I can understand the sympathies of those who wished to remove the sculpture of General Lee from the Emancipation Park, but I can’t agree with them. The statue is a part of Virginian history, and although it represents a dark chapter in their past it should not be ignored. History is about honesty not morality. Perhaps a reorganization of the park would be more suitable, with other important historical figures that opposed General Lee included. General Lee was can be regarded as a radical figure in American history, an icon that contradicted the idea of national solidarity and was one of the most rebellious men that ever existed in America since its conception. I’ve always believed that America’s public history challenges the notion of true American nationalism, there are several controversial statues that outline this point; the Benjamin Tillman statue in South Carolina is a replica of man who was once famous for lynching black Americans, there is a sculpture in Alabama of Edmund Pettus, a renowned Senator and a Ku Klux Klan leader. These figures were both had significant roles in undermining progressive policies in post-civil war America. Why haven’t these statues caused controversy and uproar since they were erected? Could it possibly be that the General Lee statue became a beacon of resentment against Trump and his political culture? Perhaps this is a reminder that no matter how much we try to protect history it will always be politicised for one reason for another.

Orwell.doublespeak
If the protests themselves were much more about the entrenched cultural and racial tensions that exists in America as opposed to the Sculpture itself (but of course they are linked). Then one must also state that no socio-political group came out of the protests with any glory; the White Supremacists demonstrated what a violent joke and a disgrace they are and the counter-protesters must also share some responsibility for the violence they conducted. If anything, the events in Virginia are revealing the flaws and the lack of credibility that so often comes with protesting radically  against the establishment. Large sections of the UniteTheRight rally refused to use the methods of nonviolent protest and instead came to the Charlottesville armed with intent to incite racial hatred. This rally was organised by Robert Spencer a man who allegedly coined the term “alt-right”. Now the alt-right have had some legitimacy in the past for exposing the neo-liberal agenda and its tools of injustice, but now the racist claims that have been made against now hold some weight and thus as a group they have surely lost a lot of credibility. The Counter-protester’s actions mirror those used by previous self-proclaimed left wing groups who have used  extremely aggressive methods to express their point. Although, they claim to be progressive, their political motives are cloudy; they claim to fight for the civil rights for each American citizen but they often trample over the values of free speech and liberty. I believe that this group often begin with the right intentions as many of their leaders often speak of creating a more democratic and fair America, but their behaviour and action often betray their words. So it seems that the radical wings of the political spectrum inhabit groups that use oppressive and coercive methods of political protest means left wings of the political spectrum. Some may call this the death of politics, but perhaps we are need of a new rational and pragmatic force that does not abide by a political wing so strictly. Or perhaps this is the time when we must not have any restraint in our political ideology. I believe there are plenty of opportunities for political compromise but perhaps we must remember the roots of our political principles and that we must adhere to them with integrity.

 

Screen-Shot-2017-06-10-at-12.23.52-PM-714x401 (1)

Nope, I don’t agree with this. Of course everybody should be free to express their opposition to the government. But the D.U.P and the Tories have been democratically elected, fair and square. We can’t simply launch a petition simply because we don’t like the look or the history of our newly formed government. I don’t particularly like the D.U.P, their social attitudes (Anti-LGBT, Anti-abortion and xenophobia) could prevent any progressive legislation being passed and their economic attitudes (unwavering support for big corporations and neoliberal markets) are a hindrance towards economic justice. But we should be challenging the political system that allows these parties to develop (First Past The Post, etc). Attacking those who benefit from the system only scratches at the surface of the problem.

If there is one thing to learn from this election, its to respect the political identity of the entire United Kingdom, and not just Scotland and England. The reporting of the General Election was concentrated in a very British fashion with no mention of any the Irish Parties. Every televised debate only included representatives from Welsh, Scottish and English parties. Of course, Corbyn’s recent electoral success is good for progressive politics. But, – and without trying to sound preachy –  both media and the public have a political responsibility to ensure that ALL parts of the UK are included in our national conversation. We need to stop treating Northern Ireland as just an irrelevant offshoot from our society and to start respecting it a political equal.

an123133791left-to-right-li

Why don’t we have any Irish representatives on our national General Election debates?

Its hard to genuinely describe how I feel about this election. I’m excited, nervous, disappointed, angry, hopeful and scared at the same time. This election has come under the backdrop of a very strong swift to the right wing of the political spectrum. Populism has thrived under a sporadic wave of anti-establishment sentiment. This feeling, which has the potential of inspiring a new era of progressive politics that could challenge the very foundations of injustice automatically feels the opposite. Trump’s victory has given rise to an emboldened and camouflaged sense of neo-liberalism. Brexit (for the time being) could potentially provide the Conservatives with the ability to usher in totalitarian legislation which no voted for on June 23rd; Remain or Leave. Yet, despite this, Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of true Centre left politics has held strong, he has managed to publish a manifesto that stands by his economic principles and he has managed to garner support (both from experts and the public) during the process. The polls are narrowing and the prime minister incumbent is beginning to buckle under the pressure. Even the Tory-supporting Media are struggling to avoid criticism of Theresa May; her pledges to let those age with dignity and keep our nation safe have been torn to shreds under the scrutiny of the opposition, the public and the national media. Her weak leadership has been representative of why this country is broken and who so many are indifferent to our political system.

Jeremy Corbyn is by no means the perfect politician. He has occasionally demonstrated his inexperience at dealing with the mucky, business end of party politics and he is very reluctant to follow traditional party policy when called upon. Some may say this makes him naïve and undisciplined. But I disagree, why would a former Chairman for Stop-The-War suddenly jump at the chance to renew our Trident Program? And why would someone who commits to the idea of “a different kind of politics” want to engage in petty personal attacks? We need more a principled type of politics that speaks towards the  people and not towards a carefully structured agenda steeped in bureaucracy and thinly veiled insults. Corbyn may not have all the answers but he has the right approach.

