Monday, 30 August 2021

Changing Career (Even when one is over 50)

From 1996 until 2014 I was a geophysical engineer and, to be more precise, a borehole seismic engineer. I was forced out of that job at the insistence of a particular manager. It was partly my own fault though. For the sake of my partner I had put my own career on the back burner to enable her to move forward with her own. In short, I had ceased to grow.

While it was nasty losing my job in 2014, I wasn’t unduly worried. Sure enough, I had a new job within seven weeks. It was a wrench but I could do it. The three-four months of office based work was tough on me, so it was a complete joy to return offshore, even if it was for Christmas 2014. I really enjoyed the change from rigs to seismic vessels, even if the working conditions on a ship were not as good as I previously enjoyed. It didn’t matter: I was back.

Not for long though. There was a global industry downturn in 2015. I knew when the redundancy notice was announced, that it would be bad. The day my immediate boss was called into the director’s office I was watching. When her head turned suddenly and looked at me, I knew that it was over. I entered a state of shock and then denial. Hope made the next seven weeks some of the worst of my life up to that date.

What I had failed to understand then, and that it has taken many years of unlearning to see, is that business and careers are ultimately about relationships. As a seismic engineer, few people actually understood what I did. All I had to do was rock up and do it. Not so as a seismic planner. Yes I can explain complicated ideas and tasks in very simple ways, making it easy to understand. Yes, I am a good person. But I was never really great in cultivating relationships. I honestly thought that being good at the job was enough. I am sure many of you are laughing at such naivety. When I lost my job as a seismic planner, I knew I lost my career. I knew it would be bad. Job hunting in my sphere of expertise revealed three vacancies: globally. I knew the gig was up. 


It is amazing how many people approach you when one is unemployed. I can now see why those in retirement complain of being really busy. In addition to Air-BnB (which didn't prevent me from sinking but did buy me more time) I did a ton of work for people and various organisations, none of which paid a dime. I also took an M.Sc in Energy with Heriot Watt University, which I enjoyed greatly. I did this in the hope that I would be able to secure a career in the renewable energy sector, making that transition that so many talk about. I failed. What I did not realise at the time was, at least in terms of employment, how small the renewable sector is compared to oil and gas industry. Between 2015 and 2017, 200,000 oil-related jobs were lost in the UK. In 2017 I had an interview with a wind farm operator, the fifth largest company in the UK. They controlled thirty four UK wind farms and were purchasing more in Spain. How many people did this company employ? At that time, 42. Forty two, but there were looking to increase their team to sixty by 2019. I recently check up on they and they now employ about eighty.
Beware of politicians who speak of green jobs. The jobs do exist: just nowhere near in the numbers claimed.
I was not the only one in such a position though. I learned this year that a colleague in a similar line of work, also made redundant in the great downturn, also went back to university. He obtained an MSc in Oilfield Decommissioning. Despite this undoubted logic of the move, he too failed to find work in the sector and is now retraining again, this time to be a teacher.


It wasn’t all doom and gloom however. While I am still on my journey of work, I am only in employment now because several of those threads which I possess have come together in a new weave. Several of these related to the unpaid work I did while seeking a new direction. Standing as a political candidate cultivated both my public speaking and leadership abilities. One of the insights I did gain as a candidate debating in public is that even if the audience is unsympathetic to one’s party, most would hate to see you fail on the evening. They want speakers to do well, they want to be both informed and entertained. It is really positive to know that even hostile audiences are, on a certain level, on your side. Having a Masters degree does elevate one into a new range of career options. My work with potential IT startups, while actually costing me money, has ultimately resulted in paid work. It even led me to my choice of dissertation: the challenges of setting up sustainable data centres in tropical climates (it’s a heat thing). 


What are the lessons that can be drawn from my experience? Here are a few suggestions:

    • Don’t take your current career for granted. If you are getting tired of it, address the issues. See what you can do proactively either to move it forward or change it, before change is forced upon you. 
    • Do consider extra training or qualifications but do your research first. Make sure there will be a market for your new skills. 
    • Do be open to new opportunities, whether paid or not. Don’t however let yourself to be exploited. It is a fine line to walk. 
    • Do be resilient and don’t ever give up. Receiving a stream of refusals is disheartening. If this keeps happening though, change something. I had to invest £120 for a professional CV rewrite. It worked.
    • Do put yourself outside your existing comfort zones. Don’t be afraid when trying something new. People are often nicer and more supportive than you think.
    • Don’t be afraid to fail. Even if you try something and it doesn't work out, it still could be a stepping stone to the opportunity that is right for you. 
    • Do remember that professional relationships are important.


Most of all, remember this: there is no such thing as staying still. One is either moving forward or moving back. If you think you are still, you are moving backwards. Make the effort to always move forward.

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Something EVEL This Way Comes…

It always stuck me as odd that it should be MP Douglas Ross to take over the leadership, unopposed, of the Scottish Conservative Party in 2020. There are perfectly capable Tory MSPs in Holyrood who know the parliament and the lie of the land far better than Ross, who has only been the MP for Moray since 2017. So why didn’t they through a hat into the ring when the unfortunate Jackson Carlaw stepped down? In May 2021, Ross also added the title of MSP to his list, so currently he is taking on the leadership of the Scottish party, MP for Moray and MSP  - Western Isles roles as well. Aren’t his constituents lucky!


