Mike Vickers' Blog

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.


August 1, 2016

Jo Cox and Donations

Filed under: Jo Cox, Left Politics, Personal — derryvickers @ 10:39 am

Donations to a just cause works

“We have also been delighted by the decision of the UK Government to support the fund in Jo’s memory through a contribution of £375,000 to the Royal Voluntary Service. As the government said at the time*, the amount equals the gift aid that could have been claimed on the £1.5m target if the fund was a registered UK charity”

July 4, 2016

The Land of Lost Content

Filed under: Education, Personal, Poetry, Sustainability, War — derryvickers @ 7:44 pm


As a child I lived in Congleton in East Cheshire

I was able to walk and cycle freely wherever I liked.  I and my friend would be out for hours and my parents never worried.

A favourite place was up to Mow Cop.

Mow Cop

The Folly of Lost Content

though I suspect the way up has changed a lot since then.

I fear that kids can’t do that anymore.  It’s a great pity (and nothing to do with the EU)

Why do I remember this now – its because a book has just been released on A E Housman.

Housman composed a slim book of poems ‘A Shropshire Lad’.

The book was reputed to be carried by solders on the Front in WW1 and I can understand why.

However Housman also wrote the verse:

The Land of Lost Content

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

A. E. Housman

Malvern Hills

Malvern Hills like Shropshire and the Long Mynd



June 29, 2016

A Real Reason for the EU continuing and going from Strength to Strength

Filed under: Europe, Personal, World Class — derryvickers @ 6:19 pm

I feel that this comment by Vytenis Andriukaitis, a Lithuanian MEP,  seated behind Farage in the photo that has gone viral, is worth going viral, but in the best way, too.

‘Yesterday, with my fellow EU Commissioners, I attended the extraordinary session in the European Parliament. Some photos – particularly that of my right hand – and videos have spread on social media. You will have seen me grimacing and trying to hide my despair while Nigel Farage spoke.

‘I have enjoyed reading the many comments and can confirm that I do indeed appreciate British humour. But as tweets were exchanged, I felt it was important to share some more serious thoughts on how I felt yesterday in the Parliament.


I was and still am fully with all the British people. I am with all those who voted against financial speculation uncovered in the ‘Panama papers’ and with those who voted against unemployment and decreasing standards of living. However, sadly, many votes will have been influenced by the lies spread by some representatives of the Leave campaign. 

I am also with those who voted to remain in the EU, who want to create a better future for their families, and who believe that it is possible together, united in diversity, to fight against corporate greed and fraud perpetrated by financial transnational capitalism.

Toxic untruths spread by Mr Farage and others, such as claims that money Britain contributes to the EU budget would be used for investments in healthcare, have now been revealed as lies.


In my heart, two symbols of this referendum remain – both of them are very different. One is the assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox and the other is of Jonathan Hill.

Jo Cox was killed because of people instigating hate, chauvinism and phobias. These are brutal forces infecting our democracies, destroying sentiment of security and values that we hold so dearly in Europe.

Lord Hill was decisive and stepped down. This is an example of moral self-determination, taking responsibility and embracing the consequences. This is in stark contrast to the actions of some others who personify political hypocrisy.


Britain is changing. Young people in Scotland, Northern Ireland or London want to see a different future.

The EU is changing as well. For me its future lies in social justice and security. This is the way forward. And only together, with the EU Member States, with the European Parliament, and with a decisive European Council – avoiding the cacophony and constant bashing of Brussels – can we achieve this together.’

I agree with every thing Vytenis Andriukaitis says – I would only add to ‘social justice and security’, peace in our time – which has largely been lost in the UK debate that the primary reason for the EEC (as was the EU at the time) being convened in the first place.

As a person now living in Scotland I hope that I may remain in Europe and the EU

April 10, 2016

Codicil – Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold

Filed under: Ireland, Personal, Poetry — derryvickers @ 9:13 pm

Bob Geldof has presented WB Yeats – A Fanatic Heart on BBC 4. It is too late now to watch on the IPlayer but it will be back.
To anyone who cares about Ireland, to anyone who cares about poetry this is compulsory watching.

A classic line by Geldof

‘Die for a Cause but live for a Reason.’

And then there is Yeats own epitaph

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death
Horseman, pass by!