In regards to the outcome, it is important to stress that this popular surge of progressive politics needs to continue whether Corbyn gets thrashed or wins by a landslide. There are too many examples throughout history where potential political saviors have come to the surface and achieved power only to fall back on all their promises; Trump, Stalin and even Oliver Cromwell all spoke of grand and radical changes which will benefit the nation, but it was only a matter of months before all those figures committed a war crime of some nature shortly after their election to the highest office. It is our social and political responsibility to make sure that the people we put in power speak for us and not for any special interests. That isn’t to say that we will always be successful in holding leaders to account, but we can’t stand idly by while our hopes and dreams are trashed away. The same principles apply if Corbyn was to lose. If Corbyn was to get obliterated in the election, this doesn’t mean that we should just give up our progressive principles simply because “they couldn’t win us an election”, the values we fight for are independent of any political party or leader. True change and true progress comes from grassroots collective action, we are the only ones who can genuinely enforce a “different kind of politics”. Tomorrow is the perfect time for us to express that.

“Don’t let Apathy policy the populace” – Flobots

 

Lately, I’ve been watching the new television show called American Gods (based on the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name). Whilst being a fantasy and mythological drama, I found it to resonate quite subtly to our confusing and ever-changing political landscape. One of the central premises of the novel is that the mythological gods (such as the Norse God Odin and Egyptian gods such as Anubis) that once dominated our thinking and lifestyle have lost their power to newer and more modern powers, such as the ‘power of technology’ and the ‘power of the media’. Which got me thinking, isn’t that a closer representation of the societies  that exists in the ‘western world’?

american gods

The God “Media” from American Gods. Has new media technology taken the place of traditional religion?

In the UK, the power of the Church and Christianity itself has significantly lost the ability to influence its members, and many citizens no longer identify themselves with Christianity. A recent report has been published which outlines that since 2009, the amount of non-secular religious people have always outnumbered Christians. Now of course we can’t use this an absolute barometer to measure the types of religiosity in the UK, but it may indicate that we have moved to new forms of ‘religion’.  For example, our obsession with social networking and social media has reached record high levels; to the extent that many young people hold on to their smartphones with same precious sacredness as priests do with religious texts. And whilst materialism has always been prevalent since the beginning of mankind, the evolution of technology has enabled us to embrace a greater diversity of items than ever before. This has also affected the way in which we access our media; with the relatively recent introduction of 24hr rolling news stations we have the ability to surround ourselves with sensational and false news stories that many people consider to be gospel.

However, there is a sign that things are changing. Whilst these new powerful forces dominate our current public and private sphere, older ideologies and forces are making themselves more relevant. In particular, Nationalism. Nationalism, has been what many would call a ‘sleeping giant’ during the past couple of decades, the rise of the Alternative-Right and the populist demand for ‘sovereignty’ has unleashed Nationalism back on the social scene. And just like the power of Technology, Social media and even Christianity. Nationalism is in a way like a religion, it requires support and devotion towards a vision of a preferred environment. Nationalism often (but not always) operates in a religion by transcending our material needs; it can often provide a spiritual purpose by uniting different types towards a theory of how the world should be.

In this short passage, the American Academic Carlton Hayes, eloquently outlines the interchangeable aspects of both conventional religion and nationalism:

“Nationalism, viewed as a religion, has much in common with other great religious systems of the past. It has, for example, a god….one’s fatherland, one’s national state.”

“Nationalism, like any religion, calls into play not simply the will, but the intellect, the imagination, and the emotions. The intellect constructs a speculative theology or mythology of nationalism. The imagination builds an unseen world around the eternal past and the everlasting future of one’s nationality. The emotions feed the theological virtues of faith, hope, and filial love of the national god, who is all-good and all-protecting. For nationalism, again like any other religion, is to a large extent a social function, and its chief rites are public rites, performed in the name and for the salvation of the whole community.”

nationalism

Is this true? To what extent are nationalism and religion linked?

There has been much talk about the UK being a godless and secular state, but the re-emerging rise of nationalism as well as the forces of technology and media demonstrate that we still share a devotion to religion, just not in the traditional sense of belief. However, if Nationalism is becoming relevant in today’s political discussion, it can’t be assumed day that traditional religion will not resurface on the political scene. This could present a dramatic shift in the way we perceive our roles in society, there are several historical precedents in British history which indicate that this could either be a positive or detrimental to the idea of a progressive society.

There were several instances in the seventeenth century when religion revolutionised not only our political system but our political culture as well. Lets start with the death of Elizabeth I, her reign is often seen as one of prosperity and stability. Her religious reforms as well as her strengths in longevity (one of our longest living monarchs) and administration made Protestantism as the established religion in British culture. But her death created a succession crisis which threatened to possibly bring Catholicism back on the political agenda. Elizabeth’s cousin James I took the reigns and displayed strong political skills in keeping England relatively harmonious, but the hostility between Protestants and Catholics never reduced throughout the seventeenth century. The Gunpowder plot of 1604 was the first of many violent attempts by religious non-conformists to overthrow the establishment. The entire political political elite then increased their intensity of persecutions against Catholics which then provided the basis for the “English Civil War” that occurred in the 1630s, 40s and 50s. Prior to the Stuarts taking the throne, Britain was relatively stable due to Protestantism facing no serious challenges throughout Elizabeth’s reign. But the Stuarts had reopened a box of religious turmoil and tension that led to both James I and his son Charles taking oppressive measures against their subjects. It was not until the English Civil War, when English and Scottish subjects started to witness progressive effects of religious politics.

