Posts Tagged ‘Radicalism’

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.

 

Many events have captured my mind over the past weeks in regards to our national identity, whether it is about the many people across the kingdom who sympathised and supported other regions in the wake of storm Desmond, the celebratory mood around the Christmas holiday period or even the haggling/national spirit of Black Friday that seems to dis-unifying Britons in the name of capitalism.

But I decided to choose freedom of speech, as I believe that although it has not been making the headlines that it was during the Charlie Hebdo incident last year, it is still making a massive influence on the way we conduct ourselves, express ourselves and restrict ourselves in British society.

20150110_ldp001_0

Is freedom of speech worth dying for if we don’t even know what it means?

Our government loves to claim that freedom of speech is one of the hallmarks of modern British values. But it is still an unclear and muddled concept that has made me change mind quite radically on the matter. The definition of freedom of speech is outlined by the Uk Human Rights Act 1998: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers”. This seems to allow right to speak freely without any governmental obstruction.

But the second part of the speech seems to contradict that “The exercise of these freedoms….may be subject to such…restrictions…in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals..“. In my opinion one key question from this passage remains answered: which morals need protecting? Surely our justice system could just apply whichever ‘morals’ that seem applicable to the situation. The official definition is just too subjective and thus too open to interpretation and manipulation.

I also believe that the term ‘freedom of speech’ is in it self a misleading term. As the term ‘speech’ seems to only imply words, but of course speech can express itself in pictures and videos. Which brings me upon book publications. Many people assume authors automatically  decide their own front covers and titles, but this is not the case as it is the editors who generally have the final say in producing a front cover that can maximise sales after publication. A similar occurs within the newspaper industry with many editors often drastically altering the titles in order to garner more ‘hits’. Surely this must be seen as a breach of freedom of speech, as the opinions and voices of writers is being distorted to achieve some material gain.

In my opinion this is the dangerous and subtle erosion of freedom of speech. Mainly because it doesn’t prevent the writer from expressing their opinions but it warps the image of their expressions while convincing the audience that nothing has been changed.

I also think it is worth mentioning the fact that last year the National Youth Centre cancelled a play that would tackle the issue of radicalizasion amongst young British citizens.  The decision to cancel has been widely condemned in the media and the public domain. Apparently the reason is mainly down to the fact that the NYT were not sure that the play would be successful in “meeting all of our aims to the standards we set and which our members and audiences have come to expect”. Interviews from the cast and director have suggested the reason for the cancellation was because the play asked controversial questions regarding radicalization. I believe that the cancellation falls very dangerously in the category of censorship and demonstrates how the denial of freedom of speech can operate in different domains.

The methods and techniques of censorship have evolved incredibly, much of that down to the evolution of technology. For example in seventeenth century England, censorship relatively easier to regulate and enforce as all books and printed texts had to be registered and licensed prior to publication, there was an even a law enacted in 1637 which stated which print publishers you could work for, that all reprints had to be licensed and that all printed texts had to be written in an official record book which was monitored by the government. Evidence shows that although, some illegal prints slipped through, towards 1640 all unlicensed copies of ballads sank to zeros. Nowadays, in the 21st century the methods of censorship are becoming more ill-defined with the introduction of the internet and social media in particular. We now have the ability to censor and suppress peoples opinions on social networking sites.

5513616074043490275no

Show we have the right to determine what is hate speech?

In my opinion the justification for freedom of speech and what is classified as hate speech are two sides of the same coin. How are we allowed to express ourselves without interference if our opinions are to be suppressed because of the subjective notion of ‘hate speech’.

In my opinion many of us seem to forget that even though we may all have the ability to speak freely, many of us are able to expose our message with greater advantage. For example our Queen has the benefit of speaking to her ‘subjects’ in a designated timeslot ever year during the Christmas holidays; a privilege that many of us (including politicians) will never be able to hold. Now one can argue, that she is a figure of national and religious solidarity and thus she deserves her ability to speak freely. However, it must also be remembered that she is an unelected individual who’s political and social contribution is very limited. It could be argued that it may be better to give that television time to our Prime minister; someone who actually wields greater political power and who is ‘meant’ to represent our views. To me, this is a clear demonstration of how freedom of speech is not equally or fairly distributed, it may also send out the subtle message that those in more privileged positions have the right to more exposure than those in a lesser position.

