Scotland – Falklands of the North Atlantic.

The Scottish people might ask themselves why so many EU people seem to welcome the idea of admitting an independent Scotland to the EU post-Brexit. Do Europeans have a weakness for kilts and whisky, or the Scots’ famed generosity and Calvinist sobriety?

I doubt if it has much to do with Glasgow’s undoubted charm, but a great deal to do with the oil and fishing rights off Scotland’s coast and the 200mile limit around Orkney and Shetland, home waters of the Common Fisheries Policy.

Welcome to Scotland -the Falklands of the North Atlantic.

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The referendum vote is taking Britain out of the EU, much to my surprise. I hadn’t expected people to vote leave, despite supporting that idea since the 1975 referendum, though I have equally wanted to see the creation of a radical politics in the European space as an alternative to the EU.

We can be pretty sure that Britain’s role in the EU will soon be fictionalised by journalists like the people at ‘Der Spiegel’ who have rediscovered the wholly inaccurate notion of Britain in the 1970′s and ’80′s as the main source of pollution in Europe .People did believe that to be the case, until Chernobyl demonstrated how the winds also carried pollution from eastern europe westwards. The UK had begun cleaning up the coal fired legacy of the industrial revolution in the 1950′s with the introduction of the ‘Clean Air act’, which restricted the use of coal rather than ‘smokeless fuel’ in domesic heating. Spiegel’s people could be a bit more careful with their sifting.

The myth is currently being propounded that there was always the intention of Franco-German unity with the establishment of the EU via the ECSC from the 1940′s onward. As the following little story demonstrates, the truth is rarely allowed to get in the way of a good narrative history:

“When the French Prime Minister, Monsieur Mollet was recently in London he raised with the prime minister the possibility of a union between the United Kingdom and France.” So, when Eden turned down his request for a union between France and Britain the French prime minister came up with another proposal. This time, while Eden was on a visit to Paris, he requested that France be allowed to join the British Commonwealth. A secret document from 28 September 1956 records the surprisingly enthusiastic way the British premier responded to the proposal when he discussed it with his Cabinet Secretary, Sir Norman Brook.
It says: “Sir Norman Brook asked to see me this morning and told me he had come up from the country consequent on a telephone conversation from the prime minister who is in Wiltshire.
“The PM told him on the telephone that he thought in the light of his talks with the French:
“That we should give immediate consideration to France joining the Commonwealth
“That Monsieur Mollet had not thought there need be difficulty over France accepting the headship of her Majesty
“That the French would welcome a common citizenship arrangement on the Irish basis”
Seeing these words for the first time, Henri Soutou, professor of contemporary history at Paris’s Sorbonne University almost fell off his chair. Stammering repeatedly he said: “Really I am stuttering because this idea is so preposterous. The idea of joining the Commonwealth and accepting the headship of Her Majesty would not have gone down well. If this had been suggested more recently Mollet might have found himself in court.”
Nationalist MP Jacques Myard was similarly stunned on being shown the papers, saying: “I tell you the truth, when I read that I am quite astonished. I had a good opinion of Mr Mollet before. I think I am going to revise that opinion. “I am just amazed at reading this because since the days I was learning history as a student I have never heard of this. It is not in the textbooks.”
It seems that the French prime minister decided to quietly forget about his strange proposals.
No record of them seems to exist in the French archives and it is clear that he told few other ministers of the day about them.

That is how history is made and unmade according to the actors’ convenience.

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Brexit vote tomorrow

Whichever way UK people vote tomorrow, the appalling nature of the campaign to leave or remain in the EU is a cautionary reminder of the depths to which populist politics sinks political debate. The murder of Labour MP Jo Cox was an atrocious act of violence against someone who should have been listened to, not silenced. The designation of two official campaign groups, both led by conservative party politicians was an absurd distortion to the notion of free and open debate. The tactic of centering the campaigns around the notion of migration, neatly avoided discussing the major issues of British EU membership, the creation of a central core of decision making around the Eurozone countries and the democratic deficit. Worse still, the campaigns ignored the fact that the European Union is only one of a number of European groupings that Britain belongs to and withdrawal from the EU would have no effect on its membership of other organisations, such as the Council of Europe.

In all, its a mess.

If Britain votes to stay, Europe will have to address the awkward reality of an increasingly disfunctional British presence outside the Eurozone.

If Britain votes to leave, Europe will have to address the awkward reality that its credibility may be so seriously damaged that nationalist groupings from across the continent will become destructive, rather than merely disruptive.

