrating as it may be, that has to change. If somebody says something that you know is wrong, speak up. If you aren’t sure what the answer is, but your gut tells you that something isn’t right, ask for evidence. Challenge others to back up their claims and explain them – firmly, but politely. This applies equally to our own side of the debate as it does to those who disagree with us. 
  • Think critically. Not everything the SNP does is good. Not everything The Tories do are bad. Don’t accept things just because other independence supports do. Don’t jump on the bandwagon. If people are criticising an article on Twitter, read it before commenting. Don’t just swallow what everybody else has, and don’t buy into the self aggrandising myths of the Scottish new media – including Bella Caledonia and the ilk. 
  • Keep the heid. Be kind. Be prepared to accept when you are wrong or someone has a better argument than you. Make concessions and see from the opposite point of view. Challenge misinformation but don’t resort to attacking other people. Do not vilify those who disagree. Independence will never be reached unless we win over hearts and minds. Labelling people and dismissing them will do nothing to aid that. 

Here are some specific challenges I think we have to overcome, and need to keep in mind: 

  • Independence is not in the bag. The big yellow map of Scotland from the EU referendum is undeniably symbolic, and a comfort to those of us who are hurting – but we have to remember that it’s not the full story. 62% voted to remain in the EU, and not all of them will automatically support an independent Scotland. There’s a long way to go, and we have to never forget that. 
  • Explaining why we want to be part of the EU. This is something we have failed to articulate in a way that is easily accessible to those not as invested in this debate. We need to find creative and clear ways of explaining why there is a difference between voting to be a sovereign nation, and being part of the European Union. It isn’t just about not having other people tell you what to to do. This is a challenge that will come up time and time again and we need to have s good response. 
  • Avoiding the echo chamber. Sharing on Facebook is fine, but experience has shown that we primarily end up talking to those who share our views rather than anybody who may oppose them. We need to find ways to have meaningful conversations with those outside of our echo chambers.

I’m tired, and I’ve lost three drafts of this post already trying to type it on my damn phone… But we aren’t going to get another chance at this. We need to be prepared for the fight of our lives, we need to be smarter and kinder than we were before – and we need to do it now. 

A Message for Bernie Sanders Supporters

Hilary Clinton has officially reached the threshold required to clinch the Democratic Party’s nomination for Presidential candidate. Save some political miracle, this means that we will not see Bernie Sanders in office in this American election cycle.

Bernie Sanders
Image by Gage SkidmoreCC BY-SA 2.0

I know that this is something that has caused many of my friends and family to experience a deep sense of hopelessness and despair; now faced with a choice between a Democrat firmly entrenched in corporate America and established political history, and… Donald Trump. That feeling is one that I know all too well, given the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum back in 2014.

Throughout this entire process, I have felt strong parallels between the increasing popularity of Bernie’s campaign – going from nothing to a significant force – and the grassroots growth of the Yes movement. I know the crushing realisation that comes with seeing the first salient, unexpected chance of real political change fall at the last hurdle, and I hurt alongside you.

After Scotland voted No to independence, I felt like I had lost my country. It felt as if the one chance we were going to get to make real progress had been squandered, and that the intoxicating hope in the lead up to the referendum was gone for good. As I wrote at the time:

For the past few weeks, we had dared to dream about what sort of country Scotland should be. It felt like we had found the beginnings of a new identity based on our shared values. The atmosphere was electric; the hope intoxicating.

[…]

We had the chance to do something brave, and amazing. We had the chance to rid our country of nuclear weapons; to declare our commitment to human rights; to challenge the political establishment, and to finally have a real say in our future. Instead, Scotland voted to remain part of the UK.

Reading over the words from that time still brings tears to the corners of my eyes. The pain of seeing peaceful revolution slip away never really disappears, and I stand side by side with Bernie supporters who feel that hurt just now.

In the aftermath of the independence referendum though, I began to see through the fog of despondency; to reassess what had actually happened, and to feel the fire return to my belly. To quote one of the articles that I found comfort in at the time:

The hurt will pass.  People’s allegiances change.  There are ways to regroup.  Opportunities to advance the democratic case for transformational change will come again. That is a universal constant.

