The Language of Brexit

This blog is perhaps a vehicle for my tirade against the world that almost everything exists as spectra, the world is not binary. Perhaps language itself is partly responsible for this and Brexit seems a good example of this.

Language is rarely precise, this is why we have poetry to be able to express ideas and that there is always more than one way of expressing the same thing. We use language as a kind of shorthand. We reduce long lengthy explanations to just a few words and expect that we will be understood. Indeed we often ask if our shorthand has been understood by adding an ‘isn’t it’ or something similar to the end of our sentences. We refer to things such as national characteristics, that we hope our audience may share an understanding of to enable higher level discussions. Complex discussions are only possible when the basic concepts are understood. Through this very process of creating shorthand, we often reduce complex nuances thoughts to a few words, thus creating binaries, it is or it isn’t to spectral ideas. The first words we lean are often Yes, no and not. Later we learn the much more complex vocabulary of quite, very and slightly. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that the binaries created in language are not real binaries.

The Brexit referendum was itself making the complex position of the UK in the EU into a simple for or against, to which many people wished to answer: ‘yes But…’ or ‘no But…’ often with very big buts. The issue of immigration is perhaps the biggest theme of the debate. Indeed, the meaning of the very word ‘immigration’ has subtly changed through the various debates. Whilst we know what immigration is, the movement of people into an area, the word has come to mean lots of different things to different people. In a sense this one word has lost it’s practical meaning in being a shorthand for a concept.

Even as a binary opionion, people are not for or against immigration, this is almost absurd. Most people are of the opinion that there should be less immigration into the UK. However how much less, what specific types of people are to be restricted is a huge complicated spectra. Yet, arguably Brexit won the vote when Nigel Farage said ‘the only way the UK can regulate immigration is by leaving the EU’, however exactly how this is to be achieved has not really been made clear, that;s the complicated bit and i would argue we don’t have the democratic structure to enable this to be implemented well. Lots of other things have to be sorted out for benefits to come about.

Yet, the issue of immigration in the UK is not even a simple ‘how much less?’ question as there is a whole spectra of arguments for why immigration should be reduced.

At one end of the spectra is the the cultural argument, that some  people simply don’t like ‘too many’ people from different cultures living amongst the native population, for all sorts of reasons. This position is very close to racism, but not in itself racist. However racists will have this opinion. Indeed UKIP have used this argument to appeal to people with racist views, but cleverly hidden behind statements that are not in themselves racist. If you get the cultural argument and agree with it, it is simple to agree with this argument.

At the other end of this spectra is the economic argument: That a high net level of immigration is bad for the economy. The UK is economically unbalanced between the North and the South. The UK population doesn’t produce workers with the right skills, geographically where organisations require them. The UK economy found a work around to this in importing workers through immigration. The UK called out to the people of the British Empire to come and help rebuild Britain after the Second World war, so the UK now has significant populations from India and the Caribbean. These immigrants did suffer a lot of racism that we have made progress in moving on from that, these populations are now reasonably integrated into British society. However the more recent influxes from central Europe were to take jobs the resident population were unable to fill, rather than unwilling to fulfill. The argument is that it would simply be better if the UK arranged it’s economy so that it did produce the workers it required. We are now in the position where we have to import Doctors and Nurses as we don’t produce these skilled workers natively. We have a shortage of medical doctors in Mid-Wales which  seems absurd as GPs are quite well paid. We don’t produce these workers naively because of the housing crisis, declining education standards and  a declining healthcare system where doctors are over-worked. We are asking young people to go into a six figure debt to fund their own training, to do a job where they have to do a ten year induction before they achieve salaries that can re-pay their student debt, without mentioning, that during this 15 year period, we expect them to subsidise those who own property, save money for their own housing which is more expensive every year and somehow find the money to bring up their own children before they are too old. Is it any surprise that people do something else and leave these skilled jobs for immigrants who study somewhere where the cost of living is much less. There is the  argument I heard during the Brexit campaign from people in areas with negligible immigration, people were concerned about immigration, because it meant jobs went elsewhere and didn’t come to their area (South Wales). This even applies to high earners, who refuse to accept offers of work from London as they can’t afford the housing costs there. London is harder to move to for a British person than it is to move abroad. The other part of this argument is that the failure of successive governments to provide housing , education and healthcare befitting a 1st world economy, has finally come to popular light and simply immigration, whilst papering over some systemic problems with the UK economy, puts additional pressure on housing, education and hospital places, which are still not being sorted out,., I would argue because of deficient democracy. This economic argument for reduced immigration is a lot more complex and nuanced than can be summed up in a single word ‘immigration’, so left an centre politicians struggle to communicate it effectively.

Essentially, it seems the population of the UK at large has woken up to the failures of the political consensus, or the establishment of the centre-right orthodoxy that has somehow held sway for the last thirty years. There is a widely felt understanding that the consensus was indeed wrong and has failed; as it was predicted thirty years ago that it would. However, there is no clear answer to the UK’s problems. There are two main forces seeking to implement their solutions, the liberal centre and the populist right. both of these groups with very different visions of what to do with Brexit, both groups share the frustration of never having been in political office to implement their visions. Largely because of the UKs binary democracy, that prevents non consensus ideas being implemented, and that the consensus view is itself a minority. Somehow the centre-right orhodoxy is still in power and not popularly opposed. The establishment is cleverly playing the two sides against each other to retain it’s own grip on power.

A serious Brexit government would be out there consulting widely, forging agreements and finding ways to make Brexit work for the UK economy. Instead they are arguing amongst themselves behind closed doors. Perhaps the idea is that all the division and dithering over Brexit will eventually mean that popular calls for Brexit are eventually dropped and the centre-right can continue as normal. This is frustrating the Brexiteers, who fear Brexit may never happen, but turning their ire against the centre-liberal ‘remoaners’, who never wanted this mess in the first place, it’s a distraction for us from the real work of making the UK economy stronger and a better place to live and work..