The task of establishing a credible progressive politics within the EU behemoth is going to become more and more pressing, and I suspect more difficult to achieve. It certainly isn’t going to be a goal achieved by the traditional process of position papers, lobbying and government initiatives once we consider the kinds of folk who are likely to be arriving to take their places in the European Council of Ministers over the coming couple of years with decisions made by qualified majority voting.

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Brexit – good for Europe?

The EU is failing and it ought to be too important to fail. To recover some semblance of political development, Brexit could be welcomed as an opportunity to begin the root and branch reform that puts fairness and democracy at the heart of every European country’s government creating a Europe governed by and for the people.

The kind of blustering Schaublerish bluff that the UK will somehow be cast into economic limbo is simply nonsense. It is far to important an export market for anything like that to happen.

A more rational approach would be to identify and safeguard the European institutions that work well, and some do, then get to work examining why the rest is such a mess and start rebuilding from scratch.

The whole business of Brexit is more about Europe than it is about Britain and Europeans should begin to think the implications through.

A progressive case against UK membership, not only from an English perspective, but equally from the other member countries of the UK, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland seems neither to have been explored, nor made, or at best, to have been unheard via the media. The Labour Party’s reticence about involving itself in substantive debate is perhaps a reluctance to create electoral hostages to fortune by engaging in a process initiated by the Conservative Government on terms of Cameron’s defining, the minimal renegotiation of terms governing EU membership, but may eventually be seen as another, perhaps historic sign of Labour’s diminished credibility as a coherent political force. A reduction of the case for EU membership to the shrill moans of Cameron, Johnson and Farage does the notion of internationalism, the UK and the EU no favours.

In its issue devoted to Brexit ‘Der Spiegel’ makes an error commonly encountered in Germany about the UK, which is to assume a greater similarity, or affinity between the two countries than is reasonable to assume. There are deep seated differences which float beneath the surface of both societies which address quite different notions of the structure of a society and the place of an individual within it. If one of the strongest tendencies in Germany is peoples’ attitudes and allegiance to Christianity – Catholic, Protestant, Free-thinkers and anti-Clerics, with all that implies for individuals and communities, in the UK, a persistent long term debate, first clearly articulated in the English Revolution of the1640′s, but reiterated by Thatcher’s notion of a ‘property owning democracy’, or Blair’s notion of a ‘stakeholder society’ as part of the Clinton/Blair/Schroeder notion of a ‘Third Way’ is the issue of who is a full member of society with whatever rights, obligations and privileges that implies. That was summed up in the phrase, who has an ‘interest’.
On one side of this debate are those who would argue that ownership, of land, property and wealth brings the right for those ‘interests’ to be represented on behalf of the ‘stakeholder’, perhaps a key concept for all right wing thinkers, which is opposed to the broader idea that everyone is a member of society based on their common humanity, irrespective of gender, creed, race, hereditary status, or wealth – a common enough starting point for left wing attitudes. This makes it easy to understand why the children of small businesses owners, whether indigent Britons, or migrants from India or elsewhere, have no problems joining the Conservative Party of David Cameron as potential Ministers, or contrariwise to recognise the roots of xenophobic intolerance of some sections of society to the point of conflicting with their own self interest.
This is a much deeper contrast, than the tired assumptions of Britain as a class based society (perhaps a once useful notion owing more to German intellectuals like Max Weber, or Marx than to Britain’s understanding of itself and its political traditions).
The British notion of citizenship has quite different origins to that of other countries throughout the EU and while that might seem an arcane, or perhaps nit-picking detail for people whose lands have only recently emerged from decades of totalitarian government, the connection between property and social rights within the broader framework of human rights has a powerful resonance in British politic attitudes. The so-called ‘Property qualifications’ for the franchise were abolished as a necessary consequence of ‘votes for women’ legislation in 1918, since only a tiny minority of women property owners would otherwise have be enfranchised. Plural voting, which enfranchised business owners, who could vote twice, was only abolished in 1948.

Since joining the EU, a fundamental reform of the legal system and changes to local government in response to the necessity of working with Brussels have been implemented. It is unlikely that the notion of a ‘Supreme Court’, or Mayors with executive authority would have been introduced otherwise. Whatever their merits, they were a direct consequence of EU membership rather than a considered extension of British political development. The notion of an executive mayor, deriving from France, inadvertently harks back to the erea of councils dominated by local businessmen who voted themselves into positions of authority. What had taken centuries to remove, was reconstituted thanks to EU notions without serious consideration, but bolstered by a central government who promised incentives for collaborators. This all has a bearing on Britain’s experience as an EU member and the sense that the EU machinery of decision and administration is poorly fitted to Britain’s needs and functions inadequately for many other EU members too.

