Beyond Brexit

EgwQ0H_WAAEClhe (1)

The Welsh national movement has expanded greatly over the last year. A recent poll put support for Welsh Independence at 32%, which is the highest it’s ever been. Brexit and the Covid period have shown how quickly things can change. However, it is mainly the young and people of the left that are backing it, Welsh Independence isn’t winning over Brexit supporters or those from the right wing of politics. What are the barriers to being Indycurious for right wing people?

I have always found the whole Brexit debate curious. The main thrust of the argument seemed to concern democracy, that policy decisions should be made locally at the UK level rather than at EU level. Surely if you take this argument to it’s logical conclusion, then if you support Brexit you should also support Welsh independence and greater powers for local councils. However judging from Brexiteer arguments there seemed to be something special about centralisation at the UK level. British Unionists have used the phrase ‘our precious union’ as something of high value, preventing a consideration of further devolution of political power.

I have supported Welsh Independence my entire adult life, yet for many years I felt I was fairly unusual and alone in this view, partly because I was living in England as so many young adults from Wales do. I grew up in Powys, with farmers sons for school friends, have a Conservative supporting family and when I was at school I got my news from the Daily Telegraph as that was the paper my family took. It would not have been surprising if I were to have turned out to be a Tory, except I didn’t.

I didn’t as I’m fairly geeky and bookish and spent a lot of time thinking about politics as a young man and one of the things I settled upon was a belief in the importance of subsidiarity, a word rarely heard in political discussions these days. Subsidiarity simply being the view that political decisions should be made the the most local level that is practical. It is simply this belief that led me to support Welsh Independence.

So, whilst I was reading the Daily Telegraph and the constant commentry that the EU was centralising too much political power in Brussels, it made a sense to me, yet I couldn’t get my head around why this principle didn’t extend to Wales.

The Brexit argument, whilst it dressed itself in the clothes of subsidiarity seemed to be more about identity, specifically identification with Britishness, with Britishness being portrayed as the plucky underdog battling the power of an elite [though former British colonies probably didn’t see it quite like that]. The Brexit campaign kind of left open whom this shadowy elite were and seemed to largely allow people identify ‘the Elite’ as whomever was against their interests.

The UK has been a declining economy for all my adult life. Support for Brexit was fueled by a hope for a major change that would turn things around. The UK has also had fairly hard right wing Tory governments during this period, surely this is the elite that has caused the problems for the Britons? Yet, this British establishment has been very clever in pointing the finger at ‘enemies within’ for the weakness of the UK economy: immigrants, catholics, muslims, liberal university educated people, the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish, the LGBTQ community, people who aren’t monolingual English speakers, single mothers on benefits and so on. Basically it’s anyone who doesn’t conform to a rigidly defined Britishness. Surely the stiff upper lipped British who created the largest empire the world have ever seen cannot possibly be at fault for economic decline.

Yet am I not British too? well yes, but first and foremost I’m Welsh! However, I’ve usually described myself as Welsh-British, because I feel an identification with the British isles and all the people of the British Isles. Really, I see myself as a Briton rather than British and that is quite a subtle distinction. A distinction that the Brexiteers [the people pushing Brexit, the Farages and the Rees-Moggs, not the Brexit voters have succeeded in bluring.

I did say that I was a bookish geek, so I have read History books. What amazes me now is that when I was at school the British Empire period wasn’t covered at all. I have now read about it and the history is full of terrible atrocities commited by the British state across the world. Yet the simple impression I had before this was that the British Empire was glorious and something to be proud of. History should not be forgotten, but just focussing on the nationalistic ‘glory of Empire’ just feels absurd with the full weight of history. Recently we had this very odd debate about whether Rule Brittania should be sung at the Last Night Of the Proms because there is to be no live audience this year, but a British jingoism somehow prevailed.

Yet, I don’t believe that Brexit was won in Wales by this British jingoism. The strongest support for Brexit came from the Valleys. I’m not from the Valleys, but I don’t think that many people there wave the Union Jack and sing Land of Hope and Glory every day before breakfast? However, many communities clearly feel a sense of decline, that they are neglected and are inspired by anything that offers hope. The question is why was Brexit seen as the answer and not Welsh Independence?

I think it has something to do with privelege. You have priveledge when you are a member of a group that isn’t discriminated against for the quality you have that makes you a member of that group. However priveledge isn’t that well understood. If you are white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, protestant, a monoglot English speaker, born in Wales then you have a lot of priveledge. However, there are lots of people with all this priveledge who don’t get any advantages for being in the majority demographic group, life is tough and getting harder. There is perhaps a sense of resentment towards those perceived as having greater priveledge. What are these greater priveledges? Having a university education and being able to speak Welsh. Who are perceived to have those two priveledges? the advocates of Welsh Independence.

It is perhaps simply this barrier, that to many people look around society for ‘people like us’ to find a group that will support them, as there is a perception that their tribe is under threat and anyone “foreign” is regarded with suspicion. In Britain, this is those that stress a British identity that look like them: are white, speak only English, eat meat, are heterosexual, essentially culturally conservative people. They perhaps see a rapidly changing world, and they don’t like it and see an appeal in Britishness that represents tradition and old-fashioned values. Essentially ears are closed to the notion of Welsh independence as a means to make things better as it perceived as being liberal, when really Welsh independence is neither conservative nor liberal, it is for everyone.

The odd thing is that the Brexiteers, the Farages and Rees-Moggs have even greater privilege by nature of being super wealthy, yet the Brexiteers succeeded in deflecting that criticism by offering hope of betterment if only people would support them, despite this call coming part of the corrupt elite themselves. Both Johnson and Trump have succeeded in convincing people that they stand for ordinary people, when looking at their personal histories it is clear that they are not and people somehow are blinded and can’t see this.

A major weakness of the UK electoral system is the First Past the Post constituency vote, electing one member of Parliament. The biggest party in Wales is the Labour party, people have voted Labour every election, but things never get any better, so people opted to vote for a radical change. What is the difference between the change of Brexit compared to Welsh Independence. It could just be ‘backing a winner’. There is a huge bonus of being in a constituency that voted for the governing party in Westminster, local services are less likely to be closed and more money is likely to be spent on infrastructure. There is an incentive to back the winners, especially if those winners are promising help for people with privilege who gain no advantage from being privileged.

The challenge for those of us convinced by the need for Welsh Independence is we want to offer hope for a better Wales for everyone who calls Wales home. We are constrained by wanting to include everyone in that we don’t have people who are an enemy. The only enemy is perhaps these complicated concepts of centralisation and lack of democratic accountability through sticking with a UK state that is failing it’s people.

