Mike Vickers' Blog

November 29, 2016

An Impression of St Petersburg

Filed under: World Class, Music, Travel, Europe, St Petersburg — derryvickers @ 10:07 pm

The immediate impression on driving from the airport to the city centre is how many shop signs you recognise. This is buoyed up as soon as you start to walk round the centre; you might have confused St Petersburg for any Western City. On flying out you are required to go through the usual array of booths selling perfume, biscuits and booze.

But of course St Petersburg is not only a western city; it is a living museum to a great Russian Past; first established when Peter The Great wished for a seaport on the Baltic from where he could attach the then Swedish Empire which had plagued the North Western Russian Baltic coast. Peter also was an avid travel within Europe and wished to ‘westernise’ Russia. He built the city and then required his state officials to move from Moscow. Which of course they did, after all Peter was a Tsar, but moving into the outback was unthinkable; they brought their mansions with them and so you have the magnificent heritage which is St Petersburg. Of course St Petersburg was not built in a day; St Petersburg was taken forward by Catherine the Great, who had married a grandson of Peter and looks to have usurped the throne from him. You can find much more about St Petersburg on Wiki including the transfer of power from the Romanovs to the short lived Democratic Government to the Bolsheviks.

Tomb of Peter The Great. Peter Paul Cathedral

Tomb of Peter The Great. Peter Paul Cathedral

Short-lived Democratic Government

Short-lived Democratic Government

Catherine The Great

Catherine The Great

But one point worth bring up is that the area occupied by St Petersburg was a swamp, cut into two by the Neva River, a great wide navigable river; the swampland was drained by canals and these together make a splendid feature of walking around the city; the canals and palazzi reminder one of Venice though all a lot colder.

Neva River

Neva River

Canals

Canals

To the glamour buildings and there plenty of them:

The Hermitage – a truly enormous set of rooms spread over three buildings: The Winter Palace, the Little Hermitage and the Large Hermitage, all sumptuously furnished that the guide books says will take three days to do justice to. We spent just 1/2 day

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

The Clockwork Peacock

The Clockwork Peacock

The General Service Building across the Palace Square– now an art gallery containing art from the world over: more Rembrandts than the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, more French Impressionists and Post Impressionists than Pompidou Centre in Paris

The Palace Square

The Palace Square

The General Service BuildingThe General Service Building

 

 

The Church of the Spilt Blood – plastered from doom to floor in mosaics – no longer a Greek Orthodox Church, but the church is excellently preserved.

The Church of The Spilt Blood

The Church of The Spilt Blood

 A Church Tower Dome

A Church Tower Dome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marble Palace – Marble Rooms with immaculate parquet  and mosaics floors and near the top the most modern of modern art.

A Mosaic Floor

A Mosaic Floor

Just One of the other Churches

Just One of the other Churches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Russian Museum

The Russian Museum

The Citizens

The Citizens

A Sculpture

A Sculpture

The Russian Museum – set to rival the British Museum

Puskin in from of the Russian Museum

Puskin in from of the Russian Museum

All well attended but we were there on a public holiday weekend – Celebration of The October Revolution and it seems clear to me that Russians are proud of their history; history even prior to the Communist Revolution. On The Peter and Paul Fortress, an island in the Neva River near the city centre is the Peter and Paul Cathedral where all the Tsars are buried; even Nicholas 2 who was assassinated by the Bolsheviks: he and this family were exhumed from their grave at Ekaterinburg.

Peter and Paul's Cathedral

Peter and Paul’s Cathedral

 

But to us, as splendidly glamorous as the main buildings are we were as interested to the Museum of Politics: it provides a history of the period up to the Communist revolution and from then up to the passing of power to Putin on January 2000. Yes, the displays do contain some propaganda but not all ‘sunny side up’. And this to me was a feature of St Petersburg itself striving to be a western city, but glorying in its Tsarist past and little sign of overarching or even any Government power. Yes, you do go through careful passport control at the airport but even that scrutiny is exercised more in acquiring a passport in the Edinburgh Visa office in Edinburgh. BTW if you do want to go to St Petersburg (other than on a cruise ship) you do need a visa and the easiest way to get one is to have your St Petersburg hotel to invite you with dates of residence.

Two of the Tomes the Czars

Two of the Tombs of the Czars

To other things:

The available music is great.

First night to see Puccini’s Tosca – as well a dressed performance as you would get anywhere in a western opera house and at less money.

