englishman abroad, politics

Catalan vs Scottish vs UK independence

With the recent (illegal) vote in Catalonia about whether it should be an independent country, we finally have a meaningful independence vote which has taken place outside of Britain. 

First there was the Scottish Independence referendum of 2014, in which Scotland voted to remain part of the UK, then there was the EU referendum of 2016 in which the UK voted to leave the EU, and now we have had the Catalan Independence referendum of 2017: 

Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic? 

Unlike the others, this vote was ruled as illegal from the start. The Spanish constitution states that Spain is indivisible and that’s it’s impossible to secede from the country.

That alone sounds like an extremely valid reason to have a vote on the subject. If you aren’t allowed to leave, there should absolutely be a vote on leaving. 

Say what you want about the Scottish referendum, the UK government didn’t tell Scotland that it simply couldn’t leave, case closed. Rather it said “Scotland, you’re already an independent country. By all means, vote” 

Should Scotland be an independent country? 

‘No’ – was Scotland’s answer. Scotland wanted to remain an interdependent country as part of the UK. Sensible choice, especially as joining the EU was never on the table in the first place – Spain would have vetoed such a breakaway state’s membership to discourage Catalonian independence. It’s also especially sensible as all successful countries are interdependent these days. Look at North Korea: no foreign governments lobbying their people’s assembly. No pesky transnational organisations like the UN (or EU) are listened to in North Korea. North Korea has absolute control over its own oil and gas. North Korea has little to do with its neighbours, even with China. Not exactly heaven on earth, is it? 

Finally, we come to Brexit. The question was much wordier: 

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union? 

No pretence of whether or not the UK was an independent country was present in the question itself, that came from the TV debates instead. This was a straightforward question of political union. Therein lies the problem: how can you expect people to vote on such a complicated issue when few of us could really articulate what the European Union is? Ideas like ‘independence’ are easy to understand, but ‘remain or leave a complicated political union that you know nothing about’ is choice that should never have been given without adequate and impartial education on the subject. I remember learning about Pythagoras at school, Shakespeare, The Great Fire of London, plate tectonics, what different religions believe about the afterlife… but politics? Civics? How the world around us actually works? Taxes? Finance? The economy? Important things that an adult should know? 

Should education make independent people? 

That’s a ‘yes’ from me. 

englishman abroad, politics

So, I’m a centre-right Marxist: three ways that Germans decide who to vote for.

This month the election season draws to a close; September 24th is Election Day. The election season has been underway for a quite a while and despite this, no one seems to be talking about politics. It looks like I’ll have to break the silence. Here are three ways the Germans decide who to vote for:

1.       Election placards

One day I woke up and noticed that there was a rather gormless-looking man smiling down inanely from a placard hung outside my house. This was the local SPD candidate, hoping to get elected. The SPD are the approximate German equivalent of the Labour party and they’re wasting their time with me: as a Briton, I can’t vote in the national elections.

Tellingly, different parts of the city have different placards and parties represented on them. Just as the breaks in Top Model have different adverts than the breaks in Top Gear: they’re catering to a different audience. My street is exclusively SPD, but around the corner is the main road and the CDU (Angela Merkel’s Party), SPD, Greens and Die Linke (further left than the SPD) are represented.

Rougher areas than mine feature the fringe parties: MLPD (The Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany) and AfD (Alternative for Germany, the far right). Typically, the mainstream parties go with a bland, pithy slogan: “Rent should be affordable!” OR: “With less Europe, no one has more!” The fringes go for something more blatant: “Workers of the world unite!” (yes, really) and “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves.” This last one is accompanied by the picture of a pregnant (white) woman. Message: no brown babies, please, we’re German. The extreme left and right seem to be populated by stereotypes, but there you go. By the way, far right placards are hung very high so they can’t be torn down, whereas the far left don’t have to worry about it.

2.       Wahl-o-Mat

For those not easily swayed by placards, there is the Wahl-o-Mat. This website collates information on party policies and presents 38 questions. Based on your answers it advises you who to vote for. It’s a really good idea and I decided to fill out the questionnaire myself. Unfortunately, my British political stances (generally small-c conservative) completely contradict the German system and here are my nonsensical results:

·         I should vote for the FDP, as I agree with 61.3% of their policies, according to Wahl-o-Mat. The FDP is a centre/centre-right party. Not a bad result so far, but wait…

·         If I decide not to vote FDP, my next best choice is the Marxist–Leninist Party of Germany, as I agree with 58.8% of their policies.

What madness is this?! I can’t swing from the centre-right to the extreme left on the basis of 2.5 percentage points! I think that there are two particular questions which sank me, one on affordable housing – I thought it was a good idea, and one on ‘Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung’ or statutory health insurance. Statutory health insurance, socialised medicine, whatever you want to call it, is the general idea of the British NHS. A conservative in Britain would defend it. Even the BNP defends it.

