Category Archives: European politics

Just think: this could be your next MEP

David Coburn, who is UKIP’s London Regional Chair, is the leading UKIP candidate for Scotland in the European elections in May.

This being Scotland, UKIP are polling better than the LibDems, who are still sliding into their slow electoral wipeout for giving Scotland a Tory government at Westminster again. (It’s not that we’re vengeful. It’s quite possible that LibDems will recover in Scotland. After the last of the current batch of politicians has lost their seats, MP, MSP, and MEP, and Nick Clegg is kicked out and the LibDems after 2015 start pulling themselves back together again and trying to figure out what they’re for, well… sometime after that, Scotland might start voting them again. It’s not that we’re vengeful. It’s just that we think cheating politicians who put Tory governments into office should suffer humiliating electoral defeats until morale improves.)
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Dear Mehdi Hasan

In response to your latest column in the New Statesman.

Being “a lefty” has a vague definition. To Daily Mail readers, it may mean anyone leftwing of Kenneth Clarke: to Mitt Romney’s followers, David Cameron is an unacceptable lefty. But let’s suppose it means, more or less, that you consider “social equality” to be more important than individual profit. I put “social equality” inside inverted commas because I appreciate that this is itself a concept that people have a different understanding of: it’s not so long since LGBT people were not included in any lefty mainstream understanding of “social equality”, and as we see with the current support for restricting abortion rights, for Julian Assange’s “right” to dodge being questioned on a sexual assault charge, for the silence about Jimmy Savile’s sexual abuse for so many decades, it’s still uncertain whether many men think to include women in their ideal of “social equality”.
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Yes, we would still be in the EU

There are many sensible arguments to be made for and against Scottish independence.

Red HerringIt is depressing that so much time has been spent on a non-argument: Scottish membership in the European Union.

If Scotland were to become independent, the rUK would still be a EU nation, and Scotland would have to apply for EU membership, UN recognition, and would have to ratify the various international charters, treaties, and laws. None of this would be automatic, but none of this would be difficult to accomplish.

From the conclusions of the Presidency, Copenhagen 21-22 June 1993 – the Copenhagen criteria:

The European Council today agreed that the associated countries in Central and Eastern Europe that so desire shall become members of the European Union. Accession will take place as soon as an associated country is able to assume the obligations of membership by satisfying the economic and political conditions required.
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Our constitution, July 2012: European Convention of Human Rights

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

“Guaranteed rights based on European Convention”

I love the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a religious person might love Scripture.

Drafted in 1948, sixty-four years old on 10th December this year, it is still a radical and inspirational document.

I find the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms less inspirational and less radical, even though it’s not even 5 years younger.
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David Cameron: Boy Politics

Apparently the Foreign Office have leaked another memo. According to the Scotsman, this one “is understood” to outline the “possibility” that if Scotland votes for independence, the government of rUK could expel Scotland from the EU.

Oh, and William Hague is snorting that British embassies won’t promote Scotch whisky any more if Scotland votes yes to independence. Now that is the action of a William who’s been glared sternly at by David and told to come up with something, fast.

David Cameron and William Hague and the rest of the Westminster crowd are past praying for.

But Ruth Davidson may be a Tory, but she ought to know better than this:

“If Alex Salmond is so sure of his position, then why does he not produce the hard evidence that backs up his assertion that a separate Scotland would gain automatic succession to the EU.”

This is boy politics, Ruth. It’s not serious business.
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Helicopter Money and Stephen Hester

Bear Stearns was founded in 1923, but although Paula Daly’s Mouse to Minx sells vintage fashion of that era, quite probably when the 85-year-old bank went under on 6th March 2008, Paula Daly didn’t notice – between running her own small business and being a successful self-employed communications and marketing consultant, she says “Life was exhausting, and not without its stresses, but good.”

But in the US the collapse of Bear Stearns is seen as the beginning of the financial crisis of 2008, while in the UK, we date it from the collapse of Northern Rock, three weeks earlier. Both Northern Rock and Bear Stearns had become heavily involved in the sub-prime mortgages: Northern Rock’s business plan was to borrow heavily, extend mortgages based on the loans, and then re-sell these mortgages on international capital markets. This is known as “securitisation”.

