The impact of brexit on Northern Ireland

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Well the results from the NI election are in and the result isn’t going to make great reading for either the Unionists nor the brexiters. The one thing that was never supposed to happen in Northern Ireland has happened – the Unionists have lost their majority.

While the DUP are still the largest party, in theory they and the UUP can now be outvoted on any issue…such as whether or not to hold a border poll. Now granted, Sinn Fein don’t hold a majority either. They’d need support from the smaller non-unionst parties. And all “non-unionst” means is that they don’t go on orange parades, nor is their pin code 1690. While they aren’t against the idea of a border poll, they aren’t in favour of one either, it doesn’t make them flag waving Irish nationalists.

However in the event of a hard brexit, one that starts impacting on the Northern Irish economy, they could be persuaded to back a border poll, to settle the issue. In short there is now a path to a border poll, that did not previously exist. And its very difficult to tell, particularly against the back drop of a hard brexit which way such a poll would go.

The unionists can block a border poll even without a majority. Rules written into the Northern Irish constitution allow a minority of delegates to veto legislation. Ironically, these rules were inserted to protect the nationalists, something the DUP originally objected too! But the DUP cannot do this alone anymore, they’d need UUP support too. Also blocking a vote and standing against the rest of the assembly raises the risk of the pro-poll parties pulling the plug again, declaring a new election and an electoral alliance in which they don’t stand in each other’s constituencies, effectively turning the election into a defacto border poll.

Now like I said, the other smaller parties aren’t automatically going to go along with Sinn Fein on this. And there’s no guarantee even if a border poll was held that it would be a Yes vote. But the point is that its now a plausible option. The unthinkable (from a unionist point of view) is actually possible now. And the unionist have to look to the moderates in the centre ground and on the left, to save them from a mess of their own creation.

While many unionists are generally euroskeptic (and often to the right of UKIP on many issues) the UUP backed Remain in the referendum, precisely because they feared what is now playing out in NI might happen in the event of a leave vote. But the DUP very stupidly backed leave. Arlene Foster may go down in history as having done more for Irish reunification (through a combination of arrogance, stupidity and incompetence) than Gerry Adams or Martin McGuiness!

But either way, the cost of brexit for unionists is not that they are going to “take control”, its that they’ve lost control and their fate is now in the hands of others….something the rest of the UK will soon discover when brexit negotiations start and they realise its the EU, US and other powers who will decide the UK’s future.

Brexit review – 5 months on

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Its about 5 months since the referendum, so where are we in terms of brexit? Well, if leaks from Whitehall are to be believed, nowhere. Theresa May claims that she’s come up with a cunning plan, as cunning as a fox who won most cunning in show five times in a row. Only those leaks suggest that five months of work has actually produced…..nothing.

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Like a school kid who constantly refuses to do her chores because she says she’s working on her homework, we’ve now seen inside Theresa May’s schoolbook and there’s nothing there but a few doodles. There is no grand master plan for brexit and their probably never will be. A country of 60 million does not get to dictate terms to a continent of 500 million, we’ll get what we’re offered and we’ll have to take it.

And we can’t even guess what sort of brexit we’re going to get, the government’s apparent position sways between the hardest of hard brexits, the laughably delusional statements of Boris to more recently Theresa May implying to the CBI she’ll go for the softest of soft brexits and may take more than the two years to happen as she’ll try to negotiate a transition deal. In short brexit means brexit seems to mean whatever the Tories reckon will placate whichever audience they are talking too.

About the only certainty we can have about the brexit process is that the Tories will inevitably use it to go after hard won environmental protections and labour laws designed to protect the very “JAM” families they now pretend to be the champions of.

And what are labour up too? Why aren’t they trying to stop the Tories? Well because with Corbyn in charge they are a rudderless ship. Both he and the “muesli” brexiters in labour also want brexit, as they hope they can rebuild their socialist workers paradise on the ashes of the mess the Tories leave behind. Of course they’ll never get the chance to do so given the impossibility of them winning the next election.

Which brings us to the supreme court ruling due next month. Theresa May’s strategy here seems to be that of the typical arrogant Tory, assume you’ll get your way (ya that worked well in the referendum didn’t it!) and then run around in a panic when you don’t and blame others for the mess you waded straight into. Her plan B is to put a three line piece of legislation to parliament. That would be little short of an insult to the democratic process. The most important bill in recent UK history cannot be three lines long. Not least because such a bill would be too opaque and at risk of further court challenges.

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And keep in mind what parliament really wants here is to be consulted about the brexit process. They aren’t comfortable with the idea of turning Theresa May into an all seeing and all knowing dictator for some ill defined period and parliament reduced to that of a debating club. The government says they can’t involve parliament, because that would give away our (entirely non-existent) strategy. Well there’s a simple horse trade there, have a closed session of parliament and tell MP’s what Theresa May’s “bloody good idea” is. Then vote on article 50. Of course they won’t do that (because she doesn’t actually have a plan), and therefore there’s a chance of defeat in the commons. I’m doubtful the lords would endorse such a bill, as it would essentially be a case of the PM trying to cynically get around a court order. If the lords say no, then that puts a delay of at least 6 months to a year onto the process.

And the SNP and Northern Ireland assembly also want it determined if that have some say in the process. If the court says yes then that delays brexit yet further, or at worst kills it stone dead (or at least until after a border poll in Northern Ireland and an 2nd indyref in Scotland, this one called by Westminster).

And what is the state of the public finances? Well the guess is that we’re looking at a £122 billion hole in country’s finances, much of which will have to be borrowed. Its now likely the UK debt will exceed 90% of GDP by the next election (a level unseen since 1964) and likely exceed the symbolically important point of 100% within the next decade. And as former Chancellor Alastair Darling has pointed out this is arguably a hard problem to fix than he faced in the financial crisis . That was a temporary blip, this is an ongoing crisis that can only be stopped by massive public spending cuts or a significant hike in taxes.

And of course there’s the Trump factor. Some Tories were secretly hoping he’d win, as that would make things easy for the UK. But much as I warned, no, the only think we can be sure about trump is that he’s unpredictable. He’s now trying to instruct the Queen as to who she should pick as her Ambassador to the US. And his first instructions to Farage? go sort out those Scottish windfarms. Yes Trump things he’s entitled to dictate the energy policy of Scotland. And this is the great white hope of the brexiters!

Nigel Farage, the interim leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) holds a platter of Ferrero Rocher chocolates during a party in London

You’re ambassador, lord Farage will see you now

Actually my guess is that Trump may not be in power by the time negotiating with the Americans comes up, he’ll likely have been impeached or had a little “accident” before then. I still say there’s an outside chance he won’t even be inaugurated, especially with allegations of voter fraud now swirling. Bottom line, you can’t rely on the Americans to bail you out, they’ve got bigger problems to deal with.

Given all of the above you would question the logic of pushing ahead with the aggressive timetable Theresa May has set. It would make far more sense to now delay the brexit process for at least a year in my view. Trigger it say in 2018 instead. This would give time for the legislative hurdles to be dealt with and for the government to actually come up with a strategy and consult parliament about that process. Also the fact is that 2017 is not a good time to be negotiating such a thing, there’s elections in Germany and France this year and possibly in Italy too. We’re not going to get anything sensible out of the EU because they have no idea who will be in charge of these countries in 6 months time. Waiting a year would give time to resolve this, talks when they do start, will be at a much swifter pace.

Of course the downside to delaying brexit, the whole reason why Theresa May is insisting on her current strategy is that this would mean the 2020 elections would straddle the brexit process. We’ll be voting on the next parliament about the same time brexit talks are winding up. My response is, good that’ sounds like an excellent idea. It gets around calls within her own party and the lib dems for a 2nd vote on the terms of brexit. If you like the deal she’s got, vote Tory, if you don’t vote labour, if you’d rather stay in the EU after all vote lib dem, if you want hard brexit and become airstrip one of the Trump empire vote UKIP.

So if’s that simple you may enquire why is Theresa May going out of her way to avoid this? After all the poll suggest she’ll likely win the next election anyway. Well the answer is very simple, I suspect if we got the PM drunk and asked her that question the response would be BECAUSE YOU MORONS VOTED FOR BREXIT.

Many voted brexit because they feel the government doesn’t listen to them, it was an act of political self harm, a cry for help. However as I warned prior to the referendum the likely outcome wouldn’t be a government that’s more caring and listening. Its one that would be more hostile, authoritarian and much more willing to lie and deceive the public. After all voters have just shown they can’t be trusted with important decisions.

So let us be clear, this is why the PM is so reluctant to trust either the public or even her own MP’s with a vote. Because both have shown themselves to be woefully unqualified to make important decisions anymore. Brexit means chaos and brexit means a UK that is significantly more authoritarian. So congratulations to any brexit voters who voted for this.

Some points on the article 50 court ruling……

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Given today’s court ruling on article 50 I think its important to establish a few points.

Firstly, it goes along with what I said immediately after the referendum, that there is a massive legal question mark hanging over the whole brexit process. Let us review the facts, 52% of the electorate on a turn out of about 70% voted leave, which means only 37% of the electorate actually backed brexit in a non legally binding referendum. This is well short of what would be considered the minimum democratic standards. In most democracies to do something as radical as leave the EU would require a clear majority of the electorate to back it (i.e. 50% +1 vote). And of course we have to ignore the numerous blatant lies told by the leave camp prior to the vote, many of which they reneged on within hours of the polls closing.

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Yet on the basis of this Theresa May was not only going to try and drag the country out of the EU, but she wasn’t going to consult parliament, neither to confirm the decision to invoke article 50 nor even to set the terms of the UK’s exit. She was going to appoint herself as the all seeing all knowing dictator, the dear leader, whom we must trust implicitly. And she appeared to be aiming for a hard brexit, despite there being nothing on the ballot paper about that, plus the impression was given during the referendum campaign that they’d be aiming for a soft brexit. Indeed Boris Johnson initial pitch was that he won’t even trigger article 50 but just negotiate a better deal.

And since we’re talking about, when did Theresa May win an election? Where’s all this stuff about hard brexit in the Tory election manifesto? When did they get elected on the promise of giving away billions to foreign multinationals? (such as Nissan and EDF).

Now brexiters will make various excuses at this point, whinge about remoaners, but while doing so they will ignore a very important point – you are setting a very dangerous electoral precedence. If Theresa May, an unelected standin PM with no democratic mandate, can leave the EU with no vote in Parliament, on the back of a non legally binding referendum, which only 37% of the electorate supported, what’s to stop Nicola Sturgeon (who actually did win an election and a 2nd referendum in the event of brexit was in the SNP manifesto) taking Scotland out of the UK on a similar mandate? And I discussed before “the Spanish option” for preventing Scottish independence, will not work. It would most likely result in an overwhelming Yes vote, possibly even a majority of the electorate backing it. And then what are they going to do if she wins and decides to implement Scottish independence unilaterally, invade Scotland? Keep the place under martial law forever? I seem to remember that being tried out in Ireland, remind me how did that work out?

And speaking of Ireland, keep in mind the same potentially applies in Northern Ireland. If there’s one thing that would drive enough people in the province to back a united Ireland its a hard brexit. And the precedence Theresa May is setting is that if somehow Sinn Fein can get a vote, even if its non legally binding (i.e. not approved by Westminster) and even if less than 50% of the NI population back the measure, they can have their way. Unionists assurances that they can prevent a vote by controlling enough of Stormont seats may not hold if the economy tanks and electorates decide to punish them for supporting brexit in the first place (or at least the one unionist party who foolishly backed brexit) .

