They think it’s all over……

Well, it happened.  The UK decided by 52/48%, on a 70% turnout, to negotiate an exit from the European Union.  Normally, even in a General Election, we’d be lucky to see 60% turnout.  For European elections it’s often been in the low 30%, but the fact remains that almost a third of registered voters didn’t vote – even for something as critically important as this.

I don’t doubt that many who voted to leave think it’s a case of “job done”, and they can go back to their usual disengagement with politics: at most, ranting on social media or writing letters to the editor from “Angry of Eastbourne”.  That would be the worst of all the collateral damage that might be inflicted on the UK and the rest of Europe.  Why?  Because all over Europe there are other Euro-sceptic parties, mostly of the extreme right wing, queueing up to have referendums of their own. If we turn our backs on the political process now and hand our democracy, by default, back to activists we risk being dragged back to the 1930s.  With the exit of Great Britain, a major player and influence in the EU, the disintegration of the EU is now a distinct possibility, broken up by an alliance of right-wing interests. This morning Nigel Farage (leader of the UK Independence Party) explicitly pointed to the “opportunity” for Euro-sceptic governments to create a Europe of separate “independent sovereign states”.  A neo-imperialist Russia will be happy to pick over the bones of our ‘friends’ (and their countries) from this group. In the Euro-Security part of the Brexit/Remain debate I heard people talk about the crucial role of NATO in preventing that. Well, NATO is made up of, and part funded by, these “independent sovereign states”- but led, bankrolled and largely equipped, by America. With Trump in charge of America, a man whose global vision stops at building walls on the Mexican border and golf courses in Scotland, what price the NATO umbrella? If it doesn’t directly affect the US he’s quite likely to think (if not say and do) “It’s nothing to do with us – get on with it”.  Would he ‘face off’ against Russia? I think not.

So, I implore you to get, or stay, engaged.  Read (but don’t necessarily believe what you see) the papers, take an interest in current affairs, vote in local council elections and vote in the inevitable early General Election.  Otherwise we risk waking up one day and saying “How the hell did that happen?”

“Independence Day” – Politics as Hollywood

I wrote and posted this the day before the EU Referendum

Even as I write this, after lying awake in the small hours, I know I am wasting my time.  The EU Referendum campaign is over; I fear the “Brexiters” have won.  All that remains is for the votes to be cast and counted.  Until 21st June I had hope.  Then, at the end of a televised debate, Boris Johnson (front man of the “Leave” campaign”) claimed that today would be our ‘Independence Day’.  Much wild whooping and cheering from the audience, literally raised to its feet.  I felt the dagger.

Actually it was strongly redolent of that moment in the 1996 film “Independence Day” when President Thomas Whitmore (played by Bill Pullman) declares the human race is about to strike back at the aliens, kick ass, and free us from the grip of the invaders who have dragged us to the brink of extermination. More whooping and hollering. I shuddered. I shudder still.

Last night Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, picked up on, and repeated, the theme.  He knows a good thing when he hears one.  Actually I imagined Johnson and Farage playing the parts of Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, inside the alien mothership, delivering the ‘nuke’ into the face of the uncomprehending invaders. Kaboom.  We are free; standing in the ruins of our civilisation but free.  Hollywood also knows a good thing when it sees one.  The aliens fight back in “Independence Day – The Resurgence”.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I imagine much the same outcome.

In some ways Hollywood parallels real life.  The studios and producers, having found a successful formula, tap into the mood of the audience and then keep doing it relentlessly until interest palls.  Then they’ll move on to create another franchise. In the case of the euphoria generated by Boris Johnson in that “Independence Day” moment, he (and his supporters) will have to keep finding something to reproduce the ‘high’ or lose his audience.  Like a casual sexual encounter, the moment of climax is all enveloping…but you are left with a bit of a mess, and someone who farts in bed.  We have to have something more substantive to make that worth enduring – or hop from bed to bed.

The point I am making, if it’s not clear already, is that once the dust has settled the hard work of building new relationships begins.  When the reality of “Independence” becomes a struggle, and doesn’t succeed as hoped, a new alien invasion will have to be confronted to reproduce that high, that unity. Boris et al have already played the external threat card so, logically, it might have to be be a threat from within.  The Resurgence.