That is all very well but the thing that caught my attention this week is Michael Gove’s declaration that the Conservatives will do away with EVEL - English Votes for English Laws. EVEL was seen as a solution to the famous West Lothian Question - why should a Scottish MP from, say, West Lothian, be able to pass a vote on something that did not affect his / her constituents? The question became even more keen since the reformation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.
It is therefore strange to me that Michael Gove should be moving to reinstate the voting rights of Scottish MPs over English matters. True, it can be argued that EVEL was a bit rubbish to begin with. Previously the Conservatives were quite happy to rule as a minority government with the support of the DUP, which rather sinks the entire concept. But, with Douglas Ross now astride both parliaments, there is more to the situation than double-bubble paydays.

Even back in 2010, I noted that the Conservatives were already pretty relaxed in the face of the rise of the SNP. Events seem to have proved the case. While the SNP is still the government in Holyrood (since 2007 an even longer run that the current Conservative government), the Conservatives have replaced Labour as the main opposition party in Holyrood. The SNP have been wielded as an effective meat-shield in the destruction of Labour, both here in Scotland and across Britain. Remember the SNP promise to “supercharge Labour” in 2015? This was effectively used to damage Labour in that election with Conservative cries of “The Scots are coming!” It was almost like 1745 all over again. 


Like 1745, only one battle has to be won to enable final victory. In 1746 this was Culloden, where the Duke of Cumberland felled the flower of Scotland’s clansmen on Drumossie Moor. For the SNP, the hope has to be a single victory in a second independence referendum. If the next referendum also fails, then another and another will be fought, until just one win gains Scotland’s political independence. Unless that is there is no way to call for that referendum, no body capable to rival the democratic authority of Westminster.

Labour is one the ropes and it will take a lot to get them into shape ahead of the next election. I am not saying they cannot win, but it will take the Conservatives to lose as heavily as the effort it will take Labour to win. On Newnight last night (14th of July 2021), former MP Anna Soubry was right to call the current Conservative Party the new Brexit Party. In order to keep the political Right of UK politics together, the Conservatives effectively engineered a reverse takeover by the Brexiteers. The Conservative Government is, in reality, a Brexit Party government trading under the old brand name.

So there we have it. As the SNP was used by the Conservatives to destroy Labour, the next phase of the operation is to destroy the Scottish Parliament, reducing the SNP to a regional party of North Britain and without any democratic means to call for a referendum.

Now I have no love for the SNP or for the Conservatives. I am rather fond of democracy however and despite the rise of nationalism, regional and local government is a good thing. Devolution will be ended and night will fall. I cannot help but see this in the context of Brexit and the ongoing destruction of British democracy at the hands of the Far Right.

So we return to Douglas Ross MP, MSP. It is of importance to the plan that the leader of the Scottish Conservatives is in Westminster and backs the destruction of devolution. It avoids any nasty splits. Lucky Doug.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

A Letter to the Children of Class P4

Candidates were invited to respond to the letters written by the class of P4 of Calderbridge Primary School, Wishaw. The children have already received my letter. Below is a copy of my reply to their questions and concerns.

