Politics recap January 2020

Julian Assange is in prison in the UK being tried for extradition to the US on espionage charges. Sweden has dropped its case. But you’re not going to defend Assange, are you, because you learned that “Assange is a rapist”. And who would defend one of them against the all-seeing and benevolent forces of the state? If you think this way, dare I suggest that you’ve been had.

Brexit is happening at the end of this month and nothing will change. No truck queues down south, no shortage of medicines, no mass exodus of business. If Boris Johnson had any sense he would at that point declare victory and extend or go slow with the transition period for as long as possible. It seems the Tories want to press ahead, and I can only assume it’s because some part of British business values deregulation more than the single market. Either way, Brexit is a slow-burn, unwise choice, inconvenient to people like me. It’s not and was never going to be a disaster.

Scottish independence is back in the news, but I don’t think it’s happening. As said Brexit will pass uneventfully and the opportunity to use it politically likewise. I don’t think a referendum would turn out very different than last time, given the uncertainty of exiting both the EU and the UK, having to re-enter the EU and adopting the Euro. I could be persuaded to vote for it but only for cynical immigration reasons. I’d vote for it with my heart if Scotland were to abolish the monarchy and become like Ireland with blue post boxes.

Trump, despite being a pig of a man, has turned out a pretty good president. Being an outsider he recognizes that the time of America offering “protection” around the world, in both senses, is over. Since the 50s the dogma was that spreading capitalism would benefit the US foremost as well as lifting all boats. Now that’s no longer the case and the US needs to adjust to being one of several developed powers, as well as get out of the protection business. For all the alarm in the press, Trump is making the post-superpower transition as peacefully as anyone could have hoped. War in Iran, which many in Washington are thirsty for, keeps failing to materialise. It’s hard to get full facts about Syria, but it’s possible Trump may have killed fewer people than any president since Carter and, although I don’t like him, utilitarian arguments count.

In all likelihood, Trump will get re-elected. Especially if Sanders and Warren fight each other while the press and the middle-class do all they can to nominate a centrist. I think US society is rapidly approaching the point of being beyond repair, and it’s because the so-called progressive elite refuses to check its privilege and accept socialist policies. Beyond repair means the role of the state disintegrates, beyond security, and the US becomes a libertarian -topia. What kind depends on your point of view.

Climate may have been saved in 2019, mainly thanks to Greta Thundberg. We should build the young woman a statue. For the first time there’s wide realization that something has to change, even in the US, and people are vaguely aware that might mean changing their personal habits. Eating less meat and driving less, for example. Maybe accepting the the Earth has seasons and not trying to negate them with air conditioning. Technological change is happening everywhere except the US, where they’re waiting for the prophet Elon Musk. Saving the climate means Bangladesh will be uninhabitable due to floods, and the Arabian peninsula due to heat, but hey we get to survive as a species.

I don’t know much about China, but I’m a more hopeful observer than most. I see them as a threat economically, because they don’t play by the rules and I don’t see them as an evil empire politically. Comparison with the Soviet Union is inept. The Chinese regime, as far as I can tell, prioritises material welfare above all else and that goal is the source of its authoritarianism. I wouldn’t like to live in China, but I think it’s much more benign than a regime based around a strongman or an ideology. The more Chinese society feels economically secure, the more freedom is likely to emerge.

Europe I think is poorly and is unlikely to get a reprieve until 2021 when Merkel, Europe’s most destructive leader since WW2, leaves office. West Europeans need to reflect on the relatively undramatic departure of Britain, discontent and inequality within the block, as well as repairing its relationship with Russia. If the Germans are willing to compromise, Europe could move forward to a federal structure with shared debt, banking, tax and welfare arrangements across the continent. But if the new chancellor continues to block these reforms it’ll be endless crisis management and containment as it is now.

As for me, I intend to get my stupendously named permit “Indefinite Leave to Remain” and figure out what hoops we need to jump through to let my son migrate to Scotland. I think in the long run that means citizenship, and if that could come somehow without a queen I’d have done it already.

UK election 2019

The election is under way and the UK press is moving earth and water to make sure Labour doesn’t win. That’s predictable. Outside of the Guardian, the press is owned by about three billionaires. Their agenda is 1. That there’s a real “risk” of Labour winning, and 2. That a Labour government would be bad for wealthy interests. I think this level of reaction validates Labour’s policies.

We have a focus on Corbyn, with the ridiculous accusation he’s an anti-Semite. This is either character slander targeted so it’s taboo to defend against; or it’s a statement that Corbyn, unlike previous US/UK leadership, is opposed to Israel’s ethnic cleansing actions in the Middle East. I think it’s the correct moral stance to oppose these actions, and if that makes you an anti-Semite then words have no meaning. There’s no evidence that Corbyn is racist in any way.