I don’t doubt for a minute that Donald Trump and his advisers have noted what is happening.  Will he have his “Independence Day” moment?  Actually, I think he will.  President Trump, playing Randy Quaid’s leering alcoholic pilot-hero in “Independence Day”, may be looking at Putin, or anyone else, saying “All right you Alien assholes, in the words of my generation…….up yours”.

The reason for his character’s derangement – he’s been ‘violated’ by aliens. Kaboom.





Future as Un-made History

My readers know where I stand on the EU Referendum, and Britain’s (probable) withdrawal from membership of the European Union.  Today, on Father’s Day, and if it’s not too late, I want to appeal to anyone who might be still be persuaded to “Remain” instead of “Leave” – to chose a different history for their children and grandchildren.

There is ample evidence now that the campaign for leaving has been built on a discredited prospectus.  All of their ‘headline’ arguments have been shown to be false – and yet is seems the majority of the electorate just isn’t listening.  I think, partly, this is down to good old xenophobia, and a lot of jingoistic nostalgia for a time when the “Great” in Great Britain meant something.  The trouble is the world isn’t like that any more.

Migrants didn’t cause the global economic collapse of 2008.  Migrants didn’t cause “austerity” (which, by the way was a political choice not an economic inevitability).  The “Leavers” focus on “taking our country back”, but don’t say from whom we would be taking it, nor even have a clear exposition of who the  “we” implied in “our” country is. The leaders of the “Leave” campaign say they want to take back the control of the country from the EU.  I suspect many of them, and their supporters, want to take back their country from “foreigners” settled in this country, and especially those with darker skins and odd religions. The “Leavers” talk about Britain being the 5th largest economy in the world, and thus able to stand on its own feet, but in almost the same breath say we haven’t enough to go round.  They say we will easily negotiate new trade deals with other partners, but have you ever seen the outcome of a negotiation where one party comes to the table cap in hand?  They want us to “wage war on terror” in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya etc, but don’t want to deal with the human consequences (like refugess) it creates.  All of this focus on immigration ignores our long history and experience of in-migration adding layers of diversity, competence and, crucially, productivity to our economy.

To me it looks like a lot of working class “Leavers” are feeling let down and disenfranchised by economic and political failure.  They are looking for a scapegoat, and they blame the EU.  They don’t much care that they voted for successive governments that have perpetrated, and then perpetuated, this chaos.  If you look back at ‘vox pop’ newsreels of the 1950s and 60s, of Enoch Powell etc., you’ll hear, almost word for word, the same arguments about pressure on resources, culture, and jobs as we are hearing now.  But now, as then, when you peel away all the econo-speak soundbites of 2016, the “leavers” campaign is still undepinned by racism.  In those days they openly called a spade a spade: ghastly terms like “nigger / nig nog / wog / paki” were rife.  We don’t do that any more, in public anyway.  But that hate is still there, sanitised somehow but still there.  If we needed positive evidence we need look no further than the heinous murder of MP Jo Cox last week by a white racist activist yelling “Britain First” and calling himself “Death to Traitors, Freedom for Britain” when being arrained in court.

I am absolutely NOT saying that all who want to quit the EU are racist, not at all.  I’m not even saying that the “Leavers” don’t have good reasons for disatisfaction that we can all identify with.  There is no doubt that the EU is damaged and unwieldy.  It has significant flaws in its institutions (though none, we tend to forget, so very different from those that afflict our own national institutions).  In trying to harmonise 20+ countries with widely varying populations and economies, all starting from different baselines, it has failed to adapt quickly enough.  On the other hand it has done more to protect workers rights, human rights and the environment than the UK government alone would have done.  The fact is, we are where we are and partly we are culpable for where we are.  As individuals many (including me) have become politically ‘lazy’.  We’ve sat back and let others do the hard work of being a democracy.  Successive EU (MSP) elections in the UK have seen pathetically low turnout.  You have to be active, take part: you can’t complain if others take decisions you have let go by default.

Now I want to focus on my final point.  This decision is NOT an economic one, it is a political one.

