A Second Brexit referendum

When I attended my local Brexit hustings in the lead up to the Brexit vote, I got to ask a question. My question was ‘Would there be a second referendum when the terms of Brexit are clear?

The answer from the UKIP / Vote Leave representative was actually very interesting. They said that firstly referenda are very bad ways of establishing public opinion. They then went on to say that a second referendum would not be necessary as there will be a a civil discussion and that the UK parliament will ultimately make a decision reflecting the kind of Brexit that there is consensus for. I was surprised by this response as it was one I agreed with.

Two and a half years later, there is still much debate about a second referendum in the UK. The argument for a second referendum has strengthened largely because the conditions given above for not having one were breached. The Tory government aided by the Brexiteers both within and outside the Tory party stifled debate in the public sphere and in Parliament. Effectively the Tory government said that it would do its own Brexit and not listen to any outside voices. That method has itself been unsuccessful as the Tories are divided amongst themselves. Theresa May is lauded as successful in holding her her own party together by kicking every decision into the long grass. However as the clock ticks down on the Article 50 countdown, some decision has to be made and time is literally running out. There are calls for a second referendum simply to halt Brexit, not to re-run the 2016 referendum or for remain to win, but simply that this whole mess needs stopping and for the UK to start again on the process of working out exactly what it wants. If only more leave voters would wake up and realise that tit has been the Tory government who have betrayed the referendum.

However a second referendum may not happen as the two leaders of the traditional Right and Left wing blocs don’t want a second referendum. Partly this is because they fear the populist reaction of a feeling of democracy being betrayed, partly that Corbyn (Labour leader) is putting his ideological objection to the EU before the country and May (Tory leader) is putting party before country.

The Brexit referendum was an historic event, that after 40 odd years, finally the people of the UK were given a say on the relationship between the UK and the EU. However it is wrong to place so much weight on one arbitrary binary referendum as there needs to be much more democracy and genuine engagement with the electorate on how the UK is to be run. I have sympathy with this idea of a democratic betrayal with a second referendum. However, for me Brexit represented a call for more democracy not less, that it should be the start of democratic reform and not an end point. The debate has been hijacked by the hardcore Brexiteers and Remoaners, which has stifled genuine debate and calls for reform of UK democracy

How did UK politics get to this position?

I believe the issue is that democracy has failed. Professional party politics have got too good at controlling the media and winning elections and success for themselves, rather than for democracy or the ‘good of the country’. Legacy parliamentary systems produce big broad church Left and Right blocs. Recently there has been consensus on the way to win elections is to appeal to the centre ground, to the voters inbetween the ideological divides of the blocs. Blairism was the peak manifestation of this, where policy was advocated purely for populist appeal to the centre ground, even if they were bad policies and nothing at all to do with centrist ideology at all. For example PFI (the Private Finance Initiative, or paying taxpayers money to the rich). PFI, coming from the Labour party, looked like an acceptance of an increased role for capital in the economy. It was a very expensive thing to do for the economy, just to make the Labour party seem ‘electable’. Yet it worked, Blair won a landslide election victory.

However since the global financial crisis of 2008. There has been a growing mistrust of the political establishment. Even though the political establishment only acted so to appeal to popular sentiment. What we have seen in recent elections, and the UK is merely part of a general Western trend of an abandonment of appealing to the centre to winning elections by an appeal to the wings. Hence ideological Left wing and Right wing groups have had more success, this is seen in the USA and across Europe, just look at tonight’s Swedish election results.

The worrying thing about this is that no lessons have been learned,  people are merely voting for populism in a different way, there is not more democracy or better decision making policy wise. The upshot of this is that political parties and individuals no longer try to appeal by being moderate, quite the opposite. Trump being a prime example, he makes no attempt to appeal to the Left as Left leaning people are unlikely to vote for him anyway, no attempt to try to build an argument for his causes, it has made sense for people like Trump to garner support from Right wing leaning people with populist appeals to emotion and not reason. Both Left and Right leaning people have also been disenfranchised by the previous appeals to the centre and never getting any good Right or Left ideas onto the statute book. This process of instead works by instead of producing a consensus, it divides society as parties succeed by getting enough of their natural vote out, however ideologically extreme such voters maybe,  rather than trying to win a single argument or gain a single convert by the power of reason.

We just need radical reform of our democracies, to make them work as there were originally intended to: to produce politicians who were capable of making good decisions for the people they represent and the general economy, which is their job description, which they largely fail to do.  They should represent all and not just those who voted for them or people like them and seek arguments to present to those that disagree, to make a case for doing a particular thing.  There are no easy solutions to this problem, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. Having a second referendum and then making sure we have a functional democracy afterwards, which was the most powerful argument for Brexit, is believe the thing to do now.

 

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Idea Loyalty

When we are young we cling to safe comforting ideas, in a favourite teddy bear perhaps, where a simple love is a soft cocoon away from the confusing ideas of the wider world. We know that teddy will always love us because we have total control over that relationship as it exists in our imaginations, created by us. That relationship progresses, it grows more complex, we deepen those ties within our own heads.

Such idea loyalty is later found in other areas of life. The things that we like, that give us comfort are found in various aspects of our lives, but unlike the teddy bear these relationships exist with entities outside of ourselves, we decide to be loyal or to trust things outside of ourselves. That we do this so readily when those things may not be so trustworthy is really quite remarkable. Yet that loyalty persists.

For example, when we hear a piece of music for the first time, we know that we like that particular piece of music, but may not be entirely sure why, yet we know we like it. It is only with subsequent listenings that we delve deeper and discover why we like that piece of music, we have a relationship with that piece of music.

It’s the same type of thing with attraction. Sometimes we meet people and just instantly like them. As we get to know them we learn why we like them and have a sense of loyalty towards them. Even if we lose contact with that person, or don’t listen to a piece of music anymore, when their name crops up we instantly have warm feelings of fondness, even to sometimes awful pieces of trashy pop music that formed part of our lives when we were young.

We develop idea loyalty. I believe it is partly that we see something of ourselves in that piece of music or that other person that resonates with how we think. Such things engage our interest because whilst they are like us they are also different. The interest is perhaps partly why they are different, what is that subtle difference in worldview.

Politics is another example of this phenomena. Those of us who go through the whole internal debate of working out what our own political philosophy and position is, often tends to resonate with that first encounter with politics. We instantly have a reaction in support of or against something which lick starts that journey. Once this process is complete, we don’t have to think about the politics anymore we know our own position. We have idea loyalty to a particular set of beliefs. It is kind of self-affirming to spend time socialising with people who think the same way, to share a common bond with, it gives us self-confidence.

Of course if we spend too much time on the familiar, with things that are close to who we are, we get bored. It is the things that are different than we enjoy exploring. Yet those familiar things don’t change, we always like the same music, the same people, the same ideas. I sometimes think this is strange, how I don’t come to dislike things I once liked and find that I now like completely different things. Perhaps what we seek as human beings is the right balance of centring ourselves with things that confirm ourselves as valid individuals with the desire to explore the new and unfamiliar. And of course we are all different and have different cravings for adventure into the unknown. This sense is perhaps summed up by how we yearn to go and visit new places and do new things, yet at whilst we are there we crave coming home, there is no perfect point to be at.