December 5, 2015

It’s been a great week for Scottish Music

Filed under: Music, Personal, Sally Beamish, Scotland, World Class — derryvickers @ 7:31 am

NOISE (New Opera in Scotland Events) – not a very inspiring name for an opera company but last night at the Queens Hall they put on Hirda – wreckage / mess in Shetland dialect.  Certainly not a mess in an Opera – a performance that will live on in our memory .  You can read more at


But the story to me was past and present brought together in Shetland, the newly married couple and the prodigal brother and moderating sister with the background of a distant love affair where the ghost of woman left in Shetland by her whaler lover can’t rest till she finds her lost mitten.  And it all comes to an end on the moor with the newly wed wife almost on the point of death next the corpse of the women in a splendour of singing by all six of the cast (I need to cast my mind back to the finale of Rosenkavalier for an equivalent).

Music by fiddler maestro Chris Scott (last seen in a glorious concerto by Sally Beamish with Catriona McKay Scottish Harp) and Gareth Williams and libretto Sian Evans.  I just hope that the opera gets south of the border to show the sophisticated Londoners what Scotland can produce.  At least the review was by the Guardian so may be some small hope.


On Monday it was Red Notes – Noisy Notes (Noise again) with their excellent musicians playing music composed by young musicians, each piece being no more than 5 – 10 minutes in length.  Often in The Traverse but this night in an old Anatomy Theatre for vets – the theatre is small in the round and gives wonderful visibility of the players – no more than three or four players usually with a conductor John Harris conducting with what looked like a red ball point.  The session is usually split into two halves with space for the audience to come up in 10 minutes with an off the cuff piece.  This time it was no surprise that Sally Beamish in audience won the prize for the best piece but she did squeeze a couple of extra minutes before her score was prised away from her.

Anyway below is the team except the flutist was replaced by an Australian Accordionist who in one piece was almost a show on his own



November 15, 2015

Operas and Vienna

Filed under: Music, Painting, Personal, World Class — derryvickers @ 9:40 pm

Four operas in the last 10 days: Carmen at the Festival Theatre by Scottish Opera, The Choir at the Glasgow Citizens, Cosi fan Tutte also by the Scottish Opera with a touring version around Scotland this time at the local Academy and lastly La Boheme at the Staatsoper in Vienna. All very familiar except for The Choir – a amateur choir who come together – fall out over the programme and eventually make up again – very joyous!

But to the Staatsoper – we were in a loge near the back but could see very well. The set was by Franco Zeffirelli so quite dated and the second act was with a cast of thousands on two levels. My wife didn’t rate the singing much up on the Scottish Opera. But we really went for the experience.

We also went to the Musikverein again for the sheer experience of being there – also in a loge but immediately above the orchestra with somewhat limited visibility of the orchestra – but it didn’t matter. It was an all-Beethoven night; Leonora 2, Symphony 2 and Symphony 5 conducted by Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil. The performance, particularly the 5th, brought the House down but then its Beethoven in his adopted home town

As to Vienna, it was excellent, sunny with temperatures around 15 – 20. As my hearing aid consultant said before we went – Vienna oozes with Empire and he’s right – Vienna has come to grips with the fact it lost its empire and looks sumptuous in consequence – it’s a pity that London can’t recognise its loss of empire and settle down to be more like Vienna.
Another feature of Vienna is the almost absence of sky scrapers – and very good too.

We did the main sites; the Belvedere, the Hofburg and two contemporary art museums, the MUMOK (truly modern) and the Leopold and walked around the centre within the Ringstrasse – really quite small. I also went to the Albertine to see an exhibition of Munch woodcuts and lithographics – very good if you like Munch – which I do. But Vienna is dominated by Klimt – everywhere you go – even in our hotel room – I’m not a great fan and after so much in Vienna even less so – but in contrast Schiele is much less familiar to UK art goers but so much more interesting – the Leopold had a whole floor to him. But what was also interesting is that there are whole gamut of Austrian and German painters I have never before come across who are clearly very good.

May 22, 2015

Dunkirk Anniversary

Filed under: Europe, Personal, War, World Class — derryvickers @ 9:36 am

As a kid at primary school in Congleton, Cheshire I well remember morning lessons being held up with a news broadcast on the radio giving live commentary from the D Day landing – June 1944.

However as I think over WW2 I have long held the belief that the two crucial events of WW2 are the Evacuation from Dunkirk and the battle for Stalingrad.  The first saved so many thousands troops to fight on and Stalingrad proved that Germany was far from being invincible, the real turning point of the war (Of course Napoleon suffered the same fate in 1812)

It is therefore with real pleasure that the 75th  anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation is now being celebrated.  I only hope that the Allies will join with Russia to celebrate the 75th anniversary of battle for Stalingrad in August 2017.