Dear Sophie, Dylan, Eva, Taylor, Polly, Caleb, Alexa and all of the class of P4.
Thank you very much for your letters and for telling me of your worries for the environment and the future of the planet. I am typing my reply because my handwriting is not as neat as yours!
May your teacher, Mrs Currie-Smith, forgive me for the long reply. I feel I am able to do so because I have some things to say. Like I hope many of you will be able to, I was lucky enough to go to university. For me, it was not once but twice. The first time I studied geology, that is the history of the Earth. The second time I studied energy, that is how we use energy to power our lights, homes and phones, and the problems that come if we continue to use the wrong kind of fuels.
You may have heard the term “fossil fuels”? I’ll try to keep this short but it is important to know why burning them as we do today is a bad thing for us and for the animals and plants we share our planet with. So I will tell you, briefly, where fossil fuels come from.
Many hundreds of millions of years ago, there was no life on land. There was life in the sea but on land, there was nothing but deserts. Plants started to colonise the land, spreading out from rivers. Plants use sunlight as an energy source to grow and elements from the ground and air for material. As plants evolved, over millions of years, trees formed vast forests which grew over the land. They took the carbon they needed to form their wood from the air and the hydrogen they need for food from water. When these forests died, their remains were buried and, again over millions of years, the dead wood formed vast coal beds. This is important to remember.
Other plants stayed in the oceans. Many millions of years after the coal beds formed, there were so many tiny plants in the oceans (this was during the time of the dinosaurs) that, when they died they sank to the bottom of the seas. Usually when this happens the plants are eaten but there were special occasions when they were buried instead. So much material that was buried that oil and later, gas, started to form in the rocks from their remains. Like coal, they are made from carbon and hydrogen and there are huge amounts of them. Together coal, oil and gas are known as fossil fuels.
A lot lot later. Tens of millions of years later, people came along. Our ancestors. For thousands of years we have grown crops using just sunlight and water. Power for our tools came from ourselves, animals like oxen and horses, the wind and water for grinding our wheat and for sailing our ships. About 300 years or so ago, we discovered that coal could be burnt to boil water, and the steam used to give greater power to our machines. Our ancestors first used these as pumps to keep mines clear of water, power looms to make cloth and then turned the pumps into steam trains to move goods and people across land, and later steam ships to carry cargo from continent to continent. Later still, we used oil to power our cars, trains, ships, airplanes and tractors, and gas to heat our homes and schools. Coal, oil and gas are still used to generate electricity. We were able to grow more crops, develop more chemicals and medicines, and so, during the 20th Century, the century I was born, there grew to be so many more people than there was previously on Earth. When I was born, there was about three and a half billion people alive. Now, in 2021, there are nearly eight billion people alive! Each one of us, you and me included, need to be fed, kept warm (or cool) and to have a decent life. We need fuel to do this.
Here’s the problem. Currently we still rely upon fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, to power our machines. To give it a percentage, 80% of the energy we use for our electricity, heating, cars, ships and airplanes comes from these fossil fuels. As we burn these fuels, the hydrogen and carbon that was locked up in the Earth for tens and hundreds of millions of years is being released back into the atmosphere. The hydrogen is not a problem: the combines with oxygen to form water. Oxygen combines with carbon too, forming carbon dioxide (known as CO2). When this happens in large amounts, there is a problem because CO2 helps locks the heat of the sun into the Earth’s atmosphere. And we are doing this over a very short amount of time: a couple of hundred years. Compare that with the millions of years it took all that carbon to be locked up into the ground! Over the past couple of hundred years, we have released thousands of billions of tons of CO2 back into the air. So much so, that the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere has not been so high since long before people first evolved on Earth. The rate of change has been very short: a couple of hundreds of years. Animals have not had a chance to evolve quickly enough over such a short period of time. The additional heat, trapped by the CO2 blanket, is warming the planet and is the reason the ice caps at the poles are melting. This is the reason why animals like polar bears are having problems. Taylor, you mention the that it is the Sun that causes the ice caps to melt and the fires to burn. We cannot do anything about the Sun but what we can do it control the amount of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The extra heat trapped by the CO2 does not just sit and mind its own business. Heat is a form of energy. That energy is used in some places to form strong storms and floods. In other places, droughts occur, causing forests to burn more quickly and over greater areas than before. You mentioned the fires in your letters Dylan. There have always been droughts, storms and forest fires but seldom have there been so many happening time and time again. This is all part of climate change, caused by people like us, over the past few hundred years.
Sophie, you asked what will happen when all the ice caps will melt? It will be a big problem if this happens. Many cities will have to be abandoned and more people will have to find new places to live. We have to do what we can to keep the rise in global temperatures down and preserve the ice caps.
As you ask Polly, what can we do about it? As I said, we are still burning too many fossil fuels and allowing too much CO2 into the atmosphere. If we suddenly stopped though, a lot of people would have a hard time and even die! Homes could not be heated or cooled, which means that in hot summers or cold winters, people would suffer from either heat or cold stress in their own homes. More people would starve because we use fossil fuels on our farms while growing food. I do not mean to scare you but that is the truth. Like you Alexa, I want a good future! It is facts like this why politics and who is elected to be politicians is important. We have to make the choices for the way forward. The choice cannot be between animals and people, the environment or our homes. All are important but the way forward is not easy. In order to achieve the good future that you ask for Eva, politicians have to listen to scientists. This is where we can get objective information from. It is important for you and me to be informed as to what the facts are. Unfortunately a lot of people do not listen to facts, preferring to hold their own opinions. Many people chose to believe only those facts that back the ideas and opinions they already hold. A very big example of this is the current president of Brazil, who is ignoring the science and encouraging big landowners to continue cutting down the rain forests of the Amazon. The world has to tell President Bolsonaro that he is wrong and that the rain forests of Brazil need to be saved.
Another part of the answer to the problem is for us to need less energy. We all need to insulate our homes against the cold in Scotland so we need less fuel to heat them. We also need to get away from releasing carbon when we produce our energy. Solar panels and wind turbines are some of the ways to do this but they take up a lot of land (or sea). Plus we need to store the energy produced. That is a whole load of other technology but here is a hint - batteries are not the best way to store large amounts of energy. Politicians can help to bring all these things about.
The oil and gas industries want to find ways of separating the carbon from the hydrogen before we burn it. The hydrogen would be burnt and the carbon pumped back into the ground. If they succeed, this would get us through your lifetimes but would not be an answer for your grandchildren.
You mention cars Caleb. It is true that we all need to use them less often and that their fuels need to change. I admit I love driving but whenever it is practical, I take the bus and leave the car at home. Cycling is also very good for us but we need better cycle lanes. In this we are still very far behind our neighbours in Sweden, The Netherlands and Germany.
These things are all complicated. I would advise you to be careful of any politician who claims to have easy and quick answers. In truth, not many people, including politicians, understand all the problems involved and how to solve them. That is why we have to work together and be guided by science and the facts. It is up to politicians like me to decide what can be done, what must be done and how fast it is possible to do it. In a democracy like ours, politicians cannot give orders. We have instead to pass laws that can make the system work how we all need it to be.
What can you do at your age? My best advice to you is to give space to the small things near to you. Polar bears and penguins are important but far away. Look after the nature that is close to your homes and gardens. Plants and insects are important. Give homes to bugs like slaters, insects like bees and plant native species if you have gardens. If you don’t (and even if you do) have a garden, ask to join in local conservation groups and get to know and help your local environment and wildlife.
Why is this important? Polar bears don’t eat ice. They are what biologists call apex predators. They need seals, who in turn need fish and squid and, in turn need smaller fish and crustaceans (like shrimp) who ultimately need plants. So the key is to look after the small stuff like plants and bugs and the environment in which they can be happy. If there is enough of them, they will feed larger animals and ultimately big animals like polar bears.
I am sure you have many questions. I am sorry I am not there to answer them. Perhaps one day I can visit your class and answer your questions in person. For the moment though, that is not possible. I am also sorry my letter to you is so long. It is a problem that really interests me. I wish to have the opportunity to deliver answers directly to you, the people of Motherwell and Wishaw and to our country. Maybe one day I will be in the position to help people and the environment better than I am now but for now that is up to your parents and how they vote.
I am proud to be a Liberal Democrat because although we have policies designed to address all the challenges I have told you about, the party does not say to me “You have to think this way and say these things.” Being a liberal means thinking for yourself. I have benefited from wonderful teachers who have helped me to do so. I am old: 55 this year. The last time I sat an exam was only three years ago so, whatever we do, we can choose never to stop learning. Make the best of your time at school. If you need help, ask for it. For those you who do well, everyone can celebrate in your success. If your classmate isn’t doing so good, ask them how you can help. Look after and be kind to each other. If you look after each other, then there is a good chance that your generation will go on to look after the planet too.
If you have any more questions, please give them to Mrs Currie-Smith to pass on to me. I cannot promise to get back to you ahead of the election date but I will try my best.
Kindest regards and best wishes,