Then you have the tactic of vagueness. Johnson is portrayed as strong, clear, and direct. The headlines paint Corbyn as vague, faltering, or lacking a certain something that it takes to be Prime Minister. Notice the disparity of information here. Our side clear, other side bad for vague reasons that we’re not going to talk about. It’s the same tactic whereby the press erased London Mayor Ken Livingstone and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, two very capable leaders who dealt with difficult issues (like the 2008 financial crisis) in an exemplary way. But according to the press they were bad. Why? They were bad, dunno, they just didn’t have it. Not credible options. Look elsewhere.

The attack on people suggests that the policies are correct. The Tories are peddling Brexit as an issue of principle, because otherwise who would vote for less public services and privatising the NHS? Labour is calling for socialist reforms in the spirit of Atlee’s post-war government, which pretty much everyone in Britain views positively. Labour’s position is we’ve swung so far to the right that bringing back some of that socialist agenda is what we need. I agree. Even if Labour achieve 10% of their programme, which is about realistic, I think it’ll be a good thing. I say this as a privileged person who works in tech, never needs public services, and buys posh food from the farmer’s market.

You could quibble with the implementation of Labour’s policies. For example there’s an idea to force private landlords to accept bids by the tenants to buy the flat (disclosure: I’m a tenant, I considered making a bid already and decided against it). There’s a reasonable argument that such policies might take flats off the rental market or have other unintended consequences. Fair, but places like Germany manage to put a damper on the property market and their society is the better for it. The real threat to affordable housing is price speculation and AirBnB, which no-one seems to complain about.

Then there’s Brexit. I live in Scotland, and the answer to everything is independence. Never mind that the cause of Brexit, the condition that made is possible, is by and large social deprivation in England. The English are overcome by a Thatcherite psychosis, so the story goes, and it’s all “Me, me, me, my house, my career, my aspirations of upward mobility”. Are people thinking of London and the south coastal towns inhabited by stockbrokers? Because I don’t think Yorkshire is like that. If the problem is an angry and left-behind England surely the right thing is to fix it, as Labour intends to do, not to create private solutions and more borders. 

In terms of predictions, I think a Labour-SNP government is likely. By likely I mean in the 50% rather than the 25% bracket, I can’t make precise predictions. Whether it happens is largely down to the intentions of the so-called liberal left. If this group wants a return to social democracy then we’ll have one, and if liberals focus on identity issues or hair splitting EU stances then we won’t. I worry the liberal class is too in love with personal vanity, iPhones, Uber, Deliveroo, and other solipsistic utopias to bring out any social conscience. Yes, I think devices and consumerism matter. They isolate people. Steve Jobs was a villain. I should be the last person to be telling you this.

If the Tories win and Brexit concludes, first I think it’ll be mildly bad – about as bad as Cameron’s austerity. Then we’ll have more problems. I think Scottish independence is also likely but not a given, again in the 50% bracket. Independent Scotland applying to the EU with a border in Berwick I think will be bad for Scotland, and very bad for England. It’ll make everyone’s prospects smaller. Also Scotland won’t remain a rebellious province with a one-party socialist agenda. A conservative faction will form and soon we’ll have a microcosm of the same class divisions that we see in the south.

This amount of political strife and isolation is emotionally exhausting. Back in the day we had socially liberal ideas and our incomes were very far from established. It was easy to find issues to be on the right side of, LGBT for instance. I’m sorry to say these issues are free. They have no cost. Gender, race, and class equality has costs, achieving it is a real inconvenience for the elite. Our present politics tends to ignore large divisions and focus on smaller groups, whether to take the virtuous side or to scapegoat. I think this shift of attention from the broad to the narrow is a shift to the right. Even if you’re on the good side, like a company supporting Pride for genuine reasons, identity politics is too convenient for the establishment.

At least I feel that politics is emotionally isolating and exhausting. I’m too old to calibrate my opinions for the approval of anyone else, not that I ever did. I take in new information and my opinions change, of course, but now I feel I can express them like an old curmudgeonly person. “Curmudgeonly…” I like that word.

Why I’ll vote against Scottish independence

I’ll be voting against Scottish independence this year. Here’s why. In Summary:

  • The cultural vision is weak
  • The specifics are bad
  • It’s a terrible time to be doing it
  • I don’t trust the offer, especially in this political climate

Background: I’m Greek and have lived in Scotland since 1988. I’d be in favour of Scotland becoming an independent Celtic state like Ireland, or joining Ireland. But I think the offer on the table by Alex Salmond and the SNP is bad in the specifics, and since we can only say yes or no to specifics it’s a no. Missed opportunity. I’d like to see a better offer by someone else.

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