I feel that perhaps the solution tackle this issue of identity head on, to make it the defining feature of the campaign. During Brexit, my social media was filled with people expressing sadness about losing their European identiy. During the Scottish Independence referendum, people were expressing sadness about losing Scotland as part of their British Identity. I think there is a need to separate associations with political states from nations of people. If Scotland gained independence, I would not lose my affection for Scotland. I’ve never considered Ireland to be a foreign country. I would never regard England as being a foreign land either. Brexit has not made me feel any less European. It is to break this association of nationality with nation-states that many people seem to have and instead make it about people we share bonds with. Once the association with the UK nation-state is broken we can get on with making all of Britain a better place.

It’s a real shame that there is no flag to represent all the people of Britain. The Union Flag has been adopted by the far-right and perhaps it’s only when individual athletes at the Olympic games wave the flag that we can unite as Britons in celebrating their hard work and success.

We just need to find a way to help people see beyond British nationalism as a solution, but as part of the problem. Growing up as I did, I did feel a sense of pride in Britain. I lost that sense of pride, but retain a pride for the people of Britain.


As former Welsh rugby star, Eddie Butler poignantly put it at the AUOB march in Merthyr: “The United Kingdom that made my parents proud to call themselves British no longer exists”. We should free ourselves of the shackles of the British Empire and instead embrace an identity as Britons and move away from political structures that are failing us.

I Paradigm I

It’s an odd time to be a Briton. The UK will formally start the process leaving the EU next week. About half the people of Britain and Northern Ireland will lose something they have had since birth, EU citizenship. For some this will make them feel less European as a part of their identity is stripped away. It may present a paradigm shift.

A paradigm shift is a change to what is normal, a change in mode of thinking, adopting a new set of rules and identities. For example, going from being an anxious to a confident person completely changes one’s worldview. There seem to be rather a lot of these shifts occurring at the moment due to Climate Change and Brexit, to quite fundamental parts of whom we are as humans, what we eat and our identity.

Food

I have written recently about this whole debate between whether the most sustainable diet is plant-based or contain some quantity of meat. There are some visceral arguments flying around. Between the meat fraternity and vegans about which diet is more sustainable, which diet requires less land and is a sustainable management of that land. In my opinion the answer lies somewhere in the middle. However it seems that much of the argument is not based on the science, but rather the “naturalness” of the diet choice.

This “naturalness” concept is rather bizarre as there is very little that is natural about how humans produce food when you consider that humans developed as a species as hunter gatherers. However across the millenia agriculture has developed, allowing larger populations. This agriculture has undergone massive changes since the industrialisation period began some two hundred years ago. Keeping animals inside in a controlled environment feeding them a grown diet, injecting them with chemicals and an industrial process for slaughtering them, is much at odds with practices for the first few thousand years of agriculture.

It is because this form of agriculture has persisted for so long that it has been normalised. Our increasingly urbanised societies do not generally spare a thought for the lived conditions of the animals they eat every day. People who become vegans and vegetarians have thought about this and concluded that modern agriculture is very strange and not “natural” and often make a decision to either stop eating meat or change how they get their meats.

Arguably the debate between these two groups are the traditionalists (even if that tradition [intensive agriculture] is only around one hundred years old) and those that have gone through a paradigm shift in how they think about the rearing of animals for food. Hold that thought.

Identity

Brexit has divided the people of Britain quite fundamentally. Even those of us in the middle have been forced to take sides. The question was whether the UK is better of in or outside of the EU, but Brexit is something else, it is perhaps about differing views of national identity and what is a normal way of thinking about your national identity.

Generally there are those people that consider that the UK nation state is normal, to feel patriotic towards the UK and those that feel differently or are more pragmatic about it and open to different possibilities. This makes sense in the context that the Brexiteers are generally older and remember life before the EU and the Remainers aren’t.

The Brexiteers seem to regard a particular form of British Nationalism as sacrosanct, one which has parallels with the Imperialism and authoritarian nature of the British Empire period.

For example, there have been objections this week to the announcement of Gaelic becoming the default language of instruction in Schools in the Western Isles of Scotland. In Wales, Welsh medium schools have been in existence for quite some time, yet these are often objected to. I don’t get these objections as Welsh and Gaelic are native British languages, so as patriotic Britons do we not all want to maintain the tradition of these languages? It seems these Brexiteer British Nationalists do not view British culture in this way, that they only support certain facets of “Britishness” and not others. You have to be one of this sect to understand what they like and what they do not. These people seem to object to people using other languages than English in Britain, whether it’s Hindi, Polish, Welsh, Gaelic or anything else it seems. It seems to be part of this intolerance of different people.

There also those who object to people who are LGBTQ. Someone said recently that there are two sexes, men and women and this is basic biology. I am a Biologist and I said to her that that is very basic biology, the reality is a lot more complicated and indeed different sexualities exist in other mammalian species. Sex is in our genes and it’s just how biology works. Yet people seem unable to listen to expert advice nowadays. It seems feelings and identity trump science and as a scientist I find that hard to conceptualise.

I believe that the solution to the decline and malaise in the UK economy is to revitalise democracy re-building the economy with Welsh and Scottish independence, Irish re-unification and regional government within England. This just makes sense to me as the most sensible way to improve things. However there are many that object to this, yet they seem to be unable to articulate an argument for the union of the UK, beyond a denial that Wales can govern herself  and a sentimental attachment to the UK nation state. They seem to have not passed through any paradigm shifts.

Diversity Education

There seems to be a general trend in this division between those with a university education and those who don’t. I have even heard it said that universities encourage liberal thought to the detriment of conservatism. There is some truth in that.

A university education is essentially about challenging ideas and assumptions about how things work. It’s about learning how to build a logically sound argument and testing premises. So any traditional conservative values are tested and the only ones that survive are those that have a positive beneficial value and  reason to be conserved beyond sentimentality.

The university experience is also about exposure to diversity, where living with diversity is part of the life of people at universities. When someone goes to university for the first time, they usually live away from home in an area with a different culture. For me I went from a rural Welsh existence to living in a big city in another country; a huge culture shock! You then meet and work with people from different backgrounds, from different parts of the world and you just accept things that are different to what you knew. Through an undergraduate degree course you make multiple paradigm shifts in worldview and your understanding of your subject. Paradigm shifts become second nature.

However for those who do not go to university and never live in a different country, may not get this exposure to diversity or have their ideas so rigorously challenged. It may simply be a lack of training in the skill of coping with paradigm shifting.

