Tag Archive | Politics

Why I am voting to REMAIN in the EU

On September 10 2014, I wrote a post titled “Why I am voting YES to Scottish Independence.” You can read it for yourself if you like, but I am always encouraged when I look back on it to see that I completely agree with everything I wrote back then. That vote didn’t go the way  I wanted it to go and now, 21 months or so later, I find myself much busier (my Ph.D. thesis is due in on 30 September), a paid up member of the Scottish Green Party (I joined the day after the Scottish Independence referendum, on 19 September 2014), with another referendum coming up – this time on whether the UK should remain in the European Union.In the post below, I use some of my tweets over recent months to articulate my views on the matter.

Some people might think it is an oxymoron for someone to want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, but yet want the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union. However, I think that this view comes from the stereotypical assumption that anyone who wanted Scotland to leave the UK must be in some way a nasty flag-waving bigot who loves destroying cherished institutions that have existed from centuries – if this was the case, why wouldn’t the same uncritically (and this word is important) nationalistic people want to break away from another larger body?

First off, let’s get it out there – I do not like what the UK as an institution stands for. I don’t know that I ever really have since I have been ‘politically conscious’. This is not to say  I don’t like the people who make up the UK. Or ‘other’ nations in the UK. But, as an institution, the UK is not something I am proud of. The chance to reform the UK as a whole, starting from the ground up, was a large part of my wanting to leave the UK. Similarly, the prevalent attitude in the UK towards the EU as I perceive it is not something I like.

Personally, I am of the opinion that many of the ‘problems’ that UK citizens perceive with the EU are in no small part due to the regnant exceptionalist attitude, epitomized by the EU rebate negotiated by Thatcher, and David Cameron’s recent attempts at gaining ‘concessions’. The relationship that the UK currently has with the EU is not the one I want… but it’s better than the prospect of leaving. As Maggie Chapman, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party has recently much more eloquently put it:

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, we must consider our current political context. In Scotland, and in the UK, a vote to leave will be a victory for the right. The momentum in this campaign comes from and sits with a right wing leave case that says we must shut our borders, that we must reinvigorate the Empire, that we must make Britain great again. That sends shivers down my spine.

It means going back to the days of the Raj, and a colonial project in Africa that was profoundly racist. And in the 100th anniversary year of the Easter Rising, which had everything to do with challenging imperial and anti-democratic monarchical power, we need to reclaim some of the collective solidarity of that century-old republican movement.

The right wing case to leave is the dominant narrative, presented by people who think that imperialism is the highest form of capitalism, and that that is a good thing. However much we might wish it not to be the case, siding with these people means siding with those who do not not believe that the world has changed since the 19th century. As an immigrant from post-colonial Southern Africa, that horrifies me.

On another note…

And

For me, the EU is about so much more than money. Money comes and goes, and in our post-Empire, G7, G8, G20, G-etc. privileged position, we really don’t need to worry about it. Whatever happens, the financial wizards will magic up some other money, or find someone else to exploit for it. But the EU holds us to account. We put in money – much less than we should, of course – and it comes back with progressive conditions. Protecting the environment. Protecting workers’ rights. Regenerating areas that badly need it. And so on. But even more than that, the EU is an international exercise in co-operation, flying in the face of current ideologies of ‘protecting one’s own’.

This altruism, as I see it, should extend to migrants – whether from the EU or not. And rather than picking on those who have left their homes to come to the UK to work, perhaps we should be blaming those in power – politicians, employers etc. – for the lack of jobs, the poor state of the economy, growing inequality, stresses on our welfare system etc. I’ve written before about the need to defend the ‘wrong-type of immigrant‘, so I shan’t retread things here. But, another point to make is that

Finally, I think the EU is great for Green causes…

Maggie makes the Green argument much better than I could in her post.

I’m not naive. Much as I know things might not have worked out for the better if Scotland left the UK, so too I know that remaining in the EU doesn’t automatically make things better. But the EU holds the UK to account. It holds the Tories to account. It holds London to account. It allows progressive legislation to be pushed through and then rhetorically blamed on an outside force – “Oh, we’d totally lift fishing quotas, but it’s that EU making us do it” etc.