All of these contradictions and conflicts in our ability to express ourselves freely damaging to our capability to have a free and open debate about controversial issues in society. I believe this is having a negative knock on effect on radical views in society, it seems that many extreme perspectives that do not correspond with mainstream thought are festering and growing into ideologies that are much more radical and dangerous. Marginalised groups of society are congregating on websites such as Stormfront Britain because there is no other public domain which they are allowed to engage in. I understand about the threat that extremist groups pose to our ‘solidarity’, but it is important that these groups get significant representation in public debates, otherwise we will continue to fail in justifying our label as a free and tolerant society. I do not wish to revert back to a world in the 1630, where writing anonymously was the only way to voice your opinion without persecution. If we wish to have a public sphere that upholds the principles of liberty we must have a more concrete idea of what freedom of speech means in 21st century Britain.

 

Our civil rights
It is July. We are finally beginning to get to grips with the outcome of this General Election. Despite the ‘renewal’ of a Conservative victory, the idea of our political sphere remaining the same is far from correct. The Scottish people have voted in the direction of Nationalism, unity, solidarity and a sense of ‘togetherness’. Or so it would seem. The level of Sectarian violence seems to have decreased. The Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications Act has been initiated. Charges under one of this act indicate that the number of threatening behaviour linked to football matches have fallen from 268 in 2012/2013 to 193 in 2014/2015. The number of charges involving behaviour that was derogatory towards the Roman Catholics was down from 42 to 88.
But this doesn’t tell the full story.

After an 'Old Firm' clash, the Celtic crowd displays a picture of the Four Horsemen (from the Book of Revelations in the Bible) to mock the Rangers Football Team.

After an ‘Old Firm’ clash, the Celtic crowd displays a picture of the Four Horsemen (from the Book of Revelations in the Bible) to mock the Rangers Football Team.

New statistics indicate that 9 out of 10 Scottish people believe that Sectarianism is still a major problem in Scottish society. These problems have been long standing since the National Civil War in 1642 when “‘strange inhumanities’ were practiced by disorderly troops against papists near London, men who were ‘sober, moderate and charitable-minded’ and lived ‘in…love, and credit with their neighbours“. The Grand Opening of the National Civil War Centre only stands to remind us that religious conflict in Britain has always been a historical challenge that we have failed to overcome.
Our current conservative government want to complicate this issue by potentially removing the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights; one of the few laws which entrench our social freedoms. Excerpt: ” the freedom to exercise religion or belief publicly or privately, alone or with others“.  It has also been noted that the Scottish government will be allowed to keep the Human rights act whilst the rest of the UK will reside under different legislation. This will only confuse matters as Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael has noted “the human rights act is hard-wired into the devolution settlements of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland” and that those who had campaigned to keep Scotland as part of the UK in the referendum last year “had not envisaged separate human rights laws for different parts of the UK“. To repeal this established law will create legal instability for how our civil liberties are governed.
During the English Civil war Charles I attempted to pressurize the Scottish Church in to adopting his own style of worship. Whilst the conditions are very different this time, one feature remains the same.  That we have a central body that is placing pressure on different regions to change their stance on human rights.
The cost of living has been a main feature of political debate, with austerity challenging many households up and down the nation to make ends meet. But the last thing we need is cultural instability to increase in those areas where division is already rife. Scotland may be on the road of progress when it comes religious unity, but if we are to fully succeed we must face the issue together as part of a ‘family of nations’. It is no good being called the United Kingdom when we don’t even share the same attitude to civil liberties.
If we radically dismantle our human rights system we will add fire to the violent radical forces that are existent today.