However, often we struggle to find this balance, the world often doesn’t allow us to make this process easy. I have suffered from anxiety and perhaps I was partly that way as I didn’t fit in, I didn’t get enough of the comfort of the familiar. Indeed it is those who are different, who don’t fit in who tend to suffer more from anxiety. Such people struggle to find enough people like them, they don’t get enough of the home time to develop confidence to go out and explore as they constantly seek the comfort blanket where none surrounds them.

When I was growing up I had this sense from being in a family and friends who had very different political ideals to my own, different tastes in music and worldview in general. I left home and found some people who were a lot more like me, yet to be with them i had to live in an unfamiliar environment of big cities outside of Wales. In such a situation I could only grasp hold of some of my roots and never all of them at the same time. I’ve also never lived long enough somewhere that felt like home long enough for those roots to deepen and grow to give me the confidence to fly further from home to satisfy my cravings to explore.

I do believe that there are higher rates of mental illness because our society fails top provide opportunities for people to find the balance they need. Most of humanity’s history was spent living in small villages. Where the diverse people of the village enabled people to find their place within that society and it’s economy. The great pushes of modern capitalism seem to force a particular way of ding things upon people, to compete to be at the centre of very large groupings of people. It seems like a society based on certain type of people who like conforming. whereas those people who are different who don’t conform struggle with the abnegation such large societies seem to demand and there seem to be fewer opportunities to find places on the fringes in a globalised world. The stress seems to be on rewarding those with the ability to be central to the one prevalent worldview and that doesn’t suit everybody, whom have idea loyalty to a different set of beliefs.

 

Good Evening Europe

The excitement gathers once more for this years Eurovision Song Contest. I’ve always been a big fan of the Eurovision, despite its changes through the years.

In a pre-internet age is was one of the highlights of the year . The family would gather around the family television, then the only screen in the house, and settle down to watch and discuss the ‘competition’. The show for those that don’t know, is divided into two parts.

The first part is the performances. A selection of European countries and a few non-European countries that subscribe to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) select and enter a song and these are then performed on the Eurovision stage and broadcast live to the whole of Europe and now the world, when this was a rare and exciting thing. The important thing is that generally the songs are not very good, it isn’t really a song contest in an artisitic sense, actually it is a rather bizarre popularity contest, which is where its interest lies. So during each song the audience discusses the various weaknesses of the performance and occasionally note the odd thing that they actually like. So we used to have musical discussions at a fairly low level with family members who didn’t even like music.

Once everyone is exhausted from sitting though so much truly awful music, the show turns to the voting. Traditionally each country had a jury of people who knew nothing about music but thought themselves that they did to do what everyone at home was doing and decide who they should give points to. Basically, each country awards 12, 10, 8,7,6,5,4,3,2 and 1 point to the entries of other countries. Each country was connected via the once unreliable European telephone networks to the arena and would read out there results. Which was a cue for the start of the political discussions. A lot of the interest was in trying to work out why people had deemed to award high points to the various terrible parodies of music. However further political discussions arose as it often seemed like simply a popularity contest, where countries would award their closest allies with points and not give points to there ‘enemies’ even when they had produced a song with some merit and entertainment value. That Greece awarded ‘Le Chypre, douze points’ [to Cyprus the maximum 12 point score] and Le Chypre, sorry, Cyprus would award ‘Grece douze points’ as well. By this point usually most people were fairly drunk and such discussions were huge amounts of fun.

In times past, a song winning the thing by acquiring the most points meant that your countries state broadcaster had the honour and bore the cost of staging next years competition. Famously there was a period where Ireland won every year, to the point that the Irish Broadcaster was getting into serious financial difficulties. Hence there is an episode of ‘Father Ted’ where Ted and Dougal win ‘Song for Ireland’ (or whatever they call it) by writing a “My Lovely Horse” a song so so bad that Ireland would be all but guaranteed not to win that years Eurovision.

Things changed, the Berlin wall fell and the re-establishing countries of Central and Eastern Europe were keen to join in the fun of the previously Western European club,   technology developed so that the people of Europe could vote over the telephone for their favourite entry, rather than rely on the vagaries of the idiot juries. Which was thought would be an end to the so called ‘political voting’. The major change was that as the number of eligible countries rose, there was the potential for 40 or 50 entries, meaning that the songs would go on for three or four hours, to be followed by several hours of the votes being read out. Personally I would have been happy for the thing to go onto the wee small hours, propping my eyelids open to see who this years winner was.

This was not to be, the EBU decided to hold Semi-finals, whereby hardcore Eurovision audiences would sit through two mini Eurovisions, the select twenty ‘finalists’ to be joined by the scaredy-cat countries, or rather larger contributors to the EBU budget who recieve byes to the final and the host country (whom probably don’t want to win the next year, but host countries tend to get lots of votes for some reason]. Of course with the internet, the songs are all available to listen to before the competition anyway.

The voting has also changed. The ‘televote’ continued to produce ‘political voting’ as neighbouring countries voted for each other. In reality it’s not political, it’s simply that people are more likely to move to a neighbouring country than further away and people tend to vote for their home country for some bizarre form of patriotism perhaps. So the EBU brought back the inept juries in the hope that the different forces of the juries and the televote would balance out the international relations stuff and guarantee no-one would receive the dreaded ‘null points’ (zero points; by not receiving a single point from any country)

Of course the televote raises lots of money so every country runs it, so even with 26 finalists, there is still 40 or 50 countries to vote. So, very very sadly, these days the 1 to 8 points is glossed over in an a flash (which was always fascinating) and some disgraced former celebrity of the country merely flirts with the stage hosts and announces the ‘big ten and twelve points’. Indeed the multi-lingualism has gone too, the hosts used to announce everything first in French, then English and then the main language of their country, which was a great idea as it taught the children the names of the European countries in three languages. I can still recite the names of the European states in French, I with hardly any other French vocabulary. It used to be that almost everyone sang in their native language, which was wonderful, but these days almost everyone sings in English.

There is no English in Can i Gymru (Song for Wales) of course! Wales has it’s own mini-Eurovision show where a ‘Song for Wales’ is ‘selected’, if Wales ever were to get its own proper Eurovision entry in its own right. This show is also lots of fun as the wannabees put out their awful songs and chat about themselves to the hosts, whilst there is a twitterstorm on Social Media as people disparage the performances and the mindless banter of the show. There is this wonderful parody video, where Can i Gymru songs are over-dubbed for comic effect. With the UK Eurovision entries being so dire, maybe it’s time for Wales to enter Eurovision for the first time, we can’t do much worse.