Monday, 22 March 2021

Britain: Junior Partner and Authoritarian Future

 I am heartened that during the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference, held on the weekend, that both the party’s dedication towards the European Union has been reaffirmed, and we have come out fighting against the Government’s current crime bill that severely curtails the right to peaceful protest. Note the peaceful emphasis though. As I write this I am waking up to news from Bristol about riots as right-to-protest demonstrations turned to violence. There can be no excuse for that and I am very surprised to learn that there have been no arrests made overnight. What has led to such protests though was the Metropolitan Police’s heavy suppression of the vigil following the death of Sarah Everard. Peaceful protest is justified: burning of police vehicles and the infliction of injuries cannot be. 


The little bit of bright news that the party is still pro-EU is set against the big fat raincloud of the future as outlined by the current Conservative government. Unfortunately, what I have previously predicted is proving to be correct. Since the UK has left the European Courts of Justice*, the government is bringing about legislation that basically gives free range to police to ban any form of protest on the grounds of it being “deeply annoying”. Both Steve Bray (he of the top hat and megaphone outside Westminster fame) and Greta Thunberg (who on Twitter has since adopted the label "Deeply Annoying") would have certainly attracted the maximum fine of £2500 (or a year in prison) for solo protesting under the proposed law. Steve would have had an additional £5000 fine for directing a megaphone at parliament. Larger demonstrations, such as the one I witnessed in Aberdeen in January 2020 by Extinction Rebellion, are the main target of the legislation. Now, I don’t back ER’s aims (which involves a complete socialist takeover of all aspects of life) but I do support their right to peacefully protest. Did they disrupt business for the day in Aberdeen? Sure, but so what? Their message is important even if I do not approve of their proposed methods to save the planet. I think that the breaking up of the vigil in memory of Sarah Everard is exactly what current Home Secretary Priti Patel would love to see being used against ER’s Red Brigade. 


Extinction Rebellion in Aberdeen, January 2020

Another example of suppression of rights is embodied by recent criticism of BBC television presenter, Naga Munchetty who, along with fellow presenter Charlie Stayt were accused of making derogatory comments about the flag being used by Tory minister Robert Jenrick. Naga was later forced to issue an apology and there were calls online by at least one Conservative MP, Richard Kemp, who said on Twitter “The BBC must stop employing those who despise their own country.” I can assure Mr Kemp that mocking the Conservatives for waving bloody big Union Flags in the face of the public at every opportunity is not the same as despising one’s own country. Nor is opposition to this government, no matter how much one might indeed despise it.


The creation and crackdown against dissidents at home match the proposals for military expansion elsewhere. Although the Army is facing further cuts in numbers, the proposal to increase military spending by £80 billion should be seen as aggressive expansion of overall capacity and global power projection. The focus seems very much of the greater mechanism of the forces, with drones and similar remote vehicles seeing heavy investment, as well as the Royal Navy. To my mind, combined with our leaving the EU, means only one thing: the UK has picked a side and that side is with the USA, against everyone else. Remember that these plans were being prepared during the Trump administration and many on the right of US politics sees the EU, not as an ally and partner, but as a rival. So while the headlines are full of opposing Russia and China, ultimately they will be pointed at whoever the USA thinks is the greatest threat. Leaving the EU clarifies the UK’s ultimate loyalties, and they are with not with our nearest neighbours. As I write this blog, I am listening to an American admiral who while is bemoaning the proposed cuts to the Army, is very happy with the news that the UK’s number of Trident nuclear warheads will be boosted by forty percent. Wouldn't it be weird if representatives from other nation's military were to be invited on Today to comment upon the UK's future military plans? But it is perfectly normal for the Americans to do so and be given space on the BBC to air their opinions. 