Which is all largely as I predicted. I was against Brexit, not out of love for the EU, but simply that the chances of making Brexit work well were tiny.What the UK needs more than anything is electoral reform, but this is challenging to argue for when there are so many other things going on. However , we need a system that enables the right decisions to be made and the current system proves again and again, that it is incapable of implementing the right solutions, or even basing it’s decisions on evidence based data.

If there is to be an alternative, the odds are stacked towards the populist right. Indeed as they were in the 1930s when the fascists were able to capture the popular imagination more than the communists, in Western Europe at least. Favoured, simply because the populist right can use the word ‘immigration’ as shorthand for their dislike of different people, whereas the liberal left have the much more complex, nuanced economic argument that will get lost in the clamour of what passes for debate in the main stream media these days.  Essentially, it is a battle for whose meaning of a word becomes the consensus and it is much easier to do this with a simpler message, one that can be repeated often until people accept it. After all hate is simple, hope is more complex.

Maybe, the nature of language is at the heart of why political debates can be won with flawed arguments, through clever rhetoric. A symbol, a word, can be more powerful than a concept or a sentence. Such symbols have the power to change the world.

Two months on, we are still asking “What is Brexit?”

When the newly appointed UK Prime Minister first appeared she stated that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ which begs the question: What then is Brexit?

The word was conceived to mean an exit of Britain (the UK really, but Ukxit didn’t catch on) from the European Union (EU). However it’s more complicated than that as the government have been busy running around  trying to talk to everyone and seem to be trying to find a way of remaining in the European Single Market outside of the EU proper, to have a trading relationship without a commitment to political integration. Really the governments seems to want to establish a new EEA (European Economic Area) treaty, with some restrictions on free movement and some decrease in European regulations. Essentially this is what the Tories have always wanted, a genuine two speed Europe. However, this may be difficult to achieve, at least before 2020 (when the UK has to have a general election and a new government) because getting the institutions of the EU and the other member states of the EEA will be difficult. The EU has enough problems at the moment and appears happy to let things bumble on, which really the UK seems fairly happy to do as well with no clear answer in sight, suggesting that Brexit may not happen, because the politics is difficult, the economic risks of a bad deal are perhaps a lot greater than the economic costs of doing nothing. Yet the vote happened, so ‘Brexit’ has come to mean the referendum itself, seemingly without wider implications.

A simple spectra of views of the UK in the EU can be imagined, with the hardcore Euro-sceptics, the UKIPers, the Brexitiers, at one end advocating the UK completely withdrawing from the EU and at the other end the Europhiles, the EU integrationists, with the vast majority of people somewhere in between. So with such a simple spectra asking the question ‘EU leave or not?’ was essentially, ‘Do you agree with the Brexitiers?’. The answer, by 52-48 was yes and the Brexitiers won the vote. However it would be wrong to suggest that a majority of the electorate do agree with the Brexitier position.

Wrong, because no simple spectra for views on the EU exists. Like most things really it’s more complicated, imagine the spectra spread around into a circle, or even a sphere, to consist of multiple  spectra, based on such concepts as democracy, economics, immigration and identity. As such, especially in referenda, where often a different question is answered to the actual one put. This is not to suggest that referenda are always a bad thing. The electorate has not been asked for it’s views on the EU (the last vote was 1975), so a question more like ‘Do you thing the UK should have a closer relationship or a looser relationship with the EU?’, would perhaps give a more representative result, I speculate than no-one would be surprised by a 75%+ vote for ‘less EU’ and I would not have been troubled by my choice at all.  Though such a vote would again not produce by itself a clear UK EU strategy, but it would be more indicative of what people actually want.

It’s not a simple spectra as the Brexitier camp is itself very divided. One group are the hardcore market fundamentalists (more capital), wanting lower regulations, lower productivity, lower tax and low wages. opposed to the Social Democrats (more democracy, more labour), wanting higher regulations, higher wages, higher taxes and higher productivity. Either system could work, but a complete withdrawal from the EU, would lead to a fight between these Brexit groups, where no compromise was possible that wouldn’t lead to a much weaker economy than exists now and for these systems to work there would need to be a majority consensus for them to actually work. In any case our FPTP electoral system, favouring two major left-right aligned blocs, would fail to allow such a fundamental shift in the economy either way, because international trade and relations are important in the inter-dependent world the UK exists in, doing things substantially differently to the rest of the world would be challenging. Well, the UK could be truly isolationist, but this would entail lots of things like everyone becoming vegan, giving up personal transport and completely changing our lifestyles, although off-grid lifestyle choices are growing in popularity.

However, the Brexit wasn’t really about the EU at all, I have argued that it was simple a protest vote against the political establishment. The establishment and democracy has failed in the UK. A two party system works, when the parties in control are regularly swapped to maintain a balance and elected representatives are free to ignore party dictats (the whipped vote). A balance should be created that prevents leading towards extreme ideologies, that don’t work very well for the majority.

Essentially we can view economies as interactions between three hostile powers, Labour, Capital and the State. So traditionally, the Conservative party advocate more Capital, while the Labour party advocate more power for Labour, but both parties want the State (themselves when they are in power) to work in different ways.

The problem is that the balance of power broke down in the mid 1980s. In the 1970s, Labour and the Trade Unions were too powerful, choking the UK economy. Democracy triumphed in 1979, when the Conservatives won and set about reducing Labour and increasing Capital. However by around 1985, they had gone to far in supporting capital, but the Tories won the 1987 election? and again in 1992??, Democracy had failed, or at least the Labour party had failed. In a two party system, both parties need to be strong for democracy to work. The UK now really does need a strong Socialist, just to bring some balance back, but the Labour party are currently split over this. Well sadly Labour didn’t have many Socialists left in the parliamentary party to choose from, which is the problem they are making a fuss about at the moment.