During the 1640s, a new political group emerged from the crisis between Charles I and his parliament. This group who called themselves the Levellers, criticised the oppressive religious reforms that Charles I had implemented and called for a new policy of religious liberty and tolerance. But interestingly, the levellers claimed that this liberty was a fundamental part of English identity; they claimed the evidence for this rested with the civil liberties and freedoms that previous English medieval Kings and Queens had endorsed. However, this progressive thinking was eventually crushed by Oliver Cromwell a pious protestant who used conservative politics as well his military reputation to quell all anti-establishment thinking. During the later part of the century, the relationship between British politics, religion and national identity intensified significantly. In the 1670s and 1680s, Stuart monarchs came under particular pressure for their close relationship with Catholic monarchs across Europe. There was a growing fear of Catholic Monarchs attempting to invade England with the help of a Stuart Monarch. It is important to remember that this was during a time when the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism often spilled over into a xenophobic conflict between England and Catholic France. England had historically found it difficult to engage with their European neighbours in a positive manner as it wasn’t just France, but Spain and even Scotland were often targeted by the English as potential threats.

religion

Religious non-conformists burnt at the stake during the Tudor period. Could this be a possible future for British society?

There were however were some turning points towards the end of the seventeenth century; Charles II decided to welcome many French protestants who were seeking a safer and more prosperous life away from a French Catholic state. The way in which French immigrants were welcomed is in stark comparison with the way Theresa’s Mays government has handled the influx of EU nationals and non-EU nationals in the UK.  In the 1680s and 90s French immigrants had security and stability from the government;

“From 1689 to 1693 King William and Queen Mary allocated the (French Protestant) refugees a sum of £39,00 from the Civil List, the so-called ‘Royal Bounty’. This was supported by Parliament which provided a precedent for further grants”

This is in stark comparison with the way Theresa May has used immigrants as a political football in the Brexit negotiations and also in terms of developing a patriotic agenda to gain votes.

The decision that Theresa May has made and supported over the last few years, to effectively deport non-eu nationals who were earning less than £35,000 was seen as an ethical mistake which is unfair to immigrants.

Josh Harbord, the British citizen behind the Stop35k campaign which has attracted the support of SNP, Labour and Green MPs. “I don’t want to live in a country that values people’s incomes over people’s contributions to society.”

The measure has also been deemed discriminatory for British natives on the basis of gender, age and region. A spokesperson from the Migration Observatory has claimed that; “Any policy which places a financial threshold on the ability of someone to bring a partner into the country naturally discriminates against those who earn less, particularly women, those who don’t live in London and young people”. It can only be seen as a regressive decline, that immigration is now perceived as a potential threat to our economy and society. Indeed, it also seems as though some ministers are actually willing to use religious extremism as a way to subvert the law. A former military officer and a member of the joint intelligence committee has claimed that any potential religious extremists should be deported even if they are innocent to avoid future catastrophes.

If we believe that they pose a threat to us then they have to be got rid of. They should not be here any longer… Some of them may be innocent but I would rather take that risk than I would risk having dead children on our streets…..It was counterproductive in Northern Ireland but we can do it in a different way than we did it in Northern Ireland and make sure it is both productive and effective.

The idea of Muslim being deported because they happened to speak to an extremist at a mosque or a somebody having their citizenship status revoked because they happened to visit an Jihadi website is a dangerous prospect. Furthermore, this idea gives intelligence agencies the power to work outside of the law, it is also a draconian idea that harps back to the time of the Gunpowder plot where Catholics and other ‘undesirables’ could be exiled from a country based on either word of mouth or little to no evidence.

There is also plenty of evidence of how religion has affected the way in which we interact with politics in the later centuries of British history.  The eighteenth century has often been viewed as the year that succeeded a hundred years of religious wars. In fact religion made its mark on our political system but in a much more profound and subtle way. Historians have spoken favourably about how the British economy developed due to a rising middle class that was engaged in alternative religious groups.

“The emergence of an evangelical approach to religion and utilitarian attitudes to ‘practical’ philosophy lay at the root of the middling orders claim to political power as well as reinforcing their growing economic dominance”

This evangelical approach to religion often led to the creation of denominational churches such as Methodism, Baptist Churches and Quaker churches. All of these churches initially rose in the seventeenth century due to a political upheaval of the ‘English Civil War’; but two factors led to the widespread growth of middle class non-conformism. Firstly, the liberation of censorship towards the end of seventeenth century allowed for various religious groups to develop and grow. In 1695, the licensing act meant that there was no more censorship before publication which meant that people could now access different forms of worship that were outside of the Church of England. As the Historian Castillo notes

Conventional methods to suppress printed material or books that threatened accepted religion were not much of a benefit in this period

The new found wealth that the middle classes had acquired from the rise of trade within the British colonial empire combined with the relaxation in censorship created the time and the respectability for other forms of religion to be explored. This revolutionised the eighteenth century from what was known as an Ancien Regime(old regime) of Church and monarchy towards a period of relative liberty that helped to usher in the enlightenment and the move towards rationalism and scientific theories.  These movements towards modernity are particular interesting when we consider the decision taken by the government to enforce censorship-type laws over the internet: the conservative manifesto has stated that Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet…we disagree”This is dangerously close to the justification  of censorship in the UK which is also an inadvertent method of clamping down on free speech.  May has expressed pride in her policy of moving the fight from the “battlefield to the internet” and also “to halt the spread of extremist material and hateful propaganda that is warping young minds”. I have already mentioned previously in this blog about the problems of clamping down on “hate speech”. But I believe the same logic applies in this instance; the use of terms like “extremist material” and “hateful propaganda” are still subjective terms which are open to interpretation and are in no way concrete in their meaning or purpose. The eighteenth century thus provides a good example of how the economy and civil liberties combined to provide a diversity of religious fervour, those principles of social freedom are now being challenged by today’s government using the excuse of “religious terrorism”.

wesley

John Wesley was one of many radical religious nonconformists who rose to popularity.