Think back to what has been achieved in this nomination process. Bernie Sanders started out as a completely unknown and anonymous Senator, who nobody thought would even actually ever run – never mind get as far as he has. The media ignored him completely until they were forced to take notice through the sheer popularity that he managed to garner from ordinary people. Look around you. America is not the same country that it was before this campaign. Not only was a ‘crackpot socialist’ able to get significant mainstream media coverage, but he brought issues of social justice to the very forefront of the American political consciousness. Despite an ultimate failure to clinch the nomination, this has been an overwhelming victory in a system designed to stifle and destroy precisely that sort of speech. Yes, take time to grieve and mourn the loss, but don’t wait too long. Don’t let this setback be a knockout blow in the battle for progress. Wipe yer eyes, and on yer feet.

To quote Bella Caledonia:

Armed with little more than social media, blogs, and DIY creativity, we tried to take on the might of the British state and the vast power and wealth of the British establishment. And for a few weeks we had them terrified. Hold on to that feeling and be proud of it.

Hold on to the impetus created by the success of Bernie Sanders. Let that propel you and others who share those values to effect real, lasting political change in the future. Scotland has never been the same since the referendum; the landscape has shifted permanently. There is no putting the genie back in the bottle now. As Bernie tweeted yesterday:

This isn’t the end; it’s just the beginning. Make sure of it.

I’ll finish up with the words from a blog post that I wrote after I came to terms with the result of the independence referendum.

I am proud of us dreaming and debating what a better future might look like – whether that is together or independent. Now that the majority has spoken, it’s time to ensure that the shared values that rose to the surface are pursued.

Let’s keep asking the difficult questions and challenging the status quo.

Fighting for a fairer nation doesn’t stop here.

Why I’m voting to Remain in the EU (from a ‘Yes’ voter)

I’ll be voting for the UK to remain part of the European in the imminent referendum.

It’s no secret that I am a staunch advocate for Scottish independence, and despite being entirely separate issues, the two are often conflated – and it isn’t immediately clear how to the two positions can be naturally compatible. This is something that few people have addressed directly, so I’m going to do so – explaining my reasons for voting ‘Remain’, with additional reference to my pro Scottish independence stance.

Before getting into the weeds, a few important things to note:

  • The arguments made will relate only to the current British constitutional setup. In other words, they apply to the question at hand: whether the UK should vote to Remain in the EU. If the question was solely about the membership of an independent Scotland, then things may be different. Maybe not, but that’s not something that I’m going to address in any detail.
  • This is about the UK’s membership of the European Union, and has nothing to do (at least directly) with the European Convention on Human Rights, Strasbourg, or the Human Rights Act.
British Empire Map
‘British Empire Map’ by ‘Geordie Bosanko’.

Reason 1: British Sovereignty

Background: 

As the Leave campaign have stated, this whole debate is really about sovereignty. In other words, who holds the final say over what laws are enacted in the UK. Sadly, this is one of the most complicated parts of the issue, and also one of the most grossly over-simplified.

Those championing the Leave cause feel that increasingly the UK is subject to a barrage of new laws from Brussels which require the UK to either adopt legislation that we do not want, or prevent us from enacting the laws that we do want – and that we have to end our membership of the European Union to prevent this.

My views: 

One of the key concepts underpinning much of the discussion around this issue is Dicey’s Doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty. Fundamentally, this is the political theory that nothing can bind the British Parliament, including Parliament itself. Practically, this is why a Labour government is not able to create laws that a later Tory government couldn’t overturn.

On the face of it, this seems like an eminently sensible thing. Parliament is a manifestation of the expressed will of the British people, and given that, they should be the only ones who hold the ultimate decision making power. This is tough to argue with in the abstract (and the academic in me resonates with such a clear principle), but it is clearly not the full story. Much in the same way that social contract theories are fascinating on their own, but have scant relation to the real world, parliamentary sovereignty does not exist in a vacuum, devoid of all other practical realities. The romantic notion of British sovereignty relies on a myopic view of the UK as the only, or most important nation in the world – one that would have made a lot more sense in the 17th Century when Dicey was kicking about than it does now.

