A March in Cardiff

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On the 11th of May 2019, a bright spring day, there was a march for independence for Wales in the centre of Cardiff, Wales capital city, organised by All Under One Banner and I was part of some two thousand people calling for independence for Wales.

For me it was the most surreal march I’ve ever been on because Welsh independence is a cause I’ve believed ever since I came to understand politics and where I stood within it. I’ve been an outsider, in a small minority in so many things and there had never been quite enough people passionate enough to get this thing going, but it happened and it was so life affirming, to be surrounded by a huge crowd of people who felt pretty much the same way on positive solution to a political issue, rather than most political demonstrations being against particular things.

Having always been in the Welsh Indy bubble has been a fairly lonely place. Most of the time, over the years I’ve been called upon to defend this idea and  to make the arguments for it and no-one has yet offered a better solution. I’ve always been pretty flummoxed as to why there wasn’t more support for this principle. However in recent times support for independence has been growing, particularly in the context of Scotland narrowly losing their 1st independence referendum. and I’ve felt less alone

I went to the march on my own as I was sure of seeing many familiar faces, which I did: I am culturally ‘middle class’ and been learning to speak Welsh for the past three years. However there were other sorts of people there, from all across Wales, from Cardiff and the Valleys but also bus loads of people from all across Wales. That is what is wonderful about going on protest marches to meet people who are different to you, yet have come to share some of the same conclusions. How has this happened in recent times?

I grew up under Thatcherism, I’ve lived under it all my adult life. I don’t like things getting worse, not doing anything about the problems in our society and tolerating decline. Yet after every UK election we’ve had Thatcherite governments, it has seemed inevitable and that there is a paucity of ambition in the UK that keeps voting them in. Now there does seem to be a pivotal moment of real change from the economic crash of 2008 and the subsequent years of austerity where more and more people have seen the cracks in the UK state and then Brexit has highlighted to so many people on the need for a change of direction and how much of a mess UK democracy is. The Brexiteers (establishment [London] City Fat Cats who’ve sold off the UK’s silver to create wealth for themselves and safely placed it off-shore) and their nationalism have used that desire for change to push their Brexit, to divide and rule in exactly the same way the Tories have done.

Perhaps, we can hope that genuine change is coming. To me independence for Wales has always been the solution because my core political belief is in democracy and more importantly bottom-up democracy, from the individual voter not from the political party. Some more people have woken up to this and if this movement keeps growing a new shiny democracy will emerge in Wales and hopefully spread throughout Britain and beyond.

Brexit is not the biggest issue facing Wales. whatever your views on the UK’s relationship with the EU, just changing that relationship is not going to deliver prosperity to Wales or anywhere else, Independence can deliver that, we don’t have to keep exporting the wealth of Wales to the towers of London as has happened down the centuries, we can keep it in Wales to do things like make sure we eliminate poverty at home.

It was just a few hours of singing and talking to new people on a pleasant afternoon in Cardiff, but it can be like each and every day, if only everyone in Wales comes together for a better future. Cymru Rhydd, Ymlaen!

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Across the Brexit divide

The Brexit chaos at Westminster is shared by people in my life. This week I even had a conversation about Brexit at the supermarket checkout. In normal times politics does not get discussed in this situations. the pace of some very confusing politics is causing a wider confusion.

Brexit has been an interesting subject for me. As for once I am not in either groups at the ends of the spectrum (the Union Jack waving Brexiteers and the EU flag waving Remainers). I’ve fallen into the remain camp as perhaps I don’t really like sitting in the middle. Britain has been regarded as a tolerant nation but seems to be becoming less so. This division is quite worrying. Such a division is where a community focuses on where they are different rather than what they have in common.

I’ve written before about how if the Brexit referendum had been ‘Should the UK have a looser relationship with the EU’ to hold back from a centralising political project and just cooperate as much as possible, I feel there would have been a huge majority for this. I also feel that the people of the UK would agree that our political system is broken and that our economy is weakening, that these two things are linked and that we should do something about resolving these problems.

However this Brexit has instead divided us into Brexiters and Remainers. With all the chaos in Westminster and now we are into a two week extension of the ticking clock of No Deal explulsion from the EU, to me the sensible thing to do is revoke Article 50, drop the weight of concern about the relationships of Europe and instead fix things in Britain. However the Brexiters seem to have an obsessive zeal with leaving the EU at any cost and fixing the mess afterwards in a chaotic political situation. This seems a somewhat unreasonable position, especially as the Brexiters have not spent the last two years building consensus and putting forward a plan of action for a post-Brexit situation.

