All posts by thomas

Should we leave or remain?

shipwreck photo
Photo by nathanmac87
My beloved wife and I have been agonising over what to do with regard to Brexit – should we stay in Scotland or leave for a new life on the continent? I might or might not be able to get Permanent Residence here (I probably can, but I’ve lost some of the necessary paperwork, so it’d be a hassle), but if Brexit ends up as the complete disaster that seems most likely at the moment, and if Scotland doesn’t find the mojo to leave, we’d rather our children grew up in a place with a future; however, my wife is only a UK citizen, so she might not be able to move to the rEU easily after March 2019, so it’d be safer to leave before then. Because it’s a hassle to move children during term time, it means the best time to leave Scotland will be the summer of 2018, i.e., in six to eight months’ time.

We’d rather remain here, but we’ll only do that if it looks like it’ll be a soft Brexit, if Brexit gets cancelled, or if Scotland looks like escaping the madhouse in time.

With that in mind, I arranged a wee Twitter poll, which attracted slightly more than 200 responses:

  • 74%: Stay – Scotref will save us
  • 17%: Relax and see what happens
  • 1%: Stay – the UK will remain
  • 8%: Leave – before March ’19

Personally, I don’t think a new independence referendum will come soon enough to save EU citizens and their families. I simply cannot see why Theresa May (or any other Tory PM, for that matter) would agree to it before the end of the transitional period (so probably by December 2020), and probably not even then. Also, if Westminster won’t play ball, almost all scenarios I can think of leads us into UDI territory, and the events in Catalonia have demonstrated that the EU really doesn’t like that. The only workable scenario I can think of is for Scotland to take the UK government to court for not agreeing to a referendum (arguing that there is a precedent for Westminster to grant such requests by a devolved parliament), but as far as I remember, Nicola Sturgeon ruled that out a while ago. Of course the referendum might happen in spite of everything, but it would be a huge gamble.

It’s always tempting to wait and see, but it’s also very dangerous when the risks are so high. I guess many of the people recommending this approach are pro-Brexit or at least think there’s a decent chance it’ll work out fine. Also, those who think the UK will end up with a soft Brexit are likely to have ticked this box.

Practically nobody thought Brexit would get cancelled. I’m actually quite surprised the number was so low, given that so many people are working on stopping it.

Finally, I was slightly surprised that so many people thought the best option would be to escape the country. Sadly, I fear most of the realists were found here, not least because most of the comments I received backed up this option:

  • “Not for me to offer any advice since I’m not there, but I don’t think the UK is staying, and I think it will leave chaotically.”
  • “Plan for the worst; hope for the best.”
  • “If you can get out I suspect it’s probably a good plan.”
  • “I’d say make plans. Waiting for other people’s decisions to shape your life is fraught with problems, as we all know.”
  • “Make sure a last minute decision can be implemented at short notice. Wait for now – but if no ref has been called, get the hell out. The UK is not fit for human habitation, and you can always come back after indy.”
  • “From a personal, selfish point of view, I really hope you stay. If Scotland loses people like you and your multi-lingual, intelligent kids, it’ll be much poorer and I hope indyref will sort it so we don’t leave. If I were actually you though…I’d be gone before 2019.”

Of course Twitter polls don’t tell you what the future will bring, but it does say something about the views of your followers. I’m surprised so many people are thinking we’ll get a new independence referendum within the next year or so, and it’s worrying me that nobody believes Brexit can be stopped. I guess we’ll need to start packing our suitcases soon.

Abolishing the licence fee

danmarks radio photo
Photo by kmardahl
Denmark used to have a licence fee like the UK. A few years ago, it was changed from applying only to TV and radio and started including computers, because it was becoming possible to watch TV programmes on them, too.

This made a lot of students very angry, because they had to pay the same licence fee as a family of four, even if they never watched any programs and only used their computer for other purposes.

As a result, the political parties are now getting very close to getting rid of the licence fee and replacing it with a tax – there’s still no agreement on the exact details, but it might involve raising the basic rate of income tax.