I feel I am not alone that the current voting system isn’t quite right, this part of the show lacks something now and is less fun. The current system is the jury vote is announced, which is fairly random, then the televote is rushed through in the last five minutes, which is the more interesting one as it is interesting to see what things are popular in different countries in what is after all a popularity contest, rather than the views of the hopeless juries. I was angered when a few years ago when I was sure Italy were going to storm Eurovision with ‘Grande Amore‘, something I think people could enjoy outside of the Eurovision world and largely the rest of Europe agreed with me in that they did gain the most points by some way in the televote, but finished second as the crazy juries didn’t really go for it. Surely a popularity contest should be determined by a popular vote, which is the very essence of popularity. Is there any point in pretending  that is is some serious music competition?

Occasionally, there is a classic year, where a genuinely good performance wins and that makes me happy and the other entrants generally provide good entertainment. There was the year when Dana International won with ‘Viva la Diva‘, because it was the best song that year and not because she is a transexual. My favourite year was when Finnish comedy metal band. Lordi performed ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah‘. I was a Lordi fan before Eurovision, they are fantastic musicians and know how to structure a song AND how to put on a show. I was convinced that they would rock Eurovision and I was a little worried that they wouldn’t and I would lose all my faith in humanity. I was confident enough and I crammed about 40 people into my tiny living room for a Eurovision party for that years show and just having that many people screaming ‘Lordi, Finland’ was something to behold. Fortunately they did indeed walk Eurovision that year as country after country gave Finland douze points to my enormous joy and relief. Sometimes, sadly quite rarelyn a genuinely good song that embodies the very essense of Eurovisioness, will not only appear, but also win the thing, such as the year of Denmark’s ‘Teardrops‘ . Those moments when you hear the song and know that feeling of ‘ we have a winner’.

Unfortunately most years, such a song doesn’t emerge, indeed most years I suffer a sense of disappointment that there isn’t one or that the wrong song won. But then without the bad years there wouldn’t be those life affirming good years. It’s probably why so many people like me, support football teams. The years of frustration fall away when, finally our team achieves something, such as when Wales progressed to the semi-finals in the European championships in 2016. So we keep tuning in to Eurovision in the hope of a classic year. Having the semi-finals kind of spoils the fun. they annoy me as so often good acts, strangely don’t make it through.

Often I’ve had the ‘What makes a good Eurovision song?’ Now if anyone has an answer to that , put an entry in. I’m sure this is what someone in Finland thought ‘Put Lordi in Eurovision, they’ll win it easily’. Sadly the UK hasn’t had a clue for decades now. People suggest that it’s bias against Britain for taking part in the calamitous Iraq war or Brexit or whatever, and fail to see the truth that the UK hasn’t entered a passably good entry for a long time. There are some counties that enjoy more success than others, as they have people in the right positions who kind of get what makes a good Eurovision song. Sweden is one of these countries and a couple of years ago the hosts of the show performed the ‘perfect’ Eurovision song ‘Love love, Peace peace

I kind of feel the what a good Eurovision song  needs is simply a bit of originality, a touch of edge, but nothing that will upset a primitive family audience. It also needs to stand out from the pack, so for example a good ballad will struggle in a year where every other song is a ballad, but shine when no-one else brings a ballad. Usually some musicianship helps, and a talented singer, but sadly it seems that having an attractive singer gathers more votes, but currently I feel the stage show has to be right, the costumes and backing singers need to attract interest too to make a complete performance. If you watch the Eurovision Song Contest, you will see entries trying to cover these bases, such as the blatant ‘man in a hamster wheel’ mentioned in ‘Peace Peace Love Love’ [which was Ukraine 2014). The fascinating thing, and why it’s so hard to get right, is that all these different criteria change every year. It is this that makes the competition so fascinating. These days i usually listen to the songs with a pen and paper, awarding points for costumes, dance routines, vocal performance and then a string of bonus points for such things as not singing in English or innovative costuming. However I have never predicted the voting with any accuracy, but the voting patterns change every year in amongst the ‘political voting’ of the UK and Ireland ‘always vote for each other’.

Perhaps I should talk about Eurovision with reference to Brexit, but that can wait for another day. Tomorrow is the annual opportunity to celebrate Europe’s shared love of tacky pop music. I did have a speed flick through the Semi-finals, my pick for this year, (I’m usually very wrong, but have been right once or twice) is Moldova. I think it has all the traditional and modern elements of a good Eurovision song needs and is performed with class. and light entertainment for all?

Let the show begin!

 

Consuming Chairs

My car died recently. This meant I was unable to get to work so had to buy another one soonest. normally I have taken the time to ask around and do some research on what sort of cars would be best for me. This time I didn’t and instead just went to garages and looked at what was available.

I am not a car person. There seem to be a lot of car people who are interested in geeky performance data, gadgets, that supposed status their car choice projects etc. For me a car is simply a relatively cheap and convenient way of getting around. I did survive for three years without one once, which was great [see my ramblings on small towns], but I need one to get to work at the moment so i’m stuck with the expense of having one.

For me the process of buying a car is entering into the strange world of buying a product that is not marketed at people like me at all. I have this experience a lot. I’m mostly vegetarian, I’m still not into fashion, have eclectic taste in music and books. Retailers are simply not designed for the likes of me. My life has always been finding the stuff i want around the edges of contemporary consumer culture.

Being such a way has it’s advantages. Often certain facets of things command a premium price, that apparently people are prepared to pay more for things with these facets. So when you are not looking for these things, your selection criteria often isn’t price related. It’s strange that items with the criteria you want appear across the price range from the top price items to the bargain bin.

Once I needed a desk chair, it’s the one I’m sitting on right now. There are hundreds of different desk chairs available on the market. There was no shop nearby for me at the time so I went online to office chair websites with a plethora of choice, yet i found that it wasn’t even possible to search for the criteria I was interested in. I had to click on every ruddy chair and read the smallest print to get the information. I did get a very cheap chair which has what I needed, but there was little convenience in finding it.

People often describe me as fussy. I suppose I am, but really I just seem to have a different set of criteria to anyone else, though this writing probably does give the impression that I am some chair obsessed maniac.

My criteria for chairs and indeed cars is simply this. I like to seat comfortably, there I’ve said it. We spend hours sitting on chairs, so having comfortable ones to me is the most important thing. Yet you go to a shop and look at the trendy top price designer chairs , they are not that comfortable. They may look cool and have various other features, but they are not very important to me.

So, when buying a car, by far the most important criteria is a comfortable driving seat. I often drive for two to three hours, sometimes longer, so being able to sit in comfort and arrive at my destination with the minimum amount of tiredness is the most important thing.  I have always bought ten year old cars, largely because I’m not rich, but also because comfort levels in cars are getting lower. This is largely because cars have lots of safety features and furthermore styling, reducing comfort. Alert unstressed drivers are generally safer drivers, but it seems we have an industry which doesn’t regard this as important. I am in that 5-10% of people for whom comfort is important, but catering for this market, isn’t important when a motor manufacturer can secure far more sales promoting some other feature. Have you ever seen a car advertisement where comfort features?