Brexit

This Brexit division really has torn apart the paradigm of Britain. The Britain I love and grew up in consisted of people of different backgrounds and places whom for the most part got along doing our own things. I grew up in an area that produces people who are loosely defined as Welsh-British and that chimed perfectly with my identity and as such my identity was of as much value as the identity of any other Briton. However Brexit has blown apart that tolerance of all the huge variance in the people of Britain, there now seems an increasing divide between a narrow British nationalism of arguably the largest minority ethnic group in the UK, the White English and everybody else. The White English, may in actuality be a majority of the UK population, however when you take away those that went to university, the LGBT community and those who married outside of their ethnicity for example, you do perhaps end up with a minority, yet one which has acquired power through Brexit and now seems to feel legitimised and emboldened by Brexit that they don’t need to listen to any voices of dissent and are at liberty to abuse people who are different.

This I find disturbing as Britain  seems to be have become in the control of an insular sect which ignores experts at a time when new modes of thinking and a new economic relationship are kind of required by Brexit and even more so by Climate Change. Britain leaving the EU doesn’t really bother me all that much in itself, but ceding control to people who lack experience of paradigm shifts when the nation state is going through a paradigm shift is worrying indeed.

I just feel that the direction of the UK becoming a less tolerant society is one I do not feel part of anymore. Hence I am Yes Cymru.

I Palindrome I

Socially Conservative Wales

I’ve just returned home from Christmas with the family. Such sojourns can be fraught as people struggle to avoid bringing up politics to avoid arguments. This was more of a problem this year as the UK is fresh from a divisive general election and some form of Brexit now looks almost certain.

I spent a Christmas with people in favour of Boris Johnson’s Brexit, whatever that turns out to be. A lot of people, such as myself who are on what is traditionally described as centrists or left wing are a little confused by this. It got me thinking about Wales as a socially conservative country and I have finally got around to reading ‘A History of Wales’ by John Davies. It seems that people voted for Brexit from fear of change and fear of people who are different, yet Brexit will bring greater changes that remaining in the EU. How does this dichotomy exist?

I’ve written before about the traditional left wing right wing spectrum. In my lifetime the divide has seemed to be around to what extent  national infrastructure should be publicly owned, or left to the private sector. The weight of evidence is that such infrastructure is more efficient and better supportive of private business run by the state, such things as education, healthcare, transport infrastructure and energy. Yet for the last forty years the UK has elected right wing governments that have privatised the UK’s economic infrastructure and it has simply got a lot worse as my Brexit supporting family openly admit, such as potholes on the roads that used to get repaired. Every election has left people like me flummoxed as to why people seem to vote against their self-interest. I think it may be because socially, in the view of those not interested in politics, this left-right divide is still based on an older more social view of the left-right divide.

In my reading of pre-twentieth century politics, before the development of socialism, the divide was between conservatives and liberals (radicals). The conservatives being hesitant about change and liberals being more embrasive of change. On this view it makes sense that urban populations were embrasive of change as they live in a rapidly urbanising world that needed structures to change quickly and a rural population that saw no need to change things radically.

This conservative view of change is also resistant to centralisation. It opposes nationalisation as it takes away decision making to a big city a long way away, in the UK, this was and still is, London. A fear exists that local interests would not be taken into account. It may have seemed that a long established local business was taken over to be run by a government far away with decisions made by people not like us.

This view kind of chimes with recent concerns about immigration and Brexit, that it is metropolitan elites in the big cities or in Brussels making decisions. Furthermore a concern about being governed by people who are different, liberal, who are culturally different, speak different languages, have different religious practises or generally have a different ethnic background or at least socialise with different people and be influenced by them (shock horror). This fear isn’t racist, homophobic, nationalist or anti-Semitic in itself and is perhaps why some conservatives don’t feel it is racist. However such a position is dangerously close to being racist. So if you are close to something like that it is perhaps inevitable that some people will cross that hazy line and be racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic.

I get this, I am socially conservative myself. However I educated myself simply by living away from home for several years and came to realise that people are people and the people in the next town, country or continent are no worse than people from my area and <whispers very quietly> do some things better. However I myself remain sceptical of centralisation and still believe that political power needs to return to communities and a return to bottom up power.

When I was at school I struggled because I am different. Yet, I went along with the jokes about homosexuals as homosexuality was something that happened in those big far away cities and wasn’t viewed part of our culture, as it was seen as something to be repressed. No-one came out when I was at school as they would likely have been beaten up for it. However I now know that I had friends at school were are LGBT and have come to realise that it is quite normal and it’s simply very sad that people were unable to be themselves in my school.

There is nothing wrong with being socially conservative, but you have to be willing to embrace change when it’s needed and to be open to possibilities. For example, to not be racist when you realise what it is and how bad it is. This doesn’t mean that the parts of our culture that are good and cause no harm do not need to be supported, such as the Welsh language, Welsh culture or local businesses.

The thing is that the world has changed a lot and people are still making political decisions based on these deeply held folk understandings of political ideology, rather than from a full understanding of modern economics. An idea such as nationalising an industry to be more efficient to provide a better service is no more centralising that giving control of that industry to the private sector. It’s different now because it’s no longer an established local business that understands a community, where you know someone who knows their family well or ceding power to a remote metropolitan government, but instead it is an even more remote large multi-national corporation, that has even less understanding of local needs than a national government does. For example, the railways in Britain, instead of being viewed as a natural monopoly and an important public service and run by the state, they are now owned by corporations and national rail operators of other European countries, or organisations with less understanding of local needs and solely driven my profit rather than providing as service for their community, because they are not part of that community, that is one of the big problems with globalisation.

Perhaps the even greater irony of this is Brexit. Brexit was billed as taking back democratic control from an overly centralised organisation, the EU, to enable regulations to be set that work better with the UK economy, in particular agricultural policy, I completely agree with this. However, there is no plan for reform of democracy to produce that local democratic control and UK businesses will still have to comply with EU standards to continue to trade as it does now with EU countries. There is unlikely to be this great economic and democratic reform as the Thatcherite Tories are still in charge, and there is likely to be less local regulation as trade deals will be desperately sought with Trump’s USA, India, China and Brazil and local needs are more likely to be ignored than they are now and there will likely be more loss of the social cohesion valued by conservatives. It is still the same Tories that have repeatedly ignored the needs of Welsh communities that will now decide Brexit. In my view, with a Tory Brexit, the way now to ‘Take Back Control’ to defend our society is to back calls for Welsh Independence. Yes Cymru!