The Opera House

The Opera House and Royal Box

A string concert in one of the rooms in the Large Hermitage – you need to get there early as the seats are unmarked and it is difficult to find the entrance – not the main one. One of the caretakers was very helpful in telling us the way

And finally the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra: three pieces finishing with Schubert’s Great C Major played with all the gusto of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 to the delight of the audience.

Just a couple more comments

  • Eating is cheap – we were set up when we found the Market Place – packed with students and great food
  • A café in the main street Nevsky Prospect which is up to any café in Vienna

    Café in Nevsky Prospect

    Café in Nevsky Prospect

  • Alexander Nevsky – the Russian hero who’s relics are buried in St Petersburg
  • The Singer Building – used to make sowing machine but now a book shop – that took me back what Foyles used thirty years ago before its splendid face lift
  • Pushka Inn where we stayed. Staff speak impeccable English – but so do most Russians who have anything to do with the tourists: English is the lingua franca – will it remain so after Brexit and Trump?

    Our hotel was on the right

    Our hotel was on the right

  • Is there any effect of Western Financial Clampdown.  Well some of the arcades are half finished but that could have started before the clampdown.

In Summary St Petersburg is an excellent place to visit even in November with an outside temperature of around -1 C in the daytime and a lot cold in the evening with winds blowing around the canals!

November 24, 2016

‘You can say Yes but at some point you have to say No’. Heartbreaking

Filed under: Europe, History in the making, Nordic Horizons, Personal, Sustainability — derryvickers @ 3:18 pm

Mikael Ribbenvik (MR)

Valkommen till Sverige – Migration & Asylum in Europe’s Most Welcoming Country – A seminar at Nordic Horizons

I can do no better than start with Chris Smith’s eulogy on the Seminar

Last night was dazzling. Mikael Ribbenvik of the Swedish Migration Agency was funny, informative, challenging and thought provoking. We will be posting a recording of the live stream in the coming days and it is a ‘must view’. He makes sense of global migration in a way that will leave you angry and encouraged at the same time. In a world of post facts politics, the Swedes are using data to inform both policy and operations; using the correlation between Mediterranean wave heights and movement trends to plan for arrivals, as an example. There is a health warning before viewing, you may want to become a Swede after his presentation. I know I did.’

But perhaps a few more details of MR’s presentation:

1.       MR has been recently appointed Director General for the Swedish Migration Agency. He is a civil servant and a lawyer. Before that he was Director of Operations and travelled widely – more later

2.       He understands why Europeans consider migrants as a problem and in particular a problem to Europe but points out at the end of the 19th century many Swedes left for the US and are now greatly revered. Both are looking for a better life.

3.       The EU provides for free migration of its citizens and Sweden has accepted this even though many can be classed as Economic Migrants. However Asylum seeks from Syria and Afghanistan are less welcome and have very little chance of staying in Sweden.

4.       Nevertheless the law is that Sweden is formally obliged to accept all seekers that comes to it

5.       It takes 5 years of residency to become a Swedish citizen – there are exceptions, IT experts. Footballers and their new Queen

6.       I got the impression that priority is given to migrants with families already in Sweden and for unaccompanied migrations. This is leading a problem as to how old a migrant is, with various schemes being considered.

7.       Sweden now budgets for £6 billion a year for Migration yet only £5 billion for defence. MR admits that Swedish citizens are not happy.

8.       Immigration is only a start; migrations need to integrate and this takes longer with migrants naturally congregating in the own country groups and failing to learn the language – MR draws an analogy with Brits in Spain.

9.       MR points out that three agencies are linked: Migration > Work > Social. The key skills are Knowledge, Empathy, Intelligence.

10.   It is the Parliament that makes the laws; the agencies’ job is to implement them.

11.   But for MR the key question is ‘How many Immigrants can Sweden accept’ and this is not easy

12.   It is the Municipalities role to say how many migrants they are prepared to accept.     Municipalities vary in size from 4,000 up to city centres, Stockholm is one. Taxes are raised by municipalities and its costs around £165 pd to support a migrant

13.   At its peak in November 2015 Sweden was receiving 10,000 immigrants a week and it just couldn’t cope. MR said that he organised 24 buses ranging out across Sweden; the 4 heading north with the drivers given instructions to go slow and with no firm destination on departure.

14.   However since then Sweden has publicised that it has to reduce its migrant intake and numbers have dropped off significantly – in contrast to Germany where numbers continued to increase.

15.   There is a formal appeal procedure for a migrant faced when faced with expulsion, with ultimate appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

16.   However Sweden has for a long time recognised the value of establishing Resettlement Camps throughout the counties adjacent to where the major sources of migrants are coming from.