In my opinion, the nineteenth century provides a good example of how religious politics could work in a progressive manner for Britain. Whereas the 17th century demonstrated how religion dismantled and replaced political systems in England and Scotland. The eighteenth century explained how religion was able to bring about a new set of liberal social changes to British society. The eighteenth century shared some of these developments as religion was adopted as a political and social movement to transform the welfare of society based on a sense of moral obligation to the people. As Prochaska stated:

The Victorians, who believed that Britain’s greatness rested on Christian foundation, assumed that religion and the public good were inextricably linked. It was axiomatic, as one social campaigner declared in 1800, that charity could only be effectively exercised under the influence of ‘sacred principle’.

These acts of christian charity were often delivered by the British middle class and their influence was seen in many sections of British life. Including health, education and politics. For example, many evangelical movements including the Quaker helped to inspire a pacifist movement against the British Empire involvement in the Napoleonic wars. This movement helped to garner a sense of respectability due to the involvement of notable and credible figures from the political scene. A Reverend called Henry Richard became an MP during his tenure as leader for the Peace Society, and attempted to contribute towards some progressive legislation in education, health and housing. He attempted to put an end to landowners evicting tenants in Wales who voted for their political opponents, as a non conformist his support for religious liberty often matched his support political liberty. He also had a strong support for welsh nationalism and saw education as a means to improve the morals of society; he was a member of both the royal commission on education and another committee which oversaw intermediate education in Wales. During his membership, he helped to create the University of Wales and helped to establish  a scheme to ensure that the Welsh language was being used in elementary schools appropriately.

Most interestingly, when Henry was allowed to vote on a new education bill in 1870, he actually refused to approve it because of a conscience clause which encouraged the idea of religious teaching in elementary schools. Richard refused to agree with this mainly because he thought that “religious instruction should be supplied by voluntary effort and not out of public funds“. Henry provides some interesting insight in the way some Victorians perceived the relationship between church and State. Here we can witness not the avocation of a secular state, but a nation that is supported by a grassroots religious fervour as opposed to a state-led approach to religion. Furthermore it also suggests a certain level of religious liberty, as it is down to an individual or a group to introduce their religious belief outside of government interference. For the Victorians, this was especially progressive particularly during an era when blasphemous beliefs such as Catholicism and Atheism were seen as dangerous subjects that were adopted by their arch enemy; the French.

charity

Charity Relieving Distress – Thomas Gainsborough. How can we become more charitable in today’s society?

Furthermore, I believe the actions of Henry Richard do provide some sort of support for society that is not dominated and controlled by a central government. Henry’s time was one where the local parish had a greater influence over the surrounding communities, particularly in terms of welfare and worship. The parish still had close ties to the central government in terms of foreign policy and taxation but the citizens of the parish still had greater influence of the identity of the local character  and the I also believe it demonstrates a world where the forces of nationalism, religion and a relative equality can co-exist peacefully and without division. In today’s society we have a regional divide where some northern communities have expressed the lack of integration between Asian Islamic neighbourhoods and the more traditional predominately white areas in Northern England. The division has been fuelled by a fear that traditional British customs and values are being eroded and replaced by foreign ones and that Islamic neighbourhoods are undergoing a culture of xenophobia against their way of life. Some may say this also coincides with the issues surrounding immigration and the strain of public services.

Wouldn’t it better if we had a decentralised system where local governments had the ability to allocate resources in a much more appropriate away?  Local governments would have the authority to undertake measures that could improve the cultural harmony of the community rather than having to deal with the bureaucracy of state governments, this is particularly true in terms of education and the way our national curriculum caters towards a generic sense of Britishness rather than taking into account the various regional characters across Britain. Some may argue that is could only create a broken Britain, but this isn’t necessarily true. As Henry Richard did in the Victorian times, Members of parliament will and should still be able to address their grievances to Parliament in order to share and understand the problems of the nation, but local governments would have a greater power in tackling their issues more decisively.

In the wake of recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, the forces of technology and the media are ever present in our society. They have become godlike in their ability capture attention and to distribute critical information in manner that could not be have been foreseen decades ago. They have the power to control what we understand about the world and also the power to change the way we perceive each other. The room then for bias, sensationalism and inaccuracy is particularly unwelcome as we approach one the most important general elections in decades. There is a tendency for some media and technology outlets to exploit brutal atrocities and twist our information to suit a particular narrative, this can result in an increasing feeling of paranoia and ignorance towards certain social groups in society. Because of this, I believe that a certain wave of (Anglo)Christianity could sweep the nation as people search for new ways to be compassionate and patriotic at the same time. Islamic immigrants have given Britain a level of diversity that has improved the cultural awareness of many of our citizens but it has blurred our sense of a British identity. Historically, Britain has always been a beacon for many different belief systems to come and visit, this diversity has allowed us to become a creative nation but it has also made us prone to division and conflict. This need for us to conform to a distinctive national identity whilst at the same allowing us to be harmonious and peaceful with one another could be fulfilled by Christianity. It has enough historical roots in this country for it be a part of British patriotism but it also has the ability in enabling us to be compassionate and merciful to one another. As I’ve explained earlier this suggestion is not a straightforward one, there are plenty of  historical examples of Christianity being used to divide us and turn us into a fragmented nation. I am only predicating possibilities, not certainties. But with the rise of Far-right populism and also a desire for universal harmony it is inevitable that we will have to search for news in caring for each other. Could Christianity be that answer?