Globalisation has compounded this problem, rather than been a panacea of free and fair trade. Market fundamentalist governments appear across the globe, trade agreements lock in the power of Capital at the expense of the State. We are now in a world where correction is harder and harder to achieve. Harder in a world where the advocates of capital control the main stream media, denying the wider electorate the chance to be informed and thus able to vote for balance, political debate is now framed solely by the effect on capital. We live in a world of no real economic growth as the drivers of the economy, the working and middle class, and the state itself are heavily in debt to capital, there is no money to fund growth, to support new innovative enterprise. Capital has no means of giving money to Labour or the State because that is not it’s job, it’s the job of Labour and the State to do that!

Essentially, everyone has the idea that something is very wrong with the world economy, but this opposition to the market fundamentalist establishment (the neo-liberals) is divided. In the US, Trump is a phenomena, riding this tide of discontent, in spite of him being a really offensive individual and a class A idiot, it’s like the people are screaming ‘Any change at all, we can’t carry on like this’, as the UK did with Brexit.

So, how does all relate the the EU? The EU itself is perceived both as a strong armer for Capital, and as a strong armer for  regulation (but at an EU (inter-state) and not state level). It’s perceived as being unable to do anything well for 28 diverse states. So objections to it are valid whether you are a market fundamentalist or not.

So, a hard Brexit won’t work, but neither will an EEA fudge. It seems that the best strategy is simply remain in the EU, but veto pretty much everything, including trade deals such as CETA and TTIP, effectively having an EEA trade treaty, by the back door. However aren’t trade treaties perhaps the problem, as they reduce the power of the State and Labour and give to Capital? What we need is social democracy back, that can tame capital (and tame Labour and the State when needs be), rather than anything that increases the power of capital.

Perhaps the issue is mobility. States don’t move very much, if at all in modern times. People (Labour) can move, but is restricted and usually involved making a commitment to living, working and contributing to life in a new country. Capital is fairly unrestricted in it’s mobility, hence it can exploit States and Labour, by moving away from when times get harder. So, perhaps the next step forward to achieving economic balance is to restrict movement of capital. Capital will then have to make the same commitments to states, to it’s workforce as others in the trinity. Capital will then have to  invest long-term, it’s monetary gains will then largely remain in a state and contribute back to local Labour. The question is whether to do this at an EU level, a UK level or a devolved level. Again I would argue for devolving this power, to restrict inward investment that it not committed to a a community, so it becomes part of that community. The Uk has been poor at ensuring a one-nation where prosperous regions give a helping hand to less prosperous areas to bring them up to speed. As the market demands change and technology develops, capital can switch industry, but remain geographically fixed to a locality. Is this what Brexit is, taking back control of capital to local communities, giving control to democracy, rather than centralised states or corporations.Is this how humanity will tackle growing inequality and the threats of climate change?

 

 

 

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.

 

Welsh and British, but not European

The UK EU referendum didn’t seem to be really about UK membership of the EU. In many ways it should have been a rational assessment of the the benefits and costs of continued membership of this organisation. However it is difficult to isolate a single issue like that from it’s context. I have read about people describing the campaign as about identity politics, about the end of Britishness, the end of the UK; with Scotland, Northern Ireland and indeed Wales, leaving the union. The campaign has left a very divided confused Britain, in part due to the those under my age being strongly for remaining, whereas those older than me being largely for Leave. It is arguable than in a few years as the population ages, such a campaign would never again be won by Leave.

It does seem that people of my age are on the cusp of this generational divide. My parents were the post second world war baby boomer and the younger generation are the millennials. Perhaps the key difference between these two generations is the second world war. I am a member of the last generation who was able to talk to people who lived through the Second World War, to have had conversations with former soldiers who fought in that war with my grandfather. My grandparents retained lingering prejudice and suspicion of Germans, because they were the enemy and they saw the destruction of British towns and cities wrought by German bombs. However my generation and the one behind me, have no negativity towards Germans.

I have always described myself and Welsh first and British second. It does seem that this identity is on the wane. When I was growing up at international football matches, Welsh supporters proudly flew both the Union flag and Y Ddraig Goch, English supporters almost exclusively flew the Union flag. Here we are in footballs Euro 2016 [and Wales are in the semi-finals, WOW! Dewch ymlaen Cymru! Dan ni’n enill yn erbyn Portiwgal!] where the Union flag is very rare amongst Welsh supporters and equally rare amongst England supporters, who now fly the St George’s Cross. My English friends of my age, described themselves as British and didn’t really understand my pride in being Welsh. In Welsh circles it was often discussed that the English didn’t understand their own identity. However these days, there is a sense of the English understanding that they are English or have some other identity, such as British Muslim.

Going back again to my parents and grandparents. Whilst they rooted for Wales in sport, they retained a support for England when England were playing a non-home nation [the Home nations are Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland]. I think it was the sense of unity that came from the war, of working together for the good of the country, which no-one really talks about nowadays. This was the generation that saw the creation of the National Health Service (NHS), the Welfare state, had jobs for life, a generation that invested a part of themselves in the nation state.

Now these national institutions are under attack, the sense of identity of being British with the NHS. I have grown up with Thatcher and a generation of politicians that grew up under her influence, which has divided the nation of the UK between North and South, which has encouraged economic individualism. Instead of a uniting identity, my generation and the millennials, generate their own identities, based on who they are. It is this generation that positively identify with being European, in a way my grandparents would never do. There is no sense of identity with the British government, people generally don’t see the Prime Minister as our leader as once people did. My identity is with the people who live on these islands, not with those who govern it.

Personally, I do not identify or feel European. I appreciate that I come from a European culture. However I have been lucky enough to be able to travel around the world. Most of my experiences have been outside Europe. So I identify myself as more a World citizen than as a European citizen. The other issue is language. As the UK is an English speaking nation, we have and continue to grow up heavily influenced by North American culture. Yesterday  the USA celebrated it’s independence day from the British. British and Irish people have this dual outlook that is both towards America and continental Europe, that is not perhaps shared to the same extent by other Europeans. It is sobering to think that the British may soon no longer exist as a socio-political entity. I will always consider myself British, though a long standing attachment to England, Ireland and Scotland and the subtle differences between mine and these nations. However if the UK does indeed break up, this sense of a cultural Britishness may also fade.