17.   In a heart rending example MR travelled to a Swedish Resettlement camp in Uganda boring on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Families were tented and had 4 sq yds to live in, surviving on a cup of maze a week; they were without hope. MR was allowed to take 200 migrants back to Sweden. And as he poignantly said, 200 and no more even though a mother and baby pleaded with him to be included above the 200 limit.

One of MR’s most memorable statements he made in his talk was ‘you can say Yes but at some point you have to say No’.

18.   Other points

a.       One lady who has spent time in Sweden complained that since bulk migration she feels unsafe surrounded by unemployed teenage migrants

b.      There are indirect benefits to Sweden. Its population is aging and migrants are younger and help with that distribution

c.       Japan doesn’t accept migrants and have turned to robots.

 
 
 

November 13, 2016

Trump as Machiavelli’s Prince

Filed under: A Point of View BBC Radio4, Europe, History in the making, Politics, USA, War — derryvickers @ 1:00 pm

From an article by Martin Kettle in Friday’s Guardian:

He is an anti-liberal president for post-liberal times. He embodies extreme hostility to social liberalism – in the form, to take a few examples, of his contempt for ethnic minorities, his hatred for Muslims, his indifference to due process, his dismissal of rights, his willingness to use torture, his mocking of the disabled, his dismissal of political correctness, and above all, perhaps, his attitude to women. He is not alone in these attitudes in his party. Indeed, in some respects, Trump is the culmination of the deep-rooted hatred for social liberalism,’

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/10/donald-trump-voters-liberal-order

Yes of course, Kettle is talking about Trump but could Kettle be equally talking about the Leader of ISIS.  I first thought, Yes; but on second thoughts No.
The Leader of ISIS, I would suspect, believes he is right: the West has polluted the world and its effects must be eradicated. 

Trump has no such high ideals for the USA; other than his self-aggrandisement: in this respect he is Machiavelli’s Prince.

From Wiki

‘The descriptions within The Prince have the general theme of accepting that the aims of princes—such as glory and survival—can justify the use of immoral means to achieve those ends:….He who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation’

Trump is no fool; he worked out that by speaking as he did he would appeal to enough floating voters to become President. This he has achieved.

But like the Prince he needs to hold on and that means winning another term.   In recent times there have been only two One Term Presidents: Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush and Trump doesn’t want to be a third; after all he has been trying long enough to become President. What’s going to stop Trump doing another Term and already he has started to change his tone . Using the same obnoxious techniques won’t work a second time; he needs to do something different and he has already decided that he needs to tap into broader group of voters; he has chosen that he needs to embrace the centre. He cosies up to Obama– they had ‘in Trump’s words’ a great meeting, lasting over an hour while only a ¼ hour was planned (thought why Obama puts up with Trump longer than the minimal ¼ hour is unclear – perhaps in the hope that ObamaCare will survive). Trump’s new song is that ObamaCare may not be that bad after all and putting Hilary in prison is not now top priority. Washington will be ‘a great lot of folks’ now they ‘understand’ Trump; and NATO may just be worth spending on.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/12/donald-trump-appears-to-soften-stance-on-range-of-pledges.

Of course Trump may do it ‘his way’ and fail miserably; but he’s probably astute enough to know at Presidential level you have to get more than 50% right and to achieve this level you do need a few right thinking people around you.

But at the next Presidential election there will be Elizabeth Warren to contend with; and the American women who voted for Trump may come to realise that then is the time to blow ‘the Glass Roof’.

PS I commend readers to listen to Roger Scruton on ‘A Point of View’

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b081tkmc#play

November 11, 2016

Something’s rotten in the State of Denmark

The first impression of St Petersburg is that the city is so like any city in the West.  So many shops with Western Brand names.

The dominance of the consumer society even in ‘Communist’ Russia.

Leaving St Petersburg is even worst – just like departing Edinburgh Airport – the same maze of booze and perfume shops.

Western consumerism has even taken over Lenin’s Russia; he would have turned in his grave.

So how has this anything to do with the Trump disaster; not that I expect that Trump can in anyway live up to his despicable rhetoric? And he looks to be changing already

Consumerism is ‘The opium of the people’: it has failed in the US as it has failed in the North of England: there just isn’t any money to spend due to so many things; lack of jobs, austerity ; and those who used to, but no longer have the money, they are the ones, who are now rejecting liberal democracy.

The days of deregulation have blown the lid off so many things.

So what can we do about it and do about it we must, not for us but for our children.

Well I am coming round to Scottish Independence – I did vote for it in the Referendum but only in a half-hearted way.

