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If I were to vote no, it would be despite the Better Together campaign, rather than because of them. The issues they pick up on seem to be weak and, for me at least, not the important ones. Firstly, this constant scare campaign of Scotland being a small “basket case” economy with a weak currency just doesn’t hold up. As you see below, a country Scotland’s size sits by the most prosperous countries in the world (a few war torn countries excluded), and perhaps most importantly, all these countries have their own stable currency.

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This is why I just don’t understand why the Yes campaign don’t just propose an independent Scotland with it’s own currency, if a currency with the rest of the UK is rejected. Furthermore, they’d be saving 5 billion a year in debt repayments they wouldn’t have to pay off in this case, which would certainly offset any additional costs of minting and managing a new currency; a perfectly reasonable response to being denied the assets of the Bank of England that has really scared Better Together. This is not to deny that there aren’t benefits of sticking together, but for me the whole issue is a null point as whether it’s a country or a business, everyone knows that large and small scale each have their distinct pros and cons.

If the economic arguments generally balance each other out, the for me it’s the political that would most certainly push me towards Yes. The Better together campaign, quite unavoidably in their defense, has done a brilliant job of painting the Westminster political establishment as a homogeneous boys’ club. Alistair Darling having to defend Tory policies (priceless!)  has really shown the true colours of the old red blue carousel and a Scotland that does appear to be at least a politically separate nation.

However, for me the gravitational pull preventing me from supporting the Yes campaign is that of my identity, which for me trumps short term political and economic expediency. We’re talking about the United Kingdom, an ancient institution that has maintained a peace between it’s people for more than 300 years. A Union of nations almost unique in the history of mankind in which different national identities compliment rather than challenge one another. One in which there is no domination of the larger over the smaller. Has this been achieved anywhere else ever before? This is why I wouldn’t be so hasty in pulling apart  hundreds of years of history and tradition that is the bedrock of our national identity, for the sake of the current political situation which is flux. Burke describes this as an “inheritance” going back to the Magna Carta, which is the “true contract between the government and the governed, a permanent partnership of the living, the dead and the yet unborn. Unless it were willingly accepted that none have the right to tear asunder this partnership, government could depend only on force”.1

Nevertheless, I do get the feeling that the Yes campaign are making an effort to preserve this. Their criticisms are aimed at the Westminster, not the UK. They pledge to remain in the Commonwealth, and want to keep the pound. I wish the same could be said about Better Together, but rather than appealing to what is truly important we are deluged with constant scare stories generally regarding the economy.

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This approach almost pushes me to voting Yes just in order to assert my own intelligence; a middle finger to politicians using their scare tactics that we’re all sick of. We must admit that the Yes campaign and the SNP are far more in touch than Yes and Westminster, yet we must remember, as Burke (once again!) puts it “Wise men will apply their remedies to vices, not to names; to the causes of evil which are permanent, not to occasional organs by which they act, and the transitory modes in which they appear.”2

Whichever way the referendum goes, I urge those who can to vote on hope, not on fear. Whether this be the hope of a new nation rather than fear of the current UK political set up, or hope that we as the United Kingdom together can make this country a better place, rather than the fear of uncertainty. For me, half Scottish half English, no politician can draw a line down the middle of my identity nor my family. One country or two, I vote for the people of our nations standing together as we have done so for hundreds of years to defend what we have built and improve upon it.

1: Robert and Isabelle Tombs, That Sweet Enemy

2: Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

What did we really expect? The steady increase of EU powers has been consistently inversely proportionate to this institution’s legitimacy. When was the last time in European history that we saw an institution’s increasing influence over our lives being matched by our increasing apathy towards its functioning? Today’s election results were simply a correction of a growing schism between the EU and reality.

In the UK such a political anomaly was accompanied by another; the first national electoral victory for a party other than Labour or the Conservatives. Unfortunately, the insurgency was spearheaded by a decidedly right wing party, a trend emulated across much of Europe. The worst part, it’s not closet racists and looneys who are voting for these parties but many normal working people. The years of branding anything anti-immigration as racist, any eurosceptic as a little-Englander, have really come back to bite the political establishment in the ass. Especially so on the left who really through their lot in with a no borders melting pot vision of the world that the EU offered. In reality however, this world is restricted to a small, young and privileged minority. The few with little attachments, some financial security and language skills are free to flounce around Europe to their hearts desire. Meanwhile, those less mobile suffer from increased competition over limited resources, those from southern and eastern Europe forced to emigrate make do with precarious jobs abroad while their governments rely on their departure as a solution to their failing economy.