All in all, I’d argue the Tory case here is slim to non-existent. Parliament and the house of lords should vote and they should be allowed to vote their conscience. And given that a vast majority of both houses are anti-brexit, then they should be allowed to vote that way. If that pisses off the brexit brigade, too bad, go away and hold another referendum and do it properly this time. i.e. no lies, you have to get 50% of the electorate to back brexit and you have to lay out exactly what brexit means, firmly nail your colours to the mast as to what sort of brexit you are looking for…..and a signed letter from the EU confirming you can get what you claim you’ll get.

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Of course the danger is that MP’s will be pressured into backing brexit against their better judgement. Well I would advice them to think again. Keep in mind if you are a labour MP, polls have shown that labour supporters overwhelmingly backed remain, by as much as 90% in some cases. If your constituency voted brexit, you have to consider that this motion was backed by a minority of labour supporters (who should really stop reading the Daily Express) along with the Tory and UKIP voters. The Tory and UKIP members in your constituency aren’t going to suddenly vote for you just because you voted for article 50…..but the overwhelming majority of labour supporters might stop voting for you if you do! Hence why I would urge everyone to go to your MP and make it clear that if they vote for article 50 they can count on you never voting for them or their party ever again.

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And the Tories here are also in a tight spot. Quite a number of the marginal seats in Oxfordshire and in and around London (basically where elections in the UK tend to be fought and won) voted remain. And I mean by a very wide margin, 70% in some cases. The likes of Amber Rudd, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn all contest seats like this. It is hypocritical to say the least to argue that a labour MP who is pro-remain should be pressured into voting for article 50, just because his district did so, but then say that pro-leave MP’s can defy the overwhelming support for remain in their constituencies. And ultimately these MP’s need to consider the consequences for themselves of now voting for article 50. To be blunt its possible all of those I’ve just mentioned could be out on their ear at the end of the next election, if the electorate decides to punish them at the polls.

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And since we are talking about it, recall the house of lords is not bound by the electorate. They are well within their rights to vote the way they see as being in the best interest of the country. And given all of what I’ve said above it would be perfectly reasonable for them to vote against article 50. This would eventually trigger the use of the Parliament act, but in the process it would allow some sort of compromise to be sought.

And the obvious compromise is two fold. Firstly put all the cards on the table. On the one hand aim for a soft brexit, with as close ties to Europe as possible. Secondly look at further devolution of powers to Scotland and Northern Ireland, perhaps making the UK an entirely federal state. This could allow both regions to join the EU in their own right. Now the powers that be say no, but there is a legal precedence here. Greenland left the EU but Denmark (which Greenland is still part of) remained. So I suspect it could be argued the same could apply to Northern Ireland and Scotland in reverse, so long as they were suitably independent from Westminster.

Unfortunately, I doubt this will happen. This is the problem with the whole brexit process. It is in the hands of a bunch of authoritarian, narrow minded, hard right ideologues, who see it as a god given mandate to roll back every bit of progressive legislation passed in the UK since the end of the war. The very fact the forced the courts to intervene like this should show you that they will steer the ship into the iceberg rather than give up control or change course.

Weekly roundup

Veto warning

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At a conference to discuss the post-Brexit future of the EU, the UK was warned that the EU would make leaving “very painful”, if any form of immigration controls were included. Indeed, the threat was made of a possible veto of any deal by four Eastern European countries, if the UK refused to guarantee freedom of travel. Its unclear if this applies to just current EU citizens in the UK or future arrivals. However, the message is clear, the Brexit position on immigration is not going to be allowed, it is not and never was a deliverable possibility.

But we do 60% of our trade with the EU the brexiters claim, why would the EU jeopardise that? Well because it might be 60% of the UK’s trade, but its only about 10% of the EU’s trade. And certain countries will bear the brunt of that. Others, such as the Eastern European countries making these threats, will not be seriously effected. There is no way the rEU or the UK can bully them out of a veto. So if the UK tries to stonewall the EU, as the three brexiters seem to plan on doing, they will be in for a rude awakening.

Keep in mind at the point where this veto will be made it would be at the back end of negotiations where the UK has likely just days or weeks away from essentially being chucked out of the EU and EEA if it doesn’t get a deal. In such circumstances a panicked climb down by the UK seems very likely.

As always my suspicion is that cooler heads will prevail long before we get to this stage. Some sort of horse trade will be done, EU citizens will have to fill out some forms and will not be entitled to benefits for a few years (although that could result in a rebate of their taxes back to their country of origin). The swivel eyed loons will be told they’d got immigration controls, but in truth nothing substantial will have changed.

 

Academic poaching

And as if to underline what’s at stake here, there have been warning about how much of the UK’s key science centres are now a risk of being poached. Either individual scientists, or the entire institutes themselves might well move in the next few years.

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As I mentioned in previous posts, a lot of the funding for these institutes comes from the EU. And they also get quite a bit of private sector funding too (often the EU funding is dependant on them raising matching funds from the private sector). And many research centres and university’s in Britain will have a small network of high-tech start ups around them, which will both assist and be dependant on the success of said institute at securing funding. Getting that funding outside the EU gets very complicated very quickly. Freedom of travel is also crucial to science and I can’t see how these institutes could function if that were to end.

So the price the UK could pay, is much of its very best and brightest, everything from Fusion energy research to graphene could potentially move overseas in the next few years. Then again, many Brexiters seem to be the anti-science troglodytes who’d rather go back to the 1950’s. Well be careful what you wish for……

 

ITT Tech

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Just prior to the Brexit vote the Universities minister issued two statements which caused great concern in academia. The first was his intention of allowing for-profit universities in the UK. The 2nd was his statement that “some providers may exit the market”, or in other words, the government is okay with the thought of universities going bankrupt.

Well we had a warning this month of what the likely consequences of such a policy would be. ITT Tech, the parent company of several for-profit universities across the US went bankrupt just before the start of term. This left tens of thousands of students out of pocket and with no university place to start or continue their studies at. Many of them have now been left in limbo.

And the reasons for their collapse? Poor standards of education, well below those of mainstream universities and accusations of predatory practices. ITT tech students were some of the the most heavily indebted students in America. And incidentally some of that debt was owed to the US government. Students are now refusing to pay back these loans, arguing the collapse is the fault of the government for failing to regulate ITT tech properly.

So I would ask anyone in the Tory party or any government minster, do you really want to see this sort of scandal play out in the UK? And before you answer that question, take out an electoral map of the UK, work out how many marginal seats are in (or near) a university town and after you’ve worked out how, estimate by how much you’d lose the next election, perhaps then you might decide to reconsider this policy.

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Tweeting twits in cars

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There was recent talk about increasing the number of penalty points for mobile phone use in cars to 6 . In some respects I can see the point of this. Far too often I’ve seen people driving along, not just talking on a mobile held to their ear, but texting with it. And I mean sometimes when I’ve been cycling or walking along at night I’ve noticed drivers gliding along with their face down at the phone, trying to drive with one hand and half an eye on the road. You do have to worry about some people.

However, the danger with such knee jerk legislation, is that it can often lead to overzealous enforcement by the police. Keep in mind the cops have done people for blowing their nose at a traffic light or threatened to arrest a four year old child for riding a kiddies bike on the pavement. Given the cops an inch in the UK and they will take things to an illogical extreme.

What counts as mobile phone use in a car? For example, I’ll sometimes use my mobile as an Mp3 player. Now I’ll plug it in and set everything up before I start driving, but occasionally I might need to just hit the volume button or turn it on/off (without taking my eyes off the road of course and only when its safe to do so). Does that count? Should I get 6 points for that? Now okay, maybe you say yes it does count, in which case I suppose I’ll just listen to the radio instead, will adjusting the volume on the radio now get me 6 points? Because its essentially doing the same thing. Or how about adjusting the air-con, or the sat nav? Keep in mind that there are time you’ll need to adjust these systems for safety reasons (e.g. its night, the sat nav display is too bright so you turn it off or tap it into night mode, your coming up to a busy junction, you hit the mute button on the radio so it doesn’t distract you, windows start to fog up, you need to clear them, etc.).

And I bring this up because it has a legal bearing for me. I have an Irish license and while the Irish government does transfer points issued by the UK authorities onto Irish license, they don’t give the UK courts a rubber stamp. We have this long standing principle in Ireland of “rights” and “due process”. And any Irish court would likely take a dim view of saying doing such and such a thing with a mobile is enough to lose you your license, but doing the same thing with the car radio is okay. Indeed the Irish government has been having difficulty securing convictions for its own laws against in car mobile use.

And to go slightly off topic, but there’s a Brexit dimension here. While I suspect the transfer of penalty points across the Irish border will continue (its a bilateral agreement and nothing to do with the EU) I’m not sure about other EU countries. I suspect any such rules the UK has with the rest of the EU will end with Brexit. Meaning Polish lorry drivers will be able to not only use their phones while driving without fear, but speed as fast as they like and park wherever they like and there’s basically nothing that plod can do about it other than go whistle Dixie. Keep in mind I already know people from the continent who regularly just tear up parking tickets they get in the UK and put them straight in the bin. Such rules are difficult to enforce at the moment, post Brexit it will be impossible. And again its the tendency of the UK legal system to ignore the basic principles upon which any proper legal system is supposed to work that’s to blame.

But I digress. Clearly one has to wonder how out of hand such measures could get and how difficult it becomes to enforce. Might I suggest a more common sense approach. If you are so addicted to your phone that you can put it down for a few minutes while driving maybe you need to decide which is more important, your ability to drive safely or your phone? Keep in mind that if you travel by public transport instead not only can you text and tweet to your hearts content, but many buses and trains theses days come with free wifi. #OMG

And in much the same way that anyone stumbling out of pub with car keys is likely to be rugby tackled and subject to a citizens arrest these days, if you see someone in the car behaving recklessly with a phone (or turning his head away from the road and trying to tune the radio), point out to them how dangerous this is. #where_did_that_tree_come_from? #Sad face

 

Unsporting behaviour

There was some controversy this week when one of the Brownlee brothers helped the other across the line to win a bronze medal. The British media looked on this as brothers in arms, or good sportsmen ship. Ah, no! I’m afraid its what’s known as “cheating”.

The rules of individual sports like the triathlon are very clear, you cannot assist in any way another competitor, nor can they or should they except such help. Riders have been disqualified in the past just because a spectator (never mind another runner) was seen to push them. Until a few years ago triathletes weren’t even allowed to slipstream during the cycling stage of a triathlon. Giving or accepting aid like this isn’t just against the rules, it violates the very spirit of the sport itself.

Put it this way, if a Polish or Chinese athlete had done the same thing and a British athlete had been denied a medal, would the UK media be reacting the same way? Probably not. We can’t have one rule for those who are popular with the media (and have a good sponsorship deal) and another rule for everyone else. There’s little point in getting worked up about Russian doping, if were going to apply the full weight of the law to one group of athletes and ignore them for others.

So while I hate to be mean, but both brothers should have been disqualified for this. And should another “hand of god” like moment happen in a future football match, I don’t want to hear any English whinging about how unfair it all is. You’ve gain just as much, if not more, unfair advantage in sports as everyone else.

 

Not so fancy bears

And speaking of sports there were more revelations about the medical records of British athletes. Now to be fair, if the Russians are trying to tar everyone with the same brush, they are failing. What these records show is that the sort of massive state sponsored doping isn’t going on in the UK or US. However, that’s not to say all of the UK’s athletes are angels. The revelations do flag up some worrying questions.

Quite a few appear to regularly be benefiting from what’s called TUE’s basically an excuse to use a banned substance for medical reasons. The problem is that known drug cheats like Lance Armstrong were known to use these as a way of getting around tests, when they realised (or feared) they might fail a test. So an athlete regularly getting these, while it doesn’t prove anything, it certainly doesn’t look good. In short, anyone who believes doping begins and ends with Russian, think again.