There was a pro-Brexit march in London today. Watching these things I just see a tide of angry white grey haired men.

I have talked  about outsiders, or minority groups and privilege on these pages. If one thing defines this group of people, the Brexiters is that they do not consider themselves outsiders, they consider themselves the majority. On paper, from opinion polls and so on, it is clear that they are a minority, albeit a sizable one. As white men they are privileged and usually get there way, they vote Tory and get Tory governments, they vote for Brexit and Brexit happens. As a group they seem to little realise how much privilege they have and what it is like to be in a minority group. I have never voted Tory, I’ve never voted for anyone who has won an election [well apart from once for a Police commissioner, but no-one else really cared much about that election, and my area has not become a post-apocalyptic crime riddled wasteland since]. My interests are minority interests. but many of the Brexiters don’t perhaps get this because they feel they are in the majority for most things. Whilst everyone else may be making reasonable arguments and trying to find a consensus, they worry that everyone else is trying to stop their Brexit as if they are people who have never had anything their way and this is the one thing they are passionate about. Yet on any other topic this group tend to be dismissive of the ‘one thing’ of other groups, whether that’s LGBT rights, the Welsh language, Vegans and so on.

I just feel hope that understanding will increase and that we can all work together to make our society a better one to live in. to do that we need to listen to every group and genuinely engage and look deeply into grievances rather than casually dismiss them as many of the Brexiters (and indeed Remainers) seem to do. In some ways I feel that Britain needs more chaos just to ram this point across to everyone. Hopefully we have reached peak-chaos and can start re-building our society and our political system.

Brexit: The End of the Beginning

I’ve really tried not to write about the daily machinations of Brexit, largely because it would merely be venting my spleen on the whole inept mess and that it is pretty much as I feared and  predicted almost three years ago.

These are very dark times for democracy. The UK government has spent three years avoiding making a decision and not letting anyone else have an input into the Brexit decision making process, no consensus has been reached and the government still have no plan. It’s kind of worse than that as the UK seems further from consensus on the relationship with the EU than in 2016. All sorts of knee-jerk opinions continue to fly around, the same knee-jerk opinions that were shouted three years ago, nothing has developed or progressed and all the other problems the UK has have been sidelined.

Really the sensible option at this point is to just forget about the whole thing. National unity is more important than endless division, get back to the day job and then start to have a proper discussion about the UK’s relationship with the EU. A betrayal of the Brexit vote would be ignoring the causes of Brexit and not looking for solutions to them.

The same three options that have been on the table since November last year are still on the table, a week before something has to happen because of Article 50 was invoked by Theresa May. The difficulty is that none of the options end Brexit, they are the end of the beginning and the UK continues this endless discussion of what Brexit is.

It’s probably worth stating what the three options are:

1/ “No deal Brexit” – The UK leaves the EU on the 29th of March or perhaps now the 12th of April. Expect chaos.

2/ “Theresa May’s Deal” The UK enters the transition period on the 20th of April and negotiations start for the future relationship with the EU. Not so much happens but politically this gets even more divisive. Noting that this deal does three things, Sets up the rules for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU (those that haven’t been able to dual citizenship into their host countries anyway), Settles how much the UK pays the EU for outstanding commitments and the whole transition process rules (maintaining the UK border in Ireland and current rules for now)

3/ Revoke Article 50 and stay in the EU until the UK works out whatever it is it wants. Cue the Eurosceptics continuing to moan, but a lot louder than they did before.

It’s an utter mess, I expected it to be this mess, which was why I voted remain in the first place. Remember my warning about ‘Don’t trust those who claim they knew what Brexit was?’ there seem to be a whole lot more of them now. Option 3 just seems the most sensible choice, given the utter failure of the political class to do anything for three years and the Brexit advocates never putting forward any plan at all. Whether you supported Brexit, remain or are somewhere in-between this is just crazy. An analogy, the kitchen needs cleaning, so you decide to clean the kitchen, but you have no plan, instead you just grab a bottle of liquid detergent wildly spray it around the kitchen and then declare that the kitchen has been cleaned, it hasn’t it’s just a mess, that’s basically the state of Brexit and the UK at the moment.

It could have been so much easier, with the UK leaving the EU, but remaining in and establishing a single market tier with a separate parliament to agree single market rules (EU and EEA countries) and none of this Article 50 nonsense.

I can’t predict what will happen in the next weeks, but it will be bad.

 

 

Ruddy Millennials

One of the most striking things about the history of the last two centuries in Britain is the constant change of society. Traditional ways of life were uprooted and populations subjected to a different world to their parents and grandparents generations. In Britain the post WWII generations, the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers were perhaps the lucky generations who saw quality of life improving during their adulthood in a transformative century.