Don’t leave the UK at the mercy of the Tories, UKIP and their ilk. Don’t turn immigrants into the bad guys. Please… if you have a vote in this referendum… vote for the UK to remain in the EU.

Defending the ‘wrong type of immigrant’, and looking to the future…

Those of you in the UK might have seen images like this one in your travels around the internet or around London. I don’t know much about the campaign, but you can find out more about it here. Essentially, it is has emerged in the context of a highly toxic public debate in the UK on the issue of immigration, and aims to ‘humanise’ the debate, showing that immigrants are real people who make ‘real contributions’ to the UK.

What follows is a version of some thoughts that I posted to Facebook this morning, and I feel comfortable making them publicly.

First off, this is definitely a good first step. Hurrah! Those of you who know me, and have read my previous posts (particularly on why I voted YES in the Scottish Independence referendum) will know that I am pro-immigration through and through. But two thoughts have crossed my mind upon learning of this campaign, and I say this having only been able to find images of about 2/3 of the posters.

The first is that ‘this type of immigrant’ is exactly the ‘type of immigrant’ that UKIP wants. No political party is saying it doesn’t want ‘hardworking immigrants’ with great cultural capital who will bring ‘economic’ and other benefits to the country. I really worry about turning immigrants into a ‘positive economic investment’. Even my own party, the Scottish Green Party, have had to bow somewhat to this dominant societal discourse and frame their progressive and compassionate views on immigration in their manifesto largely in terms of economic and cultural benefit:

We believe Scotland should be a welcoming country where immigrants are celebrated as an asset to our economy and enriching for our culture. Immigration is a great benefit to Scotland, just as Scots have benefited over the generations through migration to other countries. We will consistently challenge the toxic rhetoric used by too many politicians which turns people against their neighbours. We will reinstate the post-study work visa to allow students who study at UK universities to stay and use their education in Britain. We will reform the dysfunctional approach of the UK Visas and immigration agency to meet Scottish immigration needs. We will create an asylum system which treats people with dignity.

In my view, ‘we’ have so much and ‘need’ to be welcoming to many other immigrants, including those who may ultimately be a ‘drain’ on ‘our’ economy. ‘We’ have space and money. Let’s give it to those who need it, not just those who can help ‘us’ out.

Secondly… and not specifically related to this campaign…what are the thoughts of those parties who adopt a pro-‘hardworking, highly-skilled immigrant’ stance on the long-term impact of such a stance? For example, what happens in a hypothetical world, 20 years from now, when a ‘visible’ change has happened in the top jobs in UK society, when ‘indigenous’ people feel that ‘the government’ has let them down by targeting folk from overseas, rather than prioritizing training ‘people who are already here’, and when the top performers in ‘our’ schools are increasingly 1.5 and second generation immigrants, the children of these highly-successful and driven people, etc? Personally, I don’t have a problem with that admittedly hypothetical future, and I would hope that others would be able to have the historical consciousness to trace such a situation in part to early-21st century tougher ‘controls on immigration’. Another possibility, is that the current xenophobia towards those who don’t fall in to the ‘highly-skilled’ and/or ‘hardworking’ category will simply be extended or transferred to those who do.

Anyway, as I say I think this campaign is a great first step, and hope to see much more of this kind of positivity in the future. I realise that there are likely a lot of generalizations and over-simplifications in this rant. I also appreciate the need for the country to not simply open its borders, but would always urge policy makers to remember that immigrants are people and not merely a potential economic gain/drain, and that we should perhaps be a bit more generous with the resources at our disposal.

Why I am voting YES to Scottish Independence

A few days ago I was asked to answer three questions by the Bogata Post – my cousin works there – regarding my stance as a “Yes” voter in the upcoming referendum on Scottish Independence. The piece hasn’t appeared yet, but I thought I might as well post what I wrote just to some of my views into the mix. Here it is…

twibbonI’ve been trying to put all of this in some form of elegant prose for quite a bit of the evening, but I figure I had better just get on with saying my piece in as concise a manner as possible, and leave the rest for you to judge. Before I answer the three questions, I feel that I should first state that I am not Scottish, but was born in Northern Ireland and have lived in Scotland for 10 years. This background makes me naturally quite jumpy when the issue of nationalism comes up – whether we are talking about Irish Nationalism, UK Nationalism or Scottish Nationalism. I deplore politics that is based upon “helping our own first”, or “defending what my grandparents fought for” and other such tropes. It took A LOT for me to come round to the idea of Scottish Independence. With this in mind, I’ll now quickly turn to the three questions posed.

