2018: annus horribilis aut mirabilis?

annus horribilis photo
Photo by dullhunk
2017 hasn’t been a great year in most respects, but to a large extent it hasn’t really been that bad, it simply has warned us of the dangers ahead.

2017 hasn’t given us a hard or a no-deal Brexit, but it has signalled that the UK might very plausibly end up with a hard, Canadian solution.

2017 didn’t see the collapse of the SNP, but the post-referendum exuberance was tempered by the General Election result, and it now feels much less certain that a new independence referendum will be called to save Scotland from a hard Brexit.

2017 hasn’t seen Trump starting a nuclear war with North Korea or another war in the Middle East, but it has shown us that he might very well do those things.

2017 didn’t see any country getting suspended from the EU, but Poland and Hungary have got pretty close, and Spain has been playing with fire in Catalonia.

2017 hasn’t seen another recession, but it has given us plenty of warnings that the economy is still fragile, and that the great recession hasn’t been properly resolved, simply interrupted by bank bail-outs, QE and similar means.

So 2018 could become an actually horrendous year, a real annus horribilis, when the UK decides to go for a hard Brexit, Scotland decides to stay put, Trump starts several wars, Poland gets suspended from the EU, Spain gets even tougher on Catalonia, and the World enters another recession.

It could also become another year of suspense, pushing all of these events (if they happen) into 2019.

And of course, 2018 could also turn into a wonderful annus mirabilis, in which the UK opts for a soft Brexit (or even cancels it altogether), Scotland holds another independence referendum and votes Yes, Trump gets impeached, the Polish, Hungarian and Spanish governments get replaced by new and much more palatable ones, and somebody finally finds a way to fix the world economy.

I feel quite jaded after the events of the last few years, so if I had to place a bet, I would be tempted to put my money on the annus horribilis. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if 2018 surprised us all and became the best year of the millennium?

A Guid New Year tae Ane an Aw!

Brexit is still an unknown unknown

rumsfeld photo
Photo by Talk Radio News Service
As we all know, back in 2002 the United States Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld said this:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

He was widely mocked for this, but I think that’s unfair. Fundamentally it’s a good way to think of problems facing you. And I think it’s a useful way to think about Brexit.

Brexit is immensely stressful for people caught up in it (for instance, EU citizens in the UK married to British citizens). It’s a lot more stressful than somebody executing a known evil plan, in which case you’d have a choice between putting up or shutting up.

If Brexit was a known known, we’d known what’d happen. That could for instance be the case if Ireland decides to leave the EU in ten years’ time – they could have an expectation to get more or less the same deal as the UK. The Irish will thus be able to think about leaving the UK knowing exactly what kind of deal to expect. (And this is, of course, why the EU cannot afford to give the UK a good deal.)

If Brexit was a known unknown, we’d wouldn’t know the details, but we’d have a fair idea about the deal it’d end up with. That would for instance be the case if the UK government was going a soft Brexit, i.e., a solution that involved remaining within the Internal Market and the Customs Unions. Lots of things would be known, but we wouldn’t know the exact details, such as how much the EU would charge the UK for the privilege.

However, Brexit is an unknown unknown. We don’t know what the UK government wants, we don’t know what the Westminster Parliament will accept, and we’re not certain what the EU will put up with in the end. It sounds like the UK government wants Canada plus services, but that wouldn’t be possible without breaking their promises either to the EU (incl. the Republic of Ireland) or to the DUP, and the Internal Market + Customs Unions deal that would work in Ireland is unlikely to be acceptable to the Conservative Party. So we don’t know the type of deal it’ll end up with, and therefore we have absolutely no idea about the details. Everything is still possible, including remaining within the EU and leaving without a deal. In other words, we can’t even ask questions about the cost for participating in various programmes, because we don’t know which ones the UK will end up taking part in. We don’t even know whether Nicola Sturgeon will call a second independence referendum or not!

It’s immensely frustrating. I’m recovering from a bad ear-and-chest infection, and when I was feeling really rough two weeks ago, I just wanted to run away from this unknown-unknown country to a known-unknown place, where you can look up what you need to find out. I’m sick and tired of guessing the questions as well as the answers.

Global passports

pile passports photo
Photo by FourthFloor
This is probably a topic that is of minimal concern to most people, but I’m starting to think the idea of issuing passports nationally is outdated. I’m not suggesting people shouldn’t have nationalities, but that a global organisation (perhaps the UN) should issue all passports, which would then list all nationalities held by the owner.

There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, many countries have started requiring that you enter and exit using a passport issued by them if you have one. (For instance, if you have both a Danish and an American passport, the US will not accept your entering the country using the Danish one.) That wouldn’t be too bad, if this didn’t potentially clash with the demand by many airlines that you register your passport with them and use this throughout your trip. You can effectively end up in a situation where you cannot satisfy all the demands at the same time. (My impression is that people with multiple nationalities end up travelling with all their passports all the time, which is a hassle.)

Secondly, countries have very different rules with regard to name changes. Some countries (such as the UK) are happy for people to change their name, either through marriage or by deed poll, whereas others insist of sticking to the birth name. This can become a real issue, as I’ve discovered from following Brexit groups on Facebook – there are effectively people who are unable to get a new UK passport because the name in their French or Italian passport doesn’t match.

Wouldn’t it be much simpler if every person only had one passport, which could then list their nationalities (including from and to dates), all names ever used, and potentially other information that is useful for travelling, such as visas and work permits?

It might not be an easy idea to implement, but perhaps the EU could start by creating a single EU passport?