This is What’s Happening in Greece Right Now

You might not have heard, but thousands of people have been taking to the streets of Greece over the past few weeks.

Despite the impact of the economic crash on the country initially garnering significant media attention, the longer lasting effects have not seen the same level of interest.

Passionate demonstrations are not out of the ordinary in Greece, but this year they have been particularly heated. The cooler weather in November has also brought with it a series of events that have heightened the tension in an already troubled corner of the European Union.

Students in Athens have already faced a number of conflicts with the authorities, one of which was over attempts to mark the anniversary of the 1973 uprising against the military dictatorship. (Some pictures available here) Already fraught relationships with the police have deteriorated even further, through aggression and the liberal use of force. Protesters have been met with tear gas, stun grenades, and claims of ‘thuggish’ behaviour against dissenters.

This weekend sees the culmination of a number of factors which could result in a terrible perfect storm.

  • Friday 5th December sees a State visit by the Turkish Prime Minister, in amongst political controversy over Turkish actions in the Aegean.
  • Greek police have reportedly imposed a ban on ‘outdoor gatherings and demonstrations’ from 3pm on Friday to the same time the following day.
  • Saturday 6th December marks the six year anniversary of the fatal shooting of 15 year old student Alexis Grigoropoulos, which sparked huge riots across the country in 2008.
  • A friend of Grigoropoulos who was with him at the time – Nikos Romanos – is currently imprisoned and has been on hunger strike for around 25 days. Thousands of people have already taken to the streets just days ago to show solidarity, with violence erupting afterwards.
  • Syrian refugees have been camped outside of the Greek Parliament in Syntagma Square for over a week, engaged in a hunger strike to gain political recognition from the Government.
  • The Greek Parliament is set to decide on a contentious new budget for 2015 on Sunday

Greece is already sitting on a social powder-keg, with increasing pressure from the EU to implement further austerity measures despite sky high unemployment rates. It could be that the aggregation will spill over into violence, despite the thousands of police set to be deployed. Hopefully this won’t be the case.

Edit: You should be sure to read this thoughtful comment from Maria, below.

Obama’s Immigration Plan: Hollow Words

Immigration. The ugly political topic that quickly ignites guttural feelings from across the political spectrum, allowing fundamentalists to gain ground whilst those seeking compromise rush to take shelter from the crossfire.

Whilst we in the UK have questions about freedom of movement within the EU to deal with, the situation in America is decidedly different. With far poorer neighbours just across a land border to the south, a history of ignorance, and marriage regulations that vary from state to state, it is a complex issue.

As part of his Presidential election campaign in 2008, Obama promised to be the one to bring much needed reform to the immigration policies of the US. His voting record at the time (#) appeared to back up his stance on a more liberal approach – such as giving permanent residence to particular categories of workers who are without a legal right to remain in the country.

In amongst a litany of other broken political promises (Guantanamo Bay, anyone?), there was the specific guarantee to deliver an immigration bill within his first year of office – something that has drawn substantial criticism.

‘I cannot guarantee that it is going to be in the first 100 days. But what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I’m promoting. And I want to move that forward as quickly as possible.’ (#)

Finally, it was announced a couple of days ago that Obama plans to take executive action to make changes in the way that immigration is handled.

This is to concentrate on three main areas:

  1. Providing more resources to ‘stem the flow of illegal crossings’ at the border.
  2. Making it easier for ‘high-skilled immigrants’ to stay and work in the US.
  3. Moving to ‘deal responsibly’ with those immigrants who already live in the US illegally.

The first two issues are almost a necessity to be mentioned in any proposed change to immigration rules, in order to appease those who will (and have) inevitably been outraged by the prospect of any sort of move that isn’t seen to be ‘cracking down’ on the problem. (#) There’s always a feeling in immigration discussions that political parties are simply moving chairs around on the deck of the Titantic; a lot of what’s being proposed (such as ‘Visa Modernization’) sounds fine and well, but isn’t really anything different to what we’ve been told by any other government before. (More detail #)

The third  issue however, made for some interesting reading, and it’s what Obama spent most of his time explaining in his speech. Obama-Immigration-Transcript.