 

 

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!

British People in Hot Weather

The British are famous for our obsession with British weather. Britain is rarely hot (>25C) and rarely cold (<-5C). So when it is hot we go crazy and run out outside to bask in the experience the strange newness of the our area being hot. When it snows we also run out to play with the magical icy white stuff. However because such events are usually only for two weeks of the year we don’t bother preparing for them, it’s deemed too expensive to bother, even when buildings exist for over a hundred years, a few quid saved when building and hang the long term efficiency costs.. So, we we suffer in sweaty places of work and grumble about the madness of being only half as productive for a couple of weeks a year. The vast majority of British buildings are not designed for inclement weather and we just put up with it, or try and do things outside and burn our skins to the colour of lobsters.

Sometimes this lack of long term planning ends in tragedy as happened last week. The Grenfell tower block in London caught fire with a tragic loss of life of people dying in their homes.

The tragedy multiples when we think start to think about why this tragic event occurred.  People dying in a burning building is always tragic. Its doubly tragic when it is suggested that mistakes were made that were directly responsible. It’s particularly tragic when the whole UK political system is part of the problem.

Grenfell Tower was part of the 1960s policy to replace falling apart housing with cities in the skies. They were built on the cheap and poorly managed. However at least some thought was put into preventing fire spreading. However, because these flats were near to the most expensive part of London, it seems a decision was made to clad the tower to make it look nicer, rather than install a sprinkler system, which was what the building needed more, to bring it into line with modern tower constructions. There are suggestions that this cladding contributed to the fire spreading quickly and it is this that has made people particularly upset. The UK ‘planning’ system is woefully  inadequate and our building regulations are farcical; which is the fault of the political system.

This political tragedy is that such problems as Grenfell tower were known about for years but nothing got done about them. This is arguably due to a government that has had a strange ideological objection to regulation and is corrupt in being lobbied only by big businesses which don’t like the cost of following regulations.

Surely it is wrong for government to only be responsive to corporate interests and ignore the concerns of the people it is supposed to represent. The market is great at making some things more efficient, cheaper and as a system for deciding what to invest in. However it is not perfect and sometimes we need human beings to make decisions about what works. With a such a government as the Uk has suffered recently, in perhaps supporting luxury residential development and pricing key workers out of towns and by decreasing safety for poorer people living nearby. Less scarily, it is happy to save a few quid now and allow building inefficient buildings and their subsequent productivity effects on the businesses within them. Isn’t is just crazy not to put air conditioning into a building and cover the roof with solar panels to power the air-conditioning, which will provide the power just when it is required. Such obvious solutions are not favoured by the UK planning system with arbitrary points based decisions making. Trivially I grew up with dreadful British showers and it has taken plumbers from outside the UK to come in, shake their heads and install nice showers for us to wash in, it’s like no one ever thought through the installation of showers. There seems no interest in developing solutions, rather allow the population to be used to being ignored and put up with crumbling housing, transport networks, inefficient healthcare and schools.

Hopefully, the tragedy of Grenfell tower will serve as a beacon for change, for greater democratic accountability, where people raising concerns will not be slammed as troublemakers, but actually listened to.

In the recent UK general election, we got an unexpected result. This was due to younger people turning out to vote in greater numbers. However there are suggestions that it was not merely that younger people tend to vote for left wing parties, nor that this time more of them actually voted, but that they voted for Corbyn’s Labour party in huge numbers. This suggests that the disparity in voting intention between generations was the greatest it has ever been.

I believe that the reason for this was about how different generations receive their news. Younger people tend to use social media on the internet more. I heard about the Grenfell tragedy through social media. Older people perhaps use traditional mainstream media more: newspapers and television stations. The issue in the UK is that the majority of the traditional print media is biased towards the Conservative party and television coverage has this right wing bias. So it is arguable that the older generation don’t hear about the real problems with the planning system and only hear a superficial story about leftist trouble makers. Whereas social media does tend to be left wing in its focus. If this theory holds, then there is hope for the future, that practical solutions are implemented rather than a slavish adherence to a single political creed.

What Britain needs is more democratic accountability, more control from the bottom, from communities and regions. Doing this creates systems where people raising concerns are actually listened to and such concerns acted upon. With the current system only the powerful interests of capital are listened to, nations like Wales and the communities within them are ignored, instead one size fits all solutions are found that favour the wealthy few at the top, rather than increasing the amount of wealth and productivity of the workforce.

Of course sometimes the local solution will be impractical, so it remains important that decision makers should research all available information. However in recent times the top-down way of doing things has been proved wrong most of the time, which suggests that the balance of power is seriously off kilter.

The First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system does not work well in the modern world, it favours those at the top of big UK wide political parties. In such parties those that make a fuss about local issues tend not to make it up the greasy pole to where real power resides. This is not how FPTP is supposed to work. FPTP works when a local representative is elected to represent that area in parliament. That local representative will then support initiatives that help their constituents and vote against those that make things harder. These representatives may be members of a whatever political party, but should be prepared to vote against their party when their voters are detrimentally affected. Policy should proceed by consensus, where there is enough support from across the political spectrum for an individual policy. Nowadays the system doesn’t work as party is more powerful than constituency, Members of parliament (MPs) have to take the party whip and not vote on an issue by issue basis. The solution to this is increase power to the bottom, in regions, in communities, rather than top down from political parties. For decisions to be taken with knowledge of people who use things in their daily lives, rather than those who macro manage from afar.

It is time that we wake up and realise that it is wrong that we swelter on packed trains with broken air-conditioning in the summer, on our way to work in inefficient buildings, and then return home to housing with dreadful showers and the risk of being trapped to burn to death in our homes.

 

A City United

I often use this blog to talk about the importance of respecting differences between people, for we are all different, we cannot not be. Yet there is always more that unites us as human beings, common thoughts and feelings we all share.

Many people in the world have experienced terrorism. Terrorism is directly caused by division and forces that enforce that division. I’m British, the British government have been responsible for some of the worst divisional conflicts in the world: Northern Ireland, the formation of Israel-Palestine, Iraq and Syria and the partition of India. All of these conflicts have bred hate, division and terrorism.

This week I’ve been the closest I’ve ever been to an act of terrorism, the explosion at a pop concert in Manchester. I used to live in Manchester, I attended concerts at the city’s arena where the tragic events took place and i support one of the city’s football teams. I was concerned about my friends who still live in Manchester and their families. After the shock and concern there was a feeling of anger, of frustrations about the inability to get anything done about terrorism. However, the news then turned to the aftermath, such as the Manchester taxi drivers who offered people lifts to safety for free, the people who  helped parents find their children. Even the offer of Manchester United fans to dedicate their UEFA cup win to all of Manchester (I’m a Manchester City supporter myself) was a move towards unity. The sense of the majority of a community coming together in a spirit of unity, that the city would not be broken into division and hate.