As I said, I am not a car person. I kind of get it as there are things that are important to me. Apparently i am a little bit of a Hi-Fi geek. The numbers on bits of Hi-Fi have meaning for me. I can get into a long geeky conversation with someone else into Hi-Fi. I like music and can appreciate when music sounds more like the performers are live in my room, rather than muffled and distorted. There are also car geeks, but there enough of them to influence the marketplace. Sadly Hi-Fi geeks are fairly rare these days. People have been happy to listen to low quality playback of music, if the device has other features that they like. Most people listen to music on their phones, either from files compressed to hell to fit enough onto the device or streamed. I do this too, but it’s just yucky.

It’s so sad that people spend so much of their lives stuck in their cars in traffic just doing ordinary things like grocery shopping. We have clogged up roads, burning fossil fuels like there is still no tomorrow and don’t even do this is comfort. It’s madness. I’m so looking forward to when I can live somewhere without a car again. The governments of the world have woken up to this rather late and are trying to reduce car use. My problem with this is that it is all stick and no carrot. It’s just extra taxes on the poor and no investment in a better solution.

It is more taxes on the poor. The rich can afford the latest electric cars which have lower taxes and can afford to live centrally near public transport hubs. They could use public transport, but usually don’t as they have invested a lot of money in a car and they have one of the cleanest cars in terms of emissions on the road. Conversely the poor live, live away from the hubs, so need cars to get to work and do everyday life. The poor also have older more polluting cars. Yet the taxes are on the older cars, like mine, of people who don’t have a choice, yet not on the rich who can use/afford public transport.

Investing in public transport would help, especially if they had comfortable seats. Really car manufacturers only need to keep their seats more comfortable than public transport. Yet on public transport the seat comfort is also lowering. It just feels like a conspiracy sometimes. It’s not the solution though, it’s enabling people to be housed where all their everyday needs are walkably close by and in large towns and cities there is a decent, affordable spokes to the centre transit system.

Instead as a society investment is thrown at the car gadgets as this makes the manufactures richer, rather than investing to make society better. My new car has cruise control. It is the first car I’ve ever had with it. Probably when it was new this was a feature that helped someone decide to buy it. However I drive in Wales, along our windy hilly roads, where by the time you’ve set the cruise control you need to break or change gear for a steep hill, it’s like a little toy to play with on long journeys, but no use as an actual foot rest. The only time they are useful is on long straight roads, the motorways, but I don’t do that often, though I can understand the advantage of being able to rest your right foot for a bit on long journeys. I now have an ugly grey car, with styling the complete opposite of my personality, but i don’t care because it’s comfortable and I can drive two to three hours in a reasonable degree of comfort.

 

 

Small is Beautiful

I’ve never liked living in a city and they do seem to be getting worse, in that their livability is falling. Increasingly the way cities function makes less sense, yet generally people are still moving into them. I have lived in probably all the main types of ways of living in Britain: Rural idylls, Small towns, Commuter Towns / Suburbs and Large Cities. Choices about where to live now seem to be a conflict between where people want to live and where work demands that they live. Work has become more demanding so we need more leisure time to re-charge. The problem is that this whole system of living and working at distances is now unsustainable in that not only is it unpleasant and environmentally damaging but also unnecessary.

It seems to me that I and many other people are basically harking back to how things used to be. I still feel that the Brexit vote was largely an expression of frustration with life getting harder in Britain an a yearning for more sensible times. Yet that sensible structure is still available but it is surprising how economic forces are not supporting it, making the UK less and less productive and efficient. To me if society were to realise that small towns are not only my living preference but are the answer to the general problems faced in the UK and possibly globally too. The general problem is that we spend more and more  time and money simply travelling around on ever more congested transport systems to do everyday life, largely because we are able to do fewer functions in our localities. Centralisation is limiting choice and making every more time and money expensive.

Small towns have one of everything someone needs to be able to do what they want and need to do on a daily and weekly basis and be able to walk everywhere to do it. Then longer distance transport is optional, to do once or a couple of times each month: for desirable entertainment, shopping, business meetings or to visit friends or relatives. So a small town has one of everything, a supermarket supported by independent shops for food needs, a medical centre, a school, a sports centre, a pub and an arts centre (which doubles up by being a cinema, venue, nightclub and group meeting space), a work-space and somewhere for young people to get involved with useful projects. This is what all towns used to have and you rarely needed to leave them unless you wanted to.

However most small towns, suburban centres of cities and commuter towns have lost some or all of these facilities, which means travelling to access these services. So people end up travelling to work, travelling to do their shopping, driving the kids to school, driving to the cinema, driving to the gym (largely as they don’t have space to exercise at home), basically driving or catching public transport to do anything outside of the home. So really where your home is isn’t important anymore as you don’t live there by choice (except in the rural idyll). Which is basically living as if in the rural idyll, but instead with pollution, traffic noise, not having enough space to do more things at home and stress and more time to get to the nearest centre to do other functions as they are ever further away without the advantages of the rural idyll (like no internet and getting snowed in in the winter <sic>).

Generally people have been complicit in this. My generation has known that there is an awfully big world out there and been frustrated with how slowly things came to our towns and tradition is great but not if it’s the only thing. So what people did was look forward to going to places where a wider range of things was available and driving to them wasn’t all that horrible or time consuming and was simply a nice change to everyday life. This then took vital money away from the local suppliers to the big centralised chains, we ended up travelling more often,which led to the local services closure. These closures meant that you could no longer do as many daily life functions in the small towns.

I used to think it was just me being different. My local bookshop never had the book I wanted to read, so I had to order it and wait a few days or wait until our next trip to the big city and revel in being able to pick the something I wanted off the shelf, which really was a thrill! I rarely want a “Top 40” record or a latest “Bestseller”, I have oddly shaped feet and the local show shop would rarely have shoes that fitted me or offer zero choice in what kind of shoe to wear.  I became vegetarian at the age of 15 and needed ingredients not available in my town. we would have to wait months for the latest films to make it to our cinema with all the pops and crackles of film run though a projector too many times. People seem to want their urges satisfied now and are not prepared to wait.

I also used to think it was just us lot in deepest darkest Wales, in a very small town (2000 people) a good hour and a bit drive to anywhere significantly bigger,  that people in the bigger small towns at least had some choice, or even something other than going to the pub on Fridays nights to do and then we had to share the pub with all strands of society of every age group [which is very nice really, I really don’t get why people like to go to bars where everyone else is similar to themselves all the time, isn’t it just a little dull?]

Yet, it wasn’t just me, perhaps everyone pined for choice and getting things now, to not just have one option all the time. To be able to see the bands you wanted too and not put up with whomever happened to come our way. However that pining for choice often wasn’t seeking alternatives for other these people, it was seeking the trendy, the latest. Perhaps people didn’t want to put up with the ageing creaky seat of our cinema and they wanted a big hole to put over-priced popcorn in like they do in the U.S. of A we’d seen in the movies,  to be deafened by Dolby Surround Sound on an even bigger screen. Perhaps people wanted what them people in the big towns and cities were having, even when it the same things available in every big town and city with no quirky uniquenesses and not actually any better than what we had, but it was perceived as being better somehow. People maybe lost the appetite for putting up with a strange Eastern European arty film because that was all what was on that night and want to choose the film that everyone else seemed to be viewing at the time. To desire a centralised one size fits all of false choice of fifty shades of grey, when really having the choice of one of two bright colours is a much more enriching choice, say a Bollywood film or a Hollywood film.