The gist of it is as follows:

  • There are millions of undocumented immigrants living in America, who contribute to the society. (That’s putting it lightly. Arguably, the whole American economy relies on the exploitation of those living there illegally).
  • It is impractical to track down and deport all of those people.
  • Giving an unconditional amnesty would be unfair to those who had followed the rules to migrate legally.
  • If people (who have been in the US for a certain amount of time, as well as other conditions) are willing to pay taxes, they can register to ‘come out of the shadows and get right with the law’.

Unsurprisingly, this was a clever speech, designed to appeal to all parts of society… Biblical references and all.

‘Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.’

It is clear that this was as much about a President in his final term forcing the hand of Congress to act, after the Democrats recently suffering a heavy defeat in the midterm elections. This was about throwing a political stake in the sand to try and force change.

‘And to those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill.’

It is symbolic, and an admirable aim. However, it appears that this might be all it is.

Obama’s speech was heavy on rhetoric, and almost non-existent on actual content. Looking closer, it is unclear what it actually means to ‘come out of the shadows and get right with the law’. He explicitly stated that this would not grant a permanent right of residence, or any other rights of citizenship.

‘It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive’

It isn’t obvious then, why exactly anybody who is currently living in America illegally (and who meets the criteria) would come forward. All this does is give a temporary reprieve from the threat of deportation, which as the President admitted himself, is a threat that would never realistically come to fruition for many people. Wo why take the risk of stepping out of the shadows in the first place? I wouldn’t.

Whilst a highly symbolic, and sophisticated political move, this doesn’t actually confer any real benefit on those who Obama spoke passionately about in his speech: those who ‘work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs’, who go to the same churches and schools as everyone else, who support families, whose ‘hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours’.

The end game of this move way well be to try and push Congress to make positive changes, but that isn’t the way Obama dressed it up. Instead, he painted a red white and blue striped picture of a glorious America that was embracing brothers and sisters with open arms; as if these changes would give people fundamental and significant protections that they currently don’t have.

They don’t.

It’s infuriating enough on its own to listen to yet more politicking on immigration, but especially so given the false hope that Obama has given to those people that he praised as part of American life.

‘That’s what this debate is all about. We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration; we need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears.’

These are powerful words, but words which ring hollow in the face of scrutiny.

Sadly people seem more interested in whether this is ‘smart politics’ or legal than about the people the proposed changes are meant to help.

And that’s the problem.

The ‘Scottish Independence Party’ Are Dangerous Idiots.

Tonight I became aware of the existence of the so called ‘Scottish Independence Party’. No, not the Scottish National Party, but the Scottish Independence Party – apparently set up by Martin Keatings and Deane Syme.

EDIT: I have received a legal threat from Martin Keane, claiming that he and Deane Syme had nothing to do with the ‘party’ except for its initial creation. At his request, I have clarified the above sentence, and added this notice. Read more about that here. 

Haven’t heard of them before now? Nah, me neither. Although going by their Facebook page, it appears that over 34,000 people have liked them previously – presumably for some of the messages they shared during the independence referendum in months gone past. Below is an image taken from their site, describing their mission in a typically self aggrandising manner.

Scottish Independence Party

There have been a whole number of groups springing up recently that are claiming to be stepping in to the void where Labour once stood; to be ‘for the people’ like no other organisation has; to ’empower local communities’ and so forth, so this isn’t really a big surprise. On the face of it, the Scottish Independence Party seems like just another group with big ideals who got a decent recognition for sharing some positive messages via social media. Idealistic, naive, and ultimately doomed to failure.

Tonight however, they revealed their real intentions.