This sense of Britishness is actively threatened, as there is a division between those who see non-white British origin people as apart from everyone else. This talk of identities has awakened racist abuse and attacks. Yet in the metropolitan towns and cities particularly, people are aghast at these attitudes. This has come to be symbolised by the animosity over this last week between Bremainers and Brexiters. All this on a day before the publication of the Chilcott report, which will hopefully clear up whether the UK did indeed join the US to invade Iraq in 2003 under false pretences, with no coherent plan. A conflict that was a catalyst for the rise of terrorism from groups like ISIS, hundreds of thousands of pointless deaths and suffering, that did not bring about the peace that allegedly justified that war.

I am sure the Brexit vote aftermath will continue for some time. However at least tomorrow, we can forget about it and be carried away by the excitement of the football!

And a Very British Coup

The enormity of what has just happened is slowly sinking in. Have my worst fears been realised, it seems so. It is why i have been so upset and concerned these last few days.

Today’s developments seem to confirm the worst. Today the deadline for nominations for the next leader of the Conservative party (the Tories) and the next Prime Minister of the UK, to be decided by the 120,000 odd members of the party. The coup is that all the candidates are from the hard right of the party, all pro-Brexit and all against holding a General Election in the autumn. So, what this suggests is that Brexit will happen after all, the members of the Conservative party will not be able to do anything about it, the ordinary people who canvas and campaign on local issues). ‘Well that was the democratic will of the UK’, I hear you say. If only it were that simple. what this  means is the completion of the wholesale taking over of the political establishment by the hard-right, a very British coup.

The market fundamentalists, the corporatists will then simply take over. Everyone left in the UK will suffer as more and more wealth is taken away from the general population to give to the few at the very top. Britons will become slaves.

The whole EU referendum was a stitch up job and not an exercise in democracy at all. a dreadful campaign was fought, the leave campaign was orchestrated to offer hope to appeal to those struggling from the effects of austerity, such people have been duped. Even if the vote had gone for remain, the result would have been the same, a victory for the neo-liberals, except orchestrated through the EU, with trade deals such as CETA and TTIP.

This right have been in power for over thirty years and they have been very clever: They allowed housing costs to escalate, trapping people into mortgages or otherwise insecure housing. One thing human beings cling to is having a roof over their head, so fear of losing this can be a very powerful tool. They have made work more insecure, less meaningful, again tying people into the system. Allowing the basic cost of living to rise so high, forcing people to make severe compromises in the attempt to earn a higher wage to strive for comfort and security. Essentially that have put everyone, apart from the lucky few at the top who can milk the system, in debt. Debt is essentially a powerful means of control, it’s not just housing, it’s education too, the ways out of poverty towards a comfortable existence entail taking on huge debts.

This right have also managed to wrest control of the political system. The Tories forced the Labour party into a adopting a soft right ‘Blairite’ position as the only perceived means of winning an election, allowing the situation to continue to worsen and ultimately leading to what has happened this week.

This week the Labour party appear to be imploding. The party members finally elected a moderate left wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, one of the very few people untainted by the Blairite shift. However as the Labour party benches in Parliament are full of those who have made it up the party machine adopting Blairite compromises, they have failed to see their own situation and have duped themselves into believing that a true alternative to this Tory right plan is possible. It may have been their last chance.

They have even cobbled the Tory parties ancient foes the Whigs, or the Liberal party, by placing them in the position of taking the blame for the worst policies of the coalition government, whilst miraculously escaping blame from those on the right themselves.

Even the real conservatives (the venerable party of old, pre-Thatcher times that believed in a level playing field, family, social mobility, equal opportunities) and the upstart UKIP  has been conned. The leave campaign from this more traditional right had at it’s heart  a campaign about freeing small and medium enterprises and family businesses from the excessive ‘red-tape’ associated with EU regulations, for greater democratic control to truly represent the people. The whole campaign of misinformation was designed to cloud the real issues. ‘To take back control’ was the slogan, these people will not be helped by the neo-liberals in charge as they will find they have even less control.

All this in a society where the mainstream media outlets are very right wing and highly selective in what news they report, have become active conspirators in the coup, even the BBC, once seen as a bastion of fairness, is no little more than a government news agency. If the Tories proceed with Brexit, they can still claim they didn’t think it was a good idea and then blame Brexit for whatever ills befall the UK economy whilst entrenching their own power.

How has this final, coup been achieved. The Tory party contained both this new nasty breed of corporatist, neo-liberals and the more traditional ideology of the real conservatives. for the past thirty years the Tory party has been divided over the issue of the EU. the referendum was portrayed as an attempt to once and for all end Tory squabbling over EU issues and as a sop to UKIP to enable the Tories to win the last general election. However what it really achieved, which I was afraid of, was the effect of eradicating the pro-EU pro social co-operation, real conservatives from positions of influence in the party. Even Cameron himself, can be viewed as the last real conservative, but he couldn’t achieve anything, constrained by the powerful forces in his own party around him and a misplaced party loyalty. The real tragedy is those traditional centre right people, who seem to be the last to notice what has happened.

The people who are wealthy or are people of the hard and moderate right, are probably celebrating. Everyone else now faces some tough choices: Stay and suffer, Stay and fight or  leave and seek a life in one of the few remaining nice places left in the world.

So, what to do? In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland we have a developed civic nationalism (a solidarity with all people who live in our community) and should campaign in earnest now for independence from the UK. Yes, our economies will suffer even more, but we can ensure the basics of a roof over our heads, heat in winter, food, the opportunity of productive work and hope. Real economic growth will take time. England, will sadly have an even tougher battle, as those in power have been so effective in dividing opposition.

In the pub last night, conversation turned to George Orwell’s ‘1984’ being reasonably educated it is easy to forget that not everyone has read and understood this important book. I wish I wasn’t so paranoid about this, it just seems that the whole referendum was about the destruction of European culture, of support for our fellow human beings, for working together to solve problems, of the social contract. going back to the feudal system, which I don’t think is the country anyone really wanted back.