 

The Empire club

A restaurant in Australia is in hot water after calling itself the Colonial club, a sort of colonial themed restaurant for public school boys who are ignorant of history. Naturally this is causing much offence and there are calls for it to be closed down. One wonders if they do a Jallianwahla Bagh cocktail, or an Irish Famine potato salad or how about the Hola special?

What is it about Empire that the Brit’s don’t get? One of the Brexiters put up a tweet (in reaction to another one showing the EU top of the medal table at the Olympics) claim the British Empire “won” the Olympics. British need to understand that to some people this is the equivalent of going up to a Polish person and saying how much better they were under the third reich. There are only two occasions where bringing up the British Empire isn’t going to get you in trouble:
A) You’re Prince Philip (we sort of expect this stuff from him!)
B) At a memorial for the victims of a British empire massacre, explaining why it was so terrible

 

The joys of Hitchhiking

A French hitchiker in New Zealand went beserk this week after spending 4 days by the side of the road and not getting picked up. To be honest, I think if you are hitch-hiking, you need to have a better strategy. And in a remote area, you need to have a plan B in case you don’t get picked up, e.g. walk to where you want to go and if you don’t get picked up along they way, you’ll get there anyway. Or have a public transport option you can call on.

One of the issues I take with this story was how he was called “a spoilt millennial”. First of all, Millennials are really an invention of marketeers who like to segment people into neatly defined groups. An many of those qualities they ascribe to “millennials” don’t actually gel with the facts, as this Adam Conover video discusses. I teach a lot of “millennials” and I know of just as many who are spoilt selfie takers with a sense of some sort of god given entitlement, as I know similar people from previous generations. It certainly does not fit the description of the average Millennial I know. Indeed it was mostly baby boomers with there sense of entitlement who voted for Brexit, not millennial’s (whom the baby boomers screwed over).

Sunday service

A few stories that caught my eye over the last week……

Blackouts & Newspeak

With Hinkley C now hanging in the balance, the National Grid seem to be waking up to the realisation that its unlikely we’ll be getting any new power infrastructure in time to offset the likely decommissioning of the UK’s ageing coal and nuclear plants. So they seem to be putting their faith in energy efficiency measures instead.

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Keep in mind a few years ago, I was scoffed at for making such a suggestion at a conference by someone from NG, who felt such measures were unnecessary or that they won’t work (he was trying to argue the case for Hinkley C and how the ground would open and swallow the country if it isn’t built). And these very measures were part of the so-called “Green crap” Cameron cut to keep his allies in the fossil fuel and nuclear industry happy, just a few years ago. So there’s a certain “newspeak” element to this whole story as a result.

Now, I’m all for energy efficiency measures. I have long argued they are a big part of the solution. If we can’t build renewables quickly enough (nor nuclear for that matter) to meet the growing need for power and reduce carbon emissions, then we need to cut consumption. However, this road to Damascus conversion ignores three crucial points.

Firstly, there’s a law of diminishing returns in play here. You can make some big drastic savings early on (if you build the right infrastructure of course), but beyond a certain tipping point, you’ll be scrapping the bottom of the barrel. Energy efficiency, by saving people money, can actually encourage further energy use. Think about it, if I could double the fuel economy of your car, you’d probably drive it more regularly won’t you? Ultimately you still need to be producing power, and you will need to build some new power plants (be they renewable, fossil fuel fired or nuclear). This whole crisis is a result of the UK government’s failure to adopt a long term energy policy, throwing one industry under the bus after another, to the point nobody in their right mind would invest in a power station in the UK (renewable, nuclear or otherwise) unless you basically bribe them.

Secondly, a lot of the better energy efficiency measures require changes to how the grid works. They will not go ahead unless the government gives firm signals that it is adopting an appropriate long term energy policy. For example, the most obvious way of cutting carbon emissions is to switch from a handful of centralised thermal power stations, to a network of smaller decentralised CHP plants. Even running on fossil fuels, this cuts carbon emissions by at least 25%. Some European countries get 40% of their electricity from such power stations. They can also effectively backup intermittent renewable energy sources. But again, without building the hardware, you can’t implement it. And they will only work as part of a coherent overall strategy.

And thirdly there’s the ticking clock. Any energy plan for the UK needs action to be taken now. There are no quick fixes, no easy short cuts. Those boats sailed some time ago. The government has to take action asap and put its money where its mouth is, or any energy plan no matter how well meaning it is, will fail.

Irish apple…..and not the fruit!

For years Apple had been playing the double Irish tax dodge, only to recently get caught out. The EU’s just tapped them for 13 billion euro in back taxes. To put that in prospective, that’s about Ireland’s health budget for a year.

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Oddly enough rather than Leinster house cracking open champagne bottles and starting to work out what we’re going to spend all this money on (that’s enough to buy every adult in the country about 900 pints of the black stuff…now there’s a thought…), they are thinking of appealing. Why? Okay it does hurt Ireland reputation a bit, but so what, if Apple was here for the reasons it claims (i.e. to take advantage of a well educated workforce, I know they do a lot of co-funded research with Irish uni’s), then this ruling shouldn’t change anything.

If they were here for the tax dodge then feck em. They want to piss off back to California, fair enough. The Brexiters were dancing a jig about how Apple might move to the UK. That’s unlikely as the rate of taxation in Ireland is still lower than the UK’s. And lets be clear about what the Brexiters are proposing, they think that British tax payers should subsidise the profits of one of the world’s largest and most profitable companies. Seriously? Try selling that one in the middle of the next election! Voting for Corbyn suddenly starts to sound like a good idea.

So I say hang’em out to dry!

Olympic hijackings

And speaking of which, Brexiters have been trying to talk up how great everything is post-Brexit. They’ve picked up on everything from the Olympics, ignoring the fact how most medal winners are mostly young people, i.e. the people who voted remain, plus quite a few are from immigrant families and won’t be here if the UKIP brigade had its way, doubly so if lottery funding was ended, as some on the right have been long calling for. UK sports also receives money from the EU btw.

Speaking of which, Trump has been unusually quiet about the Olympics. Probably because it doesn’t fit into his narrative of a “broken” America, when they are finishing top of the medal table. And if Mexico isn’t sending the US their best, how about those Mexican American medal winners? Or what about the American Muslim and Jewish athletes? How unamerican of them to train hard and win medals! I particularly like Libertarian Gray Johnson’s tweet, he questioned if Trump was only watching the Olympics to see how high the Mexican pole vaulters could go.

Oh and incidentally, while many athletes didn’t want to talk about Brexit or Trump, those that did ain’t exactly supporters.

Brexit blues

But I digress, Brexiters have also jumped on the slightest hint of good economic news, ignoring the fact that things like factory output or employment figures often reflect conditions several months ago, i.e. before Brexit was announced, or can be thrown off by seasonal factors.

The real threat from Brexit was, and still is long term trends. As the saying goes its the bears that get you in the end, not the stags running for cover. Brexiters might want to spare a thought for example to the workers at Catepillar in Northern Ireland, who were told this week, hundreds of whom were losing their jobs. Further job losses appear to be imminent in ICL. Its possible they may follow in Ford and Nissan over the next few months and years, with other car makers likely to follow. Lloyds of course axed 3,000 last month over Brexit.

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Indeed recruiters argued that they were seeing a slow down in recruitment levels even before Brexit, as companies brought in hiring freezes in advance of the referendum. In some sectors recruitment rates are now “in freefall, as many companies have held onto those hiring freezes since then. Also even if you’ve been given leave to recruit, as my uni’s been finding, its next to impossible to hire new staff. Think about it, if you’ve got a job already would you risk changing jobs in the present climate? If you move jobs and your new employer decides to start down sizing, it will likely be last in first out, so who in their right mind would want to move? They only way we can recruit now is by hiring people on contract and paying them exorbitant day rates.

And yes, I’m aware there are employment laws meant to prevent LIFO type layoff’s, however I think you’ll find the fine print says they are EU laws. And the chances of a Tory government protecting the rights of employees is somewhere between slim and none.

Now all of this was inevitable. As I’ve pointed out before, UK manufacturing is going to take a hit and Northern Ireland is going to have it the worst post-Brexit. Companies aren’t going to rush for the exits, but they will slow down investment in the UK and stop hiring. Of course this will leave UK factories uncompetitive, meaning any time things are looking lean, they will inevitably pull production in UK firms first, particularly those in Northern Ireland. So let’s not kid ourselves people are losing jobs, or the opportunity to get a job as a result of Brexit. And if you think things are bad now, wait a few years!

Ambushed on Brexit

Indeed Theresa May appears to have been ambushed at the latest G20 talks, by both the Japanese and Americans, who are starting to put the squeeze on the Brits. As I mentioned in prior posts a UK government post-Brexit is going to come under enormous pressure, from international leaders, business, the army and even the government’s own civil servants. This means Brexit, actually might not mean Brexit, or it might just mean the UK becoming a sort of side kick to the EU (sorry, hero support!).

A winter of discontent?

The doctors are threatening a 5 day strike, so I hope everyone’s feeling fit and healthy and not planning on getting ill for a while. And southern rail is still in the grip of industrial action by disgruntled staff…while announcing a £100 million in profit! In both cases the employers are blaming the workers for the strikes…or even Jeremy Corbyn! Which is a bit like overloading a donkey with stuff and then getting angry with the donkey when it collapses from exhaustion.

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The fact is that the government’s policy of squeezing doctors isn’t working, its creating major problems for the NHS. And their policy on privatisation (health care or the railways) is inherently flawed. So their solution is to paper over the cracks and pretend they aren’t there. And likely thanks to Brexit, make strikes harder to hold in future. Will this means things improve post-Brexit? No! Doctors will likely move overseas, we’ll find it even harder to recruit new ones and similarly the situation on the UK’s trains will get even more strained.

You could argue that both junior doctors and the southern rail company are the canaries in the coal mine for problems the rest of the NHS and the rail network will experience further down the line.

Corbyn caught out

And speaking of trains, Corbyn claimed to have sat on the floor the other week all the way to Newcastle, as the train was “ram packed”. But Virgin revealed that actually that wasn’t how things had panned out. Clearly this was a half arsed attempt at the sort of political street theatre other parties engage in all of the time. The trouble is that Corbyn is such a hate figure for many that he can’t pull something like this off. He seems to drive people to a level of maddening hatred. He’s less a party leader and more of a punch bag.

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Consider that I once lost my bag on a Virgin train. I reported it, but they were never able to relocate it. They knew the train, the carriage and the seat number I was in, how much trouble would it have been to go through the CCTV and try to trace the bag? But instead they were quite happy to look at the CCTV footage for several carriages on likely more than one train for several hours to see what Corbyn got up too. This should show you how far Corbyn’s opponents will go to stick the knife in….and how little Virgin cares about its customers.

SpaceX explosion

SpaceX the upstart rocket company founded by Elon Musk suffered a serious technical failure the other day, with a rocket exploding on the pad. They’ve not said why yet, but I could not help but notice that the explosion seemed to start at the upper stage. This suggests some sort of malfunction with the rockets controls (e.g. the upper stage motor fired early), or perhaps a flash fire further down precipitating upwards (think of a champagne bottle…just one filled with rocket fuel).

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Some have started to question if this accident now threatens the future of SpaceX. Well it shouldn’t. Rockets are the very definition of extreme engineering. The most reliable rockets in the world have a success rate of 92%….or put it another way they blow up 1:12 of the times they are launched. SpaceX’s record, if we count this explosion as its 2nd failure out of 29 attempts counts as a 1:14.5 failure rate, well below the best the rest of the industry can manage. Its just that most of the other rockets tend not to fail so publicly, so the media don’t notice.