  1. Why are you pro-independence?

I am voting for Indpendence because I see this as an amazing opportunity to effect change that could be immensely positive for every person living in the British Isles, and to a lesser extent those beyond this small group of islands.

Recently I bought into the #YesBecause hashtag on Twitter and posted two tweets which pretty much sum up my attitude:

“I’m #YesBecause UK politics is broken, and Independence provides the only real opportunity for actual change for everyone on these islands.”

“I’m #YesBecause both Scotland & rUK need to leave Empire behind once and for all and look to a peaceful, sustainable future of co-operation.”

To expand further on these soundbites, the future that I want for Scotland and the rest of the British Isles is one where we no longer try to play at the ‘big boys table’, where we have the courage to leave nuclear weapons behind us, where we prioritise welfare and helping those most in need, where we open our borders to those in need across the world and where we are willing to accept a much less comfortable standard of living in order to make real change for the better for everyone on the planet. The future I want is one where we care for the environment, promote equality across society, and participate fully in wonderful boundary-breaking and peace-building institutions such as the EU, rather than consistently and beligerently sitting on the sidelines refusing to compromise or change.

I am under no illusions that Independence will bring the idealistic future that I want overnight, or at all… but I do know that if Scotland votes for Independence from the United Kingdom it will force the United Kingdom to re-assess its identity, values and priorities, and provide the people of Scotland with an unprecendented opportunity to start the democratic experiment afresh in the twenty-first century, with the benefit of hundreds of years of hindsight. It might fail… but if we don’t take the opportunity we will never know. I know that this idealistic vision invites the response “yes, but how can you effect all this change if the country has no money?” And to that I would simply say a) money isn’t everything b) money hasn’t exactly helped the UK, as far as my priorities are concerned.

  1. What has the atmosphere been like in the run-up to the vote- any tensions between the two sides etc?

This answer will be much shorter, I promise. In terms of the political ‘debate’ – if we can call it that – the atmosphere has been particularly ghastly. Both sides simply shout at each other. Both demand factual answers to questions that cannot be answered in a situation where neither side will admit that a) their position might not win b) they might have to negotiate with the other ‘side’ even if they do win. The Facebook pages of both campaigns are some of the worst cesspools of the internet, attracting the kind of abusive comments that one would expect… on most websites, to be honest.

In terms of the way things have been portrayed in the media, I am utterly frustrated by this. IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE ECONOMY, FOLKS. In particular, IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT “THE CURRENCY QUESTION”. As far as I am concerned, and as far as most folk that I speak to on both sides of the debate seem to be concerned, the currency issue is far down on our list of concerns… yet the media has decided that this is what the debate hangs upon, and thus reports everything within that light. It also doesn’t help that the UK media is part of the UK status quo, and like any businesses which have UK-wide markets, they understandably want to avoid unpredictability and maintain things the way they are. Understandable, perhaps… but not great for unbiased reporting.

In terms of things on the ground, apart from a few clear exceptions I would say that the ‘debate’ has been pretty good-natured… except that in my opinion no one is really going to change their views. Everyone has differing priorities, and thus we all tend to talk past each other. I have, of course, seen/heard plenty of friends make comments that they are fed up of the debate, or that they feel that the debate is ugly, causing division and forcing them to choose sides etc. To that I can only say that I imagine people would feel the same way if ‘we’ got so worked up about ‘normal’ elections. I think there is a tendency on these islands to not like being confronted with ‘opinions’, or being seen to hold ‘opinions’… and perhaps this is a problem that we will need to address come the UK General Election in 2015.