Just as we have complete control as individuals over our actions, we do not exist in isolation, with an unfettered ability to do whatever we want, whenever we want – at least not without consequences. We retain our personal sovereignty whilst also making decisions based on influence as pressure from a variety of outside actors such as friends, family, our communities, and the law.

Currently, the British Parliament is perfectly able to comply with parts of European law that it doesn’t like, but there would of course be consequences for doing so. It may not fit Dicey’s idea of Parliamentary Sovereignty, but it doesn’t mean that British sovereignty itself is impinged. Instead, it is simply part of the reality of living in a world where you are not the only one in existence. What those talking about British sovereignty are really arguing for is the ability to remove themselves from consequences – and that’s a completely different thing entirely.

One final point to consider is that even if we do leave the EU, our other ties to the union mean that it would be impossible to avoid their influence entirely. Even if we succeed in clawing back our hallowed core of British Parliamentary sovereignty, we will be bound by other trade obligations necessary to ensure the stability of our economy. One only needs to look at Norway to see this in practice: forced for practical reasons to accept many of the European regulations, whilst having no power to influence them.

To me, this all feels akin to a stroppy teenager moving out of their parent’s house to escape rules that they perceive as unfair, only to discover that they still can’t play their music at 2am. They may finally have their sovereignty in theory, but remain unable to exercise it in the manner they want to.

How does that work with Scottish independence? 

Unsurprisingly enough, as a supporter of Scottish independence, I don’t have much sympathy for arguments that are based on a notion of British sovereignty. The concept itself seems completely alien, and I don’t believe that the British Parliament is a genuine expression of the British people in Westminster; only an expression of the majority of England. For this reason, it should be immediately clear why Yes voters would struggle to get onboard with an argument rooted in that premise.

Additionally, when we look at the debate through the lens of sovereignty, it helps explain why the question of Scottish independence is completely separate from EU membership. Whilst the European Union is a political union of sovereign nation states, there is no sovereignty for Scotland as part of the United Kingdom.

EU Referendum

Reason 2: Curtailing the excesses of individual governments

The primary driving force for the formation of the European Union was to prevent the possibility of another Nazi Germany ever taking place again on the continent, by binding the constituent countries closer together.

One of the main reasons I support the UK continuing membership of the EU is to ensure that people are protected from the excesses of any single government. This is something that applies equally to our own, and to those of other Member States. I fundamentally disagree with the premise that national governments should hold absolute power over their citizens, and the only solution to that is to be part of a supra-national community that holds its members to account on the basis of shared values – without stripping them of their ultimate sovereignty.

In situations where extreme governments come to power, the EU acts as a great balancing force, pulling all members towards the political centre. This is not a perfect solution, but acts as an effective buffer against the historical fluctuations of the domestic politics of individual countries – whilst also leaving enough room for voters to take different ideological positions.

How does that work with Scottish independence?

From the perspective of a supporter of Scottish independence, I already feel as if we are subject to the undesirable ideological position of a Westminster government that we (definitively) did not vote for. This situation doesn’t appear likely to change anytime soon, and so the EU is one of the few things that helps curtail the worst excesses of that.

Should it be the case that Scotland was a sovereign nation in its own right, I would still hold the position that we would need to be a member of a supra-national political union that would prevent against the excesses of our own government – and to help ensure that the citizens of other Member States were equally protected.

EU Members + Proposed

Reason 3: Free Movement of Persons

An important pillar of the EU is what is known as the the free movement of persons, but which is actually the free movement of workers. The distinction is important, as contrary to popular belief you cannot immediately go to another European country and start getting benefits. In other words, you can go and stay in Italy if you want, but you need to be pursuing an economic activity, not just living off the Italian welfare system whilst lying on a beach drinking Aperol Spritz.

After the attacks in Brussels, some took them as a reason to attack this core concept of EU membership. This was on the basis that the lack of internal borders between European countries allowed the attackers to enter into Belgium undetected, from weak external border checkpoints in places like Greece. This is undeniably a huge issue to tackle, but it should have no bearing on the debate over British membership of the European Union. Whilst the rights enjoyed by European citizens apply to those in all Member States, the single external border is separate. Known as the ‘Schengen Area’, neither the UK or Ireland are signatories to the agreement. This has led some people to state that if we leave the EU, nothing will change in terms of how we travel to countries within the EU, which simply isn’t true. Whilst it is correct that there’s unlikely to be much disruption to people going on their holidays, there are a host of rights that we enjoy as European citizens that have nothing to do with Schengen – including the right to live and work in another EU country. Rights that will be lost if we leave.