Those that arrived to adulthood after the year 2000 were branded the Millennials and who have been perhaps the first generation in those two centuries to see quality of life fall, albeit shielded by the explosive rise of the internet at the tail end of the last century. This generation face a global environmental crisis a declining economy and for the most part an insecure home.

These problems were foreseen by the previous generations but far too little was done to avert the decline. Largely because the right wing establishment ignored the problem.  The problem being not only a lack of sustainable development and poor planning but a wilful releasing of national assets into the pockets of the privileged few of the establishment. This establishment is but a tiny part of the British population, but they were enabled to ignore the problem by hoodwinking a sizable portion of the population to support their continued and increasing seizure of resources.

The two most obvious failings were in Housing and Transport. Back in the 70s and 80s Housing and transport were relatively cheap. Almost anyone who had a full time secure job and didn’t blow their disposable income on living it to the max could afford to buy a house near where they worked, surrounded by businesses to make their lives easier. However the rot started. Hypermarkets began to crop up on the edges of the big towns and cities. Cars were cheap, the roads relatively empty, so those in the suburban areas could easily go to these hypermarkets and make savings on their grocery shop than visiting the traditional baker, greengrocer and butchers shops around the corner. This was seen as being modern, where successful people went for their shopping to visit these cathedrals of commerce and convenience, people who felt like they were doing ‘the right thing’. Today, almost all those local shops have gone and the health and quality of life of all has suffered. Now we have no choice but to travel miles to a small number of foodstores and are forced to buy whatever rubbish they sell.

It was and is very sensible to own your own home. Paying off a mortgage is a lot cheaper over a lifetime than paying rent, yet was a little more every month, so some compromise of use of disposable income had to be made. so renting got the stigma of something for young adults and the feckless. The feckless as surely these people could also get a secure job and a mortgage too if they didn’t go the pub every night of the week?

Which of course the formerly ‘feckless’ did, in the  70s, 80s and 90s lots of people bought their own homes and went to the pub to socialise less as mortgages were only a little more per month than renting. The problem was that the establishment made it difficult to build enough new homes for the growing number of households and alowed new builds to be of lower quality than the older housing stock. so values of homes shot up. Paradoxically this made people who had homes feel richer, more successful and people who had done ‘the right thing’.

By the 90s housing costs were getting very silly. Those whom had been lucky enough to have or able to borrow capital saw that buying a second home was a very sound investment, even if they didn’t rent it out as it could be instantly sold for a profit and it was sensible as a good way of funding a retirement from work. At the end of this period, where these investments were becoming harder to acquire, many were sold cheaper properties in Central and Eastern Europe. effectively to continue the British Empire tradition of exploiting the resources of other countries rather than build useful things.

It became difficult for young people to buy houses or even rent near where they wanted to live or work. However if only they looked a little further away they could find somewhere affordable and travel in. Over time those distance increased to the point when somewhere in the 90s  there were no longer cheaper areas to move to. Suddenly for most of Britain you lived miles from you work and social life and food shops were a few miles away, so you needed your car for everything, and no new roads have been built, the public transport system remained a mess and so all these journeys are a lot slower today because of traffic congestion as not only those who were ‘doing the right thing’ were waiting at the traffic lights, everyone was.

It is too late for the Millenials as now it is more expensive to rent than to buy and the banks won’t loan you the money as you don’t have a secure job, you do short contracts and they have stricter lending criteria now with the lack of economic growth. So Millenials are trapped having to run a car to be able to access a job and having to pay high rental costs, high indirect taxes and essentials being more expensive, because all the businesses are paying very high rents too, so have no real spare income to save or invest. They work hard to pay the mortgages of an older people they are not even related to. This is a huge problem not just for the Millenials but for the economy.

A problem for several reasons. It has created a culture of rentiers, where if you have capital you invest in land or tangible assets that give you a good return (which is essentially everyone else working to make you richer rather than producing a valuable good) rather than investing in production of goods and services. It denies young adults decent disposable incomes. Young adults should have disposable income as they don’t yet have families to support and it is they who make decisions in the market about what to spend money on which will be the technologies and solutions for the future. It quite cyclical, there may be a good business case for a new concern, but not enough people able to afford it to enable it to be developed into something that is an improvement to replace an older thing. It also stifles time and energy for learning skills and time to develop new things, it erodes the  entrepreneurial spirit as young people can’t as easily go off to create something new as they are tied to a job as they are tied to paying the rent and other debts.