The EU has, without question, been a positive force for stability in post-war and, importantly, post-Soviet Europe. However the rapid expansion of the EU, bringing in countries formerly aligned with, and under the influence of, the former Soviet Union has been a geo-political act.  It was strategic, not economic, and aimed at realigning former western COMECON states with a NATO posture that sought (and still seeks) to ringfence the Russian Federation and put “the West” right on their borders.  The same with accelerating plans to bring Turkey in to the EU.  Over a short period of time that has brought us, through the freedom of movement provisions of EU membership, millions of (mostly) well educated, ambitious, work-orientated young Poles, Lithuanians, Estonians, Slovakians, etc. etc..  At the same time, in Southern Europe, we have been caught out, and overwhelmed, by the wave of economic and war refugees from the Middle-East and sub-Saharan Africa.  None of this is the fault of the EU as an institution, or as an ideal, but our ability to influence the changes necessary to respond to, and deal with, it will disappear along with our membership of it.  If we seriously think we can use the English Channel as a moat and pull up the drawbridge, so to speak, we are mistaken.  Europe will not go away, and we will still be subject to all the pressures of it on our doorstep.

In a very few days we will go to the polls and decide our future history.  I hope, perhaps against hope, that people will look beyond their own immediate interests and chose to stay, and fight, for a better EU.  The other EU states don’t want us to leave, and with good reason.  If we do, and as a consequence give heart to similar (largely right-wing) campaigns in other countries, the whole EU might unravel.  Who really benefits from that.  Putin’s Russia?  Trump’s America?  Putin knows his history, Trump doesn’t know his.  We seem to have forgotten ours.  After Ukraine, what chance Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and so on?  Look to the former Yugoslavia if you want to see what a post EU Europe, with individual states looking inwards and settling old religious and political scores, might look like.  The EU is not perfect but the alternative, a fractured nationalist Europe, will be far, far, worse.

Please vote “Remain”, but if you vote to “Leave” don’t be disappointed if nothing much happens.  The Britain of 24th June will look the same as it did on the 23rd.  After the euphoria of a “Leave” victory subsides it will take years for substative change to emerge.  Old laws and regulations have to be unpicked and new ones enacted – all fought through our own Parliament and you can imagine what that will be like.

In the world of realpolitik it will be years before all these negotiations bear fruit.  Don’t get frustrated.  Quite likely there is going to be an election before 2020.  Whenever it comes you, yes you, need to make sure that in this, the 5th richest country of the world, you address your concerns about resources, the NHS, Education, Housing etc., at the ballot box.  Happy voting!





Wages of EU Fear

Britain (the UK) is less than 2 weeks away from voting to leave, or remain as a member of, the European Union (EU).  I want the vote to be large, and decisive, but am increasingly of the view that the result will be to leave.

The two campaigns, Leave and Remain, have been notable for their negativity: neither has put forward a vision of the UK in the future if they win, only what they think will happen if they lose.  This is pathetic, but it plays into the hands of those who would reduce this critical decision to one based entirely on self-interest, and self-interest is easily piqued by fear.  A recent poll, published in the Independent newspaper, showed that the electorate is largely ignorant of the facts and will vote on the basis of misconceptions.  This is especial;ly true for those who want to vote to Leave and a lot of their campaign has been based on fear of immigration and the effects on the British people.

The vote takes place in the same month that the UK celebrated the 90th birthday of its Queen, the 95th birthday of her husband.  The specially hyped-up versions of the celebrations that normally accompany such anniversaries – like Trooping the Colour – were noticeably more jingoistic.  The Euro 2016 Foottball tournament also (literally) kicked-off in June with 3 of the 4 home nations represented.  Britain is gearing up for the Olympics in July.  I believe these reinforce “Britishness” and pride in our nation(s) just in time to play into the dynamic of the referendum.

The football tournament has already, at time of writing this, degenerated in to factional warring and violence off the pitch.  There is nothing unusual in that, although the level of organised violence has a very nasty nationalist undercurrent to it.  I fear that a vote for UK to leave the EU will be seen by some nationalists as legitimising their anti-immigrant views; they may be emboldened to be more vocal and more physical than they already are.  God help anyone who is identifiable as being in one of their target minority groups.  We have laws to protect us from hate crime, but these are really about redress, not protection – if indeed the perpetrators can be caught and tried.

I will vote to stay in the EU, not because it is perfect but because it holds the prospect of something better than narrow nationalism, which I think is a good thing.  For all its faults the EU is no worse than our own national monarchist parliamentary system (with an unelected chamber and massive civil service).  We have our own cronyism and corruption and it is pretty thick to point a finger of judgement on the EU while we do. I think Britain is a good country to live in, one of the best; but I’m looking forward, not back, to something that I believe will make it greater.