December 1, 2014

Changin’ Scotland

Filed under: Personal, Politics, Scotland, Scottish Independence — derryvickers @ 12:31 pm

This is our second attendance – both times in Ullapool – March and now November. What did strike me:

  1. The Referendum is past; the Smith Commission has set out its recommendations. Adam Tomkins, a member of the Smith Committee representing the Conservatives in conversation with Gerry Hassan said that Scotland, assuming the Smith recommendations get into law, will have more powers that any other devolved government in the world. Well looking at today’s Scotsman you wouldn’t think so. Anyway he gave a valiant defence of the Union position to an audience who you might expect was not entirely sympathetic! There was a clear ground swell – It’s not England we object to its Westminster. BTW what will happen to the Scotland 2012 Act due to be implemented next year
  2. Matt Qvortrup, a world expert on referendums, felt that referendums only achieve ‘yes’ when things are going well. Don’t repeat them too often, even the people in Quebec are fed up with them.
  3. Douglas Fraser in conversation with Madeleine Bunting ex of the Guardian and Kathleen Jamie author of a couple of good books of essays in and around Scotland, one Findings. Madeleine – if you think poverty is bad in Scotland then come to London.
  4. David Greig, playwright, Dunsinane, wanted to harness the grassroots political groundswell rather than let it be dissipated. What Scotland now needs a public space to explore views and the way forward –We need to push ourselves harder. The problem dear Brutus!
  5. Gender equality- Jean Freeman – inequality is the men’s problem; they need to sought themselves out
  6. Tom Smith of a wee company Lateral North, thinking way outside the Scottish Box. They have produced a lovely book on the subject. You can find details at http://lateralnorth.com/gallery/publication-an-atlas-of-productivity/
  7. Jim Hunter, professor emeritus at the University of the Highland and Islands and advocate par excellence on them considered that Holyrood needs to recognise that ‘one size does not fit all’; the Highlands and Islands are different from the Central Belt. The financial difficulties of Gigha are no more than we all suffer with paying our mortgages. This book ‘The making of the Crofting Community’ is seminal. Surprisingly he quotes Michael Forsyth as a great friend of the Highlands. Andy Wightman in the chair thanked Jim for his work on Land Reform – there may yet be a bill before the Scottish Parliament
  8. What will happen to Radical Scotland? Common Weal represented by ?, National Collective by Ross Colquhoun, Radical Independence Campaign by Cat Boyd and Women for Independence by Susan Stewart chaired by Kathy Galloway all trying to find a way forward towards a more gender equal, more radical Scotland but trying not to look back.
  9. Where to for Changin’ Scotland, Gerry Hassan and Jean Urquhart. Jean off to Shetland. General support from the audience for continuing some sort of mix. Changin’ Scotland is a small participatory but relaxed group who welcome being away from the big Fora of the Central Belt. OK we tend to be older but a good smattering of young people at this meeting – may be we are a second chamber. Anyway Jean Urquhart’s son is very keen to pick up the challenge so it could be Ullapool next spring for Risin’ Scotland
  10. And the meeting finished with a rendition by four ladies of The Freedom Come All-Ye in fine tune
  11. Finally a nice touch, the coffee money is for the Linda Norgrove Foundations and if you want to know more go to http://www.lindanorgrovefoundation.org/

November 20, 2014

A short visit to Berlin

Filed under: Europe, Personal, Politics, Travel — derryvickers @ 12:21 am

Berlin feels a small Capital City (but has a population of3.5 million).  A friendly, noisy open town.

Bikes everywhere – no helmets (well 1 in 20) – weaving in and outs of the trams and cars.

Trams, U Bahn and S Bahn criss-cross the City but  the trams only exist in what was East Berlin – whether they never existed in the West or just not rebuilt after WW2 is unclear. Perhaps capitalism and trams don’t mix!

I had not been there since the Wall came down.  I had not realised, despite a coach tour of East Berlin at the time that the Old City was in the East, the only area of note in the West was  Kurfurstendamm and the Tiergarten.



Balloons over Berlin

Balloons over Berlin

It’s 25 years last weekend since the Wall came down and quite by chance we were there to celebrate – 6000 helium balloons were launched along what was the Wall to 7pm Sunday 9 November


The Wall remains central for visitors if not for the inhabitants.

The museums are good but not as comprehensive as London – The Museum Island packs them all in on an island in the Spree .

There are a few exceptions – the Jewish Museum – well worth a visit just to walk around – but you need to be prepared for the message – the Jews have been persecuted from the time when they were introduced by the Romans.


Also the Holocaust Memorial is very memorable.

Holocaust Memorial

Holocaust Memorial

Lots of good displays – Wall, Holocaust – Willy Brandt

I had forgotten about Willy Brandt but there is now a permanent exhibition to him on the Unter den Linden. What a clever socialist politician – he knew where to put pressure and where to cool canny  to get what he wanted – If Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister in scotland does just half as well with Westminster, Scotland will become independent in her life time.


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