There have been calls to adapt to these “new realities”. I don’t think I can. These are the exactly the types of developments that I predicted before leaving the EU. In fact, they are the only logic I can see to Brexit. Certainly there are political battles to be selected (and God knows, there are enough of them: poverty, handling of COVID19, jobs, the NHS to name but a few) but I cannot see any middle ground existing between those, like me, who are opposed to the UK’s current path towards being a junior partner in global superiority at the point of a missile launcher, and the government's path which will see continuing suppression of human rights, both at home and across the planet; spawning a plethora of minor wars and continuing the cycle started by the 2003 invasion of Iraq. 


It is therefore important that the United Kingdom reengages with our near neighbours as quickly as possible. By reengagement, I mean rejoining of the European Union. At home there has to be agreement among those who oppose this militaristic path to find common ground against the Conservative right who are pushing through this agenda. It is no coincidence that the Conservatives want to see a return to First Past The Post for all elections held across the UK. It is the most undemocratic method of voting possible short of actual vote-rigging, allowing a government voting in on a minority an overall majority in parliament. 


2019-20 Westminster Representation under FPTP

The previous justification for FPTP was that it keeps the extremists out of power. That has now failed: the extremists are in office. I am certain that the Conservatives are banking upon Labour in their continuing support of FPTP but really, Labour has to step up, support a genuine system of proportional representation and take a bullet for democracy on this one. Otherwise with the Conservative FPTP voting majority in England, we are effectively facing the prospect of a single-state party for the UK, just as we currently have with (the slightly more fair voting system) has delivered power to the SNP since 2007. The key to both is the use of identity politics: independence for Scotland and freedom from the EU for English nationalists.


This blog post can be summarised with this: our democracy is in grave danger. It is vital that no further ground be ceded to the right and that ground lost is rapidly recovered. I genuinely fear for the future for the UK if this Conservative government win a further term. Don’t shoot the Lib Dem messenger Labour, but the country does need you to step up and provide genuine opposition and reform. We cannot carry on having our nation’s path set by those on the extreme right. That outcome will be too horrible to contemplate but we are now on the path to authoritarianism. 


*This blog has been updated on the 24th of March as I previously stated that the UK has left the EHCR. The Brexit agreement allows for provision to leave parts of the EHCR but this has not yet actually occurred. 

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Post Brexit Britain and Scottish Independence

In my 2014 blog, The Scottish Referendum: Why I am voting No, I outlined the reasons for staying with the United Kingdom. At the time, all the reasons I stated were sound. However, I also wrote this:

I may well reconsider my position in the future should Britain leave the EU: that would be the height of nationalistic folly - albeit English on this occasion.


With the end of 2020, we finally see the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and it is not pretty. All third nation regulations and bureaucracy apply to the island of Great Britain, with the only “benefit” being that trade is tariff-free. It is a total disgrace and a disaster for small and medium sized businesses that trade with the EU. The only companies that can ride out this arrangement relatively unscathed are the largest. 


So the question I have to face now is, given this change, where do I stand now on the issue of Scottish Independence? It is not a moot point: the SNP will be pressing for a second referendum, assuming they do well in the upcoming Holyrood elections. 


Former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has waded into the debate. He rightly points out that the vast majority of Scotland’s trade is inside the United Kingdom. If Scotland were to leave the Union and we were to join the EU, there would be a very good chance that we would be facing a hard land border with England, at least for goods and services. One only has to look at what is happening in Kent and Holyhead to see the results of such trade barriers. It’s either chaos or the calm of greatly reduced trade. Scottish businesses with any dealing with England would have to complete whatever paperwork required by England, and English businesses and goods would have to be completely EU-compliant. Brown cited that Scotland currently does £15 billion worth of trade with the EU, and about £60 billion with England and Wales. This would be a massive brake on the Scottish economy and there is no getting around it.


Since Scotland and England share the same island, the movement of people would be easier. That is unless an independent Scotland were to join the Schengen Area, which allows free movement of people from anywhere in the EU, in which case a hard border would certainly be the result. In order to enjoy freedom of movement within Great Britain, it is very likely that Scottish and English border forces would have to maintain a joint relationship, with pooled recording of every individual that enters Great Britain. It is not impossible to do but would mean that the independence of Scottish immigration policies would be limited in scope by the larger neighbour to the south. 


The truth is that Scotland will be poorer if we are to vote for independence. That was always the case. In 2014, it was made clear that the EU would not support swift membership for an independent Scotland. This was one of my reasons for opposing independence. It is entirely understandable that the EU would support a member state to maintain its national integrity. Now that the UK has left the EU, that attitude might well change. In 2016, Scotland voted 62% to stay in the EU. If anything, support for continued EU membership has grown since them. But this is the same across the UK. If there was another referendum, polls from 2020 indicate that the UK as a whole would vote 60% to stay with the EU. Well, that ain’t going to happen. The Conservatives will not give another chance for a referendum for at least another 40 years, if ever. Labour is fence-sitting and not willing to lead any debate. Even Ed Davey of the Liberal Democrats has said that while the party will campaign for closest possible ties with Europe, we will not campaign to rejoin. In this Davey is completely wrong: the majority of Liberal Democrats are ardent supporters of the EU and would rejoin in a heartbeat. The overall political picture though is clear: despite the train-wreck that Britain is currently going through, there is no appetite among the leadership of any major political party to reopen the debate.   