But immigration is good for the economy isn’t it? Yes, overall, but good for who is another question and often it’s the rich who skim off the cream. But with no real left wing party to point this out, we end up blaming the immigrants themselves. Likewise, despite a plethora of points from which they could take their pick, no one on the left seems to dare criticize Europe, either from fear of being associated with racists or an ongoing attachment to some long lost ideals.

It’s not just the eurocrats in Brussels who have been living in a bubble,  but the left all over Europe. In dreaming up a new border-less community of different peoples coming together, we’ve abandoned our own to the fate of the free market. It’s time to get back to reality.

 

robbiepacker@gmail.com

Considering the fact that most of us do not even know who the candidates are, this is a tough question even for those who follow Eurpoean current affairs closely. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the question’s importance. In 2009 it was included in the Lisbon Treaty that the next Presidency of the Commission shall be linked to the EU parliamentary elections, giving Europeans, for the first time, the power to elect our president. The idea is to reverse a worrying trend that has seen voter apathy steadily increase in parallel to the EUs influence in our lives; a development as apparently paradoxical as it is worrying.

Unfortunately, if one endeavours to find out who exactly are the candidates vying for our votes, it doesn’t get much easier. One is presented with a list of nondescript politicians who we can indirectly vote for, and a selection of slightly better known individuals who may be selected by the EU Commission regardless of the outcome of this vote.

Let us begin with the former group. Jean-Claude Juncker (for the centre-right European People’s party), Martin Schulz (for the centre-left Party of European Socialists) and Guy Verhofstadt (for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) are the representatives of the EU Commission’s three biggest political parties. If their party achieves the most votes in the next European Parliamentary elections they will (maybe) become president of the commission. This (maybe) refers to the actual wording of the Lisbon Treaty which simply states that the Commission must “take into account” the results of the EU Parliamentary elections in selecting a new president. This means that successful and well known national politicians are not willing to put themselves forward for an election decided by unpredictable and occasionally arbitrary EU politics. This problem is further compounded by many at the EU level, Angela Merkel being among them, openly citing their opposition to a partisan EU president.

Consequently, all that is remarkable about the current candidates is their unoriginality, despite the exceptional circumstances that will define their presidency. All from the franco-germanic heart of Europe, all committed to further transfer of powers to the EU, and all relatively unknown outside of Brussels; with the EU deep in one of its most serious crisis to date, can we really imagine a little known traditionalist EU politician to pull a fragmenting and sceptical Europe out of this mess? In Brussels, they are even calling them the “spitzenkandidaten” (lead candidate) as if they were completely unaware of any centralist authoritarian connotations this may have for ordinary EU citizens.

Adding insult to injury, the spitzenkandidaten have spent most of their campaign canvassing fellow party members and playing internal party politics rather than reaching out to voters. Perhaps tellingly, the only party to hold primaries were the Greens who, although realistically not in the running, have at least made an excellently nuanced point about the EU democratic deficit.

It seems that certain parts of the EU simply have their heads buried in the sand, so maybe strong leadership will be what is required to pull them out. Many commentators are predicting that the European Commission will simply ignore the vague wording of the 2009 treaty and put forward a high profile figure that will be able to both rise above EU party politics and have the name recognition to appeal to EU citizens. The Economist has floated Christine Lagarde as a potential candidate with the capability to drive Europe forward with a more liberal approach that could win over a sceptical UK. However, in many parts of Southern Europe she is seen as symbolic of EU hypocrisy and hierarchy for her remarks about Greece being in crisis due to Greeks not paying their taxes. At the time Lagarde, as head of the IMF, paid no tax at all; along with her “yachters tan” and diamonds, she may as well have claimed that taxes are just for the little people. Furthermore, in light of her current implication in the Tapie Affaire (a controversial €400 million state payout to a convicted criminal in 2008) any legitimacy that Lagarde may have enjoyed for the being “high profile” will have taken a serious beating, even in her native France.

And so we come to the best of rest, and honestly (like many of my fellow EU citizens), the author has lost all interest in the question. In the end, whether the candidate is picked from the winning party, or directly by the Commission, the next president should simply be one who maintains stability within the Euro zone, and any of the main candidates should be able to handle that. What is important is that the democratic charades that only further damage the EU’s legitimacy be left behind, EU citizens already feel patronized enough. Meanwhile, democratic legitimacy must be built from the bottom up and that is why my vote will be with one of the Green party candidates. In fact, being the only party to hold primaries, they are the only ones I really can vote for.

Airport Commission outlines new strategy to “surround London with airports”

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Spokesman Jacob Bantam told journalists, “by 2020 the only way in and out of London will be by air. This will provide a well needed boost to the airline industry and will be fine with most Londoners as they will be able to leave the capital without having to interact with the rest of the country”

Environmental groups have raised concerns, but no one really cares.