Who got the idea for this risky business? In the UK, John Ritblat, former British Land chairman (described as “a charming old rogue, a bit of an old-fashioned spiv” by someone who likes him)

takes much of the credit for the revolution in property financing that has occurred over the past two decades. The industry used to be financed with fixed-rate borrowings secured on the property portfolio, but he pioneered techniques like securitisation of assets which, he believes, has transformed the industry into one financed by long-term, unsecured, borrowings. (The Observer, Sunday 16 July 2006)

Ritblat retired just over a year before August 2007, when Northern Rock first began to feel the chill. A self-confessed workaholic, he evidently knew the right time to retire from the “securitisation” business he pioneered – with an estimated net worth of £100m.

Once the fifth-largest investment bank in the United States, Bear Stearns collapsed in March 2008 under the weight of toxic hedge fund accounts backed heavily by subprime mortgages. The company was quickly sold to J.P. MorganChase (another financial giant and OpenSecrets.org Heavy Hitter) but the bank’s spectacular fall — and the federal government’s failure to stop it — is now seen as the first wave of the epic financial meltdown that created the global recession of 2008 and 2009. (Open Secrets)

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Is Scotland triggering a breakaway movement in Catalan?

In the Independent on Sunday on 22nd January, Brian Brady reported:

Spain has indicated it could block an independent Scotland’s accession to the European Union, sources said. It has already refused to recognise Kosovo’s existence as an independent state. Madrid fears such moves will encourage separatist ambitions in Spanish regions, particularly Catalonia and the Basque region. Spain’s refusal to recognise Kosovo has frustrated the former Serbian province’s ambitions to enter the union.

Reading this story with reasonable care and attention, however, it appeared that the source for this piece of journalism wasn’t Spain, but Whitehall. Throughout the story, the only direct claims are sourced to “senior Whitehall sources” and “A senior UK minister said”:

“We understand the Scottish view is they would wish to join the UN but they would not wish to join Nato. They might wish to join the EU, but we fully expect Spain to block it, fearing it might encourage the separatist spirit on their doorstep.”

This made me cynical, but the story was more effectively skewered by Craig Murray, a Foreign Office diplomat of 20 years experience, who debunked the story in three paragraphs. The reality:

Firstly, nobody in the EU has ever left the EU voluntarily, let alone been expelled, and the idea that 5 million EU citizens in a stongly pro-EU country would be thrown out against their will is not in the realm of practical politics. The whole dynamic of the EU is expansive, with countries continually accepted into membership who technically should not be. Everybody knows, for example, that Romania and Bulgaria were not remotely close to compliance with the acquis communitaire when they were admitted. There is no appetite anywhere in the EU to argue that an EU member successor state would have to re-apply.

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Why does George Osborne think he’ll get to dictate Scottish currency?

This is genuinely confusing.

Scotland, right now, is part of the United Kingdom. If after autumn 2014 Scots vote for devomax or status quo, Scotland will still be a part of the United Kingdom. As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland uses the same currency as England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but different banknotes – under licence from the Treasury, the Bank of Scotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and the Clydesdale Bank, and four banks in Northern Ireland, get to print banknotes.

If Scotland votes for independence, then among many other decisions that will have to be made, will be about the currency. There seems no reason why we wouldn’t go on using Scottish pound notes and decimal currency, the familiar patterns of £2, £1, 50p, 20p, and even the newstyle thatchers and majors for 10p and 5p: whether the pre-independence coins and banknotes will be honoured or if we’ll all have to trade in our cash in hand for newly-minted Scottish notes and coins – that’ll be all part of the long complicated process of separating Scotland from the rest of the UK. And that’s just the visible part of the currency change – the rest of the banking and currency iceberg will be a lot larger. Scotland inherits 8% of the UK’s total debt. All of that will need to get worked out.

Sp what on earth does Osborne think he’s talking about when he says:

As politicians on both sides of the Border focused on the detail of the debate, Mr Osborne refused to confirm whether an independent Scotland would be allowed to continue to use the pound officially as its currency. In subsequent briefings, the Treasury confirmed that, while it could not block Scotland from using the currency, it could be reduced to a situation where it had no say in fiscal policy, was prevented from printing its own money and was locked out of any valuation decisions. Treasury officials confirmed this would mean Scottish banks, which are licensed by the Bank of England to print their own notes, would be barred from doing so in the event of independence.

This leader in the Financial Times doesn’t clarify things either. The presumption seems to be that Scotland has no alternative but to keep using English currency or to join the euro:

Mr Osborne refused to say whether the rest of the UK would agree to a currency union with an independent Scotland, telling ITV News: “All these issues are going to be fleshed out now and flushed out. The SNP is going to have to explain what its plans are for the currency of Scotland.”
The SNP’s longstanding support for an independent Scotland in the European Union has implied euro membership, which is a prerequisite for new EU members, subject to a referendum. Mr Osborne said last night that Scots would ask themselves “is that a currency you want to be joining at the moment?”

