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Decision Time

Tomorrow I will be voting for the UK to remain a member of the European Union. While I find the economic and political arguments for Remain persuasive, ultimately I’ll be doing this because peace and cooperation are necessary preconditions for progress and our collective futures.

I’m not going to tell you how to vote. But, if you find yourself genuinely undecided, I offer a suggestion: don’t abstain. Instead, ask a child or young person in your life how they would vote if they were able, and then vote for them and their future. And vote with hope for that future.

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Aftermath

Now that the result is known, some thoughts about the Scottish independence referendum:

1. I consider myself a friend of Scotland. I go there at least one a year, to walk and backpack in its beautiful landscape, and as a nation it feels to me like a better place than England. Going there is not like “going home”, because it isn’t my home, but it has something of that quality about it. This probably shows how easily Scotland is romanticised, but its also how I feel about the place.

2. I was, and still am, broadly in favour of Independence for Scotland. Which puts me in the company of just over one and a half million Scots – a place I’m happy to be. Independence would likely have been a tough ride, economically, for a decade or so. But the referendum was a decision for centuries, not the near future, and I think it would have turned out well in the end.

3. But we are where we are, and politics continues because it never goes away. Around half of the adult population of Scotland, and four percent of the population of the UK, felt and still feel that the UK is no longer their home. Something has to change. A significant proportion of those voting no did so because the Prime Minister promised further constitutional change. Without it, it seems fairly clear to me, the result would have been yes. Constitutional change has to happen, and it is going to have to be a bit more than-who-gets-to-vote-for-what in the London parliament. If serious change doesn’t happen, the UK government loses its legitimacy and authority over Scotland. Totally.

4. There will be a UK parliamentary election in on 7th May 2015. The legislative programme is no doubt already full of measures to charm the voters, and Tory MPs are pushing back against the Prime Minister’s promises. Combine this with the fact that many Scottish Labour supporters will have voted yes and may be feeling rather let down by Labour’s opposition to independence, and we could be seeing a lot more SNP MPs in the Westminster parliament next year. Making Alex Salmond a potential kingmaker in the (likely) event that no party has an overall majority.

5. Anecdotal evidence suggests that younger people made up a large part of of the Yes vote. For some, particularly sixteen and seventeen year-olds, it will have been the first time that they voted. Many have been politicised to some degree by the intense and emotional nature of the campaign. I don’t know how they are feeling this morning, but I suspect that a large number feel let-down not only by politicians but also the older generation – who they may feel voted No out of fear. Whether they turn to anger, political activism, or apathy is too early to say. But the Westminster political system has become optimised for a largely apathetic population, and it will not welcome change.

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Three things

reading the newspaper this polling day, three things caught my eye:

1. Guardian Letters: The scourge of our wealth divide:

The annual Sunday Times Rich List yields four very important conclusions for the governance of Britain (Report, Weekend, 28 April). It shows that the richest 1,000 persons, just 0.003% of the adult population, increased their wealth over the last three years by £155bn. That is enough for themselves alone to pay off the entire current UK budget deficit and still leave them with £30bn to spare.

Michael Meacher MP

2. Privately run NHS hospital ‘will need to make eyewatering cuts’

In a deal signed off by the government in February, Circle takes the first £2m of any year’s profits at the hospital in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. After that it gets a quarter of surpluses between £2m and £6m, and a third of surpluses between £6m and £10m. The terms mean that in any year Hinchingbrooke makes less than a £6m surplus, more than half will go to Circle.

In the past decade the hospital has never made an annual surplus of more than £600,000, suggesting large cuts would be needed to meet targets. This year the hospital is on course to lose £10m.

Circle’s 10-year management franchise is seen as a potential model for other hospitals.

3. Rover workers get £3 redundancy pay compensation after seven-year battle

News of the tiny payouts was announced to campaigners at a meeting on Monday and has led to calls for personal donations to the workers’ compensation fund from the so-called Phoenix Four – John Towers, Nick Stephenson, John Edwards and Peter Beale – the businessmen whobought the company for £10 in 2000 and then paid themselves and managing director Kevin Howe a total of £42m.

Carl Chinn, a trustee of the former employees’ fund, said: “I hope they will search their conscience to see if they can find the goodwill to help those who have lost so much. But as they have been ignoring my calls for four or five years, I’m not holding out much hope.”

Chinn said a request for contributions had been put to representatives of the quartet, who last May were disqualified from working as company directors in Britain for a total of 19 years.

A spokesman for the four said: “All we would want to say is that the request has been noted.”

So, yes, I voted today.

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Beauly-Denny

below is a copy of my letter to the First Minister of Scotland regarding the environmental destruction about the be wrought by the upgrade to the Beauly-Denny power transmission line. For context on this see here and here and here and here and here.