Defeat from the jaws of victory, is how David Simon, producer of The Wire, described the fate of American Capitalism in a  impromptu speech about the divide between rich and poor in America at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney. He was referring to the fact that, after the Berlin wall came down, the West short-sightedly sprung upon the opportunity to shed itself of any baggage that faintly smelt of Socialism without realising, or caring, that it was this it was this balance, or compromise, that had actually made us so strong. With union rights, banking regulations and public services cut to the bone we are facing a “horror show” of unrestrained capitalism bound to implode. Meanwhile, the supposedly socialist Peoples’ Republic of China goes from strength to strength borrowing bits and bobs from capitalism to suit her needs.

In the face of this, you would expect the left to be offering us a reasonable solution. However, all we have is an audible silence. Labour promise us they will “manage the economy better”… great, cheers Ed. The left are in a similar crisis throughout Europe and in America have simply ceased to exist without anyone really noticing. Slavoj Žižek, our favourite eccentric (and bearded… of course) Marxist Philosopher claims that Socialism is not the answer. He explains that, in Western Europe at least, we already won the many rights socialists were fighting for during the 20th Century, think universal health care, old age pensions, universal education, national insurance, and a minimum wage. Yet poverty, inequality, economic crisis and environmental disaster are still realities we have to live with. Hence, he claims, when it comes to Communism (that prescribed by Marx, not practised in the the USSR), there is no compromise, whether it be in the guise of Socialism in Western Europe or the dictatorships of the Soviet Bloc.

“the great lesson of state socialism was effectively that a direct abolishment of private property and market-regulated exchange, lacking concrete forms of social regulation of the process of production, necessarily resuscitates direct relations of servitude and domination. If we merely abolish market (inclusive of market exploitation) without replacing it with a proper form of the Communist organization of production and exchange, domination returns with a vengeance, and with it direct exploitation”

It is easy, and correct, to site countless examples of  Western intervention, and plenty of cases of underhand practices within Europe and the US themselves, designed to undermine Communist movements, but this post doesn’t look to list them as I believe it is beyond the point. Historically, revolutionary movements have been so concerned with capturing state power that the moment they do it is impossible to dismantle it, as without it they would be nothing. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that the abolition of the market by the state and the imposition of an alternative economic model from above is likely to result in a “proper form of communist organization”, whatever that may be. Finally, it is only takes the toppling of the top  heavy socialist state to reverse any change achieved.

Hence, it seems rather naive to expect  the same state that declared war in Iraq and bailed out the bankers to provide us with a way out, no matter which party is in government. For this reason, we must move past the state / market debate, or arguing the merits of Marx as they simply distract us from demanding the fundamentals: a truly participative democracy. We need a party that represents the people, whether they be of left or right persuasion, and is dedicated to increasing democratic participation and taking power away from the state. While we the people need to start changing things from the bottom up. I believe we can work together for something we all agree on: that this country belongs to us, the people, and its about time we took control of it. I just hope we realize it in time to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

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Or, to whose benefit?, goes the Latin saying. A pertinent question, which appears to have been brushed over in the “case for war” in Syria that we have been presented with recently. This could be due to the fact that it produces several awkward inconsistencies which certainly weaken the case for military action and could possibly lead to damaging revelations for powerful actors involved in the Syria crisis.

What is most striking about the fallout from the chemical weapons attack last week in Syria, is that many of us found ourselves in at least partial agreement with Putin when he pointed out that it would be stupid of Assad to use chemical weapons at this point in the conflict in which his forces have managed to wrestle back some kind of initiative. Yet, the evidence presented by German intelligence seems to suggest just this; desperation on the part of the Assad regime. Furthermore, in his supposed desperation Assad apparently did the one thing Obama said would draw the US into the war, while UN chemical weapons inspectors were based in Damascus. All a little to convenient?

To many of us, the idea that the Syrian rebels would gas their own people just to draw the US into the conflict seems just too cynical to stomach. However, here we stumble on a common fallacy in the analysis of this conflict;  that it is the rebels versus the government, when the reality is a far more complex web of interests and actors. Take the Gulf states for example. Qatar alone has ploughed more than $3 billion into Syria only to achieve a bloody stalemate, rather than their intended goal of a new islamist leaning regime (as has been the result in many other qatari sponsored uprisings of the Arab Spring); a situation that could possibly provoke reckless, opportunistic and desperate measures?