Of course, not everyone shared that feeling of unity. There were calls by some to further ostracise the Muslim community, to rally the anger into an increased mistrust of Muslims. Such calls create division and are exactly what causes terrorism in the first place. If you are different and bullied for being so, you can find some solace in groups such as ISIS, to give into anger and share it with others with a similar story. Conflict becomes a vicious spiral where recriminations build and thinks deteriorate into more violence and death.

I can almost hear the criticism of these words by some conservatives of the thoughts of a liberal: That reaching out to people is not the way to resolve these problems. It all comes down to why I really don’t get right wing thinking. To me, the idea that there is one way to be, that one size fits all, just simply doesn’t work.

In Manchester, we like there being two big football clubs because you can find the club that suits you as an individual, but we share a love of Manchester football. I really don’t get why people would support United, but I appreciate that their supporters feel the same way about our lot. When I first starting going to Maine Road, I got a buzz from being accepted by the community of fellow City supporters and singing together about our love of the football club. In particular the feeling of inclusion and solidarity of attending away games in the boisterous away end.As a younger man, there were times I did feel a hatred towards Manchester United. Then I was guided through an acceptance that Manchester United weren’t so different from us after all, that we shared much in common. Indeed both clubs proudly sing versions of the same song ‘Oh Manchester is wonderful!’

In Wales, we seek an economy that allows Wales to grow and flourish, for Welsh culture to thrive  and the one size fits all policies of the government in London simply don’t work. At times I have experienced negative feelings towards England and the English for the history of oppression of Wales and the Welsh. Yet I have learnt that it was never intentional, it was simply an effect of the roundabouts of English politics, Yet I love England and the British Isles as neighbours and fell we shoudl eb working together not against each other. I desire for Welsh autonomy does not have a desire for separation as its motivation.

In Christianity, we all go to different churches because we have found the churches we like that help us be closer to God, yet we appreciate that other people find different paths in different religions, with other styles of worship and spirituality. In churches we also find communities to be a part of and that gives us a strength that can be used to work together to help others.

A one size fits all system, forces people to conform to ideas that don’t quite fit. Encouraging  diversity allows people to find a place of strength which enables them to reach out to understand and respect the different ways of others better. One size fits nobody well.

The real tragedy of Manchester this week is that is was predominantly young people going to a concert by an artist, Ariana Grande, that they found they could relate to, who helped them find a sense of themselves and then experience the joy of celebrating the artist with other like-minded young people, just like a football match or a religious service. Yet, many of them lost their lives that night, due to the actions of a man, who hadn’t found his place in the world and people to share with, who was unable to then reach out to understand and help others, a person who could only find solace in a community of division, separating themselves off from the world, so lost that he took on their creed of vengeance on the world that had shut him out.

This was also the week of the death of Ian Brady, the Moors murderer. A man from Manchester who also murdered young people. It is also possible to view this troubled man as finding some kind of relief for his personal problems in killing and burying his victims on the Moors. As a society we should not exclude people or leave people behind.

Yes, it is sometimes a challenge to realise that those who make things harder for you or your community or indeed kill innocent children are not acting out of hatred to your kind, but are dealing with their own problems and you are the unfortunate victim. We are all victims sometimes of unfairness. The bully is never truly evil, but someone expressing rage about not finding their place the world, someone to take their own frustrations out on. The difficult part is realising how you are different and then finding ways to live at peace and friendship with those different from you. The task is to prevent people getting so lost and confused in the first place and not attacking them for where they have ended up, having failed to provide an inclusive society. A society that doesn’t divide it’s people but one that returns us to a culture where people are not ignored, where you will be picked up if you fall down. It isn’t always easy, as a species we still have a lot to do.

The problem with Liberals

On these pages I have often described myself as a Social Democrat and not a Liberal. These two political doctrines to the outsider appear quite close, yet I feel there is fundamental difference between the two. This difference is why I have a problem with liberalism.

Social democracy and Liberalism share some common world views. Perhaps most importantly that society should work for everyone, it is worth repeating, everyone; black or white, rich or poor, man or woman. However the two doctrines differ in how this society is to be realised. Social Democracy advocates working out what the centrist position is from first principles, whereas Liberalism finds the centrist position more relatively, based on prevailing public opinion. This relativistic stance is to me the weakness of Liberalism.

However, as human beings we are relativistic creatures, how we think, how we behave and what we value is determined socially. This social determination is guided by our families, our social peers and the communities we grow up in. The views of the world we hear around us, shape us. There is natural desire to compromise with prevailing views in a society, to ‘fit in’ and find our own space. To be able to compromise, you have to be able to understand and be prepared to be persuaded by arguments if you test them and find them convincing.

In many ways Social Democracy is the tougher discipline as it prescribes picking apart all this social fabric to get to the fundamental issue. Social Democracy is thus a cold discipline, relying on logic and reason,  can seem devoid of feeling. Yet it isn’t cold as the aim is to provide something for everyone. This criticism also applies to Liberalism, whilst the Liberal will listen, they may lack empathy as they are trying to work out where the centre is, rather than understand each individual.

Both the Liberal and the Social Democrat are a little jealous of those away from the centre on the left and right wings, the Socialists and Conservatives. Jealous, because the wings don’t have to think so much. To the wings political positions come easily, certain arguments just fit naturally with how they think and the opposite arguments seem alien and incomprehensible. Centrists often run into this problem that they don’t always get a reasoned argument for something. So often an argument will rest on an appeal to a common sense that runs true with how they think. The problem with such rhetoric is that is doesn’t extend beyond like minded people, to the centre or the ‘other’ wing. There seems to be this rise in division and the recent development of Nationalism in Europe and North America that raises serious concerns. I blame the Liberals.

Partly it is because the Liberals have moved from the centre, where us Social Democrats still are, towards the right as it has appeared that society has moved to the right. Electoral success has been the reward of this drift. Tony Blair, was essentially a Liberal, as were Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Here in the UK, the Liberal Democrats found themselves in a coalition government with the Conservatives from 2010 to 2015, for the good reason of providing stable government. However, the Liberal Democrats failed to do their job as a coalition partner and went native with the Conservatives, to the horror of Social Democrats and Socialists, the ‘Liberals’ had let us down, again. It was not unexpected, Liberals, with their mode of drifting to the centre ground, working everyday with predominantly right wing Conservatives would lead you to shift your perception of the centre quite far rightwards, which is what happened.