This particular point is one that genuinely perplexes me, as it isn’t just about those who have chosen to make the UK their home; it’s about the millions of British people who have exercised their Treaty rights to live abroad – including many of my own friends and family. There hasn’t been even the scantest of attempt to answer questions about what will happen to them in the event of a ‘Leave’ vote, and I think it’s a detestable way to treat people: leaving their futures hanging in limbo on the basis of a Tory party argument over British sovereignty. If anybody wants to explain how both the UK and remaining EU Member States would deal with such a huge issue – both legally and practically – please do speak up. So far the response has been nothing but a deafening silence.

To be blunt, I do not believe that immigration is a genuine problem – at least not with regards to immigration from the European Union. I believe that British emigrants enrich the cultures they move to, just as immigrants to the UK greatly enrich our own culture. We are not ‘running out of room’, or being ‘over-run’, and it is hugely ironic to hear those on welfare complaining about how ‘we will have to pay for all these fuckers coming over’. Oh, will ye, aye?

To finish, here’s a specific example of why I don’t trust the government on this issue. The Tories routinely wheel out rhetoric about how British people should come first, and that EU citizens shouldn’t have the same rights that we enjoy when they come to the UK, but this is diametrically opposed to the laws which they themselves have brought in. The simple fact is, that as a British citizen married to a non-EU partner, I have less rights than a European citizen with a non-EU partner moving to the UK. I’ve written about this in the past, but the sheer bare faced hypocrisy of Westminster on this means that I will never believe any of their hollow proclamations about protecting British interests when it comes to the freedom of movement of persons. They are the ones who have systematically eroded them, and only the EU allows some protection.

The mark of a government that truly believes its citizens should come first isn’t one that gives them less rights than the people they don’t want in the country.

How does that work with Scottish independence?

My wife and I have been treated with such contempt by the British government simply in our attempts to be together, and the law is so deliberately contradictory and unclear that it has only reinforced my desire for Scottish independence. The lack of concern for our right to family life, and the implementation of some of the harshest possible requirements on me as a British citizen to be with my wife simply solidify my desire to be disassociated from that status. As far as I am concerned, Scottish independence is the only way to escape the hypocritical immigration laws imposed by the Westminster government that are biased towards their own citizens, and that are only buffered by European freedom of movement.

Cassis de Dijon
Dijon Drink‘ by Sonja Stark.

Reason 4: Trade

One of the arguments from the Leave campaign is that due to the importance of the UK market, EU Member States would never stop trading with the UK, irrespective of our own membership status. As one UKIP MP stated: ‘The French aren’t going to stop us buying their wine.’. Of course, they are correct on that point, but what many fail to either understand, or choose to ignore, is that whilst we will still be able to trade with the European Union, we will do so at a huge automatic disadvantage due to the nature of EU law.

As well as the free movement of workers, another pillar of the European Union is the free movement of goods. What this means in practice is that (generally) anything made or sold in one Member State has to be accepted without discrimination. In other words, Germany can’t stop blackcurrant liquers from being imported from France for not being alcoholic enough (yep, really). To bring it home a little, EU law prevents any other Member State from adding additional taxes, fees, regulations, or any other restrictions on British products when they are brought into the country. Leaving the EU would mean that those protections would no longer apply, and British manufacturers – from the biggest to the smallest – would find themselves priced out of many important markets.

It appears that the hope is that in the event of leaving the EU, the UK would then negotiate a trade deal which would give us the same sort of protections that we currently receive. This is based on the naive view that Britain is such a vastly important market that other countries couldn’t possibly give up the chance to do business with us. The reality is that many Member States of the EU already view the UK (rightly, for many reasons) as having an inflated sense of entitlement. It is simply not plausible that we will be handed all sorts of benefits without the obligations and responsibilities of membership – not to mention unjust.

How does that work with Scottish independence?