 

sovereigntyWith the decision of the Scottish Parliament to approve another independence referendum, the formal decision of Theresa May to official invoke article 50 and the nationalist tone of the general election; Questions surrounding sovereignty and the ‘recovery of power’ are fully in play. The rise of populism throughout the world and the increase around nationalist feeling has made Scotland particularly interesting in their growing interest towards leaving the United Kingdom.

Scotland’s recent change in political mood has been born out of a supposed fear that Scotland will be “dragged” out of the EU despite the country wishing to remain inside the European Union (as was evident in last year’s referendum).  But what I find intriguing is how Scotland wishes to leave an union based on the principles of sovereignty but at the same time wishes to remain inside a European Institution that requires member states to pool their sovereignty.

I have seen instances of this in other regions of the world, where a country has ceded from its host nation, only to join another a larger union that requires some pooling of sovereignty. Western Sahara or Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) became an unofficial independent region since 1975 when Spain retired its administrative power over the region following an uprising by the native West Saharan People (Polisario Front/ Sahrawi people). In 1979, the UN granted SADR the right to self determination and independence. There has been an ongoing conflict between Morocco and the West Saharan people for control within the region, with several protests and demonstrations resulting in fatalities. With this struggle for independence and sovereignty, it may be seen as a surprise as to why the Western Sahara are happy to join the African Union(African Union), an institution that advocates African states giving away their sovereignty. It may be said, that this was done for diplomatic reasons since the AU has historically recognised SADR. But recently, several countries are considering withdrawing their recognition of SADR, and over half of the member states within the AU may call for the expulsion of SADR from the Union. Why would Western Sahara want to join a Union that seeks to undermine the status and the integrity of its government?

_49851637_western_sahara_bern_304

Who has legitimate sovereignty over Western Sahara?

I believe that some comparisons can be made here with Scotland. EU law has specifically outlined the difficulty with which Scotland will face if it attempts to rejoin the EU after leaving the United Kingdom The conditions of admission……..shall be the subject of an agreement between the Member States and the applicant State…….This agreement shall be submitted for ratification by all the contracting States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements’. This agreement will not be easy to conduct if the negotiations between Theresa May and European Union are anything to go by. The rhetoric from some senior European/Scottish officials have expressed the struggle that Scotland may face in attempting to rejoin the EU, MSP Adam Tomkins said ”

For all its moaning about Brexit, it knows fine well an independent Scotland would not simply step into the European Union. Not only would it join the back of the queue, but we now learn it may have to adopt the euro and tackle an eye-watering deficit.

“It’s time for the nationalists to be honest about Brexit and stop using it as a tool to agitate for separation“.

Sturgeon-independence-EU-707820

What are the true intentions for the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon; surrounding Brexit and Scottish independence?

I find it particularly interesting how Tomkins claims that the Scottish government are using the European Union to further their own nationalist agenda. One could argue that Western Sahara/Polisario are attempting to a similar path, in that their attempt to join the AU is less about supporting African unity and prosperity and more about strengthening their cause for self-determination. Is this a matter of political dishonesty? Or is it just a necessary feature of modern politics? What sort of an impression does this give to the African and European Unions’ idea of continental unity if membership is seen as a political tool to gain independence?

Although Western Sahara are in the midst of a violent conflict with Morocco, Scotland and Western Sahara both harbour criticisms about joining a corrupt institution. African Political Scientists, Okumu and Makinda have remarked on the scale of fraud and misconduct in the African Union “personal greed; the internalization of bad habits; weak government structures.; poor remuneration of civil servants. These facts have generated corruption from the local governance authorities, through the state to the African Union”. Interestingly similar comments have been made about the European Union and its ability to prevent the growth of corruption, political scientist Warner has actually claimed that the European Union has supported the rise of wrongdoing and misconduct. “Across the EU, corruption has been found to have occurred not just in the ‘old economy’ sectors but in new and supposedly competitive sectors such as telecommunications, with politicians getting kickbacks for steering contracts or making favourable arrangements for firms”. Is it a possibility that the prospect of economic growth may be more significant than the idea of sovereignty. Both Scotland and Morocco have expressed an interest in joining smaller regional financial organisations; Scotland are currently considering joining EEA whilst changing their relationship with the WTO. Morocco are following a similar path by joining the (ECOWAS) Economic Community of West African States as well as being a part of  the Arab Maghreb Union. Now both Scotland and Morocco both adopt a strong patriotic tone with their politics, with the idea of national sovereignty being paramount. But does their relationship with these small political regional organisations suggest a changing nature around our idea of sovereignty?

quote-in-the-age-of-globalisation-pooled-sovereignty-means-more-power-not-less-jose-manuel-barroso-97-26-36

Are our perceptions of sovereignty changing?

As Political Scientist Dr Nat O’Connor discusses

Part of the explanation for the British vote to exit the EU is a reaction to the uncertainty and fast pace of change brought about by globalisation. The calls to ‘take back control’ and for the UK to be fully sovereign are a rhetorical expression of this malaise.

Yet, how many countries are truly sovereign in this idealistic way?