This is not helped by the very negative direct impact of EU policies on many British communities during the half century or so of British membership. Some of these failures were at least in part self inflicted. The difficulty in raising capital to finance expensive newbuild deep sea fishing boats meant British trawler owners were only too eager to see EU membership give them an exit by selling their fishing rights to mainly Spanish owners who could qualify for EU funding to pay for new vessels. The British fishing industry was effectively destroyed as the result of poorly thought subsidy and licencing arrangements. The same might be argued about the steel industry, which fell victim to the Davignon Plan to rationalise Europe’s steel production less than a decade after huge investments had been made in Britain’s major steel plants. Hardly had they been opened, than the EU policies pushed the then nationalised industry into systemic crisis, a process which accelerated once Thatcher’s privatisations took their toll. For no good reason, processes of de-industrialisation were encouraged in an uncontrolled way which has contributed to the enormous and increasing contrast of resources, most critically between London and the rest.
James Dyson, one of the UK’s better known engineer entrepreneurs pointed out that little has changed in an article to the ‘Lifestyle’ section of London’s ‘The Telegraph’: `’His views on Brussels have been shaped by bitter experience. Dyson sits on several European committees. “And we’ve never once during 25 years ever got any clause or measure that we wanted into a European directive. Never once have we been able to block the slightest thing. …..These sessions are dominated by very large companies who agree on their approach before the meeting and so vote together as a bloc. And that’s why we never get anywhere. We think that’s anti-competitive practice and we would love to prove it but…” he gives a helpless shrug. ‘
Why is this?
Again it might be argued that many of Europe’s drawbacks have been self-inflicted, by the failure of British institutions like trades unions, profesional organisations and businesses, to re-invent themselves within an internationalist perspective, or simply to do their homework.
Relationships with Brussels are too often defined by supplicant roles, applying for grants and subsidies, or support for favourite sons, rather than bringing fully developed concepts to the negotiating table. Dyson really doesn’t go far enough in his critique. My own experience observing a German banker, a British accountant, a European manager and a local government economic development administrator talk business was like watching a dog, a cat, a bat and a kangaroo discussing the best way to mix a salad. It was galling to have a London banker phone up and ask quite what a GmbH is. Europe is far less European than we would like to pretend.

Astonishingly little has been achieved by way of harmonising the economies of the EU, by two or three generations of administrators. Even VAT (MwST), which was introduced in the UK as an EU promoted replacement for existing taxes on purchases is levied at different rates and in differing proportions in each of the member states. Trade harmonisation should have meant far more than anything that seems to have been discussed, never mind achieved, if it is to be taken seriously. What is the point of being in an organisation where each member insists on doing things differently, despite a pretence of unanimity?

The extension of the EU into Eastern Europe following the fall of communism stretched its capacities at every level without becoming unmanageable, a major challenge, which was possibly the EU’s most successful intervention.
But, that success was followed by the creation of the Euro to replace the Ecu and a raft of local currencies like the Deutschmark. Management of the Euro, as a single currency among many currencies has created the necessity of core competences devoted to it and it seems inevitable that this will be necessary so long as the Euro exists. This is the central issue both favouring the EU and favouring Brexit. The EU cannot avoid a ‘two tier’ Europe.

When Gordon Brown finessed the question of Britain and the Euro, nobody expected that managing the currency would required the complete economic humiliation of member states, their financial independence undercut, their economies decimated and a generation of young people experiencing career crippling humiliation in the name of financial orthodoxy. What has happened to Greece should be a warning to every other country within the Eurozone that whatever the origins of the next crisis they could be the sacrificial victim of banal financial orthodoxy.

The book-keeperly merits of Herr Schauble’s approach to crisis management have much to recommend them as an approach to measuring the depths of an economic challenge, but need the imaginative application of ‘political economy’ to create successful solutions. ‘Political Economy’ implies open debate, the exploration of potential alternatives in an informed environment, something the EU cannot be expected to achieve without being completely restructured. Brexit might be the catalyst of change that could provoke that restructuring.

The referendum this week could take the UK out of the EU, but Britain’s membership of the Council of Europe and other international organisations like the WTO and NATO will remain. It isn’t as though the British are going to disappear from Europe and Europeans could do well to remind themselves of that.

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Cameron urges referendum registration to vote.