3.       Incredibly tedious TV debates

For those select few who find placards too simple and the Wahl-o-Mat too complicated, there is a third way: The Cult of Personality. Unfortunately, neither Angela Merkel nor Martin Schulz seems to have a personality between them. Two days ago, there was a live TV debate in which Schulz (SPD) and Merkel (CDU) agreed almost endlessly about everything. There was a bit of light sparring over Turkey and the refugee crisis, but the debate was tedious and focussed only of the two main parties.

For contrast, the 2015 and 2017 debates have a greater range of opinion simply by including more parties: Plaid Cymru, UKIP, Lib Dems, SNP, Greens, not just Labour and the Conservatives.

Yesterday there was another, lesser, debate which included the other parties. First up was the FDP talking some bland, predictable soundbites and then on came those far-right crazies, the AfD.

“Great!” I thought. “Here comes something entertaining!”

“So, Mrs Blah Blah of the AfD,” began the moderator (I might be paraphrasing)

“What are your thoughts on fibre optic internet cables?”

Off went the TV, I can’t stand such tedium.

 

 

englishman abroad, politics

Prediction for Election 2017

UPDATE:

It looks like I severely overestimated the appeal of Theresa May, the Tin Lady…

original post:

2017 has been an interesting year so far. Donald Trump has been sworn in as President. Theresa May, the second female British Prime Minister, has invoked Brexit. France has sworn in a political outsider as President, so has Austria.

The United Kingdom has another general election today, to elect its future government, MPs and Prime Minister. Theresa May hopes to win a larger majority for The Conservative party, and so have an easier time pushing through laws and motions during the Brexit process.

Trump, Farage, Macron, Van der Bellen. All of them were political outsiders who weren’t taken seriously by the political establishment. Until they won.

Theresa May on the other hand… an incumbent Prime Minister, a Conservative, former cabinet minister, a clear insider. But I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn will win, as so many other outsiders have done, due to the political system we have in the UK.

In short, we have a two-party system. Whoever wins the most votes in an area, called a constituency, wins that area and the parliamentary seats that it represents. This means that one of the two big parties almost always wins. The big exception is the SNP in Scotland, whose support is localised. In the 2015 election the SNP won about 1.5 million votes whereas UKIP got almost 4 million. So UKIP got more seats, right? Wrong! UKIP got one seat. The SNP got 56.

This is because the SNP’s support is localised to Scotland, where about 5.5 million people live, and UKIP’s support was localised to England where about ten times as many people live.

The SNP won a lot of little competitions and UKIP lost a lot of big competitions.

This is what will happen with The General Election 2017: people who don’t like the Conservatives will divide their votes between Labour, The Greens, The Liberal Democrats and all manner of other parties. Corbyn is an outsider surrounded by many, many other outsiders. The Conservatives will win because, although more than half of the electorate will agree on change, they won’t be able to agree on what kind of change. The Conservatives will win a larger majority by winning lots of competitions by default – they are the only insiders running.

If the UK Political system sound crazy and broken when compared to other European countries which use proportional representation, just remember that The UK had a chance to reform voting law in 2011.

They voted no.

englishman abroad, politics

Brexit

People sometimes ask me about what I think of Brexit and this week was no exception. This week The United Kingdom began the process of leaving the European Union.

I wanted Britain to remain in the European Union and would have voted accordingly, but the electoral office in Scotland, where I used to live, lost my application.

After all, I live in Germany, I work here, I have a family and friends here, my daughter is half German. It’s in my own, selfish interest that The UK stay part of the EU. Now, with article 50 triggered, my future looks uncertain. Will I require a visa? Should we stay in Germany or go to Britain? Is that a choice I am in an informed position to make? What’s best for my family? Where are the jobs? Where is my future?

Brexit has certainly raised more questions than it has answered.

But on referendum day I understood why my countrymen had voted to leave. Every year the UK pays a lot of money into the EU, every year the EU tells the UK what laws to follow, who it can trade with, who can enter and leave.

The EU seems to make a  lot of sense for the poorer countries, but richer ones?

The UK wants a different future to that of the EU. The EU seeks to unite Europe under a common flag, anthem, currency, court, parliament, law… it all sounds very noble. Maybe it is, but we are not all the same.

Take healthcare. A publicly-insured German can expect to pay several hundred euros per month for medical care (over 15% of their income). If they require treatment they might have to pay a deductible. Medicine, prescriptions, examinations, advice and appointments, everything seems to cost just a little bit extra.

A Briton can go to hospital for free. See their doctor for free. Get medicine for £8.40 rather than hundreds of pounds. Now imagine having to extending that privilege to every single person who comes to the UK through EU law.

The EU is a big government making big decisions…

It seems to make a lot of sense for the big people, but the little ones?