Liberalism may he partly the cause of the recent rise of Nationalism, of Brexit and Donald Trump. Once you start drifting in a certain direction currents often speed you on in that direction, because nationalism is very good at subverting human nature.

<Slight tangent in case anyone is getting confused, I am supporter of Welsh independence, or “Welsh Nationalism” as some like to call it. We are not “Nationalists”, it’s just not the same thing, ok? (maybe I’ll expand on this next time!)>

The problem with Nationalism is that the worldviews and opinions of the people who surround in our lives, in our communities, our desire to fit in and to work to make things better are essentially positive. For social animals everyone doing their thing and working with the people around us to improve society is simply a good thing.

However, the sly fox of Nationalism achieves it’s end of replacing the ‘good of the community’ with the ‘good of the nation’. So instead of being inspired to improve our communities, we are inspired to work to improve our nation. This is not the same thing. Nations are somewhat artificial constructs and do not seek to help people, they have a life of their own and play around with our notions of self and community. Nationalism when it arises, often has a scapegoat, a group to blame for the nation not being as mighty as it could be, be it the Jew in 1930s Germany, the Socialist, the immigrant or the Muslim in recent times. This right wing nationalism, relishes competition, which is actually bullying as it slowly works it way through society, the narrative subtly changes until you find yourself in a totalitarian state, like in George Orwell’s ‘1984’. The Liberal just adapts in this environment, the Liberal remains in the social centre, even though this social centre is now way off balance. For the Conservatives, they don’t notice the true horror as to them at last society  is  chiming with their own worldview, they feel as though they have won something and even the Socialist may be happy as it appears that society is at last demonstrably ‘improving’. But, to those able to be Social Democrats and to those on the outside, it is a nightmare.

Whether we are truly caught in the  Nationalism trap in the UK and USA, is perhaps too early to say, but all the very worrying signs are there: There is stoking of fear of ‘foreigners’, the scapegoating of  minorities in particular Muslims, There have been elections won by populist extremists and possibly more to come in France and the Netherlands. and when we are told that these people win, so we now must conform to whatever they want to do, to be good “patriots”…

It just seems like that many people have forgotten the warning from history about Nationalism, that Orwell wrote about in ‘1984’. Even in Germany, the country that most painfully learnt the lessons of the perils of Nationalism, some 80 years ago, is seeing the rise of Nationalism. Remember ‘Ignorance is Strength’ & ‘We are at war with Eastasia, we have always been at war with Eastasia’.

 

 

 

 

 

A Sense of Achievement

Towards the end of the year, many people, like myself, reflect on the year that is drawing to it’s close. Often a question asked is what has been achieved?

Conducting this reflection myself I feel I have made substantial progress on the projects I set myself in three areas.

Firstly I had the aim to learn to speak Welsh properly. Whilst I am still a long way off fluency I have passed many milestones and have some competency of the language and feel it is a part of me now.

Secondly, I wanted to make progress in learning and practicing social skills, now that i had overcome anxiety, again i feel I have made substantial progress.

The third thing, was trying to understand why people support right-wing ideas. Whilst a somewhat vague aim, I think I have progressed here too.

I do feel a sense of achievement, a warm fuzzy glow from the realisation that I have exceeded my own expectations. Really, perhaps the main reason why as animals we do things is simply to enjoy these positive feelings.

Another thing people do at the end of the year, is travel home or spend time with their families and do different things, such as watch live TV, which I no longer normally do.

On the telly recently I watched a really interesting documentary about the Waorani tribe in Ecuador. This tribe live in the rainforests of Ecuador, living a basic existence by Western standards. One of the striking things was that the people generally seemed happier than people in Western countries. I wondered what it was that made life somehow better there. Indeed, I experienced this myself when I lived for 3 months in a camp in the forests of Madagascar, a time I was much happier than at home. I think the reason is a lot more than simply living more naturally in some wonderful forest.

It is perhaps to do with this sense of achievement. As humans we essentially do two types of thing. One type of thing is what we have to do to survive (secure food, water and shelter) and things we can do once the survival stuff is done. The non-essential things may involve home improvements, finding way of making our work easier and more efficient and other projects to feel good about being alive, to achieve this sense of achievement, sometimes this sense is heightened when what we have achieved has no effect on surviving, it is done for the pure thrill of doing it.

This men of this Woarani tribe have a ritual where they go out and catch Giant Anacondas. I can understand this, as I loved catching snakes, whilst I was in Madagascar. In the film, the men and indeed the presenter were clearly showing that they felt this sense of achievement. The question then is there a difference in the Woarani experience and Western society?

For the forest tribe, it is clear, where the lines between surviving, improving and fun are, even if many of the things they do combine these elements. It’s the same thing here in Wales, we do a similar mixture of activities, however the lines are not so clear. For example, we play computer games and gain a sense of achievement for finishing a level. Indeed games are designed to give you this sense of achievement. However, at Christmas, a family tradition is to play board games. Arguably this is more fun because it involves the social interactions with other people and in particular people you share long term relationships with.

I know from my experiences in Madagascar that a large part of my own sense of achievement sprang from living in a sealed community of a small number people, where almost all our social interactions were with each other. We were living and working together, suffering problems together, like a tropical monsoon and the river flooding and also sharing our successes. We were emotionally in the same place, most of the time. I imagine life for the Waorani is similar to this. The positivity of the shared success was bolstered because we believed that we were doing something useful. Even though some other people would argue that what we were doing wasn’t useful. The important thing is that we believed in it.

When we play a video game, or go shopping, we do enjoy some sense of achievement. However, this is often not a huge sense as we kind of know that we are not doing anything that benefits anyone else, or indeed ourselves very much. Incidentally, we perhaps enjoy Christmas shopping more as we are doing it for the people we are buying presents for. We don’t really have this big sense of having achieved anything really useful. I believe that doing something useful is a very important part of doing things in general.

I feel a sense of achievement in learning Welsh, not only as a personal accomplishment, but also because I can now contribute to the Welsh speaking community. Similarly with overcoming anxiety, I can now be more helpful to others. Also the same with understanding the right, I feel I can contribute to discussions more usefully when discussing politics. Simply having this sense of usefulness beyond a personal satisfaction is what makes  the sense of achievement feel so much bigger, so much wider.