Dear Mr. Cameron, “Dave”,
I would dearly like to vote in the forthcoming referendum, but as a Briton living in Europe, you have ensured that like so many others, I am disenfranchised and not allowed a vote.
This is disgraceful. You are no democrat, whatever you may pretend to yourself.
yours etc,

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Berlin political strategy

The local government in Berlin is run by a coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and Conservatives (CDU), perhaps the two most sclerotic political groupings in German indeed European politics.

One of the local newspapers recently defined their joint political strategy as ‘Do nothing, then wait to see if anything has happened’.
Do people in the UK really want to lumber themselves with policy makers with such limited perspectives?
Just another reason for thinking BREXIT makes sense.

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BREXIT A Question of Principle, Practical politics and Prosperity.


A Question of Principle, Practical politics and Prosperity.

‘Not in the room’
As Angela Merkel says she backs the UK remaining in the EU, perhaps someone should remind her that Britain is already ‘not in the room’ when it come to major decisions, which are all determined by criteria linked to managing the ‘Euro’. Far from being a European Single Currency as once proposed, the Euro is now one of eleven and should be treated as such, alongside the forint, the zloty, or even the Swiss franc which is used in parts of Germany and Italy. The pretence that economic policy is about ‘managing a currency’ can then be replaced by the genuine concerns of political economy – promoting personal wellbeing, cultural development, state services, productive industries, agriculture and successful enterprise.

The case for Britain to leave the EU can be analysed from dozens of perspectives, industry by industry, social policy by policy, programme by programe, the scaremongering and wishful thinking of ‘geopolitics’, or the case by case consideration of nations, social groups and individuals. Each of these multitude of cases falls into one or more of the following categories.

Principle: The overarching case against the EU facing all its members is the lack of democratic legitimacy in its functions and the democratic deficits in its structure. This is as bad for the people of every member state, not just the British.

The illusion of internationalism and collaborative government is just that, a fata morgana, and a distraction from the very real inadequacies of stitching up deals between partners whose right to represent the people they claim to represent are thin at best and in too many cases within the EU Commission non-existent.

Each successive move towards greater unity has brought a ever increasing degree of amorphous pooling, to soften the focus of projects and initiatives to the detriment of targeted areas of need, or preference.

Practical politics: Oddly, political leaders in a dozen countries who might be expected to have clear cut incisive political programmes, distinctive in their facility to address national and regional concerns and to embody the particular perceptions of political efficacy garnered over centuries of independent national government appear at best to be drifting with the current of policy consensus, (Merkel) to be indecisive in their own backyards while still commanding residual respect within the EU, (Hollande) or at worst seemingly sidelined both in their own national and the wider international contexts (who are the policy makers of countries once knowns as PIGS?).

At odds with this whole structure are the emergence of far right Eastern European regimes, which seem bent on twisting their structures of government into knots of intolerance. While Donald Tusk has emerged from Poland as a voice of centre right conservativism, his legitimacy as a representative of Polish thinking has been completely eroded by the far right regime now running the country.

Is it in Britain’s interests to drift along with the EU’s increasingly unfocussed policies? Most probably not, but even an argument to continue working within the EU framework looks increasingly thin if Britain remains effectively excluded from the decision making processes of economic policy.

For Britain, there is very little point being subject to policy defined to match the interests of the Eurozone, however superficially attractive the notion of participating in a trading block may seem. The UK has even less interest in succumbing to the economic banality of Austrian School economic theory from the nineteenth century which is the most banal platform of do nothing compromise available to politicians devoid of analytical competence and conceptually focussed interventions.

Prosperity: By the standards of the 1950′s the EU is prosperous. By the standards of Soviet Socialism, the Eastern European members of the EU are prosperous. Even by comparison with the USA, prosperity across Europe as a whole has continued to increase since the 1970′s, whereas incomes for many North Americans have stagnated in real terms.

Whether any of this prosperity is contingent on the workings of the EU rather than the broader dynamics of technical change and global structure of all major corporations is an open question. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution almost three hundred years ago, there have never been such comprehensive commonly adopted platforms of technology, digital communications, design, manufacturing, biotech and genetics, or finance. The EU has promoted important areas of collaboration, but it is difficult to decide whether much of this is contingent on the EU’s role, or mere coincidence. Whether a broader degree of prosperity could be achieved if the EU were competent to address the issues of traded corruption is equally hypothetical.

It is difficult to imagine that non-membership of the EU would in any sense threaten any particular countries participation in the global system of commerce, industry, finance and trade. That is as true of Spain, as it is of the UK an Ireland.