Once the government of any territory wants to interact—even in a purely transactional way—with other jurisdictions, there must be some level of co-operation, if not compromise, which represents pooled sovereignty. “

From my perspective, this entire argument over sovereignty rests on the notion over a paternalist state versus the right of the individual. It could be argued that a paternalist state is allowed to seek financial agreements if it supports economic growth for its citizens despite the lack of transparency or approval with its subjects. The ‘right of the individual’ argument will often stress however that the citizen has the right to be informed over every decision and that “the people” should be part of the ‘negotiation process’. The complexities surrounding these notions of sovereignty is about the definition of “the people”. Many prominent Brexit Campaigners have cited the 52% of those who voted to leave the European Union as an accurate representation of “the people”. What happens to other 48%? Are their political voices to be ignored because the result of the referendum went against their wishes by 2 percent? These questions have led me to believe that political representation is central to our differing notions of sovereignty. But it also alludes to some conflicting ideas that some British political parties have about sovereignty. Nicola Sturgeon often makes the argument that the SNP are the party to spearhead Scotland towards independence, using her electoral gain of 50 seats from the 2015 general election as a democratic mandate for home rule. However if we take a look at the figures from that election, one could argue that SNP are not wholly representative of the Scottish electorate. They may have claimed 56 of the possible 59 seats in Scotland, but they only claimed 1/2 of the possible votes from Scottish electorate, how can a party promote the values representation and sovereignty for the people when it benefits from a disproportionate and a flawed system such as First Past The Post?

proportional representation

Can the First Past the Post System claim to accurately reflect the voice of the UK electorate? If it does not, then are the British electorate truly sovereign?

I do wonder however whether it is possible that the SNP could  prosper the idea of an alternative left wing movement that transcends the traditional idea of sovereignty. As we have seen, both Morocco and Scotland believe that their political and economic responsibility reaches beyond their national boundaries. Furthermore, the SNP have claimed that the employment rights of Scottish citizens are so enshrined within the European legislation,  that it actually makes the EU a stronger guarantor of worker rights than the current Conservative government of the UK. Interestingly, whilst there have been criticisms of the Conservative government spending disproportionately on defense at the expense of education, health and welfare departments, a similar sentiment has been echoed in much of North Africa including Morocco. Tunisian politician Riad Ben Fadhel has stated that  “[There has been an] unusual level of expenditure on arms, instead of social budgets, with austerity still being widely implemented across the Arab world…with Moroccan and Saudi Arabian governments receiving military assistance from the US…”, but Fadhel also states that to combat this militarist agenda, north African states should attempt in “building a united left-wing political coalition in the post-Arab spring political environment.” Fadhel speaks in a similar rhetoric to many SNP voters in that he does not wish to ignore the national identities of countries such as Morocco and Tunisia but to remind us about the social responsibility we have to those who are vulnerable regardless of their citizenship.

These principles may not be entirely new as it has been argued that institutions like the EU were founded on a social democratic promise to protect ‘ordinary’ European citizens. But with the rise of left wing politicians such Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders as well as the growing leftist movement DIEM25, there seems to be developing political trend outside of the establishment to unify and transform global politics. I am not sure whether this will have the same impact as the populist right due to the facet seem to espouse and support the governments neo-liberal handling of brexit furthermore the mainstream media outlets tend to offer more coverage to right-wing administrations such as the American Trump presidency over of British left wing movements such Jeremy Corbyn’s Momentum.

Of course historically, the SNP have always celebrated their ability to pool sovereignty with the government of England  the union with England and Wales. The Act of Union which was signed in 1707 was in seen as a great opportunity for the Scottish middle classes to rise up the social ladder and enjoy financial benefits of a prosperous British Empire. An English traveller to Scotland by the name of Daniel wrote in 1726 that “the Union opened the door to the Scots in our American colonies and the Glasgow merchants took up the opportunity”. I could be argued that this mentality of Scottish nationalism is still inherent today, with many Scottish citizens claiming they enjoy the benefits of the UK’s economic reach across the world. Would it then be radical political step for Scotland to detach itself from the Union which could thus threaten the national identity of Scotland progressing as a state.

 

One-simple-but-radical-idea

Can a cross border movement based on the idea of democracy beat a populist narrative based on the traditional idea of sovereignty?

 

It is clear then that sovereignty is not a black-and-white issue like it has been portrayed in the national media. Our perception of power and where it resides can often be contradictory and fleeting. But is dominates our political conversation to the extent that certain contextual issues such as military intervention, party politics, austerity can often be forgotten. It thus important that our voices and opinions on these issues are accurately represented by our politicians and the media. We often hear how the support for national sovereignty is reflected in the far-right support for populist parties, but perhaps we should look beyond these claims to the idea that something more powerful can transcend the traditional ideas of sovereignty.

Is this an accurate portal of Trumpean future? How did we reach a stage where socio-economic equality has become a secondary priority to nationalism? I understand that the recent western anti-establishment movement seemed initially to fight for the “people” or the ordinary worker. However, I feel that those people have become deliberately detached from this initial message and have taken arms against the rise of the ‘SJW’. This isn’t particularly directed at the populist Alternative Right, but more about the source for this divisive atmosphere that has captured today’s political culture. What happened to discussions of ‘equality of opportunity’, what happened to idea of taking on the Big Banks and Wall street? Whilst there was a movement that was mobilised around social mobility, this has gradually been replaced by a rhetoric that justifies the inflated wealth of the elite.

This is particularly reflected in Trump’s decision to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act (the piece of legislation that regulated the Banks after the 2008 financial crisis). In his own words ‘We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank, because frankly I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses and they can’t borrow money … They just can’t get any money because the banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank. So we’ll be talking about that in terms of the banking industry,’. Does this sound like a man who is using radical measures to fight the establishment? It is clear that a vast section of Trump supporters have adopted a blissful ignorance to the fact that Trump is a product of a broken system. A system that seeks to protect the lucky winners of the banking and finance industry, whilst the losers – primarily those middle income earners whose mortgages were  devalued by the banking crisis, that Trump is meant to appeal to – are left a heavy financial burden to fix the economy.

winners-and-losers

Which one will you be?