This all suggests a need for a radical change, to raise productivity and sustainability, to improve quality of life and to reduce harm to the environment. So the establishment produced a brilliant wheeze to distract us all, Brexit. The older generation fed a constant diet over decades of blaming the Common Market, EC and now EU for every woe. It was EU rules and EU immigrants to Britain that were causing all the problems so the papers say [i.e. not us in the Establishment who could have kept Britain really growing but chose not to]. The Brexit vote coming a decade after the 2008 crash where the decline of the UK economy was much noticeable to the typical person (house prices have been stagnant apart from a London bubble), Brexit has achieved its end of being a distraction from the actual causes of the decline of the economy, divided the nations into Brexiteers and Remoaners and achieved the good old British divide and rule strategy that has always worked so well for the British Establishment.

It is any surprise that the majority of people under 45 years old voted Remain, whilst a majority over 45 voted Leave. The idea that those who couldn’t afford their own house and didn’t have a decent disposable income must surely be feckless people has rooted in a national consciousness, however now it simply isn’t true . They who have drunk deep of the idea that they are successful people who do they right thing and hold onto the idea that elsewhere in Britain are the unsuccessful, the feckless who are causing the problems. Or if you have missed out on this success, then it is their fault that you are not so (the EU, Socialists, the Scots, the Welsh, Hippies, Immigrants from other EU countries, Single Parents, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Ginger haired people, Northerners, Southerners, University educated people, People who like Marmite, Fat people, Vegans, Buckets of picked herring and so on]. Of course none of these people or entities are the problem. The British Establishment and large corporations have colluded to make more capital for themselves by destroying the social capital and infrastructure in British society which is the real driver of economic growth.

Of course there is a lot wrong with the EU, it is part of the Establishment too. I’ll wager you would get a massive percentage support across Europe for the sentiment ‘There is a lot wrong with the EU, it needs radical root and branch reform’. I’m not averse to leaving the EU as such, but it isn’t the panacea it has been suggested and certainly not as Thersa May has been doing. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of ‘Taking Back control’, Democracy and the benefits of a united Britain.

To get there, to this world where we can improve quality of life, genuinely tackle climate change and okay Unicorns if you want, by making the economy work for the population of the economy, where innovation and skill are rewarded, but having fat lumps of capital from not producing anything of value isn’t, we do need radical reform. It’s just that leaving the EU and leaving the Tories in charge of that isn’t going to achieve that because they are the Establishment, it’s going to make things worse. First we need to stop Brexit and then the real work begins of transforming our society back to a growing developing society. For that work has to involve giving communities back control, for devolution, for localism, for decisions to be made by people like us who live where we live, who we share our towns with. That means strong local councils, Welsh and Scottish independence, better quality housing that you have a stake in, rather than paying someone to live there or taking money from someone else living there. We have to work together, rather than against each other. Margaret Thatcher famously said that “There is no such thing as society” but there is society, but Thatcher tried to destroy it, to remove  the benefits of mutual cooperation. All Brexit has done is divide us and made finding solutions to our problems harder, it’s time to stop Brexit.

Don’t Look Back in Anger

When I was younger I was constantly wary of political discussions. This was partly my anxiety but also a feeling that I was young and inexperienced and hadn’t worked everything out yet. Looking back I get the impression that I understood things better than many and was quite needlessly anxious. I am now happy to engage in discussions and even hopeful someone will raise an argument that will make me thing again.

Looking back my family also surprise me. Half of my family are Tories and they never made the effort to explain the conservative argument to me. I just got the impression that I would get it when I was older. Yet I had always got it, it just didn’t tally with what the UK government was doing at the time.

I did grow up to be interested in science and am hopefully capable of analysing issues rigorously. Probably all scientists wake up at some point and realise that most people don’t do this. Scientists don’t decide elections, people who haven’t done the analysis do. The problem with democracy is that people elect people who make the right noises and thus satisfy people that they are on their side and understand their concerns. Sadly the modern politician is adept at creating the impression rather than being a good analyser and decision maker.

We now have the draft Brexit deal, but it seems few are happy. This was what a slim majority after a very poor debate wanted wasn’t it? It’s very confusing. I think the problem is a lack of proper analysis. A simple conclusion is reached that ‘feels right’ and if you also feel part of a majority then why look deeper?

The UK is in decline. I think it is quite natural for societies in decline to look back to the past and look for what was better in the past and what has changed to see if a beneficial tradition has been dropped. In contrast a rising society may look back and see what is now better about the society.

sometimes i think that Brexit goes somethign like this: The UK is in decline. There are more people from the rest of the EU than there used to be. Therefore the UK is in decline because of immigration from the EU. So, to reverse the decline the UK should reduce immigration from the EU, hence Brexit.