As well as a motive, the Gulf states could also have had the capacity. US cables leaked to Wikileaks evidence Gulf state cash to be behind Sunni extremist groups, many defined as terrorists, from Mali to Pakistan; according to Hilary Clinton, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,”. Furthermore, “overall level of [Qatari] counter terrorism co-operation with the US is considered the worst in the region”. With the funds and contact with thousands of foreign Jihadists in Syria, in such a chaotic context it is not unimaginable that one of these groups got their hands of Assad´s chemical weapons stock and used them against the civilian population. The Gulf states certainly  need to topple Assad in order to put pressure on Iran (the main threat to their power in the region) and foreign Islamists trained in Afghanistan and Iraq would certainly not shy away from  fighting the Americans in Syria, in fact it could be very good for their Jihadist cause.

Finally, it can´t be denied that gulf sates have a long history of funding Sunni extremist groups for this very purpose and the US turning a blind eye. In an interview with Seamor Hearsh of the New Yorker Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has written widely on Shiites, Iran, and Iraq, tells us “It seems there has been a debate inside the [US] government over what’s the biggest danger—Iran or Sunni radicals … The Saudis and some in the [US] Administration have been arguing that the biggest threat is Iran and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies. This is a victory for the Saudi line.” Although at this stage it would be rash to begin pointing fingers, this posts hopes to show that it is far from “almost certain” that Assad is responsible.

Although Putin´s stance does upset many of our prejudices and we could certainly question his sincerity, the meat and bones of his proposals (international control of Syria´s chemical weapons stocks) seems far more sensible than the west´s “attack first, ask questions later” approach. Furthermore, it looks like the best way to open the door further negotiations which many are beginning to see as the only real solution to this conflict. This isn´t to say that we should let those responsible for war crimes in Syria (Be they the rebels, Assad, or even foreign actors) off the hook. They need to be brought to justice, yet without due process, what is this justice worth? When it comes to war, the stakes are massive yet we are always sold rapid action on the grounds of national security. Hats off to the British people and their parliamentary representatives for slamming on the breaks, giving us a chance to get to the bottom of the spider web of interests that is Syria. Shame on those who paint this as an inherent weakness of the West: democracy, a willingness to negotiate, respect for evidence and due process, this is what makes us strong and we musn´t forget that.

There we go I said it, and despite going against all my political instincts, I actually feel better for it!

After giving it some thought, I realized that after RIPing Hugo Chavez and Osama Bin Laden (I’m sure the lady would be thrilled at being lumped in with these guys!), I realized it would just be to hypocritical not to extend the same respect to Margaret Thatcher.

Let me leave it quite clear that I did not agree with much of her politics, especially when it comes to outlandish statements such as “there is no such thing as society” and “there is no alternative”. Now that the dark days of left versus right ideological battle are behind us, with the light of day it is quite clear that actually, there is such a thing as society, and there is always an alternative. Likewise, the Unions that Thatcher confronted were not entirely the faithful representatives of working Britons and the Militants within their ranks were not likely leading us to a new socialist golden age.

British politics was divided and Thatcher played that game better than anyone else; her non-negotiation with “terrorists” (in this blog placing the word terrorist between inverted commas doesn’t excuse political violence, but rather signifies the meaningless of the term) in Northern Island aggravated the conflict and brutal “shock therapy”  installed on mining towns was a blow from which many ex mining communities are still yet to recover from. Privatization,  while a bonanza for shareholders, left the rest of us with worse, more expensive services, and suddenly, it was ok to be selfish. Was is worth it to “save the UK”? We’ll never know, but hopefully we have learnt from her mistakes, although this appears unlikely given the behaviour of our current government.

Love her or hate her, at least Margaret Thatcher had backbone; she fought for what she believed in rather than what a collection of opinion polls, spin doctors, and political scientists told her what to believe in. She may not have had a tough upbringing, but at least she didn’t grow up groomed for politics within a political elite. She may have lead us into Neoliberal misery, but at least she, our elected leader, lead us, instead of god knows who pulls the strings of the stooges we are stuck with today. She may have subjected us to more than a decade of grim conservatism, but at least it was dished out to us by the Tories and not Labour a la Tony Blair. At least, when she lead us into war, it wasn’t on the back of a pack of lies.

At the end of the day, I’d rather be in conflict with politics I don’t agree with than be lied to, manipulated, and cheated by those I do, or am ambiguous to. Furthermore, and most importantly, she was just an old women like you or my Granny, so when I see some being happy with her death, it worries me. The political left is supposed to be about being more compassionate, caring, and peaceful, so what’s all this about celebrating the death of someone’s grandma? Instead, try RIPing Margret Thatcher. It may feel dirty but you might just feel good afterwards, and what’s better than starting the day with a pleasant surprise?

 

Contact the author: robbie_packer@hotmail.com

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