–=o=–

[My address removed]

9th November 2009

Rt. Hon. Alex Salmond MSP
Office of the First Minister
St. Andrew’s House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG

Dear First Minister,

I am writing to you regarding recent media reports that the proposed upgrade to the Beauly-Denny power transmission line is about to be approved by the Scottish Government.

As someone who has visited Scotland many times to enjoy the unparalleled beauty of its mountain and wilderness areas, I am saddened that such a development is being considered. The industrialisation of parts of theCairngorms National Park and the imposition of enormous pylons across large areas of Highland landscape will destroy the very qualities that draw so many people to visit Scotland. Once the 200 foot pylons, access roads, and transformer buildings have been built, the damage will bepermanent.

I appreciate the need for enhancements to Scotland’s transmission capacity. However, I urge you to consider alternatives: upgrading the existing East-coast line or the use of sub-sea cables for example. While they may be more expensive, they would go a long way towards preventing further environmental damage and would demonstrate to the world that Scotland is as serious about protecting its natural heritage as itundoubtedly is about preventing climate change.

I do understand that you are a busy man. But I urge you: before making a decision, visit some of the spectacularly beautiful areas whose landscape will bepermanently changed. See what is at risk, and what will be lost to us all – including generations to come – by this reckless development. Please, for all our sakes,exercise brave leadership and seek an alternative.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Johnson

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Extremists

There has been a lot of debate over the last few weeks about the BBC’s decision to allow the leader of the British National Party, Nick Griffin, to appear on the Question Time programme. I wanted to set-out some of my thoughts on this.

To be clear: I hate and dispise the BNP. It is vile, racist, anti-semitic, hateful, and I do not want to share a country (or planet) with it or its moronic supporters.

So, what to do?

The BBC’s position appears to be that the BNP is a legal political party with a significant body of support, and, as such, they should be represented in BBC current affairs programming in the interests of ‘balance’ and ‘fairness’. The BNP seems to agree, while presumably also believing that the BBC are leftist commie race-traitors who will be first up against the wall…

The opposing view is that the BNP is an extremist organisation and should not be legitimised by an appearance on a high-profile, respected television programme. The phrase “oxygen or publicity” gets used a lot here.

Reading blog comments on the BBC News site, the Guardian, and others (such as the Guido Fawkes’ blog), a lot of people seem to be saying “freedom of speech… let Griffin onto the programme and everyone will see that he’s a nazi.” This is the “give him enough rope” approach. Maybe he will expose his and the BNP’s true nature, live on national TV. That would be a great result.

But what if he doesn’t?

Nick griffin isn’t stupid. Yes, he holds truly vile opinions, but he’s not stupid either. He’s also a relatively seasoned public performer and is articulating a world-view that is, unfortunately, highly plausible to a significant number of of my fellow citizens. Almost one million people voted for the BNP in the lst European election. When he apperas on TV tomorrow evening he will know that he’s not in the back-room of some pub where he can say what he really thinks to people who think the same way. He’ll be bland and moderate, with maybe just a bit of “straight-talking victim of the liberal political establishment” thrown in, because his sole aim will be to be accepted as just another politician. Someone that ordinary people can vote for. He want to be legitimised.

What if that is the outcome? Well, France discovered how this plays-out back in 1984. Voting BNP will become acceptable. We’ll see our first fascist MPs not long after that, and the history of 20th-century Europe tells us where this can lead.

If the BBC is correct that they have an obligation to provide a platform to all legal political parties, and I suspect that they are, then the BNP must cease to be a legal political party. I am aware that this can be interpreted as elitist: “some people are just not smart enough to see what the BNP really is, and so ‘we’ must protect them for their own good.” Maybe it is, but sometimes a state (society?) must recognise the inevitability of human failbility and protect its people from the consequences of their own actions.

How to do this? I don’t want politicians deciding that other politicians should be banned. Thats just a short-cut to the sort of society that the BNP want to create. Instead I’d like some kind of socially-agreed ‘filter’. If an organisation can pass through the filter then they have the right to be treated as legitimate, and can enjoy the priviliges that that brings (like arguing on Question Time). If they can’t then they stay illegitimate (which is not necessarily the same as illegal) and the police/MI5 keep an eye on them.

The criteria for the filter should be decided by society as a whole. I suggest that prerequisites are a commitment to democracy, equality, and freedom under the law. Any party that wants to remove rights from their fellow citizens, as the BNP does, would fail. Formulating this filter would be difficult, especially an a diverse and fractured society, but if nations can agree on constitutions and human-rights treaties and acts, then we could do this.

I really hope that tomorrow night the country sees Nick Griffin and the BNP for what they really are: hate-filled fascists. But I am afraid that a process has been started, and I fear for the future.

Thank you America

As i read my newspaper on the train this morning, with the Cheshire countryside slipping past, reading about the hope and joy being expressed by ordinary Americas for what might come next, you made me quietly and briefly cry.