One could also argue that here in Britain, any discussion of the economic consequences of Brexit have been minimal with immigration concerns remaining dominant. But there is emerging evidence that certain MPs who backed Brexit, were not doing so to restore ‘power to the people’. Earlier last week, brexiteer Kwasi Kwarteng spoke to RT and was reluctant to criticise the sanction scheme for British welfare, but seemed quick to defend the ‘bail-out’ of the banks based on the reasoning that ‘if the banking sector fails, everything fails’. This wilful negligence to acknowledge the contribution of the working classes to the economy is indicative of the way the conservative party are ensuring that Brexit works for the establishment. The big question here is, how we the public respond to this manipulation of public opinion.

Jeremy Corbyn has warned us about the dangers of Britain becoming an off-sure tax haven for the rich. “Theresa May has dangled the threat of turning Britain into a bargain basement tax haven….Far from taking back control, that would mean an assault on our public services, our standard of living and our quality of life.” As Disraeli said back in the 19th century, this would create a two nation England, where the corporations would reap the benefits of less financial red tape and the losers will suffer from a poorly funded public services.

Brexit and Trump were meant to deliver an eagerly awaited revolution that could potentially transform the relationship between ‘people’ and authority. Instead of focusing on ensuring that that revolution is realised, the populace in both America and the US have become distracted by the May’s and Trumps ill-thought immigration strategy. This is not to say that immigration is not an important discussion, but I believe it is being used as a smokescreen so that the ‘establishment’ can realign themselves on the right side of these populist results. It is our responsibility to make sure that we hold these outcomes to account and not to be distracted by sensationalist headlines.

 


It seems to be that time of the year where we tend to simplify our problems and to a greater extent paint very black & white solutions to them. The need to neatly paint a picture of our social world is not born out of a currently fluid political atmosphere nor does it derive from our ‘new year resolutions’. It comes from a very fundamental part of human nature to place ideas, events and people in easily understood boxes without much consideration for accuracy or context. This mindset has been existent throughout human history; whether it is the way we perceived religious authorities in early modern Europe (It was a lot more complicated than Priests, Bishops and the ‘people’), the idea of a two nation state in the 19th century or the ‘battle’ between communism or capitalism states in the previous century. We have always had the tendency to create a villain or a hero out of a situation without consideration for the side characters and events that often have a huge influence. It is this sort of intellectual laziness that is plaguing our ability to debate properly or discuss harsh truths. The need to categorise everything and place things in boxes has created a post-truth environment but it is born out out of a Post-Trust world. The lack of faith in our current institutions has created this attack on Liberalism. But Liberalism and its connection to trust, radicalism and politics is much more misunderstood than is often realised.

Interestingly, it was faith and belief that initially helped to establish the main tenets of liberalism. Although the discussion of liberty has always existed throughout history (from Ancient Greece to the Enlightenment). It rose to prominence in seventeenth century Europe with the escalating conflict between Charles I and his parliament. The political discussions around authority and power meant that a large section of the populace began to question their position in society. The Levellers used this debate to discuss the concept of liberty and the extent to which people could be allowed to express their social views. Initially, this had a religious purpose, many Levellers wanted to complete freedom of conscience. Eventually this concept of religious liberty was clamped down on by Parliament, and the Catholics that supported Charles I went into exile, mainly to Catholic France. Although these English Catholics were refugees they were in a considerably different situation to the mainly Muslim refugees in present day France. The Catholic refugees were leaving a country because its religious liberty did not include Catholicism , whereas the current Muslim refugees are fleeing to a country that it is considered to be liberal but increasingly hostile to Islam. The reasons for this difference indicate how liberalism has evolved.

syrian-refugees

A Muslim Syrian Family in present day France.

17th-century-nuns

English Christian Nuns arriving in Early Modern France.

Liberty initially meant religious tolerance (as explained above), but it has taken on a new meaning, one of socio-economic mobility. Social reputation and the idea of creating a more prosperous life for your family have established the idea of liberalism. Over recent decades, we have been taught to see the world as one where money and capital are free-flowing and that anybody can rise or fall across the social ladder depending on how hard you work. This ideology grew to prominence in the late seventeenth century with the rise of a commercial middle class that wanted to aspire to greater things within the confines of their protestant religion. (Picture of stock markets) Up until now, this ideology had become the general basis of  Liberalism; the concept of individualism and the strong role of the free market towards the end of the 20th century are particular indicators of this relatively new liberalism. To a certain extent you could argue that this new liberalism is like and inclusive open space or a public sphere, whereas the older types of liberalism celebrated the freedom of religious worship something which is privately held. This might explain why some immigrants are willing to sacrifice the religious scrutiny they will face in order to secure the social welfare of their family.

quote-there-can-be-no-liberty-unless-there-is-economic-liberty-margaret-thatcher-29-24-86

Did thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister mark a turning point in the way we perceive liberty?

The institutions – Press, political parties and banks – that have supported this public sphere are now crumbling and liberalism is also being questioned and critiqued because it was the bedrock of the public sphere. It was Habermas (The sociologist who coined the term ‘Public sphere’), who believed that the public sphere was founded on loose censorship, a legitimate political opposition and a central bank that could spark economic discussion. Recently, we have witnessed the injustice of the banking system, the biased nature of our newspapers and a political structure that provides no credible opposition. Many citizens are now rejecting these ‘public sphere’ institutions in favour of a more personal and private world, where traditional patriotic religious values are becoming more popular and are replacing the norms and values of ‘liberalism’. People are being attracted towards these older more conservative values because they offer a level of familiarity and safe security that public institutions are not providing.