However, perhaps this same reaching for standardisation and centralisation has affected the world of work too. Perhaps people are not happy working to serve a local community but rather be a small cog in something more global. Perhaps people don’t want to produce a service in much the same way as the service in the next down down the road, but reap the economies of scale, even if that means paying for the privilege and not actually being better off at all at the end of the day. This has meant that instead of playing a role in decision making in small business, to have a decision making role involves working in the big office in the big city.

The problem with going to work in the big city is that everyone else is also going to work in the big city now and the big city can’t cope with this. The big city quickly runs out of housing and its transport networks clog up with people travelling in and out allday. So the only livable bit of cities is the inner city, with it’s pollution, noise and teeny tiny homes. There have always been commuters, people who wanted to work in the big offices, but not live in the smaller city housing. Such commuters were generally wealthy and happy to spend time commuting in on a train. These though it’s the minimum wage people who commute in from ever further afield as minimum wage will not get you a city home. So everyone arrives to work already tired from an hour or so of stress, yet are expected to be more productive that someone after a bracing twenty minute work into the small town centre. At the moment I look forward to school holidays as then I can get to work in half the time as the roads aren’t as clogged up, so even getting to work is delayed because of people taking their children to school/ doing ordinary daily tasks.

Yet nothing is gained from all this time spent travelling while others travel in the opposite direction. we could all go back to small town living again and travel purely for leisure and it would be leisure on unclogged transport networks, or rather travel in comfort. Living in the suburbs and commuter towns now offers no advantages as the local cinemas in the suburban centres have closed so it’s into town to the overly priced multi-screen cinema showing the same film on different screens. It’s overly priced because it’s in the town centre, which now has to serve everyone, rather than just the inner city residents and it’s visitors. I remember when inner cities were cheap and grotty places to live, but thronged with young people who are the section of society that is exploring themselves and want to go to interesting nightclubs or see the latest bands every night of the week, because it’s was relatively cheap and a twenty minute walk and was rightly their playground. Now the wealthy live in the inner cities who don’t use these facilities and then have the temerity to complain about the noise from the nightclub they have just moved next to! So the nightclub is forced to close as it has less money than the people rich enough to afford city centre flats. They just use their wealth to be the minority that can walk to these facilities and in doing so force them to close. Instead of being poor ghettos, the inner cities have become rich ghettos.

It just seems bonkers to me. Why not go back to the small town system? We have the internet now, so you can order what you want and it arrives in a day or two, just like small town shops once did. You can order the exotic things you need the local shops won’t stock. You can work from home and hold meetings over the internet for the vast majority of office jobs. Even if you work in manufacturing, the costs of the buildings (the land) is much cheaper in a small town, it’s easier to expand, your overheads are much much less and even if you need experienced workers, they will be happy to move as the housing costs won’t be exorbitant and the town will have one of everything just like whenever they were before with merely a little bit of interesting cultural change. You can go the the cinema if you want a cinema experience, or stream a film at home if you want to watch that arty East European film. Lets make the places where we live liveable again! Small towns could be better than they were and we can transform city centres into accessible leisure playgrounds, wouldn’t that be nice!

Snow Solution

I’ve always loved snow and I don’t understand why some people don’t like it. I know I’m Welsh and we get maybe 2 days of snow a year, if we are very very good, so we go crazy.

Crazy enough to drive 30 miles up into the hills which do get snow every year. Southern Britain is possibly the only place in the world where snow causes traffic jams of people trying to get to the snow.

We can be spotted when up in mountains in the summer and spot a tiny patch of snow and we run gleefully towards it, build snowmen, have snowball fights, all to the bemusement of out fellow Europeans.

I am a country boy and snow used to guarantee a few days off school every year, and we had hills 2 minutes walk away to go sledging and be able to pick how steep / how fast we wanted to go.

But at the moment, I’m living in a city, I like the easy access to culture, but that is about it. I hate the traffic, the noise, the hassle of doing anything. All of these problems are caused by traffic. We have had ‘heavy’ snow, well maybe, four of five inches, but it closed the schools and where I work. The roads weren’t cleared, so people stopped driving around. It has been bliss. It has been quiet, the air hasn’t tasted like licking an ashtray for a change.

Special unusual days are great. I used to like the regular power cuts we had when I was growing up, because then we would have a special time because normal life had stopped, we would light candles, light a real fire, and play games together. Such things don’t happen so much anymore.

Perhaps the solution is more snow, or something that would achieve the effect anyway. If humanity is to survive, I feel  we need to make cities livable. Cities are large conurbations, we could just ban cars and very quickly adequate public transport would suddenly get built. Cities would be pleasant places to live, rather than cars taking up every space, making cities feel so claustrophobic (especially for country folk).

I just long to live somewhere where walking down the street is a pleasure, just like it is with with the scrunch of snow beneath your feet as you walk on the side of the road,  you don’t feel boxed in by cars, white flecks melting on your face, sparkles everywhere on the ground. We just need more snow, but not enough that we have to spend resources on getting rid of it too quickly

 

Unionism vs Devolution

 

EU,-UK-and-Wales-flags

Or Centralism vs Separatism

In terms of the political creed these words represent they are ultimately inconsequential. Though in political debate in Wales these concepts loom large. I will argue that fundamentally there is little difference between the two. so what on Earth is the debate about? Yet this week a political shower has been thrown up in the debate about how powers that the EU will longer have responsibility for post-Brexit are devolved to the UK. Notably agriculture and the environment. The issue is that these areas are currently the responsibility of the Welsh government in UK terms, but most of the rules and regulations are currently set at EU level.

Unionism in a Welsh context means supporting or furthering the union of the United Kingdom. Unionism, party politically, is generally the preserve of conservatives and right wing people and tends to favour the British state (the UK). Whereas Devolution is generally the preserve of the left wing people and favours decision making made at a more local level, Wales or it’s regions.

On principle, I am neither a Unionist or a Devolutionist, it’s one of those spectra things I keep talking about. It’s an area I am a good Social Democrat and take a centrist pragmatic position: In a democracy power should reside at the lowest sensible level and then consensual passed up to wider bodies where the benefits of mutual cooperation and economies of scale are manifest. In today’s Wales I am regarded as a Devolutionist as I believe that centralised big government has too much political power.

The thing is, locally accountable decision making is a good thing and so is cooperating more widely. A functional democracy should in theory achieve the optimum balance over where responsibility should lie for decisions on any issue. I can’t get my head around why there seem to be so many people adopting the extreme fundamentalist positions on this, that either Devolution is bad or Unionism is bad, when the answer is neither, they are both good, provided one doesn’t go too far and balance is achieved. If you adopt the extreme position and enforce it then no-one can stop you when you go too far in ideological fundamentalism over practicality.