Now of course, there isn’t necessarily any connection between the two premises, so there is no logical path to the conclusion. It may very well leave to a false positive, a correlation that fits the facts, but has no real connection with them.

However if you look deeply enough there is a connection. A society that relies on importing labour for specific jobs vital to the economy is not in a sustainable position. That the Brexiteers never talk about this, suggests that they simply want the false conclusion ‘feel right’ so that they support Brexit. It’s not somethign that should happen in a healthy democracy.

The other aspect of this looking back to the past for answers is that it raises nostalgia for periods of the past. Last week was the centenary of the end of the First World War. There was a focus on how united Britain was about entering that war, how easily Britons enlisted into the armed services to fight for ‘King and Country’ in a way that is unforeseeable in modern Britain. This notion of a united Britain is appealing.

What simply galls me is that Brexit is the antithesis of promoting unity. It’s been the most divisive political issue and bringing that discussion into the open has been damaging to British society. The EU is by no means perfect and I’ve always argued for a looser set of arrangements, however the EU is not the cause of what ails Britain, the Brexit argument is a false positive. A genuinely united nation which works towards the goal of re-building British society is the alternative and all this Brexit division and mess is just a distraction form the real work the UK needs to embark upon. The Brexiteers have scapegoated those whom oppose them as the problem, it’s a form of fascism. They who are wealthy enough to not be bothered about a decline in the British economy.

We need to re-build democracy from the bottom up and this is very much not what the chief proponents of Brexit want, they haven’t even bothered to make any sort of case for how to improve Britain outside of the EU. We need more people to look beyond the first simple answer that at first glance appears to address the problem and ‘feels right’. The world is much more complicated than that and we simply need genuine politicians who care about the whole of the economy and society who are not simply populists or public relations experts.

The Twists and Turns of Brexit

Well here we are again. I wrote in early December last year of a British Brexit.  Various spins and roundabouts ensued as this continued issue of the UK border backstop continued, yet here we are with the same solution being proposed again; what a waste of 10 months!

The ideas as I understand it to solve this issue of the Northern Ireland border, to not break the Good Friday international treaty, now known as the ‘backstop’ is for the UK to remain in the Single Market and Custom union for an undefined transition period, in place of a backstop. Effectively a Soft Brexit and creation of time to develop a harder Brexit or a complicated trade deal.

It would likely be a lot longer than 2-3 years, international treaties tend to take a long time and this one would be veru complicated as it woudl need to ensure that no-one gained an advantage through  different regulatory mechanisms. With so much political division within the UK over Brexit and its ineffectual democratic system, it would likely take much longer if ever and <whisper very quietly> probably require a succession of referenda.

Such a solution however will probably satisfy the EU and it’s other national governments and will likely pass through the UK parliament as much of the Labour party will support it, indeed the Labour leader has said he will support an agreement that involves remaining in a Custom Union. So is Brexit solved the same way once again?

Possibly not. While the Brexiteers in the Tory government do not have the numbers to force a no-deal Brexit in Parliament, they can instead topple May’s government by forcing an internal Tory party leadership contest. The Tories are likely to elect a Brexiteer and then  there will not be UK -EU withdrawal agreement. But as there are not enough hardcore Brexiteers on the Tory benches, the government would be likely to force a vote of no confidence in itself and subsequently a General Election, which will be ugly. The question would then be would there be time to get a withdraw agreement before the March deadline. Especially as a General election takes 6 weeks + a few weeks for the Leadership election + problems with the election potentially falling during the festive period + some time to form a coalition.

On the other hand, would the Brexiteers risk splitting the Tory party, gifting Corbyn the PM job and the lead in developing the vastly complicated trade agreement with the EU that would allow an open border between the UK and the EU to continue. There is the argument that they would be quite happy for Brexit to fail and Article 50 to be rescinded by a Labour/ SNP/Lib Dem coalition. For the Brexiteers have been happy grumbling about the EU for 40 years and have spent the last three years continuing to grumble rather than put forward a single positive argument for a UK or indeed an England outside of the EU.

It really is all about timing, who will jump first. This is  May’s strategy, to get the timing of this right to get this deal through. Then she can stand down and leave someone else deal with the mess a la Cameron.

Brexit and Respecting Democracy

This whole argument coming from the UK government that people in the UK must ‘respect the Brexit decision and democracy’ just annoys me. It completely misunderstands what Brexit is all about.