Now it’s a must.

Scotland has at least set out a Future in the White Book (thought of course it is OTT) and Scotland needs to implement it.

Neither Brexit, Corbyn and Hillary have anything to say about the future: and of course Hilary failed because of it.  Trump unfortunately did have something to say and it was nasty but it appealed to the ones that had but not now.

As a start, what Scotland requires is political education in the schools.

I pick up something that came over in a recent David Hume lecture on the Big Bang

‘HB (Hamish Buchan) related to the Stewart Ivory scheme for providing education on Finance to sixth forms but this can only go so far as it is not yet an examinable subject and the scheme can only provide 100 mins per school’

Every school child and I mean every school child needs to know about democracy and what is politics, what is capitalism and what Marx had to say about it.

Religion is dead and rightly; but Consumerism is not its replacement with its basis of individualism.

There has to be something better and that is Community – which after all, was what yesterdays’ event on Scotland’s Towns Conference in Kirkcaldy was all about.

I came to politics far too late but the kids of today must be taught, so that they can take a rational and where necessary a passionate view when the time comes to act ie vote.

David Hume is reputed to have stated :

Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.

But of course Hume was a reasonable man.

BTW Kirkcaldy has a great Art Gallery including the Colourists and at present paintings and drawings by Kate Downie of the three Forth Bridges

And then again Martin Kettle’s article in yesterdays Guardian is a good read

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/10/donald-trump-voters-liberal-order

November 10, 2016

The UK and Scotland post Brexit

Filed under: Brexit, DHI SPIF, Europe, Ireland, Politics, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 8:23 pm

A seminar given by Lord Gus O’Donnell to the David Hume institute on Tuesday 8th November and chaired by Charlie Wood.

Just in case you didn’t know Gus O’Donnell was Cabinet Secretary to the Westminster Parliament from 2005 t0 2011 covering three Prime Ministers, Blair, Brown and Cameron.

O’Donnell spoke at a rate of knots and assumed we all know Westminstereese; which I for one don’t!

That said the points I did capture were:

  1. David Hume’s much quoted ‘Reason is the slave of the Passions’
  2. Cameron made a big mistake on launching the Referendum
  3. Take Hard Brexit with a pinch of salt
  4. Migration problems are all over Europe – it is / will be a massive matter
  5. The UK will not adapt the Norwegian Solution to interfacing with the EU: it will be bespoke and will cost.
  6. Very little progress will be made during 2017; There will be Transitional Arrangements to cover the negotiation gap
  7. The funding gap left by the absence of UK revenue contribution will need to be made good by the remaining 27 members; they are not happy
  8. It will be difficulty for Teresa May to ensure Cabinet Collective Responsibility; it has already failed with Heathrow
  9. Effects of Brexit
    1. The Paris Climate Change agreement is in danger
  10. Limiting Migration into UK
    1. There is a Global shortage of skilled labour
    2. Canada is already enticing Finance Professionals from London
  11. The Single Market is essential
    1. Accommodation to maintain
  12. Productive in UK stopped in 2008
    1. Scotland is 2% to 5% lower than rUK
    2. 5% down on Assets
  13. Scotland will have 40% more control over the levers
    1. ½ Scottish revenue to be raised locally
  14. Sturgeon’s 5 tests
    1. O’D has a good opinion of Sturgeon
  15. Independent Scotland: O’D stated that in his experience from Canada and Quebec, independence is going away as older people die
  16. The terms of trade will not change for the UK after Brexit. They will be the same with the WTO – GATT rules will prevail
    1. The UK will not be able to pick and choose eg no separate agreement for Cars eg Nissan or for Finance
  17. The EU rules of the Single Market go way beyond CETA
  18. To trade in the EU after Brexit the UK will still have to follow the EU acquis
    1. The Great Repeal Bill will be no more that the UK importing the EU acquis into UK Law
    2. Regulation will not disappear; merely EU Regulation repatriated
  19. The UK government will be fully involved in the Brexit follow up to the detriment of Health, Education, and Public Services.
  20. The UK financial position distorted by Quantitative Easing: Deficit still too large, Rich people favoured. Need for special taxation
  21. Fundamental Alternatives are required. The Treasury has a host of plans but they will be ignored by the Westminster Government
  22. Article 50 is not neutral, it favours the rest of the EU
    1. It will be like 27 people playing one person in a game of chess
    2. The rEU very upset with the UK
    3. The trade-offs will be difficult to achieve
  23. It would have been better to trigger Article 50 this Autumn
  24. Vote Leave correlated with Inequality
  25. Brexit very different for Ireland and for Scotland. There must be Public Debate
    1. Agriculture is a nightmare
    2. Finances not easy
    3. Fisheries
    4. Energy easier and should be targeted
  26. Devolution while grudgingly given proved a useful experiment
    1. Westminster incredibly centralised
  27. Sturgeon is right on migration
  28. In response to Jeremy Peat, O’D agreed that Social Media could be the death o0f Rational Decision making. Democracy is in peril
  29. The Westminster Parliament has accepted Robots for manufacturing but has failed so far to considered for office working
  30. Gus O’Donnell’s family moved from Ireland in 1852 and he is going back for a visit.
    1. He cares enormously as to what happens in Ireland
    2. He praises the work done by Blair
    3. A disaster if border reintroduced following Brexit
    4. But believes a solution will be found.