In a post on Facebook, they set out a list of policy positions that they seemed to be considering as part of their push towards some sort of post-referendum step to formal establishment as a party.

The post itself seems to have disappeared from their timeline, but is still accessible here (since been removed).

Have a read for yourselves what they have in mind for a future independent Scotland.

These are IDEAS for POLICIES which our members have been debating on our website. In no way are these set in stone. We need YOUR help to decide which ideas are good and bad. If we’ve missed anything or if you’ve got an idea you’d like added to the list then please fire away!

1. Allow teenagers to get jobs at 15 as opposed to 16.

2. Lower the age to 16 to purchase beer & cider in pubs. (ID required) This will get the youngsters used to drinking so that when they come of age to purchase HARD alcohol from the shops/pubs & nightclubs etc, they won’t obliterate their insides.

3. All officers will be trained in the use of firearms. They will be required to carry them and will subsequently be armed officers who will the be protecting this country on the frontline.

4. Remove Police Community Support Officers as they’re a waste of money & require police backup whenever things go south.

5. Remove the TV licensing fee or lower it as it’s a nuisance and some people struggle to pay it each year.

6. Lower the retirement age. (Self explanatory really.)

7. Death Penalties for Murderers & Convicted Paedophiles. (We don’t need them clogging up the prisons.)

8. Improve the education system despite it being excellent already. (Hands on education/REAL life skills education) – Our education system needs an overhaul. Instead of kids sat looking at a board and being told what to learn and then repeat it in several exams. Learning should be more about on going assessment, asking questions, critical thinking etc and politics should be a part of the curriculum. That way we can take the power from the elite who baffle everyone with jargon and give it to the future generations. Employers are coming out in their droves to complain that kids are coming out of school with no real work place applicable skills. This drastically needs to change.

9. Get rid of speed cameras & bring in a minimum speed limit, not a maximum speed limit.

10. Legalise prostitution. This would be done from registered facilities which pay tax. It would allow girls far more protection and could lower disease rates and drug issues linked to the “profession”.

11. Legalise Cannabis. This includes growing cannabis however DRUG DEALING will still be considered a criminal offence & may get you some time in jail. Honestly, smoking a plant without any added chemicals is considered illegal whereas cigarettes which are known to contain carcinogens are legal. In an ideal world, we’d ban cigarettes but obviously a lot of people would disagree with this. Weed is healthy and has been known to cure things. There have been no deaths from weed EVER yet we see people dying from smoking cigarettes each year.

12.The prison system needs toughened up. They ain’t in there as a reward so they should stop being treated as such. Strip out the pool tables, games consoles, tv’s etc. This would hopefully stop people reoffending & getting thrown back in jail as it’s an easier ride than everyday life. If we removed all the gear then they would be dreading going back to prison.

13. Voting for 16 year olds.

14. Set up an oil fund.

15. A number/licence plate system for cyclists as well as an insurance system for bike riders. We can identify all other vehicles on the road but there is no way of knowing who is riding a bike if they happen to do something they shouldn’t.

16. Allow terminally ill patients to have euthanasia as an option. It’s rather condescending that those without any conditions or terminal illness are the ones who make the decisions regarding those living in severe pain etc. Just as life is a human right then choosing to end your own should be a right also.

This would not be for those suffering depression or having a bad day at work. It would be for people medically diagnosed with terminal, progressive and/or debilitating diseases.

17. Publicly owned services. Public railway,public water, public energy, public oil etc.

18. A nationalised central bank with our own currency. (Suggested by someone in the comments below.)

19. All workers should get a single minimum wage. An 18 year old pays the exact same prices as a 30 year old so why should they not earn the same amount for the same job. Just as females should be paid the exact same as men for the same job. (Suggested by someone in the comments below.)

20. Reduce poverty with the eventual aim of no more food banks. ( Suggested by someone in the comments below.)

21. Legalise handguns, rifles etc. (Not semi-auto or fully auto rifles, only bolt action)

22. Possibly bring back National Service in the event of an Indy Scotland. (Have to serve between 6-12months in either the Army, Marines or Navy etc.)