The thing is there are lots of positive things to come out of the referendum: increased political engagement, a greater understanding of issues and a strong call for a change to address the issues raised. But, my concern is that this hard right government, will continue not to listen and impose some kind of Brexit in it’s own narrow interests that doesn’t resolve the problems but will increase it’s own power and influence, rather than deliver for all the people of Britain. The UK should not to anything other than commit to listening and addressing. the real problems

 

A very British crisis

What a crazy, heartbreaking few days it has been. Slowly it has dawned on the world that the UK voted to leave the EU. Most people did not expect this outcome, including the UK government which asked for the referendum to enable it to win the last election.This has been more political change, more history in a matter of days than we usually get in years. The big subsequent revelations are that David Cameron has resigned as Prime Minister and made clear that nothing concrete will happen until at least September. The upshot of this is that it revealed that the government had no plan whatsoever for this eventuality. As I write the British civil service is frantically  working on all the possible options to put to the UK leadership, when the UK eventually has one. Somehow the government will have to bumble through the next few months or even years in a very British way until some sort of solution is found. Remembering the leave campaign, there were many conflicting ideas about what a Brexit could mean, but no coherent plan, only a list of possibilities.

This extended period is a crisis and potentially tragic: Firstly for plunging the economy into an extended crisis, because financial markets hate uncertainty. Secondly because immigration was a focus of the debate, without the issue being properly addressed, in consequence it has inflamed racism in the UK. The media has been full over the last weekend of attacks on both European citizens and those who are not purely of white Caucasian descent.  With both the two major political parties, the Conservatives and the Labour party, deciding to enter into the internal squabbling of leadership elections, it leaves most of the UK without effective leadership and no clear answers to many questions.

On top of all this is the constitutional crisis’. Scotland voted to remain in the EU and retain the option of holding a referendum to remain in the EU, adding to the complexity of any change in arrangements with the EU. This is further complicated by the issue of timing. The easiest option may be for Scotland to vote and if the vote is yes negotiate leaving the union of the UK, before the issue of the EU is dealt with, then separate talks can be conducted between the EU and Scotland and between the EU and the remaining parts of the UK. However, there have been suggestions of a new deal with the EU, which Scotland may be happy with and remain in the UK, in which case the EU would have to be prepared to negotiate everything before Article 50 is invoked, then either a fresh referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal or a UK general election to everything some sort of legitimacy. There have been many suggestions, and much U-turning from various EU authorities over if and when any negotiations can take place, I have never known so many politicians U-turn in such a short space of time. Furthermore the issue of getting Brexit through the UK parliament isn’t clear with a majority of MPs, the peoples representatives, in favour of remaining in the EU by around 500 to 150. It is entirely possible that after all the chaos, it may be decided that it is simply easier and less traumatic to stay as a full member of the EU after all, the vote wasn’t actually about Europe as such and more an expression of dissatisfaction with the political establishment (see my previous post), to shrug and proclaim that “We’re British, you did know that we are all quite quite mad didn’t you?” . Or possibly put Brexit on hold whilst the UK deals with it’s own internal issues first, which may take years. Meanwhile the people of Britain have somehow got to get on with our daily lives through a possibly extended period of uncertainty.

Then there is Northern Ireland which  voted for Remaining in the EU too, even the Unionist communities were not completely behind Brexit. Basically, it’s an issue for Northern Ireland for various reasons: One, the border to the Republic of Ireland is open [no border controls], many roads criss-cross the border, erecting an official international border would be a nightmare. Two, citizens of Northern Ireland hold dual citizenship rights of the UK and the Republic of Ireland (which is in the EU), effectively meaning Northern Irish citizens would retain full EU citizenship, even though they may live in a country outside the EU. Three, any change in the status of Northern Ireland risks re-igniting the long and bloody conflicts of the troubles of Northern Ireland, the peace between the two sides in which has been after a very long struggle, agreement between the two sides is still fragile, this is a huge huge risk.

Then there is Wales, which has kind of been forgotten about amidst these huge difficulties Wales voted for Brexit, but again, whether this is the true desire of a majority in Wales isn’t clear. Wales is waking up to the fact that it could be left as the even poorer relation of England, run by a rUK (remainder of the UK) government not in the interests of Wales. Wales receives large amounts of regional funding from the EU, largely because the UK government neglects investing in the regions, as most other states do. We are waking up to some potentially very dire drops in our economic condition. Wales could be the big loser from all of this.

However there is always hope. For a devolutionist like me, our hour may have perhaps come. A solution may be full federalisation of the UK. By which each country of the UK achieves full statehood, whilst retaining membership of the United Kingdom (kind of like a mini EU) on equal terms.  England could even have it’s own regional parliaments to sort out it’s own regional funding issues. a constitutional quirk of the UK is that England does not have it’s own parliament, using the UK parliament for solely English matters. It can be imagined that the the Houses of Parliament could retain two chambers, an all England parliamant and an all UK parliament.

The advantages of a federal UK could be the solution to this crises and deserve consideration. The issue of borders would not apply, borders would remain open, each state could impose whatever restrictions they wanted to on non-nationals owning property and working in the country, whilst allowing people and goods to pass through unimpeded. Each region would be free to make it’s own relationship with the EU. For example, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland could, if they wished, remain full EU member states, whilst England could have a separate relationship, doing whatever it wants such as restricting inward migration and being free of EU regulations etc. Each state could even ‘dual currency’ having their own currency and a common UK currency. Of course the rest of the EU would need time to accept a federal UK as a very special region, but I think it could be a workable solution, that could keep all parties reasonably happy. There is a precedent in the position of Greenland, Greenland is part of Denmark but not in the EU, whilst Denmark itself is in the EU.

I have long been an advocate of federalisation of the UK, it may just be an idea whose time has come and a way of resolving the various continuing crisis of the UK.