October 30, 2016

The Big Bang 30 years ago: The unintended consequences of deregulation and its role on broken Capitalism

Filed under: Corporates, economics, Politics — derryvickers @ 10:38 pm

A Seminar  at the David Hume Institute on 27 October 2016
Given by Philip Auger and support from Hamish Buchan and Sir Tim Nobel with Owen Kelly in the Chair.

Some of the points that Philip Auger made that got to me were:

  1. The Labour Government of 1974-5 saw the Stock Exchange as a closed shop but it remained until 1983 – 86 Tory Government to do much about it and on 27th October 1986 they kick off the Big Bang
  2. The trading floor disappeared along with Jobbers and Brokers and their tasks were largely replaced by on-line technology. And with them a network of trust and confidentiality. TN later illustrated this when a large Organisation indicated a desire to sell its shares but before they had a chance to do so the market was forewarned and the share price had already fallen.
  3. During the next ten years UK indigenous firms failed and were quickly swallowed up by big US Firms who moved in and brought in the US ways of doing business.
  4. The City flourished and during the Blair years the City could do no wrong.
    1. The City’s advantages were: The Greenwich Time Zone, the UK Legal System and the UK speaks English.
  5. But what suffered during these years was the fact that the Stock Exchange was no longer small, there had been trust and shares were for life and as stated above dealings were confidential. The Stock Exchange had been a ‘cottage industry – now no more.   Technology allowed share trading to become transactional – the personal touch just disappeared.
  6. A major consequence was that trading became just for profit and the more trading the better the profit. The Stock Exchange became a ‘casino’ with the Devil take the hindmost. Greed set in
  7. And Greed spread to the Companies whose shares were traded: not just the CEOs but Greed permeated downwards.
  8. And as the South East is permeated by the Finance Business so Greed has spread to all. PA considered the same is true in Edinburgh. A couple of speakers mentioned John Kay’s book ‘Other People’s Money’.
  9. The Finance industry has grown to such an extent that there is now more Sales Men than Clients!
  10. To Questions the Panel answered
    1. PA believes the City will get a special deal on passporting following UK leaving the EU
    2. But Finance will inevitably move towards Europe – it has already started to happen.
    3. Edinburgh is already getting smaller with the loss of two major banks
    4. Nevertheless PA considered that the City will carve out a new role for itself; but it is essential that there is no race to the bottom
    5. PA had worked with David Davis and he believed the Davis would be a shrewd negotiator for the UK; he was also sympathetic towards Theresa May.
    6. Have the Banks learned anything from the Crash? Well not much. Some form of bonus mechanism is essential in a Capitalist World but this should be based on Customer Satisfaction rather than forced selling at the counter. The key will be ‘The Reputation of the House’.
    7. PA considered that Banks must get back to service and living with modest profits between 5 – 8%.
    8. HB related to the Stewart Ivory scheme for providing education on Finance to sixth forms but this can only go so far as it is not yet an examinable subject and the scheme can only provide 100 mins per school.
    9. As to the Stock Exchange – its role as an all embracing centre for trading is declining; large business can trade amongst themselves; but TM considered that medium sized start-ups do need a source of capital and the Exchange can provide the mechanism. The Stock Exchange also provides an index of market value.
    10. PA wondered whether the merge between the London Stock Exchange and Deutsch Bank will still go ahead?
    11. More generally Companies should consider broadening their raison d’etre and be willing to expand their boards to include staff and customers and I would add union reps as Germany. The 2006 Companies Act goes some way but he expects a Green Paper soon. But he noted that the CBI is not in favour of expanding Board membership in this way.
  11. PA summed up as ‘the Big Bang led to ‘greed, growth and gambling’

It was a good evening but I came away without a clear understanding as to ‘Broken Capitalism’ and what is the future. Capitalism can’t just be broken because of ‘Greed’ and, as is oft repeated, Capitalism is much better than Communism.