So what do we do now in Scotland? The SNP would have us vote Yes of course. I don’t like nationalism and I don’t like the SNP. They are illiberal, prone to centralise power and there is a certainly a pitchfork-and-torches section in their membership that target political opponents. For example, Alex Cole Hamilton, Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh West, has had roughly thirty complaints levelled against him to the police by SNP members, concerning election spending and paperwork. All have been dismissed as baseless. Also I don’t care for the SNP tendency to go in for their cults-of-personality, both Salmond and Sturgeon have in turn enjoyed such mindless support. An independent Scotland would have this version of politics turned up to 11. 


There is a host of reasons not to support Scottish independence and yet I am thinking about it now: the reason being down to bastard Brexit.

Brexit is not an end but a start. The leaders of that movement, mostly from the economic right but aided by fellow-travellers on the democratic-socialist left, have campaigned against the EU for decades. The left because the EU is a capitalist club (they are correct: it is) but the right wanted out because it is regulated capitalism. In the words of former Conservative minister Eric Pickles, that’s communism. Which is utter bollocks. Capitalism has to be regulated by the rule of law. Deregulation is economic Darwinism where people like you am I are food to be preyed upon by corporations and the very rich. It takes the pooling of political sovereignty in order to stand up to modern-day global companies. Although not perfect, this is what the EU does regulate on. It is one of the few multi-national bodies that can. The alternative is to go the way of China, Russia and Singapore, which have little in the way of individual rights or effective courts, therefore authoritarian governments lay out how it is going to be. At least in Singapore the citizens have a luxurious lifestyle to compensate for their lack of political involvement, even if the migrant workers do not. 

Post-Brexit Britain will head the same way: an erosion of working and political rights, a dominance of large corporate bodies and ultimately the privatisation of all of public services. This will take time to occur but freed from the constraints of international law and EU regulation, it will happen.  Add to this the continued rise of the far right, as I and many others are persistently warning against. It is not coincidence that Trump approves of Brexit and Biden does not. So far, Brexit has been the biggest tangible victory of the international far right movements. While Hungary and Poland are under their sway, neither country has actually left the EU. Britain has. 


Gordon Brown has got around to advocating a federal Britain. He is right: that would have been a good answer. Liberal Democrats have been pushing for federalism for years. But who is listening now? Who listened before? Certainly not the Labour Party. Nor does federalism answer Brexit. Ed Davey’s proposals, which ultimately means rejoining of the EU Customs Union and Freedom of Movement, would work too. I would have, reluctantly, accepted Brexit if this had been on offer. Brexiters made sure that those of us who voted Remain were completely shouldered out of what type of Brexit would be settled for. Their Brexit, an apparent liberation for businesses, has resulted in red-tape strangling SMEs. 


Make no mistake: it has been nationalism on all sides that has brought us to this pass. This is an example of why I am committed anti-nationalist. I also said in 2014 that I would accept the outcome of any Scottish referendum result: a pledge notably absent from nationalists. I have not accepted the Brexit result because we had three months debate ahead of the vote and then four years arguing about what we had actually voted for. That is the wrong way around. In 2014, we in Scotland made our decision after two years of debate.

What do I want? Britain to rejoin the EU as soon as possible. What if that soon as possible is thirty years? Scotland could be independent and settled within the next twenty. If there is a Yes to independence in another referendum, my advice would be not to rush the transition. As shown by the past five years, it takes a long time to make a break. If there is a Yes result, I will continue to campaign for a liberal Scotland within the EU (or EFTA) framework. I would be happy to live out the rest of my life in a Scandinavian-style Scotland and would do what I can to bring that around. This would not help the people of England and Wales though, except through example of what is possible. 


If the Referendum votes No, I will continue to campaign for a better UK under the rule of law and with proper human rights to the highest standards. I am not so confident that is possible any more but that is no reason to give up. 


How would I vote in another referendum? There is no easy or clear path now. One has to look towards what the ends are. The ends of Brexit are totally abhorrent to me. So, reluctantly, and in great sorrow for the breaking of the Union, I would now vote for independence. 

Monday, 11 January 2021

The Coup Isn't Over

The failure on Wednesday of the far-right mob to prevent the formal recognition of Joe Biden winning the 2020 presidential election should not be taken as the end of the Right’s insurgency, but rather another stepping stone in the building of its legend. 

When Trump called upon his fascist followers to muster at the Capitol on Wednesday, it was the last throw of the dice as far as his own presidency was concerned. His legal team had previously raised 62 complaints of voter fraud across the country, in states such as Georgia, Michigan, Nevada,  Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. All of these charges were rejected as baseless. Often the depositions were filed without supporting evidence. In Georgia it took judges just one day to throw out the case.

This begs the question: why do it? Why go to the time and expense of taking these issues in front of the courts when those filing the cases knew they were going to be thrown out? In order to answer such questions, one has to appreciate the overall picture. 


Trump’s assault of the legality of the November vote started in March 2020. By May 2020, The Guardian was reporting that Trump had singled out both Nevada and Michigan, both states that he needed to hold but was vulnerable to a swing vote, for making mail-in voting easier. He alleged that ballots would be sent to all registered voters when, in fact, both states arranged for mail-in ballot applications to be sent out. However, the Trump teams raised no complaint when Iowa and West Virginia also send out mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters ahead of the elections. Both these latter states were expected to, and returned, Trump victories. No subsequent allegations of voter fraud was raised, despite the fact that these states acted the same as those Trump complained against. 