The Disunited Kingdom

The UK has voted to leave the European Union (EU). I wrote here some months back that I thought the UK may end up leaving the EU when it didn’t really want to. It now seems that this has happened. I was wrong about the turnout, the debate did engage people. It is perhaps because the ballot paper presented a simple binary choice, where every persons vote counted equally, engaged the electorate, unlike ordinary elections. However it also divided the electorate, not merely because it was close but demographically. Some areas strongly supported remaining in the EU (by 3 to 1) in some places, whilst others were strongly for leaving. Furthermore, opinion polls suggest that the young, (18-25) were for remaining, whilst the old (65+) were strongly for leaving.

The UK is used to such huge divides geographically at elections. Political parties target their policies at areas that support them and exacerbate the economic divide, traditionally called the North-South divide. However in the EU referendum, the divide was different.

Wales voted to leave the EU by 52.5% to 47.5%, close, yet decisive and roughly the same proportion as England. People today, the day after, have been asking a pertinent question: “Why did Wales vote to leave when it is net beneficiary [more EU money is spent in Wales than goes to the EU in fees] and does not have the pressures of net immigration on housing, schools and hospitals [in fact quite the opposite]?” Wales gets more out of being in the EU than it does by being in the UK. Trying to find an answer to this question has been  a puzzle.

However when you look in detail at how the vote was split in Wales, a possible answer emerges. The  university towns with high proportions of young people were for remain (Bangor, Aberystwyth and our capital, Cardiff), as were wealthier areas (Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan). However the big leave support was in the Valleys, being strongest in Blaenau Gwent.

The Valleys are the old industrial heartlands, part of the original industrial revolution, formed in the 19th century to exploit the coal lying beneath, which supplied the iron and later steel production industries. Nearby Cardiff grew as a major world port and was once the largest coal and steel port in the world. People migrated to the Valleys for this work from other parts of Wales, Ireland, England, Italy and the rest of the world. The often brutal nature of the work forged both steel and strong communities.

Heavy industry in Wales declined towards the end of the twentieth century. The Tory UK government, under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher took the decision to close down the mines, with the idea to move the UK to a new, modern services based economy. There were strikes and civil unrest, but the government got their way and left the valleys without alternative industries, leaving behind high unemployment and social deprivation, but argued for as a ‘price worth paying’ to give the UK as a whole the economic growth of the late 1980s and 1990s. The people of the Valleys, with a working class tradition, have always voted strongly for the UK Labour party. During the Labour government of Tony Blair, there was hope that the time had come for the support and investment to make the Valleys prosperous one more. However this support never came in sufficient quantities to establish prosperity, the needs of London and it’s financial services industry took priority.

This story of the abandoned former heavy industry areas, is also found elsewhere in the UK, in the North of England and the central belt of Scotland. It is these communities that seem to have voted to leave the EU the strongest, the former Labour party ‘heartlands’. These communities suffer through Tory UK governments, they have kept voting for the Labour party, but in recent times have not been helped by the Labour party. It is not hard to understand why these communities are very angry with the political establishment, especially when the political establishment who seem to only address the needs of the globally connected cities of Cardiff and in particular London. The Labour party has focussed towards population demographics they need to win power in London. so, when the chance arrived for these communities to vote against the UK and European establishment. In the recent referendum, they voted strongly against the establishment.

Really, just because the issue of the European Union was on the ballot paper was irrelevant, it was a chance to kick the smug world of London based politics, to seek radical change. The real cause of the problems in the British economy stem from the UK government, and not the EU. Indeed today, I have heard some people regret their leave vote, giving the reason that they only wanted to punish the establishment.

I went to a EU referendum hustings meeting locally. I was a little surprised to hear from Valleys people (communities created by immigration) complaining about immigration, even though it wasn’t an issue locally in putting pressure on services. I did hear of resentment of immigrants from the European Union. People complained of all the new job growth appearing in the South East of England being taken up by EU migrants. I have heard the points that Welsh people can’t take those jobs because they have families and can’t afford or indeed wish to move from a nice home  to a tiny room, while young EU migrants can more easily. People were asking why can’t those jobs and that investment come to this area, where it’s needed. so, it seems you can be against immigration even when that immigration occurs far away, the ripples of globalisation. The issue seems to be not immigration as such, but the failure of the UK government to invest in the infrastructure a growing population requires. However it was easier for the establishment to blame immigration rather than their own failings.

This phenomena extends beyond these formerly industrial areas to the wider Britain, outside of London. People who have for the last thirty years seen their disposable incomes fall, particularly with the cost of housing continuing to rise above the rate of growth in the real economy. Where once a full-time worker could have a decent home, support a partner and provide for their  children, this is now much more difficult. Faced with the prospect of a continuing decline in living standards and offered the opportunity of profound change, in leaving the EU, many people over 35 have simply voted for it, they perhaps they sense they have little to lose and everything to gain, being in housing debt and hence with no savings or investments. They ‘want their country back’, to live in easier times, where money moved around the community, rather than sucked away elsewhere, where people had time and energy to put back into their communities.

So, despite the differences of Wales compared to England, there has still been a support for leaving the EU, they don’t really want. What the Welsh and English people do want is a change in the political establishment, for a representative democracy, a politics that helps all of the population flourish. The EU was seen perhaps seen as part of that cosy establishment of the wealthy class.

So, why was there support for remaining in the EU in Scotland and Northern Ireland? I think that  was because in Scotland and Ireland there is a real alternative. For Northern Ireland faces the costs of having the border with Southern Ireland closed, as a border of the EU, which would be costly for communities used to regularly crossing the border. Northern Ireland has it’s own political parties, not tainted by the whims of a London centric government. For Scotland, the devolutionist party, the SNP (Scottish National Party) are in power, but again not tainted by London politics. The benefits of EU membership are thus clearer.

Both Northern Ireland and Scotland, have the opportunity of ridding themselves forever from London politics. Northern Ireland can re-unite to form a united Ireland, in the EU, it seems even Unionist communities their are  more people now open to this in the light of Brexit. Scotland looks likely to leave the UK as an independent country and thus retain membership of the EU.