I really don’t get it – is there something obvious I’m missing, or are they? Just as the referendum should have three options – status quo, devomax, or independence – so an independent Scotland has three options – keep using Treasury sterling, establish Scottish pounds and pence, or join the euro. (And note: Scotland is not a new member of the EU.)

Why would Osborne think it was up to him to decide this? Does Malachi Malagrowther need to write some more letters?

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Against the US National Defense Authorization Act

On 31st December 2011, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law. He claims to have done so because the Act was primarily setting a budget: the provisions added by Congress to the Act were verbally opposed by Obama before he signed the Act. But regardless of the signing President’s reservations, they now exist in US law.

This Act allows the US authorities to imprison civilians, without charge or trial, anywhere in the world:

The bill also contains provisions making it difficult to transfer suspects out of military detention, which prompted FBI Director Robert Mueller to testify that it could jeopardize criminal investigations. It also restricts the transfers of cleared detainees from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to foreign countries for resettlement or repatriation, making it more difficult to close Guantanamo, as President Obama pledged to do in one of his first acts in office. (ACLU)

Allowing people to be taken from the UK for indefinite detention without trial is probably already unlawful according to current UK extradition law. Regardless of how much the US promise they’ll treat their prisoners well.

The ACLU says:

The provisions – which were negotiated by a small group of members of Congress, in secret, and without proper congressional review – are inconsistent with fundamental American values embodied in the Constitution. Fundamental American values and fundamental freedoms are on the line.

Extradition is a matter for the Home Office. We cannot ask the UK government to make a legal ruling on another country’s law. We can ask, via epetition, for a clear statement by the House of Commons that there is no support in the British government for allowing the US to remove anyone from the UK under the provisions of this Act – British citizen, legal resident, not even a migrant labourer here illegally or an asylum-seeker whose legal status is undetermined. No one should be sent into indefinite detention without trial.

I suggest the wording of the epetition should be as follows:

Against Indefinite Imprisonment

Responsible Department: Home Office

Following the signing into US law of an Act giving US authorities legal power to imprison civilians indefinitely anywhere in the world, the Home Office should publish a clear statement that they will immediately require the transfer to British custody of any British citizen or legal resident of the UK who is imprisoned anywhere in the world under these powers of detention, and that no one within the UK will be transferred into US custody under the authorisation of this Act.

First draft. I’m very happy to take suggestions, comments, and revisions, but feel that it’s important for getting people to sign it that the epetition text remain as brief as possible. It’s impossible to add clarifying links.

The demand should be within what’s legally possible for a UK government department to do – it’s no use asking them to censure the US government for passing the law or to demand that they campaign against the passing the law.

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On Christian Values

When I first started this blog, I planned to make a post a day. And real life kind of got in the way, as it does, and I’ve been making posts whenever a news item catches my attention and I have the time to write it. It’s Sunday morning on a beautiful frosty day and I want to go out with my camera and take photos of it, but I do have time to make one blog post, and two news items that have caught my attention: gay marriage, and the latest stupid thing David Cameron said. On the face of it these have nothing to do with each other, so I’m going to do a blog post about both.

On Friday 15th December, David Cameron made a speech to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. I love books, and I’d be happy for Cameron to make many speeches celebrating their birthdays. It’s something we don’t do often enough.

What Cameron said, though:

“But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today. Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend. The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option. You can’t fight something with nothing. Because if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything.”

I have no idea if Cameron actually goes to church, but if he does, and if his minister has any conscience or sense of humour at all, here’s the text (2 Samuel 12) Cameron should be listening to today, from the King James Bible in all its rolling thunder of glory:

1 And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor.
2 The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:
3 But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.
4 And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.
5 And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:
6 And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.
7 And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.

As Fred Clerk at Slacktivist says, this is an alien story from another world: “it illustrates just how vastly different our view of the world and of God has become from the view that Nathan and David shared. David was guilty of adultery and murder. He knew himself to be guilty of those things. And Nathan didn’t walk in and point his finger at the king and say, “You are an adulterer and a murderer!” Instead, Nathan told a story to help David understand that he was guilty of something even worse. He told a story to help the king understand that he had become a rich man who had stolen from a poor man.“.