One can therefore see that Trump’s team were acutely aware of the states vulnerable to flipping and, in advance, decided to create a case for voter fraud, regardless of facts involved. Where states who did the same thing but were predicted to return a Trump victory, no such concerns were expressed. From this, it is fair to assume that if any of the flip states had gone to Trump, that allegations of voter fraud  concerning those states would have similarly evaporated.

The central point is, as compiled in detail in the paper Mail-In Voter Fraud: Anatomy of a Disinformation Campaign, that Trump, supported by the Republican National Committee and Fox News, ran a disinformation campaign against the American public. This campaign has led to about half of Republican voters continuing to believe that there was indeed wide-scale voter fraud, that Trump had the election stolen from him and therefore the assault on the nation’s Capitol was justified. 


Trump’s selective offensive against mail-in voters in flip states will seem even more logical when the tactics of the 2016 are taken into account. It is true that Mail-In voting makes it easier to vote. It is also true that, in comparison to those registered voters who attend a polling station, those who register for Mail-In voting are more likely to vote. In September 2020, Channel Four News started a series of reports that alleged that, in contrast to traditional voting campaigns where political parties encourage their supporters to register and go to the polls, Trump’s 2016 campaign actively targeted black voters to dissuade them from voting. C4News estimates that 3.5 million black voters were subjected to the “Deterrence” project. For instance, in Georgia, where black voters make up 32% of the population, 68% of black voters where targeted for deterrence campaigning. In total, 54% of voters in the deterrence category were from minorities, while those votes were activity encouraged to vote were overwhelmingly white. Thus another objection to the Mail-In campaigns from flip-states are that it would be defeating one of the weapons used by the Trump and the Republican campaigning team to keep the black vote away from the polls. 


The refusal of Donald Trump to admit defeat at the polls and to encourage his supporters to storm the Capitol ahead of the formal counting of the Electoral College votes cannot be ignored. It can mean only one thing: the insurgency of the far-right in US politics is still ongoing and while they were defeated on the day, the war they are waging against democracy is not over. Some commentators are comparing Wednesday the 6th of January to Hitler’s Beer Hall Putch of 1923, which at the time was a bit of a farce but led to Hitler being given a national platform to make his party’s case during the subsequent trial. I am in little doubt that the legend of the stolen vote and storming of the Capitol is exactly what those who seek to overthrow democracy in the USA is seeking to gain from perpetuating the lies sown by Trump and the Republican National Committee.

Why do I emphasise the role of the RNC? As shown by a series of votes surrounding Biden’s confirmation as President Elect, the war within the Republican Party is ongoing. Eight Republican senators backed Trump’s version of events but, more importantly, so did 139 members of Congress. The insurgency of the Far Right into the Republican Party is far from over. Even if the Democrats are successful in getting Trump impeached and thus not able to stand for the presidency again, if his successor does not come from his immediate family, it will certainly come from one of these Congressional hopefuls. That is if the Republican Party fails to counter this takeover. So far they have failed. Today’s video appeal from Arnold Schwarzenegger to can be seen as part of the fightback of those within the Republican Party who still support the democratic process. Those 147 elected members of Congress and Senate who still back Trump may also support democratic methods, but they also seem quite willing to back undemocratic methods too. 


One last reflection on the events of the 6th of January. Many have already noted that compared to the response to the Black Lives Matter protests, the police response to the storming of the Capitol was muted to say the least. There has been much evidence that the far-right has been working very hard to infiltrate the police and military. There must have been hope that instead of resisting the invasion, the police on duty would have actively gone over to side with the insurrection. That did not happen but it cannot be taken for granted that it will always be the case. Rather than “defund the police” a much more urgent case can be made to deradicalise the police: that is root out those members would willingly back the overthrow of the US Constitution. I would expect that in light of how the invasion played out, the fascist insurgences will redouble efforts to get more of the nation’s security forces over to their side.

So while the far-right insurgency in the United States has stalled for now, one must not make the mistake that the removal of Trump from the presidency is the end of the matter. It isn’t. The fight against authoritarianism must be the leading task of the Biden presidency. It will take many forms, including improving the lives of Americans who have lost out in the current system. All policies must have the common thread of fighting to support democracy and improve the lives of all Americans. Otherwise, the high ideals of the USA may well be lost forever.

  

 

Monday, 15 June 2020

Statues and Empire



I once had an idea. Take pictures of all the statues in Edinburgh and then research their stories. Who are these people? How did they come to prominence and who is it that thought so highly of them that they raised the funds necessary for a statue, often in a prime location? Then I was going to stick it all on an app and flog it to Edinburgh’s many tourists as a series of walking tours. Naturally I did nothing of the kind and, with the current demonstrations in support of Black Lives Matter, I am kind of glad the effort necessary was put into other projects. Another side of me wished I had done it because I would have been in a prime position to give an informed view on whose monument is based upon the fruits of slavery. 