I often write on this blog about how as a society in Britain, we are not doing well because there is a sense that all our achievements are artificial. It’s a modern curse really,there is rarely a clear link between what we do and a positive outcome. Perhaps too many of our achievements are not useful, not large, not important and this is part of the problem in our society.

The other big change that happened to me this year was taking on what people describe as my first “proper” job. It has been a really fascinating journey so far. I’ve made decisions in my role that have increased the income of the organisation that I work for. It is an organisation that I believe is doing useful things. So I should feel a big sense of achievement. However I only feel the smaller sense, like in a video game, where I receive satisfaction of getting tasks done quickly and finding more efficient ways of doing things. There is a sense that what i do isn’t real, isn’t palpable. I’m not doing my own projects, I’m doing someone elses and I am but a tiny cog in the organisation. I think this disconnect, where the good things resulting from your actions are felt distantly, elsewhere. This sense of an alienation from results affects most modern jobs, especially in offices. In contrast, when i have been doing science and solve a problem or get real results from an experiment i got the big proper sense of achievement. Whilst I am grateful to have a job and be earning a little money above basic need, I feel I should really be getting back to science as soon as I can, even if that means a smaller income.

I think we all want to have moments of feeling a real sense of achievement and it is often better to do those things within our community, with people we interrelate with and share a commonality.

So, this is what I don’t get about, the right and the whole Brexit thing. Across the spectrum of mainstream political thought, is the idea, that most of us relate to, is the idea that we should all contribute to our community, our society. In particular those with more resources should help those who are less able. Like how in the Woarani tribe, when the young men go out to hunt and the old stay in the village to look after the children, similarly we should all have roles in our communities. The right-wing idea that the market, or individual people and organisations should fulfill these roles, by creating wealth, that is then spent charitably, rather than the state is completely understandable, it is one way of getting to this good society that the Western world has struggled to achieve. However, the modern political right in the UK have abandoned the whole community idea, instead to serve a subset of society, or people like ‘us’, people who are conservatives. I just don’t get this and it makes me angry, it’s just so divisive and pits sections of our society against each other, when we should all be working for the good of our communities. I don’t understand why right wing people are not more angry with ‘their’ politicians for dividing society. How can you gain a sense of achievement from making things worse, it’s below the neutrality of a video game, it should be guilt. It is simply harder to gain a full sense of achievement when all you are doing is making a worsening situation just that little bit less bad.

I appreciate that we don’t live in local communities anymore, that we live in our various globally connected niches. However, local communities, where at least geography is shared is so important. It’s why I associate with the Welsh, simply as the people who live in Wales, rather than some weird racial/ religious identity. I think as humanity, we lose a sense of community at our peril. A sense of achievement is greater than hatred of another lot of people.

British Identity Roots

There seems to have been a major shift in how people define themselves. in recent times we have heard some people see Scottish independence as a threat to their identity and the recent Brexit vote as a threat to people’s European identity. I had thought the idea of associating identity with a state, rather than with people was bizarre. When I read in the news that ‘The British have decided…’, I cringe as it is not the British people but the British state that has decided something. However if people do associate themselves with states, then they are allowing states to effect their identity, which is surely strange, though this is how I believe it once was. There does seem to have been a shift in focus from some people post-Brexit. If identity is grounded in the machinations of the state, then essentially people are rootless and subject to political whims. Really, our sense of identity should not be political, but perhaps inevitably it is. It seems that how we root ourselves as people has changed.

Roots are important, they help provide security for us as individuals, they allow us to recognise what defines us as people and how we are different to that norm, to know who we are. Discovering our roots is essentially realising who we are, the roots were there but we were not aware of them. We particularly notice our roots when we are uprooted to somewhere else, the roots effectively become exposed. An actual examination of roots is something fairly new for many people.

Traditionally, people were rooted to the land, with one big carrot like root, placing someone firmly in a locality and a community. Thus this community defined who they were, how they thought, how they viewed the world. It is only in the last couple of generations that we have moved away from this model. Genetically, the vast majority of people in an area were descended from countless generations before them, when people settle, they don’t move around much, living in that same area. When people travelled and met new people, two questions were often asked: 1/ What do you do for a living? 2/ Where are you from?

The answers to these two questions used to reveal a lot, if not almost everything about a person. For recent generations, these two questions are less revealing, because we are increasingly not defined by our work and are less geographically rooted. Instead of that big fat carrot root, we have multiple, thinner roots that range far and wide. Instead of defining ourselves from our localities and local communities, we root in much bigger networks. This then impacts on local communities as then those living in that community, rooting more traditionally, find many people around them with different roots. so, we can perhaps explain the rise in xenophobia as the expression of fear about roots. Living in a community with people who are rooted in different ways is perhaps perceived as disturbing.

For example a homosexual, growing up in a community with few fellow homosexuals, may find it difficult to root their sexuality, so they will look further afield to root themselves in a wider community and may decide to move to a city where there are more homosexuals. In Wales, such a phenomena has occurred more widely.

I grew up in a rural area and my generation were told and strongly encouraged to move away to go to university or develop a career and then come back to raise a family as there were few employment opportunities in the area. This has happened for communities across Wales. The sense of Welshness is such that the ‘hiraeth’ or pull back to home when you are able is strong. However this does leave communities with low proportions of people in their 20s, denying communities of people with the time and energy to contribute and build things for that community, that is much harder for people to do once they have children to support. I have witnessed this is my own community, there are even less opportunities now than when I was young. However, I have friends from similar areas in Northern England and they have no such desire to return home to economically deprived communities, yet they retain the identity and define themselves as proud Yorkshirefolk or Scousers. The thing is that people continue to root themselves into their 20s, so quite wide ranging roots are formed, often based on your preferences, you find communities of people based on those preferences.

I think because rooting is based on preferences, there is a perception of choice involved. for example that the homosexual I mentioned earlier has ‘chosen’ to be homosexual, rather than simply realised that they always were homosexual.

What is interesting is that the Brexit vote was strongest in deprived communities, left behind communities, communities that haven’t had to develop wide ranging roots adn those communities that have lost their young people; these areas  defined the vote. Whereas the cosmopolitan, wider rooted younger communities of the cities were strongest for the European Union, for the Union of Europe was perceived to have just at least as many problems as the Union of the UK. The advocates of Brexit did not focus on the economic arguments, but on immigration instead, with winning the vote, they celebrated by waving the Union flag. This suggests that the vote was all about identity and not economics. We have a UK Prime Minister including in her first speech a stress upon the importance of the Union [of the United Kingdom].