And SpaceX has pointed that even if the rocket was manned, its escape rocket system would likely have saved the crew. So rumours of SpaceX’s demise are perhaps greatly exaggerated.

Pulling power

One of the first things you notice state side is how much bigger cars are there. There seems to be lots of people who opt for some outrageously large SUV or pick up truck. The perfect thing for towing the boat they don’t own up the mountain they don’t live near. I’ve always felt skeptical of these behemoths feeling they are more pony and less draft horse. Well now I’ve got proof.

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Consider this video of a tug of war between a British Land Rover defender, with a 2.5L engine (at most 160 hp) and a kerb weight of about 1.6 tonnes (they do aluminium bodied versions that weight even less than this, I’m assuming this is the standard steel bodied version) against a Dodge Ram 3500 (Cummin’s Diesel version) with a 5.9L engine and weighing in at closer to 3 tonnes. Who wins?

Well if you watch the video, you’ll see its the Land Rover. Which is not that huge a surprise if you know anything about power to weight ratios. The Land Rover might be smaller and lighter, but that just means its got more power to devote to pulling the Dodge backwards. Driver skill and a manual transmission (with I assume a low torque selector and a diff-lock) also probably makes a big difference.

Plus a lower kerb weight means for lower ground pressure, an important feature in a 4×4 given the need to drive across muddy fields. Hence why real farmers or off road drivers use a Land Rover (or a range of other similar and more practical vehicles, the Toyota Hilux for example). While things like the Dodge Ram are aimed at men, with Trump like small hands, seeking to compensate for something else that’s very small.

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Why Indy-ref2 will be very different

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In the wake of the Brexit vote, the SNP are calling for another referendum on Scottish independence. Inevitably the Tories are saying no, why we had one just two years ago, what’s changed since then to warrant another referendum? Well in short, everything. This referendum will be very different, anything but a re-run of the previous one. The issues have changed, public opinion has changed, the consequences of Independence have changed.

Post-Brexit opinion

Naturally the fact that the Scottish overwhelmingly voting to stay in the EU and the rUK voting to leave, does drastically change things. We were assured by the Tories at the last vote that Brexit was very unlikely and there was little difference between opinions on the EU north of the border and south of it. Well clearly that was not true. And recall much of the “project fear” arguments related to uncertainty over Scotland’s EU membership if Scotland left the UK. So it is entirely legitimate to want the referendum re-run for these reasons alone (either that or rerun the Brexit vote).

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And opinion polls reflect this. In the immediate wake of Brexit a poll emerged showing a whopping 27% lead to independence. More recent polls show a smaller lead of 6-7% towards yes.

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Its worth keeping in mind that in the immediate wake of the last referendum opinion polls narrowed to either a tie, a narrow lead to yes or a 3-5% lead to no. So we have a shift in public opinion of at least 10% (if not more) over this one issue in the space of a few weeks. That is more than sufficient grounds by itself to argue for a 2nd vote. Not least because it changes how a future independence vote will be run.

Project fear

Last time around the Tories and the no camp opted for so called project fear. Pointing to the economic dangers of Scottish independence. However, now both camps will likely be running their own brand of project fear. The SNP will be able to point out that by remaining in the EU, Scotland will benefit greatly, many companies that trade with the EU in the UK will likely relocate north of the border. So the no camp won’t have everything its own way.

One of my criticisms of the SNP last time around was the fact that they were a bit unrealistic and did not consider the negative consequences of independence. This time around it seems they are planning for a bit of a warts and all approach, acknowledging that post- independence the country will have to make some tough choices, but it will be better off in the long run. While this approach might put some people off, the obvious benefit is that it leaves the no camp with nowhere to go. They can’t run project fear, when the SNP are saying the same thing anyway.

In any event I would argue that one reasons why the Tories lost the Brexit referendum was that they kept playing the project fear card. But after playing the same card in three referendums and a general election people simply didn’t believe them anymore, they’ve developed an immunity to it. In short, I’m doubtful it will work this time, particularly if they are already behind in the polls.

Instead, the Tories will have to play up the positive aspects of being in the UK. However, there’s the problem. The Tories, don’t exactly do positives, not in Scotland anyway. Them trying to be positive is like someone dressed as a creepy clown driving around late at night in a creepy looking van trying to hand out free candy to kids.

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The Tories Indyref2 battle bus is unveiled

Who will lead the no vote?

This is why last time the Tories largely left it up to labour to lead the no vote campaign. But labour are unlikely to make that mistake a 2nd time. In the wake of the indy-ref labour support in Scotland plummeted. They lost all but one of their seats in Scotland. And to add insult to injury, in a typical act of Sith betrayal, the Tories then ran a general election campaign centred on how labour would be beholden to those sneaky scots and in Alex Slamond’s pocket.

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A poster campaign that the Tories will likely regret running, if there’s a 2nd independence referendum

So I think the lesson for Scottish labour would be to not take the lead on any campaign. Indeed if you have been listening to Scottish labour leader Kezia Dugdale recently you will see she’s leaving nothing out. She’s even not closing off the option to support an independence campaign. Now I doubt that would actually happen (indeed she’s since back petalled from this a bit). However, the indecision within Scottish labour leadership does reflect the fact that they cannot take the same approach as last time. My guess is Scottish labour will be neutral in the next referendum, some in the party will campaign for a yes vote, others for a no vote. Or the party may just stay out of it altogether.

While I won’t rule out a figure like Gordon Brown stepping in to lead the no vote, I’m not sure how effective he would be, he’s soften his tone somewhat since the 23rd of June. Certainly I doubt we’ll be getting Alastair Darling again (I bumped into him not too long ago, I was careful not to mention the Scottish referendum as I had this fear he’d start foaming at the mouth and banging his head against the wall as he succumbed to paranoid flash backs), the poor guy has suffered enough. And given the lib dem’s ferrero rocher moment, I’m doubting they are in a position to help, nor would they want too.

My guess is that the no camp will have to look outside of politics, find someone like J. K Rowling or that guy from dragon’s den, to lead the no campaign. However, that would be a risky strategy. Basically it will either be spectacularly successful, or they’ll go into a debate against Nicola Sturgeon and she’ll shred them (politicians tend to be good debaters) and the whole thing will fall apart.

Currency

One of the major mistake from last time was the failure of the SNP to be able to answer a simple question, what currency will we be using on independence day? Again, minded as I was to support independence, it baffled me how they couldn’t get something this basic right.

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And quite frankly the idea that of sharing the pound A) have you run that past Whitehall? cos I think they’ll say no, and B) why would you want to keep the pound? This undermines the whole point of independence! Clearly the SNP policy here was being driven by the results of focus groups, which showed many didn’t want to give up the pound for various reasons.

However with the pound falling in value, the case for retaining the pound is undermined. In some respects you could argue a Scottish pound would have advantages. And to those who say it can’t be a stable currency, ya and you might want to run that by the Danes, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Hungary, the Czech’s, etc. All have their own currency, all are small countries, in many cases with a smaller population and GDP than Scotland. They (with the noted exception of Norway) don’t have Scotland’s oil reserves or high value exports. And many other EU states, such as Ireland, Belgium, or Holland had a stable independent currency for many years prior to joining the Euro. So I have little doubt that a Scottish pound is a realistic possibility.

And the SNP seem to recognising this. It would seem that this time they will be campaigning on the basis of founding their own currency, although its value might at least initially pegged to the UK pound (the Danes have a similar arrangement with the Euro, as do Norway to Sweden) or even joining the euro. This will not be straight forward. It will take time and it might mean some temporary austerity or tax hikes initially, while proving to the world that Scotland can balance its books…..although its worth noting that the Tories have thoroughly failed to do anything of the sort.

But if they can win the argument on currency, then that does change things considerably.

EU citizens and Scottish independence

Last time around the SNP broadened the big tent as wide as they could, gambling that the more they had voting, the more likely independence would become. Of course, they knew that there were large groups who would vote as a block against independence, but they were gambling that the yes votes they gathered in the process would cancel this out (of course they were wrong, in the end the vow meant the numbers just didn’t add up).

EU citizens, who were allowed to vote last time around but denied a vote in the EU referendum, by and large voted against Scottish independence. However, this is unlikely to be the case this time around. With Theresa May threatening to use them as pawns in negotiations with Brussels, we can assume many EU citizens in Scotland will now vote for Scottish independence to preserve their status within the EU. Certainly for me, its all but a given I’ll vote yes, if only for this reason alone.

And similarly there will be large blocks of people who voted no last time who can be expected to now vote yes. Again, this changes the dynamics of the referendum completely. The no camp, last time relied on the fact that a large proportion of voters would be naturally expected to vote no, so they only had to focus those who were on the fence. Now its the other way around. Hence, why a “project fear” approach is unlikely to work.

And if lots of EU citizens are voting for Scottish independence, this naturally changes the position of the EU as regards the question. EU government will have to take into account what’s in the interest of their citizens living in Scotland.

The EU and the Spanish

Another major sticking point from last time was the attitude of the EU. Last time the SNP seemed to assume they were already a member of the EU, the EU pointed out that no, you’ll have to apply for membership like everyone else.

Now the EU seems a bit more open towards the idea of Scottish independence. They will be anxious to avoid setting a precedence by admitting Scotland, but some sort of fast track approach in conjunction with Brexit (or should we say Engexit) is a possibility. There will likely be a transition period, when the country is not in the UK but also not in the EU, but with the right agreements in place this should not effect trade.

The Spanish do represent something of a sticking point. They don’t want Scottish independence to create a case for Catalonian independence (or Basque independence). However the Spanish are also very quick to point out that the Scottish question is a very different matter. However if they were to openly block Scottish EU membership (as its often implied by some in the media they would) naturally this would lead many to question whether the two issues are so different. In short, they would have undermined their own case for blocking Catalonian independence.

And the Spanish will know that there will be countries in the EU which are more favourable Scottish independence, such as Ireland, or many of the Eastern European and Scandinavian countries. The danger for the Spanish is that if they try too hard, they’ll antagonise these nations, which would be a bad idea as it would undermine their own position.

So my guess is, the EU will ask a lot of tough questions, the Spanish will try to drag things out a bit, but otherwise it will probably go ahead. It will take a lot more time than the SNP seem to think, but a lot less time than the naysayers will have us believe.

Bottom line, the EU is not about to vote to make itself smaller. The consequences for Scotland voting to stay in the EU, voting to leave the UK as a consequence and then being given the cold shoulder would fundamentally undermine the whole EU project.

37.3%

And speaking of Spain, there’s the question of the legality of a second independence referendum. It seems likely that Westminster will not allow another legally binding referendum. In essence their plan is to counter independence the same way the Spanish saw off the Catalonia vote, by denying the referendum credibility.

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However if this is the plan, its not going to work. Why? Simple – 37.3%, which you arrive at by multiplying the 51.8% who voted for Brexit times the turn out of 72.2%. The problem for the Tories is that they are pushing ahead with Brexit, on the basis of a non-legally binding referendum, without a vote in parliament, on the basis of a plurality of just 37.3%. By doing so they are setting a precedence. If the SNP can get the vote for independence over this bar, then it becomes very difficult to argue against them. And that isn’t very difficult to do, particularly if many no voters don’t bother showing up to the polls.