The case of Welsh agriculture is one of the areas that is  currently being debated. Largely because the UK government have faffed around indecisively so much with Brexit that suddenly decisions have to be made without sufficient time to debate and scrutinise them. If you are European you will be aware of how the EU subsides agricultural production in the EU. There is an awful lot wrong with how it is done, but the systems have been adapted to. Brexit presents an opportunity to improve agriculture in Wales and the rest of the UK, but handled badly could lead to a disaster, especially as the UK haven’t committed to continuing the subsidy system as is until a better system can be put worked out and put in place.

Welsh farming is broadly very different to that of a typical farm in the UK as a whole. Wales mostly consists of clayey uplands, which are generally poor for growing crops, but fantastic for grazing. So Welsh agriculture in the industrial age has adapted to be dominated by Lamb, Beef and Dairy production. In contrast with much of England with flat well drained soils, more suited to growing crops and producing Pork at industrial scales. Hence it seems sensible to have differentiated policies for how these different farming systems are regulated.

On the other hand there are benefits of having common rules and standards for mutual benefit. There is no reason why the UK government can’t produce a system that works for farmers across the UK. However there is no-one with the power to decide whether the benefits of common frameworks outweigh the losses of bespoke systems for Welsh agriculture who also has sufficient understanding of Welsh agriculture. That power should not reside with the centralised authority.

Really, this whole discussion is Brexit in a nutshell. It about this friction between unionism [top down power] and devolution [bottom up power]. The EU makes the decisions about agriculture and they don’t work terribly well for Wales. If it wasn’t for the EU’s ability to cut off Welsh produce from European markets by imposing tariffs, then the case for devolving responsibility to Wales would be fairly clear cut, Brexit or no Brexit.

The EU has spent 40 years centralising and increasing the size of it’s government and failed to identify areas where decision making would be better returned to regions. The people of the UK had zero chance to have a real say on the structure of the EU until Brexit. If you deny people a voice and then then give them a once and only lifetime chance to take power back, it is hardly surprising that people in Wales voted for Brexit. That was the clinching argument for a few of my friends. They wanted to remain in the EU, but felt they had to make use of their only opportunity to say no to what the EU has and is doing. Conversely people like myself are reluctant Remainers because we knew that the Tories were incapable of delivering a sensible Brexit that would improve things. It wasn’t really a question about membership of the EU at all! So whenever anyone asks that I should ‘accept this Tory Brexit’ I say ‘no’. It is impossible to discern what a majority decision of the people of the UK would be, what we collectively want, from a simple yes/no vote to two possibilities of which the majority wanted neither. What it did perhaps suggest was that the British wanted more devolution of decision making, or more democracy, so that the relations between Wales, the UK and the EU can come to  work better, yet that clearly isn’t what it going to happen from the Brexit process.

It’s almost the same sort of relationship between identities, or geo-political identities. My prime identity is Welsh, secondly it is British and thirdly it is European. Any other way of expressing my identity makes no sense to me. What this means is that my primary interest is seeking the economy of Wales to improve, I would also like the whole of Britain to improve too ( a little bit less and as long as it isn’t at Wales’ expense) and thus I’d like Europe to improve too for everyone benefits( again a little bit less and as long as it isn’t at Wales’ and Britain’s expense). So, decisions about Welsh agriculture should be made by the Welsh government. Where common frameworks can improve things across the UK, great, I would expect the Senedd to sign up to any such common frameworks and at a European level too, provided that there is a net benefit.

What I don’t get is what I perceive as the  Brixiteer or British Unionist position of UK first, then Wales then Europe. This only works if you are a member of the British establishment and you want the British establishment to exceed at the cost of the British nation, which seems to be what the Tories want. People outside of the establishment, why pick the middle one as the primary one? Any other combination makes little sense, such as European first, then Welsh then British. It’s not just a Welsh thing, I have friends who have Yorkshire or Norfolk as their prime identity.

The question of who should make decisions about agriculture, the Welsh government or the UK government, should be established democratically, to get the balance between centralisation and establishing  beneficial common frameworks and devolution and delivering bespoke local solutions right. Yet this isn’t how this debate is working, though this is how it should. What seems to be occurring is this facile debate between British unionism and Welsh devolutionists, when we don’t actually disagree about any actual issues, just where the decisions about them should be made, locally or at the top level. We have a centralised big state favouring Tory party and a centralising big state Jeremy Corbyn led Labour party, when Britain is imbalanced too much in favour of big state centralisers and has been for a long time. And we’ve just had a Brexit debate where devolution won over centralising decision on decisions making at UK or EU level. To follow Unionist arguments to there logical conclusions the UK would be signing up the the Eurozone, Schengen and every centralising initiative as The EU also has a U in it. It’s bonkers, yet people, such as myself arguing for Welsh independence get labelled as separatists, when that isn’t true at all.

I’m British, I have nothing against the union of the UK and I love Britain, it’s my home too which is why I care about it. I know of the benefits of having common sets of rules to facilitate trade and other things, I’m an internationalist who would love there to be no borders anywhere in the world. Simply, there are lots of challenges to face in things like Welsh agriculture in a world of climate change and a global shortage of agricultural land and we need to make the best decisions we can about that, which means listening to what Welsh farmers need, establish where, if at all, divergence in regulations is important, and I don’t trust Westminster as an institution capable of getting these things right.

That is ultimately what the whole Unionism / Devolution debate is about, It’s perhaps not about where best to make decisions, but who do you trust? I don’t trust Westminster or the EU. I don’t trust most of the the politicians in Cardiff Bay either. However the politicians in Cardiff are mostly people who live in Wales with a vested interest in making Wales better, because they actually live here in our communities, they visit the places we visit, some of them know what it’s like to live (or at least spoken with those that do) on an upland farm, so I trust them more. The argument against taking control back, seems to be that Westminster doesn’t trust the Senedd, that perhaps because they label the Welsh as separatists, they think that Wales might make decisions to diverge from sensible practise, purely for the hell of it to ‘spite the English’ or some reason, when it would make Wales suffer economically, which is just daft, perhaps they think this because they don’t live here and are thus basing decisions on a prejudice. It shouldn’t be about who you trust less, it should be about democracy and enabling a sensible assessment of where pooling rules works and where it doesn’t, when to join the union or the club and when to go it alone.

 

 

Melltith y Dysgwyr

Mae’n anodd i bod dysgwyr Cymraeg oherwydd dyn ni’n siarad yr iaith Cymraeg yn fford wahanol i siaradwyr iaith cyntaf. Dw i’n credu bod yr un peth yn rhwng ieithoedd i gyd. Mae siaradwyr iaith cyntaf yn defynddio mratiaith ‘Wenglish’ fel ‘rili’ ‘jyst’ a llawer o geiriau arall  a rhaid i dysgwyr druan yn defynddio’r iaith priodol.