Which would leave the United Kingdom [well no longer united as ‘united’ comes from the Act of Union with Scotland) as England and Wales. However it is possible Wales could follow Scotland’s path, if the reasons for the leave vote are as I’ve described, that Wales did not vote for brexit because people really wanted to leave the European Union.  Plaid Cymru (Wales’ devolution party) are not yet perceived as the alternative to the Westminster establishment, Much of Wales has stuck with Labour and angry that they have failed to deliver change with the limited powers of the Welsh government. In any case the divisions between people of different areas and different ages leave a very disunited kingdom.

There is always hope. Referenda can engage electorates and this seems to have occured, provoking discussions and finding solutions on the ground to problems. If thsi energy continues, real change can happen, as it has in Scotland. The established order can be eradicated to be replaced with a truly representative government, that acts for the people it serves. Anything can happen. Divisions can be washed away and arguably such a process is easier outside of the EU. The campaigns of inflaming racism towards people perceived as immigrants has stoked the far right and further divides communities. It is a risky course, the establishment will not relinquish power without a fight. Victory can be claimed before the real work of reform is done.  Britain is in interesting times.

I want my country back

This phrase has been heard numerous times over the course of the UK EU referendum. I have wondered what exactly it means to the people who utter it. Most accounts of this phenomena describe it as a  nostalgia for a society from the past, for simpler times and a desire for some of those elements to make a return. This is a sentiment to which anyone over over a certain age can relate to at some point.

For some it is a desire for a monocultural monoethnic conformist world where everyone thinks and behaves the same way. Quite why anyone would want that is beyond me, I grew up in such a world and hated it, I couldn’t wait to get away and explore the world. This view betrays a fear of the different, a fear of our fellow human beings. We are all different, so such a view just seems nasty.

However, often this nostalgia is for positive things. A friend and I of similar age were talking about growing up when we just went off exploring with our friends, climbing trees, building elaborate dam systems in local streams, making complex underground maze systems in barns full of straw bales, generally getting very muddy indeed. As long as we made it to someone’s house in time for tea or not home before it got dark, we were not reprimanded  (well only about getting muddy and we sensed our parents didn’t really mind, that the criticism was for forms sake). This is a world that can be longed for. a world where children are not stuck inside, lacking socialising with their peers, exploring themselves and the world around them. Longed for because it was a healthier childhood.

This EU referendum has highlighted this desire for better things from the past, such as affordable housing, education, secure employment or food. however it seems that instead of looking for the fundamental reasons why, much of British society is now worse, people are instead looking for someone else to blame, in this case immigrants (whoever they are, as we are all immigrants). There was a video on YouTube of a man being shouted at in Bristol to be told to ‘Go back where you came from?’, to which he replied ‘Do you mean Cardiff? [where he was from!]’. I don’t understand why anyone would blame people for things, or specifically people who are in some way different, for the problems. It is systems, governmental policy, not thinking things through, that are the problem.

A hatred of people, creates it’s own destructive downward spiral. Once you start blaming ‘other people’, you disconnect yourself from other people. This is highly dangerous and antagonistic. This is the force that creates terrorist groups such as ISIS, who hate everyone who is not a member of their group. So, people then hate ISIS, which leads to hatred of the people in ISIS, then fuzzy thinking and group-think take hold and suddenly it is all Muslims who are to blame, then all Arabs, then one day you have a referendum on membership of the EU where the debate becomes about immigration. Culminating in today, where a MP (member of the UK parliament) was shot by a gunman because he apparently disagreed with his locally elected MPs views.

For me, the country I want back is one of respect and tolerance. Where you behave as you see fit, without fear that some maniac isn’t going to shoot you, where children will return home at the end of the day.  A world where extremism, such as Nazi Germany was something we read about in history books.

This modern curse of extremism affects all of us, whoever we are, wherever in the world we might be. Last week another gunman killed around fifty people in a nightclub in Orlando, USA. Once we got over the shock that another fifty lives had been lost to this extremist disease, we realised that this was an attack on the LGBT community. I am not a member of the LGBT community and being a white, male heterosexual I haven’t encountered or really able to empathise with such discrimination. Anyway the attack was in a LGBT nightclub. LGBT nightclubs are safe spaces, places where members of the LGBT community can be themselves, with less fear. If you are not discriminated against you don’t know what it is like. I’m only really getting my head around this myself.

Last year I was in Germany. I was walking down the street and a guy shoulder charged into me and ran off. I turned to my friend (my host in Germany) to ask what had happened. He said “Well if you are going to walk around in a floral shirt, this sort of thing happens”. I was wearing a floral shirt and it was pointed out to me that almost all the German men wore striped shirts. It wasn’t for being Welsh, or foreign that I was charged at, but because my attacker assumed that I was LGBT. This incident didn’t affect me, I continued to enjoy my holiday. However if such things were a regular occurrence, an everyday thing, I would feel more and more excluded and perhaps seek out safe spaces where all the other non-stripey shirted people went.

So it seems that extremism enforces sub-cultures, which is the opposite of this nice simple world everybody really wants. So to get out of extremism perhaps requires strange things to happen.

And then there’s me. I have written about how I used to be an extremely anxious person. Someone who tried to exist in the shadows, not stand out, not say what I really thought. I tried to say and do what I thought people expected me to do, but I couldn’t, I failed at this, it is just easier to be myself. I was behaving as if I was being discriminated against, when I wasn’t at all, so I was really happy to realise that I am able to be myself, to do such things as cry when Wales loses to England at the football as I did today. However I have since learned how much of this awful discrimination there really is. It’s not just race, it’s gender, sexuality, age, nationality and many other things. There is this ‘expectation’ that we are supposed to be able to conform to, but no-one can say what this conformity actually is, or what it is for? Traditional values? like living in mudhuts, scraping a living off the land with no modern tools? Following one interpretation of a contradictory religious text, written thousands of years ago, when most people did live in mudhuts?

It’s quite simple, there is nothing wrong with respecting other people. Jesus taught that we should respect other people, why do so many ‘Christians’ act contrary to Jesus? Respect has to be learned. We do all get angry. Anger wells up for all sorts of reasons: when we hear people whistling when our national anthem is sung or when a gunman shoots a hard working woman with two young children. We all get angry.