Economist ‘Guy Standing’ has discussed about the level of precariousness that is existent in western democracies and how many citizens feel unstable towards neo-liberalism. Standing, in particular looks at how the purpose of public spaces like parks and libraries are being  challenged by this pro-free market type of liberalism. The redundancy  of public sector jobs has created a huge level of uncertainty of those who are trying to avoid the clutches of poverty. Although, this precariousness is dangerous for creating wage-income insecurity, it also erodes the older sense of liberalism as a notion for free independent thinking. For if libraries are  forced to close (because they “can’t provide economic growth”) then where else are people meant to go to access free well-researched independent knowledge? Book clubs, junior reading challenges and reading competitions all help to celebrate the old liberal notion of discussion, debate and free expression. If people are forced to rely on their information from biased news sources and politically correct media channels, then surely the true notion of liberalism will have become obsolete. ‘Public sphere’ institutions may seem like they can provide a fair and prosperous life for their citizens on the basis of liberalism but we see from the effects of austerity that is a fallacy.

6a010536783c99970c0148c83bc137970c-500wi

By defending libraries, are we defending our liberty to learn independently?

It is easy to carelessly blame liberalism for these problems, however we must identify the particular type of liberalism that governments and public sphere ‘institutions’ wish to represent. I don’t think it is too far-fetched to believe that governments have manipulated our perception of liberalism in order for us to use it as a scapegoat for the world’s current problems. Immigration is often cited as one of the great strains of liberalism, however one could argue that our governments have simply been irresponsible when it comes to the quantity and quality of immigrants that have settled it here. Because successive governments have liberalised British employment through free-market reforms, this has created huge demand of cheap foreign labour often at the expense of the British workforce. Again, it is the free market concept of liberalism that is affecting of welfare of British people not the ‘culturally inclusive’ aspect of liberalism.

However recently, we have seen how this government is creating a divisive rhetoric in the name of liberalism. A new government review into integration has revealed and criticised the levels of cultural isolation in some parts of Britain. It is important to recognise that this isn’t simply racist rhetoric towards immigrants and their ethics but an expose of how institutions like the media and our government have allowed a culture of segregation to develop amongst new immigrants. Divisive rhetoric from the Daily Mail(and other notable tabloids) as well as housing planning and structures; have created separate social and physical spaces for immigrants to reside in, and our government has defended these spaces in the name of liberalism. Where is the liberty and freedom if immigrants feel pressured to lock themselves within their own community? Surely if we encouraged immigrants to integrate in to British culture then there would be more cultural fluidity and understanding. Prejudices and stereotypes only develop from ignorance and inability(or unwillingness) to access the cultural world of their fellow man. The segregation of immigrants has helped to foster a defensive and protectionist nationalist feeling against the ‘other’.

jl-lj

Is integration key in making sure liberty works for everybody?

These nationalists are drawn to the criticism of liberalism, which has become a representation for the corrupt public institutions and their vested interests. However, I believe that the public are staring to blaming liberalism for their dire situation whilst forgetting that it is the public institutions who are really the culprits. Earlier I discussed how the notion of us being in post-trust world is more appropriate than a post-truth world, and I definitely believe it applies in this situation. Citizens across  various ‘western democracies’ are rejecting the advice of ‘public sphere’ institutions, not because of an ignorance of facts and knowledge but more about a lack of faith and trust in these authorities. The truth is irrelevant to these people because they do not trust the source of the information they receive. It is almost like an abusive paternal relationship, where the child represents the citizen and public sphere institution is the parent. The only source of guidance comes from the parent; but if the parent abuses their position of power, then that guidance becomes worthless simply because the trust in that relationship has broken down. This situation is being replayed between the citizens and their authorities only with more instability, mainly because the citizen has gained the courage and legitimacy to challenge the public sphere institutions that overrule them. In the midst of this, liberalism has been blamed for creating this civil conflict. But one must remember that unless this relationship between the citizen and the institution is restored to its healthy state; liberalism will continue to be misunderstood and scapegoated for the corruption in high society.

_________________________________________________________________

Foreign or domestic priorities?

Trump’s inauguration has been the main talking point this week, but its interesting how our politics is so infused with stories that are largely out of our control. American society is obviously influential when it comes to our popular culture, but I think the special relationship has become grown into something ungainly, hypocritical and dangerous. A friend once spoke of the double standards regarding Farage and his decision to immerse himself so deeply in Trump’s election campaign. How can one Farage criticise Obama for his intervention on the Remain Campaign during the EU vote, when he chose to give support speeches in favour of Trump? I never once saw Corbyn share a platform with Saunders despite their ideological similarities, in fact Saunders had actually denied any official correspondence with Corbyn during his leadership challenge. It is ironic that during a time when the left is blamed for its ‘globalist approach’, it is the right wing leaders who are investing their time and effort in foreign affairs. What will this mean for our Brexit trade deals, only time will tell.

I think I have been caught in the same old traps regarding the rights and wrongs of foreign intervention. Early last year, I often praised Russia with the way they dealt with ISIS and their attempt to separate the moderate rebels from the terrorists in comparison with US’s suspicious dithering and reluctance to properly tackle the Islamic terrorists. But the announcement of Russia, Syria and Turkey forming a pact of ‘guarantors’ in the Syrian peace process has worried me that we are just witnessing another version of American Imperialism. I do not deny the importance of having independent overseers to make sure Syria finds stability, but Syria’s stability must be of their own choosing. And by ‘own’ I mean the direct citizens of Syria not foreign diplomats. I have been reading Sumia Sukkar’s book  The Boy from Aleppo who painted the War, and the book has poignantly reminded me that we get so wrapped up in the political forces that confront each other, that we often forget about the apolitical citizens who are just trying to find a way to survive.  The question is, in a region where the rebuilding of society is dependent on responsibility and tough decision, can anybody really afford to be apolitical?