September 28, 2016

Casting Off – Susan Watkins – editor – New Left Review

Filed under: Brexit, Europe, History in the making, Left Politics — derryvickers @ 8:16 pm

More a history leading up to Brexit

But a couple of snippets from the end of the article:

‘The May government is faced with a vast project of legal disentanglement, with ramifying contractual implications, grinding against the inertial interests of Whitehall and entailing huge headaches and years of thankless work to produce an outcome probably not so very different to today’s. Trade negotiations are notoriously long drawn-out and bad tempered; no less so in a cartelized world economy, glutted with over-capacity and surplus labour, and sliding into a China-led slowdown. The UK has no unified strategy, no agreed negotiating priorities to help steer between the many, highly technical trade and immigration options—customs union, single market, EEA, à la carte—nor any fully legitimate constitutional process: government diktat, parliamentary sovereignty, second referendum?’

 ‘May has divided responsibilities for Brexit between three ministers—Johnson at the Foreign Office, Liam Fox for International Trade, David Davis to head a new department to engage with the Commission—which means that, in reality, she will decide herself. That also makes her the universal target.’

‘The City has lobbied behind closed doors and seems sanguine about the outlook for its big firms and banks.’

‘Whether or not Britain does finally leave the EU, the ironies of the referendum will remain. Culturally and ideologically, the victory of British (read: English) nationalism has revealed the emptiness of its symbols: Rule Britannia, Mother of Parliaments, Royal Navy, Going It Alone, Dunkirk Spirit—all that has gone. The UK has grown accustomed to serving as a semi-sovereign state, its foreign policy dispensed from Washington, its domestic regulations sketched in Brussels. Sub-national fissures have been deepened, with the wishes of Scotland and, most acutely, Northern Ireland, pitted against the course steered from London.’

 

You can find the whole article at

https://newleftreview.org/II/100/susan-watkins-casting-off

Scotland and Brexit – a conference

Filed under: Brexit, DHI SPIF, Europe, Politics, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 6:56 pm

Scotland and Brexit

A conference organised by the Centre for Constitutional Change – 19 September 2016.

The Conference was divided into four sessions:

  • Panel of MSPs from the Scottish Government’s European and External Relations Committee
  • Academic Panel: What does ‘Brexit means Brexit’ actually mean
  • Academic Panel: Brexit, devolution and Scotland’s Constitutional Future
  • Meetings message to the European and External Relations Committee.

The conference was chaired by Henry McLeish

The Panel of MSPs were Joan McAlpine (committee convenor), Lewis MacDonald, Jackson Carlaw, Ross Greer and Tavish Scott.

JMcA frankly admitted that the Committee were unclear as to the role that Scotland has in the Brexit negotiations. Scotland needs to target a different relationship that would maximise the benefit to Scotland but how.  As to the arrangement of the UK to the external world, the WTO may be at least the short term option.

All agreed that the maintaining the Single Market should be a priority but, other than JC, they expressed the view that the UK still didn’t appear to have yet any Brexit strategy.

RG stressed that freedom of movement is economic rather than political. He believes that it is time to get young people involved.

TS made the point that the UK Government was shaken to the core by Brexit. He pointed out that there is a lot happening in Europe over the next couple of years that have nothing to do with the UK and Brexit: Elections in Austria, Hungary, Germany; nevertheless Brexit will have bad economic consequences for both the UK and Scotland.

In questions, members of the Committee felt that Brexit negotiations would still be going on well into 2019; all agreed that ‘it was all going to be very messy’ but the ‘Single Market’ may be some sort of a red line. The obvious question came up as to whether there would be a 2nd Indy referendum by then but the Panel gave no clear answer other than the general feeling that a 2nd Indy referendum is ‘on the back burner’.

The Academic panel: What does ‘Brexit means Brexit’ actually mean were Laura Cram, David Bell, Christina Boswell and Michael Keating.

LC felt that we are in turbulent times and everything is up for grabs so let’s make the best of it and be creative. She saw the EU, now 27 members, in Bratislava as symbolic: see the Bratislava Declaration and Road Map.

DB equates the Single Market with Free movement – this is an impasse but he noted that there are lots of different positions in Europe. He was critical of the Norwegian situation as ‘uncomfortable’, the EU is unhappy with Switzerland and Canada (along with its Quebec aspect) is too different for a UK solution. He sees the devil in the detail: specific items like steel, public procurement, customs, rules for business support and how to resolve disputes. He is not keen on TTIP as it is in his view, undemocratic.