I saw a video this week of people who support Brexit being interviewed. i was Particularly interested when they were asked why they were supporting Brexit. Their view was that their community was in in decline, shops had closed, wages stagnated, services declining and everything getting more expensive and harder, so to have a meaningful vote on something would be a refreshing bit of democracy, and promote change, to give Brexit, which will solve of the problems in UK society.

The only thing I disagree with them about is Brexit being the answer, there is no logical path from the premises to this conclusion. It looks unlikely that whilst we are remain a country with an outmoded democratic system where the Tories keep getting re-elected on an ever slimmer popular vote. It is Tory governments that have caused the decline of the UK. Leaving the EU won’t alter the decline by itself.

What I passionately agree with these Brexit voters is the need for democracy in the UK and to ‘take back control’. Leaving the Tories negotiate Brexit entirely missed the whole point of Brexit, which was for more democracy.

What I mean by democracy is simply government that represents the people governed. The UK parliamentary system of representative democracy is based on sound principles. Every area of the UK elects a politician to represent them in Westminster, then the elected politicians get on with the job of making decisions to continually improve the functioning of the UK economy and solve problems as they arise. The politicians job is threefold, firstly to listen to a full range of arguments and positions, their constituents, business leaders, trade unions, academics, economists, lawyers, anyone with a view essentially. A Policy is then produced which the politicians scrutinise, debate, amend and eventually vote on, to ensure there is a broad consensus that that policy is the right thing to do. To be a good politician you need to be a good listener and a good decision maker.

The modern politician isn’t selected to have these qualities though. The modern politician is skilled in climbing the ‘greasy pole’ of the competitive career ladder in a major political party. Along the way they acquire the skills of effective electioneering to win power. This means that the is no incentive to develop the skills of arguing for something, listening or rigorously analysing an issue, these are not the valued traits. Instead the modern politician skilfully avoids saying anything noteworthy, for fear of alienating those who may disagree with what may be a good idea. Indeed, any politician who does open their mouths to argue for a cause is shouted down. It is a sad state of affairs, society is rapidly losing debating skills.

I would argue that is is the failure of the political class and the democratic systems that support them that have failed. We now have a political class who are in cahoots with the capital class, drawing ever more wealth in top their hands and away from the productive economy. The problem with modern capitalism is that there is too much capital. But you can’t solve the problem of capital when the political class also have their noses in the capital trough. Capital no longer invests enough in research or innovation and instead increases their share of the pie by rentiering, or making money from their capital, by renting out their land, rather than using it for anything productive.

If you speak to someone ‘in the street’ in the UK, you will often hear the phrases ‘politicians are all the same’, yet few do anything about it. The problem with the UK economy is too much capital because of the political class and the failure of democracy. It is democracy that needs to rediscover its roots and represent the people again. The tragedy of Brexit is that the EU and Brexit became the scapegoat for the UKs troubles rather than the UK government.

The EU has always had a bad press in the UK. Most of the popular newspapers have regularly run stories blaming and often misreporting the EU for many all sorts of things. However wrapped up in Brexit is this truth of Brexit. The EU is a corrupt, centralising, weakly democratic organisation. It would be beneficial to leave it to obtain a genuine representative democracy. To take back control to a more accountable, more local institution. However this isn’t going to happen just because of the Brexit vote, it will take action within the UK for democracy to rise again, though through Brexit may be how that process is ignited.

My argument has always been for devolution, for bottom up decision making. It is why I support independence for Wales and for stronger local government. Simply because it is more representative of a population and there is less chance of corruption due to smaller organisations and because the politicians have to live in our communities, to speak daily with those they represent. Big states or  supra-national organisations need to be accountable to their constituent regions to function well and in accordance with their founding principles, you need to be strong locally before you can help wider society and make any efficiency gains through cooperation.

The counter argument I often hear is ‘Where do you stop, will each village be its own kingdom?’ Of course not, the principle isn’t ever smaller territories, but local accountability and finding the right size population for decision making. Once you reach the optimum size you don’t surpass it!

This reductionism has been very rife in Brexit. Especially so in the big issue of the Brexit debate, immigration. ‘Immigration is bad, we must stop it!, the only way we can do this is Brexit”, the Brexiteers cried, again and again, over endless months. Except immigration is only a proxy for the actual problem. It goes something like this:  ” I don’t mind foreigners/ people of other races, but every time I visit the hospital I rarely see a native British doctor or nurse. There are too many immigrants, we should have more British doctors and nurses” I don’t disagree. The problem isn’t “allowing” overseas people to be doctors or nurses in the UK, the problem is not producing enough doctors and nurses natively in the UK economy. Unfortunately that issue has not been tackled by the political class and it’s been around for decades. What you would need to do is invest more in training and then paying the doctors and nurses at an adequate rate to retain their services in the country. But that involves spending money, putting taxes up and the political class knew that to win that next election they needed to prioritise tax cuts and not spending on doctors and nurses. So we got tax cuts they didn’t give us any more money and more immigrant workers. There is no problem with this system,  in the medium term, until the population suddenly decides it no longer likes immigrant workers, not realising they have facilitated this by voting in the same career politicians, election after election.