Let us suppose the latest opinion polls showing a 47% to 41% split in the vote is correct. Let us suppose that the don’t know‘s and the strong no‘s boycott the next indy-ref, so only those who are weak no‘s (they feel there should be a vote even though they still intend to vote no, e.g. they are married or to a yes voter) and yes voters show up to the polls. Well do the maths and with a turn out of just 48% the SNP could exceed the plurality of the Brexit vote (in this scenario the result would be 77% for and 23% against). And if we assume that the turn out for an Indy ref2 is the same as the EU referendum (67%, again strong no‘s and don’t know’s stay away, leaving the poll to be fought between the weak no‘s and the yes voters). The likely result will be about 67% yes, 33% no with a plurality of 45%.

So I’m afraid the “Spanish option” would likely be a total disaster for the Tories, not least because after 6-12 months of a one sided campaign from the SNP, public opinion won’t be split 47/41, probably the margin will be much higher and therefore the SNP’s margin of victory will be a lot higher. Its not too difficult to see them exceeding a plurality of 50%.

All the Tories will do with such a tactic is guarantee a very wide margin of victory to the SNP. And then what are they going to do? They can’t veto Scotland’s EU membership like they threatened to do last time. They can’t deny the Scot’s the pound if they set up their own currency (actually Whitehall will now be more worried about the Scot’s refusing to take on their share of the UK’s national debt). Armed with a democratic mandate that exceeds that of the Tories, it will be very difficult for them to stop Scottish independence.

And while the EU will be reluctant to recognise Scottish independence, they will not ignore the result and will likely insist that post-Brexit negotiations only consider the rUK, opening separate talks directly with Edinburgh.

The vow mark II

Last time, Scottish independence was partially thwarted thanks to a last minute intervention by Gordon Brown, culminating in the infamous vow. Could the same happen again?

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There is already a post-brexit proposal for a federal UK in which all powers, excluding defence and foreign policy are devolved to the regions and a new English parliament. There would be either a shared currency with the pound becoming essentially like a mini-eurozone, or each nation would develop its own currency pegged to a fixed exchange rate.

This could well be sufficient to allow Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar to stay in the UK and also in the EU. While the Spanish (again) will deny this, there is a precedence here. Greenland is part of Denmark, but not in the EU, even though the rest of Denmark is in the EU. So its not beyond the scope of legal argument for this to work.

However, the rest of the UK would have to agree to this. And Theresa May isn’t exactly the sort of PM we could see signing up for it (she’s a bit authoritarian). Without a clear mandate prior to a vote, you’d be asking Scot’s to choose between a possibly maybe and the certainty of independence. That doesn’t sound like it will work.

And also, there’s the issue of credibility. There are many Scot’s who feel that the vow was never delivered on. While the Tories would argue no we did deliver on the vow, but this is a bit like paying a kid to cut your lawn, and he sets it on fire. Okay, he did reduce the height of the grass, but its not quite what you were expecting.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

The uncertainty principle

So all in all, a second independence referendum will be a very different affair. The SNP won’t have everything their own way. They’ve got some difficult questions to answer. The stakes are higher now, post-brexit. But equally, the Tories now face some serious challenges. Trying to fight an independence referendum while negotiating Brexit, with all of their broken promises dug up by the SNP and spat back at them, its not going to be easy. And ignoring the problem and hoping that it goes away, will all but guarantee that Scottish independence happens.

So in the absence of a reversal of the Brexit referendum, I don’t see how a 2nd independence referendum can be stopped. But will independence happen? Last time my assumption was probably not, but I could just about see Cameron screwing things up enough to make it a possibility. Now however, I’d call the odds 50/50, perhaps higher. But that’s what’s really changed, I don’t see how anyone could predict the outcome this time.

News roundup

The 2nd longest suicide note in history

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The Republican national convention is currently kicking off and things aren’t off to a great start. The cops are calling for the state’s open carry law to be suspended (after recent police shootings they’ve come to realise that the solution to a bad guy with a gun is and making sure he’s not armed, and not hiding in a crowd of 100 other armed nutters). And with the cult of Trump in town and lots of angry anti-Trump protesters, trouble is all but guaranteed.

Many leading republicans are skipping the convention (and probably with all the guns are very glad to do so!) as they want to stay well away from the train wreck otherwise known as Trump. As a result the roster of speakers at the convention is a little thin, even Trump’s wife and daughter is having to speak, oh and the boss of the Trump winery (presumably to help push Trump’s merchandise). About the only senior republicans speaking are Paul Ryan (who has to speak, someone from congress had to show up and he drew the short straw), Chris Christie (aka, Trump’s official sidekick) and Newt Gingrich (Trump’s wannabe sidekick).

Meanwhile the policy agenda that will be endorsed at the convention includes a number of extremely conservative positions. For example porn is labelled a “public health crisis, they want to crack down of gays, introduce “gay conversion therapy” (I don’t know either, maybe get them to watch porn…oh no wait didn’t we just ban that?), banning abortion, etc. They’ve even managed to piss off the ADL. Although to be fair, as Israel is not a US state and both Trump and his supporters are clueless to anything outside the US, it would have to be pointed out to them on a map.

The GOP has avoided including such toxic policies in the past, because they know they would never get through congress (even some Republicans would vote against them!) and even then they would likely be struck down by the the Supreme court. All you’re doing is loading a gun with ammo for the democrats to blast away at them with for the next four months. Trump’s manifesto could well go down as the 2nd longest political suicide note in history.

Already comparisons are being drawn to the disastrous convention of 1992. Back then the GOP had spent several years trying to woo white evangelicals such as Jerry Farwell’s “moral majority” into the big GOP tent. Up till then many christian conservatives had not voted because the party of Lincoln was after all the party that freed the slaves, while the democrats had decided that minorities had all sorts of “rights” and you couldn’t like lynch em or burn crosses on their lawns no more (bloody liberals!).

Anyway this plan backfired with the Christian conservatives effectively hijacking the GOP policy committee and forced it to adopt various right wing policies, not unlike those Trump is now endorsing. This appalled many moderate Republicans, who took the view that the GOP was supposed to be the party of small government, not the party that advocates an authoritarian state that dictates what people do in the privacy of their own homes.

Consequently G. W. Bush, whose campaign was already behind due to a struggling economy, was from this point on all but guaranteed to lose to rank outsider Bill Clinton (whom most people had never heard of at the time). And lose by a significant margin he did, becoming one of the few US presidents in recent times not to win a 2nd term in office.

And to make matters worse for the GOP, the fall out from the convention led to a resurgence in support towards the third party campaign of Ross Perot’s. Now while this took as many votes away from Clinton as it did Bush, the fallout carried over into the 1996 election, where again Perot ran on a ticket appealing to small government moderate Republicans, the people edged out or booed off stage in the 1992 convention. And again, he cost the GOP precious votes all but guaranteeing Clinton a 2nd term.

So while this will be an awful sickening coronation of Trump, it also could well be a funeral of sorts for any hope of the Republicans winning diddly squat for a good few years.

Police shootings
Recent police shootings in America are cause for concern, although statistics do suggest that the overall situation isn’t quite as bad as might be thought. Cop killings have been steadily falling for sometime now.

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However, certainly the toxic atmosphere of recent months means that the police forces in America are loosing public support. It is argued that the police are only police because we the public consent to them their authority to uphold the law. If this consent is withdrawn, well they ain’t much more than a rent-a-cop mall guard. And should any cops be wondering how to tell if you’ve lost the support of the community, well when they start shooting you just for being cops, that’s probably it!

But getting shot at is only the start. And to be honest tighter gun control would solve that problem. Its the inability for police to do their job that’s the danger. If the public don’t trust the police, they won’t rely on them in a crisis, they’ll turn to someone else, likely the local Mr Big. The rise of the Mafia in America, first the Irish mob, then the Italian mob, was borne out of the fact that these immigrant communities did not trust the cops. History is in effect repeating itself.

Trident vote

Submarine

The UK is voting on Trident renewal. The Tories have been accused of only holding it now to help destabilise the labour party. And the price tag? A snip at £205 billion, or to put it in Brexit bus terms that’s £569 million a month for the next 30 years.

However, I cannot help but notice that if the vote were being held north of the border, the result would be very difference. Only one MP is planning on vote for Trident, (David Mundell, the only Tory MP in Scotland), all the rest are either abstaining or voting against it. Is this because the missiles are based in Scotland, while the armchair chicken hawks chatter about it in Westminster, or is it because Scot’s can add and subtract and realise its a complete waste of money?

Indy Ref2 next year?
Theresa May met with Nicola Sturgeon last week to discuss the consequences of Brexit and the possiblity of a further referendum (on the EU or Scottish independence). I assume it didn’t go so well, because within hours of it ending we were hearing murmurings of a possible 2nd Scottish independence referendum in early 2017.

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Let us be clear about what is going on here. Yes the SNP want Scottish independence, but unlike Cameron they aren’t morons. Yes, the polls do show that the ground has shifted, with several polls now showing a clear (but sometimes narrow) lead for independence. But you can never guarantee anything leading into a referendum, not unless you are well ahead (and recall remain had a ten point lead at the start of the EU referendum). It would make sense for the SNP to wait as long as possible before calling a referendum. And they also realise that they have to explore every possible alternative before committing to one.

On the other hand, the Tories attempt to stonewall the Scot’s is making it very easy for the SNP. The Tories are trying to ignore this shift in the polls, ignoring the very narrow majority in the EU referendum, not to mention the fact that only 37% of the electorate actually voted for Brexit and many millions (EU citizens and British citizens abroad) were denied the right to vote, as were students not at their term time addresses. And of course an overwhelming proportion of Scot’s voted against leaving the EU.

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Of course there’s an obvious horse trade here. The Tories allow the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies some input to the terms of Brexit. And furthermore, a requirement it is ratified either by all four parliaments, or via another referendum. However, the Tories seem to be ignoring this, same way they are ignoring the fact that the EU referendum result is not legally binding and that they may face obstacles getting it through Westminster. As a result the same Tory arrogance that led them into the first inde-ref (and the EU referendum) could well be their undoing this time around.

Vote leave bus rebranded by Greenpeace
Greenpeace have somehow managed to get their hands on the infamous Brexit bus with all of the misleading slogans on it. I was surprised by this, as I assumed that, like the Edstone, it would have been destroyed….ritually burned….presumably with Gove still inside!

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Anyway, it would appear Greenpeace plan to “correct” the messages on it and drive around with it as a “vehicle for truth”.

The Tories thought that they could tell a few lies to the public, so that Boris could get to be PM, but what harm could it do, I mean who remembers politician’s promises? I mean remember when that Clegg fellow made that promise to students about fees, why they forgot about that within a week. No way this £350 million claim will come back to haunt them, next election, would it?….ah no!

The Brexit camp have created a enormous level of distrust by their actions. And yes, this £350 million claim did sway voters, and yes they expect it to be honoured, I had a conversation with someone who repeated the claim a few days ago (he seemed to think taxes were about to go down after Boris told em we’ll not be paying the £350 million anymore). Couple that with the fact that there will be little if any change to immigration rules and you could argue the Tories have made life very tough for themselves. Ironically there are worries for the future of NHS funding post-Brexit.

And if there is another indy-ref next year and project fear is resurrected, what’s the bet that the SNP counter is, these are the same people who told us we could save £350 million a week by leaving the EU. If you could write anything on the Tories party’s tombstone (well aside from ding dong the witch is dead!) it would be this £350 million a week claim.

Mrs Fracking
There are growing concerns about the axing of the DECC, which I discussed in a prior post. But worse the decision to hand over part of its responsibilities to Andrea “Fruitcake” Landsom has been called into question. She’s a pro-Fracking, climate Skeptic known for her extreme views. I could argue that its putting the fox in charge of the hen house, but actually she’d shoot the fox (she’s pro-fox hunting) and burn down the hen house to save it. She’s also on record as arguing against farm subsidies, which is obviously very worrying for farmers, who are already anxious over the consequences of Brexit.