  1. What do you honestly think the outcome will be?

Honestly, I think that the vote will be a “No”. I think that people are far more likely to “bottle it” than to say “oh, what the hell” when they make it to the polling booth. And I think that most people will vote “No” for potentially very understandable reasons… worries about their job, their family, their mortgage. All I will be able to say in that case is that I voted for what I thought was right, that I tried for once in my life to not be as selfish as I normally am, and that I will try to keep this level of political engagement going forward into the coming decades and try my hardest to effect the sorts of changes I would like to see occurring in Scotland, the British Isles, Europe and beyond. But I also think that the vote will be close… and that whatever happens, there will be a high enough percentage of votes for “Yes” to cause some serious questioning and reflection for politicians going forward. And maybe… maybe… I will be pleasantly surprised.

De Certeau on the Sunday Assembly?

I recently read this passage from de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life and I enjoyed the thought that this perhaps speaks well to the Alain de Bottons and Sunday Assemblies of the world. What do you think?

Religiousness seems easier to exploit [than politics]. Marketing agencies avidly make use of the remains of beliefs that were formerly violently opposed as superstitions. Advertising is becoming evangelical. Many managers in the economic and social sphere are disturbed by the slow breaking up of the Churches in which lie the remains of “values” which the mangers want to recuperate and make use of by re-baptizing them as “up-to-date.” Before these beliefs go down with the ships that carried them, they are hurriedly taken off and put in businesses and administrations. The people who use these relics no longer believe in them. They nevertheless form, along with all sorts of “fundamentalists,” ideological and financial associations in order to refit these shipwrecks of history and make Churches museums of beliefs without believers, put there in reserve so that they can be exploited by laissez-faire capitalism.

 

From De Certeau, Michel. 1984. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven F. Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 180-181.

I Love my Big Brother

OMG! Someone with a family connection to the land-mass beside the one on which I was born has won I sporting event I care/know little about AND a lady who has married into the ‘world’s best-known hereditary monarchy’ is having a baby AND David Cameron has decided to protect my eyes (and therefore my mind?) from images (and ideas?) which he deems ‘offensive’… I love my Big Brother unequivocally.

The Changing Nature of Religion

Grace Davie discusses the changing nature of religion, particularly in the UK and Europe following her keynote address to the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Milwaukee last October.

In this interview (with me… yes, you heard it, me), Professor Davie discusses the place of religion in modern Europe, paying particular attention to the place of the United Kingdom within the European context. In an effort to combat the caricatures that typify media accounts of religion in the contemporary world, Davie discusses the changing nature of religion, in academia and in the public square, and considers the impact of the arrival of new cultures into Europe, whilst reflecting on secular reactions to these.

Listen to the podcast

 

The Place of Religion in the Public Square: Schools, Symbols and Secularists

I read the following in a mailing that I received from the AHS – The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies.

Bishops Demand “Public Faith”

This week, three bishops are leading calls for the Church of England to make a public statement which defends the right of Christians to wear a cross. They have signed a motion condemning the “silencing” of outward displays of Christianity in Britain, and a “growing trend” towards the “restriction of religious liberty” which is to be debated at the Church’s national assembly.

The motion cites “ludicrous” cases of Christian practices and symbols being forbidden, saying attempts to scrap prayers at council meetings and to ban employees from wearing the cross could ultimately lead to religion being confined to the home. Read more about this story here.

What is publicly permissable is not always professionally appropriate – this is the key point which the motion fails to recognise. Leading a communal prayer in a church is an expression of public freedom – leading a communal prayer in a council meeting, with no reason to presume that everyone present wishes to pray along with you, is professionally inappropriate. No one would give a second glance to a person wearing a cross in public – but if that person happens to be a schoolteacher, with a responsibility to provide students with an education free from personal bias, then they have no business wearing it at work.

While the necessity to restrict religious expression may vary from one profession to the next, it remains a question of professional etiquette, NOT an attack on public freedom. Discriminating the attire and behaviour of employees is an essential part of any successful workplace…

…that’s why you can’t play your tambourine in the office.

I’m afraid I have to take issue with some of this. As regards communal prayer at council meetings – spot on. Of course people who do not wish to pray should not be made to sit through this. And what business does a secular council have bringing prayer in anyway? And what is with this assumption that one person’s prayer will work for another? If people want to pray at council meetings, they are welcome to. But communal prayers seem entirely inappropriate.