Historically, this was kind of how European society functioned for most of human history, albeit without the democracy. The typical person would work a small patch of land to raise enough food for their family and be taxed to give a proportion of what they grew to the local landowner. The local landowner gaining their titles competitively, not all that dissimilar to how the modern politician achieves power! These landowner had at least some spare time and energy to develop new solutions to problems and thus society developed. Many of them were benign and often helped their serfs who hit difficulties

The industrial revolutions changed all that. A new breed of people with capital emerged who built factories in large towns and cities. and drew people from the land to work in these factories on the promise of a better life. It soon transpired that the city life of the newly emerging working classes was worse than when they had worked the land.

Modern capitalism came into being perhaps when it was realised that there is no point having an amazingly efficient mass production if there aren’t enough middle classes to buy the products. So the later 19th and 20th century saw new middle classes and decently payed working populations and the Western economies emerged and fast paced economic growth, where almost everyone’s quality of life improved. The typical wage grew as the overall economy grew, most of the time so everyone was happy. The capitalists were happy as their wealth grew faster than the working man.

After centuries of a system that increased the wealth of the capital class, which laso slowly gave the common man an improving living standard, In the UK all this changed, when Thatcher broke the social contract in the 1980s and particularly so after the financial crash of 2008 when the Tories brought in Austerity, to cut public services to deprive the social and economic life of the UK. Wages stagnated, what economic growth there was has gone entirely to the capitalist wealthy class. Things have got more expensive, and for the typical Briton the quality of life is in decline, something not expected in the 20th century.and against the bulk of human history in Britain. This is perhaps why there is a feeling of a need for change and to bring about that change requires reform of the democratic structures that have failed. There needs to be less capital and more money in the market, to ordinary people to spend on what they need, for liquidity or cash flowing around rapidly from person to person to provide market forces for the technological developments of the future, rather than the fat cats squeezing more out of the system that is shrinking. There needs to be less capital for capitalism to function.

The problem with this is that it sounds like old skool socialism. The barons of our times sneer and jive at the ‘socialist’ and focusing on the narrative of the failures of communist governments in the 20th century. The principle is not socialism, the principle is economic efficiency and getting the balance right. To get the balance right you need democracy so the decision maker has to be good decision maker and make decisions for the benefit of the community.

The other issue is that communities function well when there is a sense of belonging, that you feel that you are a valued member of a society. This inspires confidence and an outward looking attitude. So when you tend to agree with the government that governs your community, this fosters this sense of belonging. Surely in a democracy your views are going to chime with those of the government, because you voted for them, you had a say in the kind of ideas that shape your society.

However we have had a divide and rule Tory governments for all of my adult life. We are now loving with the consequences of that , a non-representative government, one that has failed to listen to people’s concerns with immigration.

When Brexit is discussed in the media you will often hear the phrase ‘The UKs position is…” or “the UK reaction is…”. Having learnt a second language, this looked like sloppy English, when they should be saying “The UK government says…”. However was it ever thus? If you look back to the mid 20th century and UK election history, from election to election you see massive swings between the Tories and the Labour party. When one party won big, it had consensus and support of a majority of the UK population behind them, a genuine mandate to govern. So even if you were in a minority, there was a sense of ‘ok, I’m in the minority on this, but my community has made a decision it’s my duty to go along with it’. This doesn’t happen anymore. The last few UK general elections have been hung parliaments, there is only a small difference in percentage support for both of the traditional big two parties. I remember a world where politicians of either side would try to argue the case for their position to bring across support from the ‘other side’. Times are now that politicians don’t even bother trying to argue, falling voter turnout had led to it being more important to fire up your natural supporters to vote than trying to persuade a new voter by argument. Trump being the epitome of this.

I am perhaps the product of this. I have never felt represented by a UK government. It’s not just being an odd ball outsider though.  I have come to realise. It doesn’t have ot be this way, which is why I’ve always supported Welsh independence. i believe that an independent Welsh government would represent all the people of Wales, democracy can be re-built. The adage of ‘think global, act local’ comes to the fore, by having genuine democracy in Wales, it could then spread to the world.