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I mean Tim Peake got back from Space, learnt about Brexit, Trump and all that’s happened since he left and tried to rush back into the capsule (okay, not quite!).

The Consequences of Brexit

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I was away on holiday during the vote, I mean I go away for 3 weeks and you lot exit the EU, WTF! Oddly enough I was outside the EU in Norway, basking in land of milk and honey the leave camp promised us?…well actually no.

The Norwegians couldn’t understand why Britain left the EU. They have to pay to be a member of the EEA (one of them was moaning to me about its considerable costs) yet not gain any of the benefits of being an EU member. The main reason why Norway is not in the EU boils down to fisheries. Not because they fear EU regulations, actually they feel the EU doesn’t regulate fisheries enough.

But at least the Norwegians have control over their borders right? No! There are more migrants per capita in Norway than in the UK, about 25% more in fact and they are arriving at a much faster rate than in the UK (nearly 3 times higher per capita faster). At one point (keeping in mind I was in rural areas, small fishing villages, not major towns) I was on a bus, the driver was Chechen, there were several middle eastern gentlemen (who got off at a fish factory, where clearly they were working), quite a few Chinese (and with the prams and shopping bags, I’m guessing they were locals), some tourists like me and perhaps one or two actual Norwegians.

And Switzerland has double the number of migrants per capita that Norway has. The only EEA, non-EU country that has a lower number of migrants than the UK is Iceland (which is only marginally lower). Which probably has less to do with Iceland’s migration policy and everything to do with the name of your country including the word “Ice” in it (hence, migrants tend to give it a wide berth fearful they’ll freeze to death or be eaten by a polar bear). So unless the Brexiters are proposing to rename the UK “Icebergland” or “Monster Island”, its unlikely this will have any impact on migration.

And already a number of the predictions and warnings are starting to come true, the pound has plunged in value, the stock markets were down $2 trillion in just 48 hrs, trading in certain shares was actually suspended at one point. Inflation is likely to rise, food prices will go up and many of those retiree’s and people on low incomes who voted leave will soon themselves considerably worse off and baring the brunt of consequences (as predicted).

Immediately I felt this effect as it meant everything started becoming more expensive. Room’s I’d booked a few days earlier suddenly rose in price rapidly. It was like living in Zimbabwe. I was in a queue waiting to change the last of my Kronor’s in Oslo airport, reading the news when I saw the story about the UK being downgraded by all 3 of the major rating’s agencies, so when I was asked which currency I’d like my money back in I said euro’s, rather than pounds.

Dirty rotten scoundrels – Project Betrayal

On his way out the door Cameron said that the leave camp had a lot to live up to, by which he meant all the insane lies and promises they made prior to the vote. Well less than 24 hrs after the vote they were breaking every single promise made. Apparently they never promised the NHS £350 million a week, despite driving around on a bus with that written on it.

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Nor indeed will there be any changes to immigration law, because there’s no proof anyone voted leave due to fears over….despite the leave camp stirring up racial hatred for months (to the point where an MP got murdered). After all if Britain applies such restrictions to other EU states, they’d reply by doing the same to Britain in turn (which would lead to many ex-pats from the UK being forced to return home, and millions of them coming back in all at once would make any current issues regarding migrations seem pretty small).

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And fishermen have been warned to expect no increases in allowed catches. Indeed, the experts have been warning of over fishing for years, post-Brexit the expert advise would probably by for a complete halt to all fishing in UK waters for a few years.

To EEA or not to EEA?

The crucial question the markets are asking is whether or not the UK will now go for a “Norway model” of EEA membership. This would give the UK access to the single European market and involve the least amount of disruption to the economy.

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However, as noted earlier this represents pretty poor value for money. The UK would still essentially have to pay the EU for the privilege (Norway pays 83% of what we pay now), most of those pesky EU laws the leave camp were hammering on about would remain in place, only now the UK gets no say in any future changes to said laws (our EU parliament members are essentially replaced by fax machine in Whitehall through which future EU dictates will be received and implemented with question). And crucially there will have to be a commitment to free movement of people, the Germans have been pretty clear about that one.

The only reason Norway and Iceland accept these terms (rather than just go the whole hog and join the EU) is because of issues regarding fisheries (as noted), while the Swiss worry about the EU trying to arrest all its bankers and money launderers, if they became a member. So these countries accept these conditions for very specific reasons.

Yes there will be some changes. Much like other EEA countries, EU citizens coming over will have to fill in a few forms, it becomes a bit easier to deny them benefits (until they start working and paying taxes of course). But once they’ve been here long enough it will make no difference in real terms, just more bureaucracy (which of course UK tax payers will be paying for of course). The likelihood is that the result will be (as noted) no decrease in migration. Indeed in certain scenarios it could lead to an increase in migration, as minorities in the EU who currently can’t apply for asylum in the UK will gain that right.

The UK will also be able to pick and chose to keep certain elements of legislation its adopted from the EU. And the main two areas where they will be able to effect change are employment law and the environment. In short, its likely the Tories will now gut employment laws and remove many of the rights and protections that workers, particularly low income workers. have long relied on. By voting for Brexit they have now voted to remove the laws that say, stops you being fired by your boss just because you got sick or insisted on wearing a safety harness to stop you falling to your death. And forget about asking for Christmas day off to be with your family, or for overtime pay.

As for the environment, its now likely the laws here will also be gutted. Its now questionable, if not very improbable that the UK will remain committed to its the promises made during the Paris climate conference. Siemens has already announced it is freezing all wind farm development in the UK. Its also been warned that the £20 billion in new energy infrastructure the UK now needs to keep the lights on may not be build in time. Warnings have also been raised about further delays or a cancellation of Hinkley C.

Rise of UKIP?

Now while the markets, private industry and quite a few in the Tory party are quite happy to push back from the table and take EEA membership as the least worse option, this is very different from the milk and honey” promises made during the referendum. Of the leave camp people, I can count using my thumbs the number who voted leave for reason other than immigration. Many of the Brexit voters, once they realise they’ve been conned on a massive scale, will probably not accept those terms and probably drive for something else. Of course they won’t get it, but they’ll try. As Paul Mason puts it:

What happens when the investment banks move to Frankfurt, the carmakers to Hungary, the offshore finance wizards to Dublin, the tech companies to newly independent Scotland? What happens when, instead of Poles, it is poor white English people herded into the polytunnels of Kent to pick strawberries for union-busting gangmasters?”

But if the Tories think they’ve killed off UKIP, think again. My guess is that whoever emerges from the Tory leadership contest will go to the EU, sign away Britain’s sovereignty in exchange for EEA access, leave the country worse off than it was before. There will be (as noted) no specific immigration restrictions.

UKIP will ignore the reasoning behind this (reason and logic aren’t exactly their strong points) and they will respond to this complete betrayal of every promise made during the referendum by campaigning at the next election on a platform for tearing up any EEA agreement and “shutting the border”. They’ll promise a points system (which as I’ve discussed before, won’t work and ignores certain fundamental facts such as the fact that Canada or Australia don’t apply their points system to their immediate neighbours), and much other silliness. Inevitably they’ll pick up some significant portion of the leave vote and likely split the Tory vote.

In essence all Cameron will have done is guarantee that his warring party will now struggle to ever get a majority in future. They will only ever be able to form coalition governments with either the lib dem’s, labour, or if desperate UKIP.

Labour unity?

Now is the time for labour to take advantage of the political chaos in the Tory party, rise above events and cease the moment…..if they weren’t at war with themselves! Okay, Corbyn could have been a bit more active during the referendum campaign, but to blame him for Brexit is simply not fair. The blame lies squarely with Cameron. Like everything else he screwed it up, holding it at a time of year when the turnout from young voters would be low (as they won’t be at term time addresses, or working, or at Glastonbury) and millions of Brits abroad or EU citizens who’ve lived here all of their lives were excluded from the vote.

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But such is the labour party’s hatred for their own leader, he can’t do anything right. If he rescued a baby from a burning building, half his team would quit on grounds that he was anti-fire, mocking man’s greatest invention while taking jobs away from hard working firemen.

A labour leadership battle now could not be more ill-timed. And the balance of probability is, either Corbyn will emerge victorious (once the party faithful have another vote) or someone else from the hard left of the party will take over in his place. Granted, labour’s changes at the next election are better with a centrist in charge, but a leaderless, warring labour party has no chance.

Scotland?

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As expected, the SNP have suggested a 2nd referendum on Scottish independence is now very likely. 63% of Scot’s voted to stay in the EU, in parts of Edinburgh, the remain vote was as high as 78%. And as also expected, opinion polls are starting to show a lead for independence. A recent poll post-EU referendum suggests a whopping 27% lead to independence, although previous polls suggest a smaller lead.

It would make sense for the SNP to delay any independence vote for as long as possible. Let the economic bad news build, let more of the leave camp realise that they’ve been betrayed and conned by the Tory party, then when the country is nice and angry, call the referendum. While I was minded to support independence last time (but critical of the SNP), but I guessed it probably won’t pass. This time., I’m not so sure. Like I said, it will boil down to timing.

And Sturgeon shows every sign of playing it cool this time. She’s been in talks with Gibraltar, Northern Ireland and even the London mayor about some sort of plan to keep these regions in the EU, but perhaps still in the UK. I’m not entirely sure how that would work, but by going through the motions she can claim that she at least tried.

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She’s also talking to the EU directly (having already been in talks with the Irish) and will be meeting with the EU president shortly. And some of the murmurs coming out of Brussels suggest she made find a sympathetic ear.

If Scotland can get some sort of deal from the EU, either an option to leave the UK and stay in the EU (unlikely, but worth a shot), or some sort of fast track framework to EU membership (keep in mind, leaving the UK will take a few years anyway) then that could dramatically change the outcome of any 2nd Independence referendum. A narrow chance of a Yes suddenly becomes a near certainty.

Currency is an issue too, as it was a key factor last time. I would hope this time the SNP have the sense not to propose keeping the pound, which is falling in value and probably not a very safe bet. Some sort of “Denmark model” for a future Scottish pound is a possibility. It would be pegged to the euro initially (until an independent Scotland is able to find its own feet), then later allowed to float more freely. This would be a much more sellable option that all the if’s and possibly maybe’s from last time.

In short, by England voting for Brexit an independent Scotland looks a lot more likely.

United Ireland?

And in Northern Ireland too, Sinn Fein are already seeking a border poll on uniting the Island. Of all the regions in the UK, Northern Ireland will suffer the worst from Brexit. They have to compete against a Republic of Ireland where taxes are lower, our GDP is higher (so people have more money to spend), we have better infrastructure, more third level graduates, access to the eurozone and now post-Brexit the single market too. Ask yourself if you were setting up a company on the Island of Ireland, which side of the border would you set up in?

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Its worth keeping in mind that Brexit puts the northern Ireland peace process under threat. The lack of border controls, means any attempt to impose any kind of immigration restrictions on EU citizens in the UK will be impossible. All a Polish guy will need to do is get a cheap Ryanair ticket to Dublin, hop on a bus (there are buses direct from the airport) and he’ll be driven straight to Belfast city centre.

Any sort of tariff’s will result in smuggling, which means more money going towards terrorist groups up in the North (this was sort of the whole point in doing away with border controls, eliminate a key flash point!). Putting border controls at northern Ireland ports would be unprecedented (and probably unworkable given the shear volume of traffic they handle). I know of no other country that has border posts within its own national boundaries. They effects on the Northern Irish trade would be considerable, and inevitably drive more towards voting for a united Island.