23. Child benefit and all associated money capped at 2 children for people who ARE NOT working. (Families earning tens of thousands a year just for having several kids is not fair on working families or the system as a whole.)

24. Mandatory driving re-test for old age pensioners (Free of charge by the government) so that they understand all the current driving laws and don’t possess a risk to other motorists or themselves.

25. Segregated schools – What this means is that any pupil who is out of line or unwilling to learn gets three chances to show that they’ve been good in class. If they continue to disrupted then they’ll be placed into a completely different section of the School with the rest of the idiots and kids who think they can disrupt the learning of others. Basically, this would mean that the people who want to learn are able to do that in a controlled environment and those who wish to muck around can be sectioned off elsewhere. Once the kids who have been disruptive or not engaging in class work have improved their overall attitude to school & class work, they can be placed back in their previous class.

26. No Nuclear Weapons on Scottish Soil.

27. Protection for the sick, weak & vulnerable.

28. Better pension & state benefits.

29. No lords that govern Scotland.

30. Make sure that all school children are able to play a musical instrument for free as well as helping students with grants etc.

More policies are likely to be added & some will be improved on. This is just a very basic list of CONCEPT IDEAS for POLICIES so bear in mind that everything is subject to change.

That’s right. Should this bunch of lunatics ever manage to drag themselves up from the mud long enough to actually form some sort of coherent political force, it’s reassuring to note that they would primarily be fighting for those extremely important causes to the ‘needs of the people’ such as eh, bringing back the death penalty, enforcing a minimum speed limit, and who could forget… legalising rifles. (Not semi-automatic or automatics though; that would just be silly.)

The complete lunacy of what is contained above is so far beyond the grasp of any sane person that it’s not worth even considering in any further detail. Whilst one or two of these might seem controversial, yet acceptable, in isolation, the cumulative total of even a portion of the ‘concepts’ to be found within are enough to give fundamentalists on all sides of the political spectrum wet dreams and nervous glances.

So what’s the problem? They’re muppets. Big deal.

The real danger of the Scottish Independence Party is that they have managed to garner such a prima facie establishment of credibility through the high numbers that have ‘liked’ or ‘followed’ their page. On my own friend list there was about ten people who, upon seeing the list published above, immediately removed their connection – embarrassed at the association. Some of them didn’t even realise they had inadvertently liked the page at some point in the past, probably having done so after seeing a passing post related to the #indyref, and an overall positive surface message with which they could relate.

The Scottish Independence Party will tell you that the policies above are merely suggestions by members to be discussed, and that they are giving an open platform for people to get involved in politics, rather than to have ideas shot down at the first hurdle based on ideology or controversy (Indeed, they have edited their statements multiple times to – at least attempt – to make this clearer). However, what they won’t tell you is that they are actively moderating the comments on their post to ensure that dissenting voices are not heard. If you wish to question why the suggestion that homosexuality should be re-criminalised won’t be added, for example, you would find yourself blocked, and the criticisms removed.

Everyone has the right to hold and express extreme ideas. That’s not the issue here. What’s dangerous about the Scottish Independence Party is that they are operating under a false veneer of credibility to peddle selectively chosen, ill-informed, non-sensical and fundamentalist positions; censoring those who call this into question; and doing so whilst claiming to give a voice to the voiceless.

Scottish Independence Party

and eh, who are these chumps? Some sort of edgy upstarts threatening to up-end the Scottish political apple cart? This comment on Reddit sums it up:

Scottish Independence Party

Check the list of pages you like. You might be surprised.

You can see which of your friends likes them by following this link:

https://www.facebook.com/browse/friended_fans_of/?page_id=292488674289406

You may wish to give them a heads up.

Ditch the dangerous idiots that are the Scottish Independence Party.

 

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.