The thing about belonging , when you find a community that you fit into, that you belong in, gives you a great strength and confidence. So when you are not afraid to encounter new or different things. It is this sense that has been neglected by UK government no longer being representative or leading by consensus. There is a general disconnect felt by the UK population towards the UK government. So as a people the Britons feel less confident, are a bit bothered that their doctor speaks a language they don’t speak, a sense of being alien in your own country. I know what they feels like from when I lived in Southern England and you do yearn for a sense of belonging.

It is possible this is the explanation of what Brexit is, for a return to investing in Britain once again. That Britain is gone, we need to build a new Britain and it is simply not possible to do that without reforming the constitution and democracy itself. We live in a diverse, changed world. We need new solutions to old problems.

There needs to be a raising of awareness of the need to constitutional reform, to increase local accountability away from centralised power structures. For awareness to grow that the cronies of the UK establishment are as bad if not worse than those of the EU. Then better decisions are able to be made by accountable decision makers, not career politicians. We can do all play our part by supporting things like Welsh independence. To get behind good local ideas and not moan about bad decisions made far far away. To not seek scapegoats , by race, religion, nationality or sexuality, but to acknowledge that we need to build things up and not tear other people down. That there are no easy catchphrases to solve our problems, but complicated analysis and rigourous debate to get to the answers we need. We need everyone to work on this building process. Brexit, leave or remain will not achieve this, we just need to create a new way of doing things.

Brexit – The Board Game

I had the idea rather too late last Christmas that it would be possible to produce a board game based on Brexit. The first player would take on the role of Theresa May with the objective of surviving Brexit [stay as UK prime minister and keep the Tory party together], whilst the other players would try and remove May and achieve their own objective. The other players being Jeremy Corbyn, Jean-Claude Jancker, Boris Johnson, the LibDems and so on. Essentially May’s job would be to achieve balance on various spectra, whilst the other players try to get their objective. Thus far Theresa May has done rather well at the Brexit game and it still is very much a game.

We are now entering the Brexit end-game, will Theresa May get to the end? It is perhaps unfortunate that May has been unable to make her plan clear to anyone. Her board game objective is essentially to achieve a soft Brexit of membership of the Single Market and Custom Union  or something closely equivalent to it without the Tory hard right bringing her down. May’s challenge is mainly is to prevent two things happening. Firstly to not allow Article 50 to be rescinded and the UK to remain in the EU, because this would be disastrous for the Tory party in failing to deliver the outcome of the Brexit referendum would lose the Tories the support of the bilk of the people who vote for them. Secondly to prevent the hard right getting their no deal Brexit and allowing them to create a low tax, low regulation tax haven on the edge of Europe, which would be disastrous for everyone who doesn’t have large sums of wealth safely off-shore.

The sensible way to have proceeded with Brexit, respecting the referendum vote was the “Norway” EFTA option of single Market membership. However the Tory hard right would not be happy with this, so May has sought the ‘Chequers Deal’ option of a looser bespoke deal locked in that prevents the hard right from taking away European standards from the British economy. Essentially the Chequers deal is the tight rope between the hard right and centre right of the Tory party, the centre-right being scared of losing what social cohesion the isles of Great Britain has left.

Essentially Brexit is and always has been internal Tory party politics that the people of the UK and the institutions of the EU have been dragged into. There has always been a clear majority of the UK population for a looser relationship with the EU. The UK has always failed to address it’s internal problems on things such as immigration  that it hasn’t focused on development of the European Union. Of course Brexit isn’t about what the British people want, it’s all about keeping the Tories in power in the UK.

May’s failure has been to effectively communicate her plan. Her every public facile Maybot utterance “Brexit means Brexit”, “In the national interest” ,”Strong and Stable”, “What we are doing now is …[avoiding whatever the question was]”. The 2017 General Election was an opportunity to rally support for her position, to get a parliamentary majority so she could safely ignore the hardcore Brexiteers, but the Tories have alienated so much of the electorate that there were simply not that many more votes she could get without everything becoming too much out on the open. And May’s every u-turn to keep her fellow party members on-side has alienated her from any potential outside support.

The really sad thing about this debacle is that the citizens of the UK are kind of waiting to see what form Brexit will be: the effective remaining in the Single Market or the perils of a no deal and managing a population of 70 million people in an offshore tax haven. May’s problem is that she needs to go with a begging bowl to elicit the help of someone from the EU to find a fudge that everyone can accept to hold back the right of her own party.  The endgame of “Brexit – the board game” will be fascinating.

A Second Brexit referendum

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

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

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

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

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

How did UK politics get to this position?

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

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

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

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

 

Unionism vs Devolution

 

EU,-UK-and-Wales-flags

Or Centralism vs Separatism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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