What I take issue with is the stance on the wearing of religious symbols. How does wearing an item of jewellery or some specific type of clothing mean that your teaching suddenly has bias? Really… how does it? So children can look at you and assume that you might have a personal stance… it may even provoke them to ask you about it. But that doesn’t mean that they are being taught the teacher’s own personal opinions. This is just utter nonsense. Many people who wear crosses don’t wear them for religious reasons anyway… they look cool, thanks to years of vampire movies and goth culture.

Do religious symbols cause offense?

Boiling it down to basics – if you don’t believe in the efficacy of a symbol, or in the belief system which it represents, why should it offend you? Or if you are an atheist parent worried that your child might see a cross, ask about it and then be converted… would you remove all crosses from public media, buildings, etc? Maybe you would… but surely that says more about your confidence in your own ability as a parent than about people’s right to wear what they want.

I somehow feel the reaction would have been a bit different if the teachers in question were wearing those atheist “A” pin badges, or an evolution t-shirt or something. Then they would be hailed as a hero for taking a stand against the unjust system and professing the truth. But maybe that is just me being judgemental.

I can understand an employer stepping in to tell a member of staff to take off a necklace with a severed head on it… or to stop wearing a t-shirt with swear words on when they are teaching children. But this is just a matter of common sense. A cross… that’s not offensive. A Qur’an in the classroom… that’s not offensive. A t-shirt which says ‘Jesus Saves’, ‘Dharma Dude’, “Manchester United’ or ‘Vote Conservative’ isn’t offensive. One which says ‘All homosexuals burn in hell’ is. It’s all about degrees.

But bringing things back to rather bias… perhaps you think that religious issues should be kept out of the classroom? Well.. yes… except where they are taught in Religious Studies, Philosophy, History, Geography, Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology etc. Religions are social facts and should be taught as such. They are part of history, part of culture… part of many, many people’s lives and simply must be studied. Should a teacher put their own spin on it and/or tell children about their own faith/lack of faith? Well… no, not generally. However, in real life things are not that simple. But what if the children ask? Is it better that they lie? Or just keep deflecting questions? You tell me…

Sorry. Rant over.

Religion and National Identity

From Halikiopoulou, 2003:35 – “Ethnic nationalism draws from religion not only in terms of an eschatological vision, or the attainment of statehood through sacrifice; religious tradition may also provide a basis for the maintenance and reproduction of national identity. According to Mavrogordatos,

Religion provides a primordial line of demarcation, which may be far superior to any other. It is certainly more readily identifiable, clear-cut, exclusive and impermeable than language, ancestry or any other relevant criterion. Occasional syncretism notwithstanding, it does not even make sense to say one is of mixed religion whereas many are bilingual or of mixed blood. (Mavrogordatos, 2003:117).”

  • Halikiopolou, Daphne. 2011. Patterns of Secularization: Church, State and Nation in Greece and the Republic of Ireland. Surrey: Ashgate.
  • Mavrogordatos, G. 2003. “Orthodoxy and Nationalism in the Greek Case” in J. Madeley and Z. Enyedi (eds.) Church and State in Contemporary Europe. Portland: Frank Cass.

Westminster Faith Debates

A series of debates on religion in public life, running from February to May 2012 at RUSI, 61 Whitehall, SW1A 2ET, Wednesdays fortnightly, 5.30-7pm.

Between 2007-2012 £12m was invested by two research councils, the AHRC and ESRC, in the largest-ever funded research programme on ‘Religion and Society’. In this series leading academics will present findings arising from that research, for response by public figures. Together they will open up debate about the place of religion in public life today.

The series is organised by the Rt Hon Charles Clarke, Professor Linda Woodhead and Dr Rebecca Catto, in co-operation with Theos.

1. Religious Identity in ‘Superdiverse’ Societies – 8th Feb

  • Trevor Phillips, Dominic Grieve, Kim Knott, Therese O’Toole

2. What’s the Place of Faith in Schools? – 22nd Feb

  • Richard Dawkins, John Pritchard, Jim Conroy, Robert Jackson

3. What have we Learned about Radicalisation? – 7th March

  • Mehdi Hasan, Ed Husain, Mark Sedgwick, Marat Shterin, Mat Francis

4. What role for Religious Organisations in an era of Shrinking Welfare? – 21st March

  •  David Blunkett, Peter Smith, Adam Dinham, Sarah Johnsen

5. What Limits to Religious Freedom? – 18th April

  • Lisa Appignanesi, Maleiha Malik, Peter Jones

6. What are the main Trends in Religion and Values in Britain? – 2nd May

  • Aaqil Ahmed, Cole Moreton, Linda Woodhead, Grace Davie

Please email p.ainsworth@lancaster.ac.uk to register for the debates you would like to attend, and visit http://www.religionandsociety.org.uk/faith_debates for further details.