Mae dysgwyr fel fi eisiau siarad Cymraeg yn rhugl ond dim yn fford gwahanol i pawb eraill. Dyn ni’n dysgu sut i gweud pethau yn fford priodol achos hynny ydy sut dyn ni’n dysgu, dysgu yn y fford hon yn cymorth ein feddwl am sut yr iaith yn gweithio fel sut i gweud peth yn yr gorffenol, presenol a’r dyfodol, y gramadeg (arghh!). Dyn ni’n syweddoli pan dyn ni’n dechrau siarad efo siaradwyr iaith cyntaf bod nhw’n defynddio’r iaith yn fford hollol wahanol a dim yn gweud ‘Dw i’n’ cyn pob frawdeggau.

Felly, beth ydy’r gwahaniaeth? Dw i’n meddwl bod siaradwyr iaith cyntaf yn dwyieithog go iawn. Mae gennom nhw y dewis am pa iaith y defnyddio am pob gair. Am enghraifft, rhai pobl yn deud ‘miwsig’ yn lle ‘cerddoriaeth, neu ‘tships’ yn lle ‘sglodion’, ond pam?

Efallai, maen nhw’n defnyddio i geiriau pawb erail yn defnyddio, iaith cyfreddin. Maen nhw’n defynddio’r geirau hawddach i gweud. Maen nhw’n dewis geiriau Saesneg fod  yn gweithio yn wella na y gair Cymraeg. Weithiau dydan nhw ddim yn gwybod i gair cymraeg a mae’n hawddach i defynyddio’r gair Saesneg tan maen nhw clywed i gair Cymraeg yn digon i newid i defnyddio’r y gair honna.

Mae’n anodd am dysgwyr i siarad fel wnes i disgrifio uwchben. Yn prif, oherwydd dyn ni ddim yn dysgu sut i adnewid rhwyng yr dwy iaith eto. Pan dw i’n siarad yn Cymraeg, weithiau dw  i ddim yn gwybod sut i gweud rhywbeth yn Cymraeg, felly wna i’r un peth yn Saesneg, bydd i’n trio gweud iddo fo yn ffordd gwahanol yn defynyddio geiriau mai dw i’n gwybod. Weithiau mewn sgwrs bydd i’n penderfynu i defnyddio gair Saesneg yn y canol yr brawdeggau ond dw i’n gorfod aros, ailgychwyn i meddwl yn Saesneg, cael y gair a wedyn ailgychwyn fy ymynedd unwaith eto i Cymraeg i gorffen y brawdeggau. Mae’n cymryd llawer o amser. Dyma pam mae’n anodd i siarad efo siaradwyr iaith cyntaf achos mae’n anodd iawn ymdopi efo dwy iaith ar yr un pryd.

Es i’r Eisteddfod Genedlaethol am y tro cyntaf ar ol dysgu Cymraeg am chwe mis. O’n i’n siarad efo’r rhywun oedd yn siarad am ‘tents’. Atebais i yn defnyddio’r ‘pabell’ mewn brawdeggau a wedyn meddan nhw ‘oh rili sori, pabell’! Oedd rhyfedd iawn, wnes i ddim eisiau diwygus siaradwyr Cymraeg, dw i eisiau siarad yn union fel nhw, ond dw i ddim yn barod eto, dw i ddim yn dwy ieithog wir.

Mae’n tipyn tebyg yr gwahaniaeth rhwng sut oedden ni’n siarad efo ffreindiau yn yr ysgol a sut efo ein nheulu. Mae’n angen i dysgu sut i siarad yn cymunded gwahanol a dysgu siarad rhai tafodiaeth (nad dim ond tafodiaeth yr Gogledd ac y De)

Dylwn i siarad mwy efo’r siaradwyr iaith cyntaf. Mae’n hawddach i siarad efo dysgwyr arall oherwydd mae’n nhw siarad yn yr un fford fel fi dydan nhw ddim gweud gormod o geiriau Saesneg!

Dw i’n dal cenfigenus o siaradwyr iaith cyntaf, ond dw i’n syweddoli bod bydd i’n erioied siarad yn fford gwahanol iddyn nhw ond dw i’n wrth fy modd i medru siarad Cymraeg!

 

Living in Eclectic Dreams or Why I hate Radio 2

Last night, at my Welsh class, we had a special lesson on the Welsh music scene, I suppose in readiness to celebrate Dydd Miwsig Cymraeg on the 9th of February. I am already a huge fan of the Welsh music scene. What was interesting was how Welsh music was presented by our tutor, but also how my classmates considered it.

I should point out that I’m talking about music in the Welsh language, which is a subset of Welsh music, which is all music made in Wales in any language. The tutor started by the common misconception of Welsh music as being: Male Voice Choirs, Hymns and other Welsh Christian devotional music and old folk songs like Pais Dinogad. What I’m talking about here is the contempory Welsh music of the last fifty years or so,  which is what Dydd Miwsig Cymraeg celebrates.

So the tutor took us on a little tour through the history of Welsh music. What struck me was which musicians I was interested in and which I wasn’t as much. For we all have different preferences. I don’t know anyone with the same musical tastes as I have. I always find it difficult to answer the question of ‘What sort of music do you like?’ , because it would take so long to give a meaningful answer. It’s everything from renaissance polyphony to contemporary Mongolian throat music. So often I get pigeonholed as having eclectic tastes, sometimes that suggests that I am some sort of freak or that I purposefully seek the obscure. Yet that isn’t it, to me I just like music and when I really like a piece of music, it’s because it resonates within me, it touches me in powerful way. Not every piece of music does that, there are pieces of music that stir others souls that leave me empty.

Sometimes music grates your mind. I know that many people find this with anything tooloud or ‘too fast’ like metal or hardcore electronic music.  Yet, for me it’s BBC Radio 2. If anyone puts Radio 2 on it drives me up the wall. Sometimes I’ll hit the auto-tune in the car, when an FM signal gets lost and hear a song I like, but very soon I realise that I’m listening to Radio 2 and feel sick. it’s the whole concept of ‘Easy Listening’ that is perhaps the extreme opposite of the ‘eclectic music’ person.

When you hear a piece of music for the first time, you begin your relationship with it. At first you might not understand it, but with every listen you learn more. Sometimes you’ll listen and suddenly that piece of music will hit you with everything it’s got, it might make you burst into tears or feel surged through with joy. With later listening you go deeper into the song and work out why it works as it does to you. Then you stop listening to it because there’s lots of other stuff to listen to. When you hear that piece of music again, it is also a reminder of your relationship with that song, so you either experience nostalgia, or an academic interest in how it relates to other pieces of music you know. I do listen to music occasionally for such purposes, but most of the time I’m looking for something new, something to take me to a new place.

So, I hate Radio 2 because it’s modus operandi is nostalgia, to play well known songs. But  such nostalgia only works when it’s the songs you have had the relationships with, the rest of the time is experiencing songs you aren’t crazy about that you don’t have any nostalgia for and are not in a context to reference the music you are listening to now, so what exactly is the point? I love it when a good DJ drops an old song in that links with a contemporary piece, but Radio 2 drives me insane. It’s for the same reason that i am a Radio 3 person and not a ClassicFM person. Maybe I am just this eclectic person.

