Fifty Years


     Terence Spencer/Marvin Lichtner – 21 Oct 1966

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The Wall

It is 2019 and babies in Northern Ireland are raised up so that they can look over the Brexit Wall into the opulent, Marmite-rich land of Ireland.


With thanks to Alan.

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Freedom of Movement

On the subject of freedom of movement, one of the mantras of those campaigning to leave the EU was to "take back control". The question they were not asked was: "Take back control from whom?" And because that question was not asked, people were left with the impression that bureaucrats in Brussels were in control.

In fact neither bureaucrats in Brussels nor politicians in any member state of the EU are in control. We as EU citizens, at least for now, are the ones in control of our own choices about where we live and work. We can work in Berlin, retire to Spain, or bum around in Greece as we want, and no government anywhere in the EU can deny us that freedom.

If the UK leaves the EU without signing up to the four freedoms of movement (with a similar status to countries like Norway) control will be taken away from us as individuals and handed to governments instead.

We can decide for ourselves whether this is a good or bad thing. However I find it odd that those on the right of the political spectrum, who in all other circumstances think that government control over citizens is a bad thing, are the ones who think that taking this freedom from us as individuals and putting politicians in control is a now good thing.

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An antidote to toxic policies

This is a very welcome antidote to the new rhetoric and policies which have been propounded by the Conservative Party at their conference this week.

"The countries of the United Kingdom face a spiralling political and economic crisis. At the top of the Conservative Party, the narrow vote in favour of leaving the EU has now been interpreted as the pretext for a drastic cutting of ties with Europe, which would have dire economic results - and as an excuse for the most toxic rhetoric on immigration we have seen from any government in living memory.

"This is a profoundly moral question which gets to the heart of what sort of country we think we live in. We will not tolerate the contribution of people from overseas to our NHS being called into question, or a new version of the divisive rhetoric of 'British jobs for British workers'. Neither will we allow the people of these islands, no matter how they voted on June 23rd, to be presented as a reactionary, xenophobic mass whose only concern is somehow taking the UK back to a lost imperial age. At a time of increasing violence and tension, we will call out the actions of politicians who threaten to enflame those same things.

"This is not a time for parties to play games, or meekly respect the tired convention whereby they do not break cover during each other's conferences. It is an occasion for us to restate the importance of working together to resist the Tories' toxic politics, and make the case for a better future for our people and communities. We will do this by continuing to work and campaign with the fierce sense of urgency this political moment demands."

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland
Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales
Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales
Leanne Wood, Leader of Plaid Cymru
Steven Agnew, Leader of the Green Party of Northern Ireland
Patrick Harvie, Co-convener of the Scottish Green Party
Alice Hooker-Stroud, Leader of the Wales Green Party

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Referendum maths

Referendums are strange things. Today, there was a referendum in Hungary in which the vote was 95% in favour of the proposition presented, but the turnout was only 45%. I don't want to comment on the issue, but simply on the numbers, because it's a good illustration of how the outcome can be manipulated.

Clearly what happened was that those in favour of the proposition turned out to vote, but those against it stayed at home. Because of that, the referendum technically failed because the turnout was less than 50%. But the Hungarian Government won't let that stand in their way.

And why should they? Let's imagine a situation in which those against the proposition had been urged to go out and vote instead of stay at home. The turnout would then have been higher that 50%, and the proposition would have technically passed. That's because it is very unusal for everyone to go out and vote in any referendum or election.

I think we'd regard 85% as an exceptionally high turnout in a western democracy. A 95% majority on a 45% turnout represents 42.75% of the electorate. If the turnout had been 85% (indicating tht 15% were undecided about how to vote, or didn't care about the issue one way or the other) that would leave those opposed to the motion at 42.25% of the electorate, leaving them in a minority.


Why do these numbers matter? Because I reckon we are likely to see almost exactly the same result in the upcoming referendum on Catalan independence.

After several monhs of uncertainty, it now appears that the referendum on Catalan independence is back on track. Only this week, President Carles Puigdemont said, "There will either be a referendum, or there will be a referendum."

When that referendum is held, those who are against independence will not turn out and vote No. They will say that the referendum is illegal and use that as a pretext to encourage people not to vote. At a guess, just as with this Hungarian referendum, some 95% of those who do vote in the Catalan independence referendum will vote Yes, but the turnout will probably be below 50%. The Spanish nationalists will say that this means only 42.75% want independence, hoping that people will believe that 57.25% don't. But that won't be true. It will be to conflate two different groups: those that don't want independence and those who can't decide or don't care about the issue one way or the other.

It's one of the fundamental flaws with referendums. Sometimes it's possible to manipulate them by encouraging non-participation rather than by getting people out to vote.

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Spot the Wankerer

The UK's highly esteemed Foreign Secretary—please resist the urge to laugh, Mr Toner—finally gets to share his love for goats, just managing to hide his sense of relief that he doesn't live in Germany.


If we ever want to pursue an ethical foreign policy, we'll need better material to work with than this.

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Universal Basic Income

I believe that a universal basic income, also known as a citizens' income, is an idea that is exactly right for our times; particularly in mature economies where the increasing use of automation and artificial intelligence will mean that ordinary, low-skilled work becomes increasingly hard to obtain. It is a way to help ensure that the wealth created by technological advances is distributed throughout society, rather than concentrated in the hands of the corporations that deploy them.

A world where machines do all the tedious work, leaving people free to move mankind forward, used to be the stuff of science fiction. But it's rapidly becoming mainstream. It's an idea that has already been embraced by the Green Party, here, and now looks to be something that Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are set to examine seriously. It featured in McDonnell's speech to Labour Conference today.

As co-incidence would have it, it is also a policy that featured in Elkarrekin Podemos' policy programme in the Basque Parliamentary election. I found it interesting that they believe it can be introduced at Basque level, rather than at a Spanish level. It would be refreshing to see the SNP or Plaid Cymru consider it, although I suspect it might be too ambitious for either.


However, that's not the point of this post. The reason I'm writing is because I've discovered an organization called the Basic Income Earth Network, whose website is here. It's helpful, because it shows how the idea is gaining ground across the world. One particular article that caught my attention was about a Europe-wide poll conducted by Dalia Research in Berlin, which found that 64% of people in Europe were in favour of Basic Income and, perhaps even more interestingly, that people who were more aware of what Basic Income is tend to be more in favour of it. The full article is here, but here are some graphics from it.




Nor is it a subject in which there is any big difference between the countries of the UK and other countries in Europe. Support in the UK is at 62%.


So next time you read in the media that the likes of the Greens and the current Labour leadership are "hard-left" and "unelectable", it might be worth reminding ourselves that some of the ideas they're putting forward are very much in the mainstream of the direction in which Europe is moving.

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