CB concentrated on immigration a ‘7 year stop’ might be proposed but unlikely to be political acceptable. In any case if the UK leaves the Single Market it is unlikely to halt immigration at least for business reasons. So far targets for non-EU states have failed. The only way to reduce immigration is to remove the need for labour migration, which implies a weaker economy.

MK made some basic statements. One needs to separate political union from economic union; sub-state governments cannot be members of the EU; no half way house ; No ‘Reverse Greenland’ with Scotland and Northern Ireland taking decisions for England and Wales – not going to happen. England is suffering from an identity crisis. A number of matters will revert to Scotland, those not ‘Reserved’, so Scotland has the opportunity to work with EU on these matters – move in parallel with the EU. Focus on specific businesses.

  • The EU is market based – it is not political
  • The UK will no longer be for China a platform to Europe.
  • Globalisation is a root of discontent, but ‘sovereignty’ is overstated; however Europe hasn’t connected with ‘nationalism’. There is pressure to ‘go back to basics’.
  • Instead of focusing on the ‘Single Market’, look to the wider issues; what kind of union do we want – a social union featuring welfare? There are many different reasons for joining with the 27 and do any they apply to Scotland?
  • It is unclear how Article 50 negotiations will proceed; Brexit means that the UK position is weak and getting weaker as time goes on with the EU losing patience, bearing mined all their other major issues.

The Academic Panel: Brexit, devolution and Scotland’s Constitutional Future were David Heald, Alan Page, Ailsa Henderson and Nicola McEwen.

DH was unclear on the effect of Brexit on Barnett; will the UK position with more or less austerity and more or less regulation; finance will be hit if non-passporting; migration has a differential effect; there could be more focus on England. Would the UK Government replace EU subsidies on agriculture and university research and if so where will the cash come from. What effect will there be on VAT which is euro regulated. Scotland has a very small income tax base, 9% Tax payers provide 50% of Corporation Tax and is therefore vulnerable.

AP, a lawyer, considered that Brexit has huge implications; the distribution of powers will remain but will require law making which currently rests with the EU; EU law in Scotland would cease to apply; there is the prospect of divergence within the UK, leading to the possibility of Devolution being re-examined.  Removal of EU restrictions may be significant. Acts of the Scottish Parliament no longer open to challenge.

AH was concerned with attitude to risk and research had shown an imbalance in the general and specific risks. In comparison to the long campaign up to 2014, the 2016 referendum was short; there was no white paper and only limited engagement; no losers assent (cf Independence Referendum) . What are the options even now to make it better?

NMcE felt that we need to look again at the Devolution Settlement eg employment law – the SNP want EU social protection but this would lead to ideological divergence and increased tension. Scotland needs more workers. Scotland needs to be free to do deals. She recognises that by taking Independence off the table, Scotland’s negotiating position is weakened (Remember May’s comment re- guaranteeing EU members the right to remain in the UK). Northern Ireland is a special case.

To Questions: border agreements important for both Scotland and Northern Ireland but different. The UK government will just impose its will; Scotland is unlikely to have a say. The UK regards tax rush to the bottom ‘as policy’ which will have a bad effect on Scotland and Northern Ireland. The importance of agriculture is recognised but not obvious ‘the money is where the mouth is’

Meetings message to the European and External Relations Committee

NMcE asked groups of the audience to write down what they believed the European and External Relations Committee should review and take forward. A few groups presented their views and all groups’ inputs were collected.

Henry McLeish summed up. He also expressed a personal view that the Tory Party had taken the Country into the Referendum merely to tackle its internal issues without any consideration as to the consequences for the Country as a whole.

Where to now – my view

Taking Laura Cram’s thesis: everything is up for grabs, a thesis supported by Michael Keating and we should ‘think out of the box’; what does Scotland want by continuing with the 27 and how should it establish the right workable political as well as economic structures to do so. We can only hope that the Scottish Government is now working away in the background to come up with such structures (is this the role of Nicola Sturgeon’s special group headed by Prof Drew Scott?). Unfortunately this is not obvious from the points made by the members of the European and External Relations Committee at the meeting, who seemed generally defensive and focussed on ‘we don’t know what the UK will do re Brexit’.