There isn’t much in this section that is all that directly relevant to the independence discussion. One thing that I do find curious though is the number of people who voted ‘No’ to Scottish independence on the basis that there was no sound economic plan presented, that are suddenly perfectly happy to leave the European Union when the economic justification is equally – if not more uncertain. A lack of certainty in of itself isn’t really an issue for me, as there will always be unknowns during times of political change,  but to use that as a justification in one debate and then have no trouble with it in another suggests that it was never really the real problem in the first place.

So, aye.

There we have it. I’m no EU apologist. From the abject failure to help the Greek people in their time of need, to the introduction of ludicrous laws such as those dealing with website cookies, there is much to be desired from the union in future. That said, there are also many positives. You might not agree with my own personal reasons for staying in, but hopefully at least consider them. The polarised, disingenuous, and often xenophobic nature of the debate has been deeply troubling, and I desperately hope that whatever way the referendum goes, that rhetoric doesn’t point towards what the future of the UK, and wider continent is going to look like.

At the end of the day, intellectually and academically I could come down on either side of the fence – far more than I ever could on the issue of Scottish independence anyway. The reasons that people will choose to either vote or remain will both be ideological, and deeply personal. These are my reasons for staying.

We are all Greek.

Scotland Stands with Greece

There was a powerful image on the news last night. A woman that looked to be at least 80 years old was seen in the middle of rioting in Athens, pulling a Greek flag away from a young man who was trying to set it on fire – his face covered with a gas mask.

The symbolism is poignant, as it so often is in Greece.

Only a week ago the Greek people were celebrating a victory, as they voted to reject stringent austerity requirements being imposed by the dark and powerful forces in Europe. For so long they have had their domestic policies dictated from Berlin via Brussels, and I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be in Syntagma Square when the results came, to feel like some sort of sovereignty was restored to the people at last.

Last night, the Greek Parliament were forced by those same European forces to implement emergency legislation to adopt even stricter measures than the people rejected in the referendum. Syriza did all that they could by calling the bluff of their creditors with the vote. In the end, they played the best hand they could and lost. There was nowhere else to go: accept the terms or leave the Eurozone.

Images from the centre of Athens on the 17th of November 2014. In memory of the Polytechnic uprising in 1973

The last few months of 2014 saw trouble on an almost daily basis in Athens. Annual protests that had seen dwindling turn-outs for years suddenly swelled with those taking to the streets to demand an end to the weak leadership of their Government in the face of increasing demands from the Troika.

The one last bit of hope that those involved seemed to be clinging to was the December election, and the potential for the anti-austerity party Syriza, who marched alongside them, to change the way the game was being played. No more taking things lying down. Seemingly against all odds, they got into power. For the first time in years, the riot police were called off, and the protests turned to demonstrations of support for the new government.

There was hope, but it didn’t last for long.

The scenes of last year will be nothing compared to what happens now that even Tsipras, with all of his abilities has been forced to concede defeat. The truth is that no matter how hard or how well he fought, he just didn’t have anywhere near enough bargaining power to win. Without an incredibly damaging exit from the Eurozone, Greece will be forced to do whatever those holding the purse strings demand. 

I fear for what will happen now.

There are plenty who say that the Greeks got themselves into this mess, through early retirement ages and high rates of tax evasion. They shouldn’t just be able to shirk their responsibilities, or ‘have their cake and eat it’.

Corruption has been rife in Greece for decades. Nepotism is the norm. However, in many senses it isn’t hard to see why. The British and Americans helped open the doors for a military dictatorship in the country to avoid Communist influence, and Greece shoulders a hugely disproportionate burden in the number of refugees that it receives as the first port of call into the EU. Historically, ideologically, and geographically, they are caught in the middle, with no support from what are meant to be their allies.

Whatever the history is, the present reality is that the rate of child poverty is above 40%. The rate of youth unemployment 50%. Those who do have jobs have been forced to take huge pay cuts, or even to work for free from months to years simply because there’s no other option. The infamous pensions that have been so criticised have been reduced to almost nothing, with it impossible for those who have previously retired to find new jobs. Greeks work longer hours, and own more of their own businesses than a large number of other countries around the world. The generalisations about them being lazy or greedy simply do not play out.