So, what is the Union, beyond the political union holding together the nations of the UK? The answer is perhaps Britishness, a sense of identity and belonging to the nations of Britain. However the social union of Britain has been in decline for decades. The world wars of the last century, the end of the British Empire period, forged a new one nation Britain, with a new sense of identity and a strong sense of unity, of everyone pulling together to re-build the state after the wars. The new economic policies  of Thatcher and Reagan and an ongoing ‘neoliberal’ consensus of rampant individualism, begun in the 1980s tore apart the sense of a British community. Areas, such as Wales, Scotland and Northern England were sacrificed to fuel a burgeoning Southern England, it was like the family had been abandoned to buy a flashy new car. The sense of the family of Britain, was broken. The sense of Britishness has declined and the notion of Englishness was perhaps newly born (arguably Englishness was entirely entwined with the idea of Britishness). It is perhaps painful for older people to have woken up recently to discover that part of their identity has gone and they perhaps perceive ‘winning’ the Brexit vote as a chance for a return to Britishness. This aspiration seems doomed to fail, as the party in control of the UK and it’s new ideology, is the very one that has ripped the Union apart for all their fine words.

This whole sense of defining yourself, of rooting yourself in a nation, just seems like an idea of the past now. I am of course a proud Welshman, but that is only a part of my identity. I feel rooted, I don’t have a sense of wondering who I am. It is perhaps being an outsider, of being a Welshman living and moving frequently in England in my 20s, allowed me the opportunity to define myself widely, to root myself well, while not becoming a full member of those communities, those areas have also become part of my identity. However, there may be people who feel mainstream, who haven’t travelled widely, for whom this change in how we root ourselves may be much harder to achieve.

 

 

 

Ethical meat and good things to come from Brexit

One of the consequences of the UK EU referendum, is that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, resigned leaving the government without any leadership on post-brexit and no brexit plan. Furthermore  the opposition Labour also choose this time to enter into their own leadership debate. This has left the confused divided UK with no clear idea how brexit is to proceed, so many of us have ended up speculating and talking about possible solutions, as I have done on this blog.

I kind of wanted to return to discussing more random things, but the real world is often hard to ignore. My most popular post on this blog has been about ethically sourced meat. I think the popularity of this post is due to it being a topic people are actually interested in and also that there is not a plethora of articles about this subject. It’s kind of a taboo subject, perhaps because the meat industry doesn’t really want people thinking about it’s practices, as it could hit it’s profits. However I think it is deeper than that as it is a topic that resonates with the issue of what it means to be human and how to morally live our lives.

In the last few weeks, I have heard from a lady whose friend read a book that convinced them to become vegan. She then read the first quarter of this book and chose to abandon it because she felt that if she did get to the end she would also become vegan and she didn’t like the idea of stopping eating meat. I was also in conversation with a gentleman in the pub who said he hated the idea of thinking about eating animals though he ate meat regularly, that he hated being given fish to eat with the head still attached as he didn’t like seeing it’s eyes. He eats meat but prevents himself from thinking about it.

Perhaps generally, people do not like the idea of radically changing their lifestyle. Becoming an ethical meat eater, a vegetarian (veggie) or a vegan is not easy. Taking this plunge means you need to think carefully about what you can and cannot buy and re-arranage the balance of meals. Eating out becomes a chore, unless our are lucky enough to be going to a vegan restaurant. In the UK, we are lucky that every restaurant does cater for veggies, but usually the offerings are tired and bland and not worth the price tag, you could make something tastier at home for a lot less money. Nonetheless sometimes we are go along to social eating events with no appetite for enjoying the food.

Last weekend I was in another discussion about a post-brexit Britian; it is even getting tedious for political anoraks like me. An interesting question was asked to everyone: Name one positive thing that can be achieved post-brexit. My answer was agriculture.

Basically, being in the EU, our agricultural industry is subject the rules and subsidies of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The problem with this is that it is an example of a ‘one size fits all’, with the idea of that all farming in the EU is subject to the same rules, so no region can change it’s rules to create a competitive advantage. This is a problem as there is a lot of diversity in agricultural production across Europe and this common policy inevitably  advantages some forms agriculture over others anyway. Indeed, one of the major criticisms of the EU is that it’s regulatory systems and associated compliance (red-tape) tend to favour larger businesses as smaller businesses spend a greater proportion of their time in coping with compliance. So, the benefit of leaving the EU, means we would no longer be subject to the CAP. Then more sustainable, better systems can be implemented, ideally reducing farming subsidies and making agriculture profitable without subsidy.

There is a big issue with this, which is why so many ‘Remainers’ fear brexit. It’s all very well to have the potential to create better systems, but the likelihood with the  defunct political system of the UK, that we would more likely end up with a system that is even worse than the CAP. That instead of Brexit benefiting small and medium enterprises, we may end up with systems that further advantage large businesses.

What is wrong with large businesses? In agriculture, big specialised, industrial farms are favoured and supported by large subsidies, whilst small family farms receive much less subsidy, particularly upland farms of Wales. Welsh hill farms, produce a fantastic product, Lamb, however it is not marketed well; I was told this week that most of the lamb sold in California comes from New Zealand, even when it’s not in season, yuck! Hopefully the Welsh government will take over Welsh agricultural policy and rectify these problems, because I doubt the UK government will do so. In terms of sustainability, large scale agriculture is costly, it isn’t actually more efficient.

Organisations such as the National Farmers Union (NFU) do not like the idea of product differentiation (so you can know how and where food was produced), for example free range milk, most UK agricultural produce is not labelled to tell you where and how it was produced. In UK shops, you just buy ‘British milk’ without any idea how or where the cows were, or even if it’s British at all (as country of origin labels can be applied if only one stage of production occurred in that country). This lack of consumer choice favours the big industrial producers, the consumer does not have a choice between free range and industrially produced milk, there is no true market in milk in the UK.

My answer to the question of how to ethically source meat is simply buy locally from small producers and usually via a traditional Butchers shop (if you are lucky enough to still have one!). There are many advantages to doing this: The food will generally be tastier and of higher quality. It is likely to have been ethically produced and you can ask about this, because even though there is no label, the butcher will know which farm it came from and they  will want to keep your business; it also means purchasing food involves talking to a human being rather than a computer, which is preferable! It will be more sustainable, both in production and in having vastly reduced packaging and have far fewer food miles from an efficient local distribution system.

The other good thing to come from Brexit, is increased political discussion and a realisation of how messy distribution systems are. Industrialisation has done many great things: We can drive cars, have computers and order stuff from all around the world. However it seems we have reached a point where people try and industrialise everything, even when there is no societal advantage of doing so or efficiency advantage.