Sinn Fein Mayor refuses to present Duke of Edinburgh’s award

In response to my previous post on the mistreatment of Irish WW2 Veterans, my friend sent me through a link to the following article. Belfast has a 26 year-old mayor? Who knew…

Apologies for the Irish emphasis today… and for appearing to only be criticising nationalists/the Republic of Ireland. This is not my intention, it is just the material that has come my way today. I think it is disgusting that someone in public office can get away with this sort of behaviour. Were this anywhere else I would have expected some sort of disciplinary action… I would ESPECIALLY expect disciplinary action in Belfast of all places. When will people learn that there are more important things in life?

Sinn Fein Lord Mayor’s snub to Army cadet at awards ceremony (from the Belfast Telegraph)

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Lord Mayor of Belfast is facing calls to resign after he failed to present a Duke of Edinburgh award certificate to an Army cadet force member.

Niall O Donnghaile (26) pulled out halfway through presenting awards at Belfast City Hall on Monday night to avoid interacting with the girl, believed to be aged just 15.

Ironically, the Sinn Fein first citizen was yesterday photographed at the launch of a new good relations plan for Belfast, just hours after he had caused the row.

UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt, who was at the ceremony, said questions were raised when the proceedings were delayed for 45 minutes.

He explained: “Then the five people listed as forming the platform party, including the Lord Mayor, were joined by a sixth. The programme of events listed item two as ‘Presentation of Certificates by the Lord Mayor’ but for some reason he stopped halfway through and the remainder of the certificates were presented by the sixth person, Gordon Topping of The Duke of Edinburgh Awards.

“The problem appeared to be down to the fact that one of the recipients was from the Army Cadet Force.”

Mr Nesbitt added: “Actions speak louder than words and thanks to the actions of the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast, 150 award winners, plus friends and parents, were kept waiting. This is absolutely shameful. So much for Sinn Fein’s fine rhetoric about a shared future.”

Last night Mr O’Donnghaile denied he had shirked his civic responsibilities, claiming he had stepped aside because he did not want to compromise his republican principles.

“As Lord Mayor I was invited to attend The Duke of Edinburgh Awards in City Hall,” he said. “I agreed to present a number of the awards to the young people in recognition of their endeavours. As an Irish republican I did not shirk my responsibilities in this instance. At the last minute I was informed that one of the awards was to be presented to a representative of the Army Cadet Force.

“In order to avoid any unnecessary sensitivities to either party, it was arranged for the outgoing chairman of the organisation to present some of the certificates alongside me.

“Since becoming Mayor in late May I have attended over 620 engagements, many of them in working class unionist communities. I take my responsibilities as being a Mayor for all very seriously.”

This is not the first time the Sinn Fein man has courted controversy. In June he caused outrage among unionists after replacing Royal portraits in the parlour with a copy of the 1916 Irish Proclamation of Independence.

He also refused to attend an event at the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday and declined to attend a homecoming parade for troops back from Afghanistan.

DUP councillor Gavin Robinson said: “Of course the irony is that he agreed to present the awards at all. The Duke of Edinburgh is Colonel-in-Chief of the cadet forces. The Lord Mayor needs to start upholding the value of his office and representing everyone within the city; either that, or he needs to step aside.

“It is a scandal that the Lord Mayor debased himself and his office by politicising the event.”

Bob Stoker, whose soldier son was injured while serving in Afghanistan, has also called for the Lord Mayor to step down.

“Previous Lord Mayors have had to engage with people from unsavoury backgrounds, such as people who were in prison or who were members of the IRA, but they did so because it was their civic duty. I think he needs to consider his position.”

Maire Hendron, who chairs the good relations working group at Belfast City Hall, said she was “appalled” by what happened.