I suppose this eclecticness was why I put off learning Welsh for so long. The local Male Voice Choirs would keep singing the same old songs and we would sing the hymns in church that everyone knew. Church choirs have so so much frustration with congregations that want to same pieces of music every week that they know. We go , look, here are piles and piles of music we haven’t done, lets try some. So I kind of saw the Welsh language as part of old traditions and at the time saw thes traditions as stifling, when that is not their purpose. I love tradition and music, but not if it’s purpose is because everyone’s knows it or it’s unchallenging. It was when legendary DJ John Peel introduced me to bands like Melys, Gorky’s Zygotic Mwnci and Datblygu that I realised that there was this whole contemporary Welsh music scene, that was interesting to me. Really, living in England, what is so annoying and Radio2ie is that it’s incredibly incredibly rare to hear anything sung that isn’t in the English language. Granted there are masses and masses of great music in the English language, but there is even more outside of the culture of the English language and in Britain unless you actually try, you hardly ever hear singing in languages other than English, which is so sad.

The question I’m asking myself is why do I really like this seemingly unconnected range of music, yet I don’t like many to the things which are said to be similar. I know it’s not any inherent property of the music itself, the dots and lines. It’s just that some pieces of music stand out to me or some reason, that somehow mingles with how my mind works, what gets me excited, which isn’t a simple thing at all.

It’s not just music, it happens with everything. I’ve also found odd how I find certain women amazingly attractive and yet not others whom other heterosexual men find attractive. It’s just some people I just really like and others who don’t somehow create that sudden instant attraction thing in me. It seems not to be with looks, height, weight, race or anything easily measurable, just like with music and it’s dots and lines and structures. Sometimes you hear a piece of music for the first time and it’s like here we go, I know I am going to love this. It’s the same with women on meeting them for the first time you know that a tiny part of you will love them forever.

I think it’s just something, either in the music, or the words or in the performance that resonates with me, that I have found something I can relate to, like it’s somehow a part of me, but doing a different thing. it’s like discovering something where your mind doesn’t go, kind of like in ‘Where your Eyes Don’t Go‘ by They Might be Giants of part of your mind ‘wondering what the part that isn’t thinking, isn’t thinking of’ . These are things about myself I am not fully aware of yet, or that I’ve lost that I probably am only meant to have brief glimpses at. So if asked to describe what music I like, how can I answer when it’s about discovering the parts of me that I don’t know about yet. How is this a type of music? Is this why those of us who reluctantly accept the ‘eclectic music fan’ label, like music in a different way to most other people. Radio 2 is incredibly popular, but it’s not right for me at all.

Living in Electric Dreams – The Human League

Brexit Nationalisms

Really Brexit is about nationalism. What complicates Brexit is that there are so many competing nationalisms at play, it is this which has made Brexit so confusing. A further problem with nationalism is that it often has negative connotations with racism. Historically nationalism has been associated as a creed of the dominant nation or race, blaming their ills on other groups of people.

Nationalism can be defined as simply as promoting the nation and defining the nation as the people within that nation. If that nation is defined geographically and include everyone withing that region then it can be a positive thing. Conversely where a dominant sub section of a geographical region claims neglect, such as white people within a culture, blaming another smaller people, then nationalism gets nasty. There is always a tendency for the rich and powerful to greedily seek more of the pie and thus the people or the nation suffer as their share of the pie is diminished. All politics is essentially nationalisms of groups demanding fair treatment.

Economic growth in the 20th century allowed most people’s slice of pie to get larger, so it didn’t matter so much if some people were getting larger increases in share of pie. However the current situation in the UK is that there is some economic growth, yet most people are getting poorer, whilst the very rich get richer without really contributing to the society. This means that the people (everyone not in the elite) see this as unfair and seek the interests of the masses/ the country to become more prominent. Democracy has failed, so more or at least a reform of democracy is required.

Brexit was often argued for in terms of taking back control, for more democratic accountability, to desire ‘my country back’. As such a mixture of Welsh, Scottish and English nationalisms. Largely  older generations noticing that the UK state had declined and wished to reverse this process. But it is has been the Tory party and the neoliberal orthodoxy that has caused this decline, it’s simply gone unnoticed as it hasn’t suited the mass media to highlight long term trends or give them sufficient prominence.

Instead we have a British State nationalism of the British establishment clawing back powers from a centralised EU as conducted by the Tories. In a sense the establishment have effectively pitted the European nation against the British one, when there is no real conflict between the people of Britain and the peoples of the rest of Europe. For I am a member of both the European and British nations, it’s fighting amongst ourselves.

However Brexit never became a mass movement of the people of Britain, only of a dominant minority, as no-one has since argued for nationalism in geographic sense.  Instead it seems the establishments Brexit has become dominant in the subsequent debate. So we have a situation where the people cry out for more power, but the establishment are using it for their own selfish ends. Really I expected the post Brexit era to be full of discussion of how to reform democracy across the UK. Instead the debate seems to be about how important is for the UK to negotiate a good trade deal with other states, say Mongolia which the EU had supposedly cruelly denied them, which I am sure was not to the forefront of the minds of those voting for Brexit.

Brexit nationalism became a negative force as instead of a focus on democracy, it has focused on scapegoating, of defining those groups who are to blame for everything as those who are not being British, specifically EU immigrants. Indeed most the EU migrants I know have stated that they feel a lot less comfortable in the UK these days, which is very sad.

The British establishment is very happy about all this division between the Brexiteers and the Remainers, as a culture of blaming other people detracts from a nationalism of reforming democracy, which is what should be happening. The people want change, but of people are kept fighting about what that change should be  the establishment can carry on regardless.

Nationalism has become such a taboo word, yet really the political battle is between the nation (the people) and the state (establishment). The state has failed to serve the interests of the nation. The establishment tactic in this battle is to divide and rule, to pit nation against nation so the focus isn’t on the failed establishment but viewed as the fault of one group or another, such as the failings of the Brexit process being blamed on the Remainers or sub sections of Brexiteer opinion. In essence it is the establishment which is practising bad divisive nationalism, whilst many the various British nations seeks a positive nationalism for the good of all.

British nationalism, in the sense of the argument for a more democratic accountable UK, would be great. However I am a Welsh Nationalist, because what the British people need is to get away from tyranny of large minorities and a too powerful centralised establishment. Achieving a true democracy at a UK level is much harder to achieve directly. Bottom up democracy is I believe the way forward and once systems are in place in geographic nations, then cooperation across Britain and Europe can be re-built.

However it often seems that British Nationalists are arguing with Welsh nationalists, when both groups want the same thing, more democracy that registers their specific needs. The establishment is happy to encourage such infighting. For me nationalism isn’t about wrapping one flag around you, but is about gathering as many flags as you can to wrap around yourself to acknowledge how many nations we belong to, including the human nation, to include all people of all nations, to ensure nationalism doesn’t divide and lead to scapegoating of any minority group.