Anger does not have to lead to hatred, we should all learn to control our anger. Like as children climbing a tree when the branch starts to break because of our weight, after getting to safety our first instinct was to blame the tree! We learn the folly of anger. When our football team loses, we don’t hate the winners, we learn to walk away knowing that our day will be some another day, when a gunman goes on a gun rampage in Florida, we do not blame the non-LGBT community, we feel sorrow for those with lost loved ones. When a politician is killed, though we do really get angry at politicians a lot of the time, we appreciate that they are a human being too and that the gunman is a flawed human being too, just like the rest of us.

So, lets stop blaming the tree. Lets go back to a world where we listen to each other with respect, where we exclude no-one, where our mothers would scold us if we ignored the new kid, where we don’t have problem with people being different as we are all different.

 

 

 

Football, People and Nationalism

Yesterday was a wonderful day to be Welsh. The national rugby team played well against the All Blacks, though lost in the final twenty minutes when the Kiwis turned things up a gear. Then Wales played our first match in the finals of an international football competition since 1958 and won a thrilling game of football, 2-1 against Slovakia. The Welsh fans sang a rendition of Calon Lan (A pure heart), which brought tears to my eyes. Reports came through of the fans singing and socialising with Slovakian and French fans in Bordeaux. Everything seemed so positive.

However, all this was in a context of the bad side of nationalism, the EU referendum debate and violence surrounding the football match between England and Russia. There seems to be a lack of understanding of what a positive nationalism or patriotism is.

A positive nationalism is an understanding of who you are as an individual and of the culture you grew up in, an identity within which to find a place to root yourself, a comradeship with people you share something in common with, people who you can let your hair down with, forget your own troubles and celebrate life together. As human beings we all have so much in common, yet we are all different. so it is good to share what we have in common and respect where we have different ideas. It is always interesting to explore different ideas, to delve into exactly what the fundamental difference is, but respect that difference.

I am a proud Welshman, first and foremost, i have a common feeling with the people and environment of Wales. Nonetheless I am also proud of people everywhere, struggling to make the world a better place to live. I am British, I have friends from England, Scotland and Ireland and appreciate how a wider British culture influences who I am. Furthermore I have particular feelings for the people of countries I have visited, part of their culture has also entered my life. I have nothing against countries I don’t know, they are simply places I have yet to visit, those cultures haven’t entered my life. It is possible to share and celebrate life with people from every culture all over the world, it just means a little bit more when you with people from the same home as you.

I believe that nationalism goes wrong when it is used as a negative force, particularly when it is used to back a political argument.

In the EU referendum there is a valid theoretical argument for leaving the EU. The problem is with the official leave campaign. I went to a panel debate about the EU referendum this week, what frightened me was that it clearly stood out that many advocates of the leave argument harbour a bigotry to immigrants, underneath and underpinning the argument is a bigotry towards people who are not local. It’s crazy as we are all immigrants, the number of people who have families that have lived in the same town for hundreds of years is tiny and so what. Even for those people, some of their ancestors will have come from further afield. I really don’t understand how people can allow hatred to influence their judgement, to appeal to negative perceptions of immigration, effectively to stoke racism to garner support. The UK has it’s problems but the cause isn’t immigration.

I am a football fan, it’s a wonderful game and the camaraderie between fans is a wonderful experience. So what is the difference between supporters of Wales and supporters of England. Perhaps the only real difference is size.

There are some deranged people who like to get drunk and pick fights with people. Football hooliganism is a problem because it allows these people to come together and find another lot of similarly deranged people to fight with. These have always been a minority of people associated with football. However with insularity and a herd mentality encourages people to get drawn into the provocation.

As a Welshman and Manchester City supporter and someone who has travelled around the world, there have been many occasions when I’ve gone to a bar to watch a match and been the only or one of a handful of fellow supporters. So, I have learned to be aware of being a minority and find ways of sharing love of football with people who support the other team. It is always special to be back in Wales, to really let go and be completely passionate about Wales. we even have a word for this ‘hiraeth’ (a kind of longing for home) .I love travelling, but there is no warmer feeling when you cross over the bridge back home to Wales.

However there are people from larger countries, such as England and Russia, where there is always enough fellow supporters to never be a minority, which gives people a wall to hide behind and why build walls, it allows national feeling to be closed, rather than open to other people and cultures. It is not good to always be in a majority or always in a minority, it can distort your thoughts, to separate someone from the self, to take on ideas from the collective without the opportunity to think them through properly.

What I don’t quite get about this misunderstanding of patriotism leading to a negative nationalism is that it seems to equate from an identification with states, rather than people. This leads then leads to a hatred of people in favour of support of a state, it seems so paradoxical. I don’t like the government and don’t feel a real connection with the UK state as such, I feel a connection instead to the people. I also dislike other states which seem to be making the world a worse place. For example, I take issues with the Russian state for invading another country (Ukraine)  it just seems bizarre in the connected twenty first century world for such military action to take place. However I realise that the Russian people are not the Russian state, i bear no ill will towards the Russian people. We all should try to influence our own states to be better, but as individuals we only have a very small influence, removing the current UK regime has long been a problem. No individual can be blamed for the actions of their state (well unless they happen to be it’s leader). Some  politicians will sometimes try to appeal to this perverted nationalism of support for the state, rather than our fellow man, this is wrong and plain weird.

Anyway the UK EU referendum has left everyone confused, myself included. I know many people who have switched from one side to other several times, there is no clear answer. If the polls are accurate, the UK as a whole is split 50:50. I hear a commentator say yesterday that due to the ever shifting sands of public opinion, the result may well be arbitrary. The difficulty with an arbitrary decisions based on peoples feelings on the day, is that the result could well be influenced by peoples national feeling as a result of what happens in the European football championship. Wales will play our friends and neighbours, England on Thursday, one week before the vote it will be a passionate affair, though hopefully will not influence the European Union question.