The UK has a great deal to gain by distancing itself from the hierarchies of Brussels, not least the ability to appoint talented people to posts with genuine decision making potential within the UK at every level.

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BREXIT: A better EU without the UK?

There are three key factors that unite the interests of most EU members: proximity, interdependence and scale.

1. Tens of millions of Europeans live within an hour’s journey time of a border with another EU country, say 100km, and the EU has enabled the significance or borders to be minimalised on a day by day basis, much as regional governments define areas of administrative responsibility rather than physical barriers to travel, or economic activity. The EU provides a framework of immense value to the people of Eastern Europe, whose freedom of movement was minimal throughout the Soviet dominated era of the Warsaw Pact, while cross border movement between Germany, Holland, Belgium and France has been part of their character for centuries despite the ambitions of national government. Whatever the disagreements about the Schengen Agreement and migration, even the bilious far right are in no way proposing to restrict citizens’ freedom of movement. At local level, open borders are essential, productive and it would be extremely foolish to constrict the movement of people or goods to, or from any part of the EU. Similary, there is no real reason to suppose that a border between England and Scotland need be imposed were the UK to break up and Scotland to reapply for EU membership. Nor indeed need UK borders be any less open. There is no legitimate reason to suppose that travel, or trading restrictions would follow a Brexit. Parting British drunks from their money seems to be a well established tourist tradition worldwide and every large corporation simply obeys whatever local laws apply without worrying about the political interests of governments. Surely the EU would be told by industry and business to take a similar stance.

2. The EURO has been enormously successful as a working currency and is likely to endure, simply because the alternatives such as a return to numerous local currencies is unworkable. Though the politicians who work on economic policy have thus far failed to cope with the contrasting regional development issues, ie Greece, this is a reflection of the intellectual and analytic inadequacies of economics and contemporary political economy, rather than the Euro pe se. The policy makers are purveyors of failed ideas. For that to change, a UK exit from the EU might make it possible for policy makers to concentrate their thinking on the key issues which demand attention. Full employment, rebalanced social provisions and pensions and the motors of wealth creation within the EU. Having the UK lurk on the fringes as a murky voice for neo-liberal free trade is a brake on development at best and a blocking presence at worst. The EU’s economic policy making would benefit from a British withdrawal.

3. Many EU countries are actually too small to govern themselves and maintain a full range of public institutions. For them the EU, or something very like it, is a necessity for the long term. The UK is large enough to run its own affairs and provide a useful voice in international and European debates through the range of existing European organisations, Council of Europe, WTO, or UN. The framewok of ideas about public administration and government in the UK are at odds with the largely Napoleonic tradition in Europe and that can be a useful contrast.

So, why shouldn’t BREXIT be welcomed from all sides?

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urban weather

I always wondered what to make of goodreads and its reviews, then some-one comes along and writes something nice, so you decide its probably ok after all.
Thanks for a reader called Columbus from Texas for his comments about my novel URBAN WEATHER:

“Urban Weather is a complex and thrilling account of modern life and challenges posed by technology in todays world. I found it an engaging read, well structured and provocative in terms of some of the tasks we will face with the advent of the connected society. The advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), I find has been handled in a credible and understandable way for readers like myself who had not been familiar with the complexities of this technology and the associated implications for society. Without exception I found all of the characters to be cold and dislikable, consistent with the type of individual one might expect to be engaged in the assassination business. All in all I fully enjoyed Urban Weather and can whole heartedly recommend it. ”

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German humour annoys Turk.

Turkey has an unusual aproach to international relations, calling in Germany’s Ambassador for a dressing down to complain about a satirical song mentioning President Erdogan in a regional programme ‘Extra-Drei’. The laughable over-reaction led to President Erdogan being awarded their employee of the month award for bringing this rather obscure magazine programme to the attention of the entire German speaking media and social networks. The editors followed up by screening a version with Turkish subtitles the following week.

This week, on another channel, ZDF, a tv presenter Jan Böhmermann incurred Erdogan’s wrath by reciting a small uncomplementary poem about the President. Erdogan has made a complaint to the courts that he has been insulted. Under German law it seems to be illegal to insult the Head of State of a Foreign Country. Where does he find the time for this kind of nonsense?

You have to wonder why Erdogan is getting so hot under the collar about essental harmless satire – has he no sense of humour, or could it be that he has realised the images shown in the Extra Drei montage, of women being beaten up by police on International Women’s Day, of journalists being arrested, actually leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, not because of the humour, but because they realise how Turkey seems to be on a dangerous slope towards instability and civil strife.

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