So the Good Friday agreement will have to be renegotiated and you can bet what Sinn Fein’s demands will now be. Certainly opinion polls, all taken prior to the EU vote I might add, do suggest no appetite for a united Ireland. Even among Northern Ireland Catholic’s its questionable if you’d get a majority. However, I suspect that given time this will change.

It is often forgotten that the silent majority of Northern Irish people are neither strongly unionist, nor republican. They just want to get along and keep their job. Naturally if this majority now start losing jobs, start see their mortgages and living costs rising, then those poll numbers will start to shift and eventually you will probably find that a majority voting for a united Ireland isn’t that unlikely.

Interestingly there’s been a huge rush for Irish passports since Brexit. Being Irish (which fortunately I am) is a sort of post-Brexit hack. You have all the rights of British citizenship, but are also an EU citizen. The Irish passport office is starting to complain about the shear volume it now needs to process. Potentially 6 million in the UK could apply (that’s nearly 10% of the population!).

Certainly one has to say, as I’ve been saying for years, a UK outside of the EU might well mean an end to the UK. Hence why UKIP should really call themselves the UK destruction party.

Indeed, a complete break up of the UK isn’t that unlikely. I don’t think it will happen soon, but it may well now be a medium term inevitability. One could argue that the UK is a pact based on the understanding that the England will not allow overt English nationalism to do anything that would harm the interests of the non-English minorities within the UK. If you take the view that that contract was just torn up on the 23rd, then the pact that has allowed the UK to exist is broken and its very possible the different parts of the UK will eventually go their separate ways.

I mean, even some in London are talking about independence from the rest of the country now!

Economic fallout

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As noted there’s been turmoil on the markets the last few days. And while there’s been something a a rally (which I’d put down to news that Teresa May seems more likely to success Cameron than Boris!), one can expect this to be temporary. With every drip of bad news the markets will gradually drop that little bit further. Already many companies have put in place a hiring freeze, my uni’s already done so, were expecting an announcement as to whether a spending freeze will also now come in.

Obviously a slow down in the economy will produce a bear market, falling stock prices, rising inflation, wages frozen yet the cost of living going up and falling tax revenue. While Osborne has backtracked for now on a post-referendum emergency budget, its difficult to see how some changes won’t be needed.

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The trouble is Osborne’s already pulled all of the Austerity levers he can. His options now are to either go after areas where he hasn’t cut substantially which is basically those things that benefit pensioners, raise taxes (fat chance of that!) or pull the one lever he hasn’t tried yet – the compulsory enforced retirement of public sector workers above the age of say, 60 (some countries have gone to this extreme already as part of their austerity). And before the many Brexiters who are in this age group start whining about how he can’t do that, why we have rights….oh you mean those rights in EU law you just voted against?

Half a million civil service are believed to be at risk. Bottom line, if you thought things were bad before they are about to get worse and its generally been those who voted for Brexit who will feel the pinch.

The generational gap

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Which brings us to the issue that there was a large generational gap in voting patterns. The old disproportionately voted for Brexit, while the young voted to stay in. Had the turn out of young people been higher (as it would have been had Cameron held the referendum at another time of year) the result could have been different.

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Some have likened this to a generational betrayal. As Jack Lennard puts it:

“This is a final middle-fingered salute to the young from the baby boomer generation. Not content with racking up insurmountable debt, not content with destroying any hopes of sustainable property prices or stable career paths, not content with enjoying the benefits of free education and generous pension schemes before burning down the ladder they climbed up, the baby boomers have given one last turd on the doorstep of the younger generation”

Or as Nicholas Barrett puts it:

“the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors”

Many of the younger generation are now stuck with the reality that Brexit will make it harder for them to get a job and harder to get on the property ladder (yes house prices might fall, but if you can’t get a mortgage or a job to pay for it, what difference does that make!). Inter-generational betrayal could well lead to anger and eventually inter-generational revenge (a scenario, a BBC “if” episode looked into a few years back, where the younger generation rebelled against the generous deal pensioners are getting and voted in politicians who withdrew many of these benefits).

Hence why if the government were to exercise the options I mentioned earlier (gut pensions, withdraw winter fuel payments and free TV licenses, force older workers into retirement) I don’t think there will be a lot of sympathy from the younger generations. And when pensioners start to struggle because a jump in inflation and a bear market has suddenly made it harder to fund their retirement, I suspect many will say, you made your bed now lie in it.

In short anyone of pension age, or approaching it (and you might be retiring a little earlier now than you thought!) who voted for Brexit has just voted for a more scary and unpredictable financial future.

Anti-Intellectualism and racism

We now live in a post-facts era. In the referendum campaign, many facts and certainties (i.e. that the £350 million a week claim was rubbish, that the pound would fall in value, that the UK’s credit rating would be cut, etc.) were simply ignored by leave voters, in favour of lies, myths and half baked bullshit. It is, as Dana Nuccitelli points out, not really surprising to learn that many Brexit voters also happen to be climate change deniers.

So Brexit does suggest the sort of rising anti-intellectualism that we’ve been seeing in America has now spread to the UK. Given how crucial science is to the UK economy, this is a very worrying development. Quite apart from the fact that UK universities and tech companies are highly dependant on EU research funding (as well as access to the EEA for collaborative research purposes), this could well represent a slide backwards for the UK. One could see the UK falling behind in the science race, which will of course eventually have a devastate economic effect on the country.

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And one of the post-referendum effects seems to be that its now okay to be openly racist in the UK. Many ethnic minorities have complained about an upsurge in racist abuse. Least we forget an MP was killed during the campaign. Unfortunately, I don’t think this will prove to be an isolated incident.

And coincidently, the view from abroad isn’t good. Many in the hostel’s in Norway whom I met from around the world took this referendum as being essentially an opinion poll on how racist Britain is. Given that 52% on a turn out of 70% voted leave, some are interpreting this as saying that 37% of British are racists. Britain’s reputation in the world has taken a severe beating as a result.

It worth watching what some of the US media are making of this, here’s Samatha Bea’s take on Brexit, the Daily Show’s and John Oliver’s.

Will German’s still buying Mini’s or Indians buy Jaguar cars they know to have been built by bigots? Will Beefeater Gin (which was being heavily marketed in Sweden while I was there) still be touting their Britishness when most people associate Britain with racism and bigotry? And will high tech firms set up in a country where their ethnic minority workers face racial harassment on the streets and bureaucratic racism from the state just because they had the nerve to come here and push money into the UK economy?

UK Trumped

Donald Trump, who showed all his keen political skills by arriving in the country at the worst possible time. It was a bit like a fan of KISS showing up to a concert the day after when a Baptist prayer group were renting the hall.

Trump did make some noises that he favoured Brexit and would offer the UK a favourable trade deal. Fat chance of that, Trump after all has flip-flopped his way through this whole campaign.

Trump is very much a protectionist and the idea that he would offer the UK a deal that will put his own business and the jobs of those voting for him at a disadvantage is clearly not going to happen. Once all of this is pointed out to him, he’d likely drag his feet on any deal and demand lots of concession, which (given how desperate the UK will be to get a deal) Westminster will have to concede on. He’ll probably insist on Windsor castle being named the Trump palace and putting a golf course across the tops of the cliff’s of Dover.

The UK’s best hope is that Clinton wins and wins big, with her party gaining a majority in Congress. This will cause her to focus on domestic politics and she’ll be anxious to avoid distractions. So she’ll toss the Brit’s a bone and perhaps given in on a few points. However anyone thinking that 60 million can get a better deal from 300 million Americans, than 450 million Europeans can get is clearly living in cloud cuckoo land.

And the UK will also now have to negotiate trade deals with other countries too, Japan, China, India, etc. In all cases they have the UK over a barrel. As noted, already there’s talk of Hinkley C being cancelled because of Brexit and of major infrastructure projects being put off as it is. Many UK jobs are dependant on foreign firms (increasingly owned by Asia) remaining in the UK. So its inevitable that the UK will not get anything like the deal it currently gets from these countries by being in the EU.

Indeed, its the WTO the UK first needs to square the circle with. Technically the UK will now have to join the WTO and its chief has already warned that’s not going to be straight forward, getting more difficult the further the UK drifts from a EEA style Norway model. Without WTO membership foreign trade becomes increasingly difficult.

A second vote?

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All of these things explains why several million have signed a petition calling for a 2nd vote. Already several Tories have suggested that there should be a 2nd referendum on the terms of any exit deal, while the lib dem leader is promising to try and stop Brexit and if that doesn’t work campaign on a platform of taking the UK back into the EU.

All of this raises the possibility of a 2nd EU referendum. Which given how dangerously flawed the last one was, its hardly fair that a racist minority (i.e. 37% of the electorate) should be allowed to cause so much damage to the lives of the remaining majority. However there is a rather significant obstacle to any talk of a 2nd vote. The EU itself.

As far as the EU is concerned out means out, as Junker has made very clear. Any idea of informal talks is being denied and the EU is putting increasing pressure on the UK to invoke article 50 and start the ball rolling on its EU exit. Quite simply put, the EU is fed up with pandering to the Brits, you’ve decided to leave, fine piss off then and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

And keep in mind some eurocrats in Brussels have long favoured some sort of arrangement that demotes the UK to 2nd class status within the EU, so a push towards EEA membership is probably the next least worse option as they see it.

Also by shuffling Britain towards the exit door, the EU knows it makes it more likely that they will get an agreement favourable to them. The UK will have two years to negotiate its exit or risk being chucked out without any agreement, likely provoking a full blown economic crises and mass capital flight (if you thought events on Friday were bad, wait a while). As I pointed out before a future UK PM will come under enormous pressure at this point from the civil service, business, the military and allies to sign any such deal put in front of them by the EU, even if it ultimately leaves the UK worse off that it already is. So Brussels strategy here is sound.

So even in the best case scenario, e.g. the Tory party splits, an early election which a labour and lib dem coalition wins. Along with the pro-EU elements of the Tory party they hold an immediate 2nd referendum and win; I would still expect the EU to insist that the UK need to renegotiate its membership. This means that all of those “reforms” Cameron got will go (they were only there to appease the bigot brigade, which clearly didn’t work, so no point in keeping them) as will likely things like the British rebate. Of course if they are feeling particularly uncharitable they may insist the UK must now accept entry to the EU under the same terms and conditions of a new EU member state (i.e. all of the UK’s opt outs will go, we have to commit to joining the euro, etc.).

In short the UK just said no to the best deal we were ever going to get from Brussels. Any attempt to dither about leaving or re-enter the EU will mean accepting an agreement which leaves the UK worse off than it was before. There is basically no going back from this. If your a regret full leave voter, then your a moron and and idiot, do me a favour and stay away from ballot boxes.

Ignore it?

Another option is that parliament simply ignores the referendum. In theory its not legally binding, both houses (and arguably the Northern Ireland, Welsh and Scottish assemblies) have to approve it and its probable at least one of those will say no (actually all would vote no if given a free vote). In short, Parliament could treat this referendum as if someone just chucked a dead cat in their yard, get a shovel and throw it back over the fence.

However, I don’t think that’s a realistic option politically, nor do I think the EU, nor the markets would except this without some form of 2nd referendum or an early election.

The positives?

Which brings me to at least the one set of positives we can salvage from all of this. Brexit marks probably the end to all of the right’s lies and myths. Like a serial killer they’ve finally managed to act out their twisted fantasy and are now stuck with the consequences of that.

And the consequences are the buck stops here. Pretty much everything bad that happens over the next few years will be blamed (rightly or wrongly) on Brexit. Can’t get a job, or you’ve just lost the one you had, guess who’s fault that is? Not foreigners, not migrants or the EU, but the people like you who voted for Brexit! Your company can’t export overseas anymore because of a loss of free trade deals with the China and the US, guess whose to blame for that one? Your benefits cheque just got cut and you’re in dire financial straits, well you shouldn’t have voted leave then! You’re a pensioner and now can’t afford to heat your home or buy food anymore, well guess whose fault that is? Going abroad is now a pain in the ass because of all the passport controls and red tape, well I suppose you shouldn’t have voted for Brexit should you!