David Cameron cast a vote against the EU treaty in order to protect City of London financial services, who are in plain fact robbing from poor people to give to the very richliterally stealing from widows and orphans:

Highly paid City traders are depriving pensioners and savers of thousands of pounds through high management fees that are often hidden, according to leaked advice provided by consultants to the Treasury. The charges are spreading and are so steep that savers may find they get less back in retirement than they invested in savings accounts and pensions over their lifetimes.

As Avedon Carol notes in The Sideshow:

Krugman, DeLong, and Atrios all seem baffled by Cameron’s destructive austerity policies and the LibDems’ continued failure to balk at wrecking the country. Things might clear up if they read Chris Floyd and realized that what we have in the LibDems is pretty much the same thing as what we have in the Democratic Party: “But here is the result of all this serious savviness on behalf of progressive ideals: the LibDems are now helping implement the most regressive policies that Britain has seen since the Victorian era. They are presiding — happily, even giddily — over the wanton ravaging of a society already brought low by the brutal, bipartisan religious extremists — blind, fanatic worshippers of Mammon — who have held sway in Britain, America and Europe for more than 30 years. The LibDems are Obama: socially liberal, fiscally conservative, willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of millions of innocent people to save a thuggish elite from facing the slightest consequence of their own criminal greed and stupidity.” Yes, they are Mammonists. They’re not liberal, they’re not democratic, and they are not your friends.

This morning in the Scotland on Sunday, an entire leader was devoted to something that the Catholic Church in Scotland appears to perceive as “Christian values” – banning all religious groups from performing same-sex marriages on the grounds that a few very powerful religious groups object. This ban on religious freedom is being described as a “compromise deal” which would lift the ban on same-sex couples getting married but “with the caveat that the ceremonies must be held in a civil setting”. David Cameron’s government has proposed exactly the same ban on religious freedom in England and Wales for a consultation to begin next year. The claim is that this would prevent religious groups and individuals from being sued if they refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, but this is something the anti-marriage brigade always say, and it’s absurd: there is no legal way that anyone in the UK can force any minister of religion to perform a marriage against their faith. Which all of the religious leaders know perfectly well. They’re just bearing false witness in the pursuit of their political goal.

Is the Scottish Government actually seriously thinking about enforcing a ban on multiple churches, faith groups, and the Humanist Society of Scotland, which seventeen faith groups and 24 religious leaders have already publicly told Alex Salmond they will oppose?

Well, yes, they probably are. In much the same way as, after World War I, the US government seriously considered invading Canada.

Over 50,000 responses were made to the Scottish Government’s consultation on equal marriage. 28,000 of those responses were simple postcards preprinted with a “No to same-sex marriage” message, distributed at Mass across 450 parishes as part of an anti-marriage campaign by the Catholic Church (which got a 14% return rate from Mass-going Catholics, rather demonstrating that their claims to speak for all Scottish Catholics in this were as bogus as the signatures on the Scotland for Marriage petition). Each of those cards will be recognised as a “no” vote, but they don’t constitute a detailed response.

But the Scottish Government do have to consider over 30,000 detailed responses to their consultation. Of those, about 24,000 were positive responses. Out of the 6,000 negative responses, undoubtedly more than one proposed the “compromise deal” of allowing same-sex couples civil marriage while banning all religious groups from providing a legally-valid religious ceremony for same-sex couples. As the SoS editorial admits at the very end, when they asked the Scottish Government for comment, they were told : “We have given an assurance that all opinions will be listened to, no final views have been reached and therefore no decisions have been taken.” (Which today they confirmed on Twitter: “Re story on same sex marriage in SoS: it is w/o foundation. No decision has been taken. Ministers still considering consultation responses.”)

The notion is current in American Christianity that you express being a Christian best by declaring yourself against homosexuality and especially against same-sex couples getting married. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, has made clear he subscribes to that view of “Christian values”, and I suspect that insofar as David Cameron thinks about Christianity, he tends that way too: I doubt for all his praise of the King James Bible, that he’s actually read it.

1 Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand.
2 And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage. Micah 2)*

19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Luke 16

The Occupy Edinburgh camp is just five minutes walk from St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh. The message of the Occupy movement is far closer to the Christian values of the King James Bible than any message of homophobia that Cardinal O’Brien may be preaching in his church today.

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*For those who haven’t made the connection: Youtube: Financial Crisis Explained: Subprime Mortgage / New Statesman: The next financial crisis

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