The idea that somehow the Greek people are themselves solely to blame for this crisis, and that they deserve what has happened is an appalling and reprehensible one. People should not be forced to suffer terribly and indefinitely because of the corrupt actions of their previous Governments – those of whom still live comfortably with the proceeds of past malfeasance.

Even if the fault of what has happened really does lie with the average Greek (which it does not) then there must be a way open for the country to get out of the situation they are in. People must be able to build themselves out of poverty, and sometimes that requires acts of compassion and humanity – not cold blooded market capitalism. This is not happening however, and despite even the IMF declaring that repayment of the debt is impossible without some form of relief, the demands just become greater, all the while earning billions in profit for the ECB.

History repeats itself, albeit in different ways. When African nations struggled to pay back impossible debts built up by corrupt dictators, we marched in the street to ‘make poverty history’. When Germany was faced with rebuilding a broken nation after defeat in the Second World War, creditors (including Greece) wrote off a significant portion of their debt so they could do so. Now, the Greeks are facing an impossible task, and nobody seems to care.

Είμαστε όλοι Έλληνες.

Proportional representation won’t save the Union

In the days following the results of the 2015 General Election, there have been calls from all sides of the political spectrum for electoral reform. Quite rightly, those on the left are both furious at the lack of representation they’ve been afforded at Westminster, and also terrified at the prospect of a future where nobody but the Conservatives will be able to achieve a majority in Parliament. Those on the right aren’t much happier, with analysis showing that UKIP would have had a massive gain in seats under a proportional system, rising from the 1 that they currently hold to upwards of 80.

Proportional Representation - General Election 2015
How the BBC visualised the difference

Of course, this sort of disproportionate result has always been present in previous elections. It’s just that up until recently it has largely been masked by the domination of the two major parties. Cracks in the system began to show with the rise in popularity of the Lib Dems, and are now fully exposed both by the UKIP surge, and the simultaneous demise of Labour in Scotland.

One of the stated benefits of the First Past the Post System is to produce strong majorities in Parliament, bringing with them political and economic stability. Seemingly against all the odds, FTPT has managed to again achieve that, at least in terms of the numbers involved anyway. Whilst the Tories will be able to hold what’s called the ‘confidence of Parliament’, that doesn’t mean that they hold the confidence of an increasingly fractured United Kingdom. This election has demonstrated a strong need for electoral reform, with some sort of proportional system required to give legitimacy to future governments, but it will not solve the constitutional problems being faced, particularly in relation to Scotland.

If the UK truly was a single entity, without borders, then PR would provide a solid foundation for people to feel like they are genuinely and fairly represented, irrespective of where they lived. However, that is not the case. No matter how  unpopular it may be to some, we are – to use Cameron’s words – ‘a family of nations’, with distinct and separate identities. Even ardent Scottish Unionists recognise this; a truism that is not just some product of contemporary nationalism, but evident culturally and structurally. People in Scotland support proportional representation, but also want a stronger voice for their nation within the family dynamic. We may just be 5 million people out of 64, but we are also 1 of 4 nations. It is this contradiction that is posing such an issue for the future of the UK. Even with electoral reform, this identity crisis will remain; the Scottish question unanswered.

Scottish Independence British State

Another danger lurking underneath the surface of the calls for electoral reform is that the debate may indeed only serve to highlight the differences between Scotland and England, and ultimately expedite the breakup of the Union. In many corners, the questions about PR are posited in terms of reducing the influence of the Scottish, with the thinly veiled question at the heart of things really asking: Why do the Scots have so many MPs with such a small percentage of the population? This isn’t correct, of course – as we would have the same number of MPs whatever parties held them, but it’s easy for the issues to become conflated given the (disproportionate) success of the SNP, and the antiScottish rhetoric that has emerged. To my pro-Union friends seeking a fairer electoral system: beware this trap. Proportional representation won’t save the UK, and if the debate isn’t approached carefully, it could do more damage to the relationship than it will good.


Header ‘Scottish and British flags’ image by ‘The Laird of Oldham‘ – used under Creative Commons License. ‘Poland-Ball’ style image by ‘Universalis‘ – used under Creative Commons License