In essence Brexit amounts to the Bigot brigade breaking cover. And out in the open they are now exposed to certain day to day realities in a way they’ve previously managed to avoid. Because unfortunately reality has something of a pro-liberal and pro-progressive bias.

Why we need the EU

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Brexit Campaigners on the way to a rally…actually a good monty pythonesque video here, what has the EU ever done for us?

One view I often hear from Euro skeptics is how we don’t need to be lectured to by the EU nanny. That if Europe comes up with something that’s a good idea (regulations on vehicle safety, environmental protection, etc.), we can opt to implement it or maybe not. Why do we need Brussels to tell us these things, why not let us decide? This video blog is a good example of this sort of view. A similar argument is that won’t lose EU grant money, because we pay billions to be a member of the EU anyway (not quite true that one as I discussed in a prior post). This is perhaps a very naïve view of politics and ignores certain realities. And thus it is worth spending some time debunking it.

For starters, the above is a bit of a contrarian argument, you could equally use it to argue in favour of anything, or even use it to argue in favour of getting rid of government altogether. After all think about it, since the UK joined the EU while we’ve paid billions to them to “make up laws” (you know, like ones banning children from working in factories or making sure car are safer). But we’ve equally given trillions to the UK government to do the same. Why do we need the government telling us what to do? I know not to steal or speed, I recycle. Perhaps we should just get rid of government altogether and if we see someone else setting some good life rules to live by, then we are free to copy them if we want. What could possibly go wrong (hmmm….cos there’d be anarchy!).

The fact is that we don’t live in a perfect world, there’s a certain proportion of the population who have to be told to do the right thing and our politicians aren’t perfect (shock horror!). Sometimes people need a bit of a nudge. Take smoking bans in pubs. The evidence that passive smoke is harmful has been around for sometime, yet about ten years ago, you went to a pub and you’d come home smelling like you’d rolled around in an ashtray. And spare a thought for the people who worked in pubs, who had to stand around having smoke blown in their faces all night. In any other industry it would be quickly deemed unacceptable to expose workers to known carcinogenic fumes as part of their job.

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Now while the EU never banned smoking in pubs (contrary to what Farage might have you believe) they did bring in legislation that obliged member states to protect workers health. This eventually led to smoking bans in many EU states. It hadn’t happened before because governments were reluctant to take on the powerful lobby groups working for publicans and big tobacco. In Ireland for example the idea of either a smoking ban or some sort of segregation within pubs was talked about for years. But every time it was quickly killed off by lobbyists. It is difficult to envisage that such legislation would have been enacted without the EU, even though a majority supported it, simply because politicians were too scared of a very vocal (and well funded) minority.

And European legislation has also improved safety in many jobs, as I discussed in a previous post. In Ireland when I was a lad (which wasn’t that long ago), work place accidents were sufficiently common that you could expect to attend a few funerals every year of some young fellow who had been killed on a building site. Again, governments often failed to act because of pressure from lobbyists. EU legislation gave a sufficient nudge to governments and this has greatly improved work place safety across the EU. This also avoided a “race to the bottom whereby transnational corporations pair one government off against the other in an effort to get them to compete to see who can curb environmental protection or workers pay and rights the most.

Politicians can face pressure not just from corporate lobbyists, but also other special interests. Take the issue of gay marriage. Not only was gay marriage not legal in Ireland (until recently) but until 1993 it was illegal in Ireland to even be gay. As the result of the recent referendum on gay marriage should demonstrate, this was not necessarily a law the majority of the population agreed with. But politicians had dodged the issue for quite sometime, as they were afraid of any criticism from the catholic church, which could cost them votes. The law was only changed because the government realised that this would put it at odds with changes to human rights legislation the EU was then contemplating and they wanted to avoid the embarrassment of being forced into doing it (not least because the law in question was a 1861 act of Parliament….meaning the British Parliament, yes they sat on their hands and let an English law stand for 70 years after independence!).

And some issues are simply too big for any one government to tackle. Climate change is one example. The atmosphere is a global commons and there is little point in one country cutting emissions if the other major powers do not. It is difficult to envisage any progress having been made on this issue, if it weren’t for the EU. And by leading by example, the EU has gradually managed to persuade the American, Russian and Chinese governments to begin to take action. And its no surprise to learn that many leading members of the Brexit camp are also climate change deniers.

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Another example is tax and tax avoidance. For many decades the world’s wealthy have been able to stash their money in offshore tax havens. It was pressure from the EU that has helped wear down many tax havens into signing data sharing agreements that has helped to tackle this. Even Switzerland signed onto another such deal last year (this is the latest in a long line of such deals between the Swiss and the EU). While one can understand Switzerland’s desire to not get cut out of the world’s largest collective economy, its difficult to believe they would have been as open to similar pressure from the UK.

Indeed, its worth contrasting the consequences of finding oneself on the wrong end of the tax authorities in the UK and the US (another large collection of states, not unlike the EU). In the UK you get a series of strongly worded letter from the Inland Revenue asking you to pay, which you will probably ignore (if you’re rich enough), until after a few years they agree to drop the matter on condition you pay half of it. By contrast, in the US, cheat on your taxes and a guy with a badge and gun shows up at your door, tosses you over the bonnet of your merc and hauls your butt in. Indeed, while the response from Cameron is too make excuses regarding the Panama papers, the response of the Americans has been to launch a criminal investigation (and woe to anyone who gets swept up in this dragnet).

This is of course because the US has, by and large, delegated tax collecting authority to the federal government. And ultimately that federal government has a lot more authority and reach than any individual state. While one could accuse the US of often being slow to act on some issues (often there’s various white millionaires they should be arresting, who they don’t….largely because they are a country run by white millionaires!). But it is a generally accepted fact that if you cross the line with the US government, the Fed’s will come after you and there ain’t nowhere on this earth you can hide from them and there’s nobody who is too big for them not to be able to take down (as I suspect Sepp Blatter will be contemplating from his federal prison cell in a few years time!).

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Getting on the wrong side of the Fed’s is not a good idea!

Now while the EU perhaps lacks the teeth of the US federal government (i.e. the guys with a badge and a gun), that’s not to say corporations or the rich and powerful don’t take it seriously. Cross the EU and you run the risk of being locked out of the world’s largest collective economy. There are few who can, or are willing to take that sort of risk. Take for example the recent changes to mobile phone roaming charges. Had the UK or Ireland asked mobile phone companies to lower their rates, they’d have been laughed out of the room. But the EU has managed to get these charges reduced.

I’m not suggesting the EU is a perfect institution. It needs reform, but a lot of the reform would require more European integration and the major obstacle to that are the very eurosceptics who are complaining about the EU. The EU also has perhaps a bit of an image problem. As noted, they often don’t get credit for the positive things they do, but quickly get the blame anytime things go wrong, as national politicians seek to deflect blame from themselves. I recall, an American commenting, upon seeing the EU constitution, that it looked like a telephone directory and read like an insurance policy. He suggested they have another go with a quill pen, some goatskin and start it off with some prose…. such as “we the people”. Of course, one of the complaints about the US constitution is that its far too vague (the 2nd amendment being an excellent example).

And it is interesting to see how the traditional critics of the EU, the hard left, have in this referendum allied with the likes of Osborne and centre right neo-liberals. Why? Because both sides understand that leaving the EU would be throwing the baby out with the bath water. There is only one group throughout Europe who has remained consistently opposed to the EU – Fascists. There reasons are all too obvious, they want to be able to discriminate against one group or another….plus they are all allies of Putin.

And as for leaving the EU saving the UK money, well this assumes there will be no impact on trade or tax revenue, which does seem unlikely. It also ignores that certain key industry’s in the UK get a disproportionate level of funding from the EU. University’s and research institutes in the UK for example get a lot more than others on a per capita basis. UK farmers also get quite a lot of money from the EU, which is often vital to support certain types of farming (notably traditional hill farming).

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Would the UK government really pick up the tab for these costs (likely putting up taxes or cutting services somewhere else) if the UK left? Probably not. One has to question whether they would be willing to take on such costs given that it would mean cutting back in other areas (e.g. pensions, healthcare, etc.). Consequently it is expected that if the UK does leave the EU, universities will be decimated, many small high-tech start ups will leave and certain types of farming (notably traditional hill farming) will stop altogether.

In short, the whole logic of the EU is that the sum of the parts are greater than the whole.

A history lesson for Brexiters…which they’ll never learn

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On Tuesday a group of 500 history academics signed a letter calling for the UK to remain in the EU. They warned that to leave the EU would be to condemn Britain to “irrelevance”. This list included many well known household names such as Ian Kershaw, Suzannah Lipscomb, Simon Schama and Niall Ferguson.

The last of these names was a bit of a surprise as he’s been critical of the EU in the past. However, like his colleagues Dr Ferguson has clearly decided that leaving would outweight any benefits. As he put it:

“The lesson of history is that British isolationism has often been associated with continental disintegration.”

He also accused the Leave camp of promoting a warped “scissors and paste” view of “plucky” Britain throughout history, that ignored certain historical realities (such as how impossible it would have been to win either world war without the aid of European allies or the US).

And this intervention comes on the back of a similar intervention from 150 leading scientists (including Stephen Hawking) warning that leaving the EU would be “a disaster” for science in the UK. And of course many leading economists and ex-US presidents and advisers have also warned of the consequences of leaving the EU.

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The leave camp will no doubt mumble about “bias”. But seriously, academics, particularly those from very diverse fields rarely agree on anything. All of them coming out against Brexit does kind of suggest there’s reasons to worry about it (no smoke without fire).

Unfortunately, I doubt these interventions will have any effect. If you are over 50, non-university educated, on a low wage (or retired or not working) and you get most of your news through tabloids, then you are more likely to be a leave voter.

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The reality is that most Brexit supporters aren’t going to influenced by any statement from academics, in part because they are never going to hear about it (the tabloids are certainly not going to publish them). This is why the leave camp know they can drive around in a battle bus with misleading slogans scrawled on it, despite the fact they have been thoroughly debunked weeks ago, and yet still keep a straight face.

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Indeed the “curry row is a good example of the sort of BS the leave camp is aiming for. At the moment thanks to a Tory policy (forced upon them by UKIP) you have to be earning over a certain threshold of money to become resident in the UK, which is making it difficult for UK curry houses to recruit staff from Asia. Some have responded by recruiting from Eastern Europe instead. The contrarian logic of the Brexiters is, oh leave the EU and the Eastern European chef’s will be on an equal footing with Asian ones.

Of course the reality is that actually Brexit will mean restaurants won’t be able to recruit any staff and some will be forced to close down. Clearly the problem here is a xenophobic immigration policy taken straight out of the Daily Mail and implemented without first working out its implications. However, this tactic of divide and rule is exactly the sort of methods the British used in India, pitting one ethnic group against the other. And ethnic minorities are overwhelmingly likely to vote Brexit, so you can see what the leave camp are up too.

And of course the irony is that anyone on a low wage (or worse retired and thus on a fixed income), many of whom will vote for Brexit regardless of what is said over the next few weeks, are the very people who will get absolutely screwed over if the UK leaves.

This is what worries me about the up coming referendum. It is not a rational decision being made by well informed voters. It is a vote based fear, prejudice, ignorance and lies. To paraphrase Churchill, never in the field of politics has such a momentous decision been made by so many so ill informed.