September 8, 2016

Putting the Camera aside in the Mediterranean

Filed under: Europe, In Our Time, Politics, Travel, War — derryvickers @ 8:46 am

How’s this for a business model? The smugglers of Libya cram as many people as possible aboard ramshackle dinghies and send them off across the Mediterranean. There’s virtually no chance that the boats will make the 300-mile journey to Europe; they will either sink, drowning all on board, or be intercepted by a rescue ship or naval vessel on patrol. But the outcome makes little difference to the smugglers, who are part of a more than $5 billion industry; either way, they get paid, and new passengers keep coming.

This is the very definition of a death-defying journey, which TIME correspondent Aryn Baker and photographer Lynsey Addario set out to tell for this issue and an ongoing multimedia project. Now that the refugee route from Turkey to Greece has all but closed down, more and more migrants are braving the far more dangerous Libya-to-Italy corridor. Aryn and Lynsey embedded with a rescue team from the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières on the MV Aquarius. It took their 77-metre., steel-clad, multi-engine surveying vessel 36 hours to reach Sicily from Libya. “The thought that these tiny, 40-horsepower-engine [migrant] boats, loaded with one tank of fuel, could make it anywhere would be laughable but for the number of lives at stake,” Aryn says, and indeed the death toll on the route has risen sharply this year, to 2,726 people.

These refugees came not just from the nightmare war zones of Syria and Sudan but from all across Africa. As dangerous as the sea journey is, Lynsey observes, “This is the least harrowing of their months- and years-long journey to date. They have been tortured, bound, gang-raped, trafficked, humiliated, starved and thrust into the open seas, and we come upon them often as the first ally since they left home.” At one point after intercepting a sinking trawler, there were 551 people aboard the Aquarius; Aryn handed out emergency rations, while Lynsey deployed her rudimentary Arabic to help calm frightened passengers.

“After almost two decades of covering people at their most vulnerable, I am often asked when is the appropriate time to put my cameras down and intervene in any given situation,” Lynsey says. Normally, her response is that she is not a doctor, and her mission is to tell the story to the larger world. But as the rescuers scrambled to pull some 400 people from one sinking boat, babies, toddlers and children were thrust from the crowd, one after another, passed along a chain of rescue workers. “When I pulled my camera away from my face, I realized everyone’s hands were full but mine,” Lynsey says, “and there was a startled boy at my feet–no more than 3 years old. The boat was jostling to the left and right, the sea splashing around us, and I thought of my son. I instinctively picked up the boy, letting my cameras dangle at my side, and undoubtedly missed some of the most important images of the day. But the situation was tense and precarious, and I knew what I needed to do then and there.”

This was Lynsey’s fourth journey on a search-and-rescue boat. She knows already it won’t be her last.

Nancy Gibbs, EDITOR: TIME Magazine September 12, 2016

PS If this doesn’t bring tears to your eyes

August 21, 2016

After Brexit – What next for the UK and Scotland

Filed under: Brexit, DHI SPIF, Europe, Politics, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 11:30 am

After Brexit

Chaired by Ray Perman DHI

Panel: Michael Keating, Kirsty Hughes, Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Brian Monteith

  1. MK
    1. Reason for leaving – Europe holding us back, or Against Globalisation,
    2. Desired – Market but No Migration
    3. Government to make up its mind
    4. Scotland position in UK and Europe negotiable vis Cyprus
      1. Scotland and N Ireland allow migration while England and Wales not
    5. UK focused on Trade
  2. SDS
    1. UK Constitution not made for Referendums
    2. UK doesn’t have a Constitution
    3. Article 50 requires a Parliamentary vote
      1. Royal Prerogative doesn’t apply
      2. Nothing democratic about Westminster Cabinet
    4. Scotland formally has no legal position to affect the outcome
  3. BM
    1. Accept Brexit but Scotland to seek benefits from agreeing with Westminster
    2. Remove all Reserved Items – have I got this right?
    3. Sturgeon made a tactical error with her Capitals visits
    4. No functioning Opposition in Westminster
      1. Loss of faith in British Politics
    5. Cameron EU Negotiations was a failure
    6. Remain ‘dropped the ball’
  4. KH
    1. Comprehensive EU / UK deal will take 5- 7 years
    2. Reconcile with WTO
    3. Scotland should go for 2nd Indy Referendum NOW before UK leaves EU
  5. Someone
    1. For EU Brexit just one of many problems
      1. Refugees
      2. Turkey
      3. Lack of Solidarity
      4. EU Summit Autumn

Summary

  1. No clear position coming from the Panel
  2. ‘Brexit means Brexit’ but the Panel were unable to illuminate
  3. Ray Perman – ‘Watch programme of Festival of Politics next year’
    1. Will the position be any clearer next year?
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