Posts Tagged ‘brexit’

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?

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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“.

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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?

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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?

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A Muslim Syrian Family in present day France.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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?