It remains to be seen whether being funded through taxation will make Danish TV less critical of the government than before. It might also make it more tempting for the politicians to cut the money spent on this – at least the licence fee was to a large extent out of sight when they were debating the budget.

It will be interesting to see whether it will be a success, and whether the UK will move towards funding the BBC in the same way.

The Tory grassroots want the Titanic to sail straight into the iceberg

Attitudes to Brexit amongst members of various political parties (from The Guardian).
Tory prime ministers need to keep their party members happy if they want to remain in power. Otherwise they’ll quickly get replaced by somebody who’s better at sooking up to them. (This is to some extent the case in all parties, but the way Conservative leaders get deposed and elected makes this even more true for them.) Of course it’s also important to win elections, but when they’ve been in power for a while, other things matter a lot, too.

The recent study of party members’ attitudes to various questions is therefore of great interest. Tory grassroots strongly believe that the UK should leave the Customs Union (CU) and the Internal Market (IM). They’re also adamant that there shouldn’t be a second Brexit referendum (probably because they know they’d lose it). They also overwhelmingly want the Home Office to treat EU citizens like any other foreigners, which will be a massive change from the status quo (and would be likely to make the EU reciprocate towards UK citizens on the continent).

Whereas most members of Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP would be delighted if Theresa May decided to remain in both the Customs Union and the Internal Market (as would a majority of people in the UK, I expect), it’s clear that the Conservative party wouldn’t accept this. Although I don’t believe the survey asked about it, I reckon they hold similarly tough views on ECJ jurisdiction. In other words, Theresa May’s red lines were drawn because the Tory grassroots would have defenestrated her otherwise. As as we know, those red lines lead directly to a Canadian-style deal, as demonstrated by Barnier’s famous staircase:

Many people don’t believe Theresa May would implement a solution that would be disastrous for the UK, but if the survey is accurate, she’s effectively being held prisoner by her party. The Conservatives are so convinced that there’s a pot of gold of the other side of the iceberg that they’re deliberately sailing the Titanic into it. Unless somebody manages to trigger a new election before it’s too late, the Tories will continue to pursue a hard Brexit, no matter what.

I’d like to think the Tories will be utterly unelectable two years after Brexit, but that won’t bring back the jobs they are currently sacrificing on their xenophobic and imperialist altar.

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?

Brexit will be great – for the Brexiteers

slum photo
Photo by PicturesFromWords
Many people seem to think that the Brexit process is being led by a bunch of idiots.

If only. Most of the people pushing Brexit forward know perfectly fine what they’re doing, and it makes perfect sense for them. Let’s face it:

  • Brexit is great if you have a lot of money in a tax haven, because the EU are trying to clamp down on them.
  • Brexit is great if you own health companies that can buy up the NHS when it becomes unaffordable after Brexit.
  • Brexit is great if you think a welfare state is a bad idea, because the subsequent economic collapse will make it unaffordable.
  • Brexit is great if you want the UK to be the 51st state of the USA, because there might not be any other options left eventually.
  • Brexit is great if you hate environmental protections, because the only way the UK might survive afterwards is by attracting the businesses that have been chucked out of all other countries.
  • Brexit is great if you’re a British nationalist, because leaving the UK will be much harder when it’ll involve setting up a real border (because you cannot simply stay within the same internal market and customs union).

Many people seem to think that the Tories will stop Brexit once they realise what it’ll entail. In many ways, Brexit is a Tory’s ultimate wet dream. If you don’t believe this, read Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” now. It makes sense for them. It’ll allow them finally to create the ultimate neoliberal society that they’ve been dreaming about for a long time.

Brexit will only get stopped if the huge majority who don’t want to live in a neoliberal society without a welfare state realise that there is no such thing as a good – or jobs-first – Brexit.

And if Brexit doesn’t get stopped soon, it will happen – and people will then one day have to try to build up a welfare state from scratch in a failed state instead of simply preserving the existing one in a rich country.

Brexit must be stopped. It will be for the few, not the many. For the rich, not the poor. For the Tories, not for the rest of us.