There are many that say you don’t need statues to tell history. For the history of the individual who is being commemorated, that is perfectly true. We don’t need statues of either Hitler or Stalin to tell their stories. But they are terrible examples to hold up. For one thing, both were being honoured in life as part of a totalitarian cult of personality. Their statues were built on order of the state. The case of Edward Colston, whose image in bronze was torn down by demonstrators on the 7th of June 2020, is far more interesting. That particular statue was not erected until 1895, one hundred and seventy years after Colston’s death. There was no state directive to be obeyed, no one was impelled by the threat of force to do this. What Colston’s statue is is hard evidence that the values of late Victorian Britain held up someone who had build their fortune upon the trading of mass human kidnapping and enslavement as someone whose virtues outweighed these crimes.
Of course, I am looking at Colston’s statue through the eyes of a 21st. Century liberal. It is quite possible that those who erected the Colston statue did not either know of his links to the slave trade or, if they did, that they did not care nor even regard it as a crime at all. 

Now, before I continue, am I outraged that Colston’s statue took a dip in the River Avon? Not particularly. I certainly don’t think anyone should be charged with criminal damage for this. It is clear from media accounts that there was a long-standing local campaign to have the statue removed and that parts of the Bristol establishment consistently vetoed its removal. Throwing that statue into the river is totally understandable. What worried me is what comes next.

“What comes next” has already started. The weekend of 13th of June has seen violence on the street as far-right activists have appeared on our streets “to defend the statues”. The recorded fact that these people throwing straight-armed Nazi salutes and punches at the police who were actually defending The Cenotaph and Whitehall cannot be mistaken for anything else but intimidation, designed to keep Black Lives Matter supporters off the streets. 


A bit more of a genteel example was the gathering in Poole, Dorset, to defend the statue of Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouts movement.  Anti-colonial campaigners would point out that Baden-Powell was charged with the illegal execution of Matabele prisoners of wars. He was acquitted of any crime but that might well have been a reflection of values of the day and that the the prisoners were black, for they were certainly shot. Baden-Powell’s statue was also a possible target because of his encouragement of the Hitler Youth movement and recorded admiration for Mein Kampf. This did not stop B-P ending up on the Nazi’s infamous “Black Book” list. The truth is always more complicated. The Scout movement has, and continues to do, much good in the formation of young people across the globe. 

So what is at risk here is a proxy war between racists and human rights campaigners, with a new battlefield being over lumps of carven sandstone and moulded bronze. There has to be a better way and there is. It is called education and it is at the heart of Black History Month. It is a profound criticism of history teaching in the United Kingdom that there has to be a Black History Month at all. The British Empire is fundament to 19th Century global history but is only part of the picture.
Naturally one has to be selective about the history taught to children, purely based upon time available but one has to worry about the flow and material. While I was studying my A level in the subject (The Cold War is already being taught in some current syllabi) I pretty well just got modern history 1880 until 1945. There was also options on the Late Anglo-Saxon period and the Norman invasion. All good stuff but apart from the naval arms race in response to German demands for “A Place in the Sun”, empire did not really feature. My daughter’s more recent exposure to history education in Scotland, covered the medieval wars of independence from England, The Scottish Enlightenment, World War Two and the US Civil Rights in 1960s America. Upon checking the BBC Bitsize GCSE history site, the AQA board specifically teaches empire, and OCR teaches immigration. The rest do not. 

Black History Month is more that British and Empire history and that is fine. A lot of black history is British history too. Whether it is the slaves, sugar, tobacco and cotton triangle between Britain, West Africa and the Americas, or the plantation of people from the Indian continent into East Africa, it is really history that everyone in the UK needs to know about. Fortunes were created which went to build up cities like Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow and London. Individuals were glorified which brings us back to the statues. 

Not all statues are worthy of preservation but how is that to be judged? Some would say take them all down, others keep ‘em all up. Others say preserve them in a museum. None are perfect solutions and the museum solution could end up costing a lot of money. I have a possible compromise which does not lead to destruction. Monuments dedicated to those directly in the slave trade should be removed. Space for them can be made in a local park - not in a prominent place - and the monuments displayed together with explanations of their history. The history should be the good, bad, downright monstrous and why others thought these people worthy of honour. Such a grouping can be used to educate school parties as part of British and Empire history: that should be part of the history curriculum. The freed up spaces in our city centres can be used to honour later generations.

What of the really famous figures? Nelson who married into a rich plantation family in Nevis and defended the slave trade? Wellington defeated Napoleon but he gained his military experience in India. According to Elisabeth Longford, the sacking of Mysore in 1799 brought the young Arthur Wellesley a £50,000 share of the spoils (equivalent to £5.7million today), paid by the East India Company. This was all legal. Wellesley himself was concerned with the common soldiery looting, having several flogged and four hanged. Churchill was prime minister during the 1943 Bengal famine as supplies were shipped to feed Britain and our armies. Did Churchill set out to kill three million people? Almost certainly not but appears to have been callously indifferent to their fate.  These histories should be known but for their service to the nation, the honour also remains.

The key does remain with education and I suggest that even the controversial monuments have their role in this. Statues erected willingly by choice, as opposed to those erected by totalitarian regimes, have their place. It just may not be where they were originally placed. 

The real issue is that the people of the United Kingdom, all of us, are going to have to face up to our own history. There are times when it was not honourable, never mind glorious and victorious. Some of time we were the downright bad guys and, in terms of human rights, sometimes not so bad. The important thing is that we are taught it, as Cromwell might have said, warts and all.