A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘united kingdom

[LINK] “Catalonia, Scotland and the fluid concept of democracy”

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Open Democracy’s Daniel Coyne makes the compelling argument that the ability of the United Kingdom, unlike Spain, to accept the possibility of separatism is a strength.

If we return our focus to Catalonia, where on Sunday the pro-independence parties won a majority of seats in parliament. The exact levels of support for Catalan independence vary according to who you ask, with both sides in the debate naturally exaggerating their own support base. It is beyond doubt, however, that at least a sizeable minority of Catalan voters want full independence from Spain.

The Spanish government has of course secured its own democratic mandate to govern, having been chosen for office by the entire Spanish electorate. It also has its own perfectly sensible reasons for wanting Catalonia to remain part of Spain. Aside from patriotic notions of Spanish unity, it benefits Spain economically to have the relatively wealthy and productive Catalonia as part of the family.

Yet the national government in Madrid isn’t the sole legislative power in Spain, a highly de-centralised country divided into 17 autonomous communities, each with its own legislature.

Catalan elections consistently garner a lot of support for the independence cause. In refusing to allow an independence referendum to be held, the Spanish government chooses to utilise its own mandate as a democratically-elected body to overrule a subordinate yet equally legitimate body. A body that is simply seeking to serve the interests of the people that voted for it.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 3, 2015 at 3:54 am

[DM] “On Population Matters, the Syrian refugee crisis, and the United Kingdom”

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At Demography Matters, I address the hostility of the British charity Population Matters to the idea of resettling Syrian refugees in the United Kingdom. I find the critics rather more believable than the charity itself.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 1, 2015 at 3:58 am

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • blogTO notes that Toronto’s old City Hall may yet become a shopping mall once the courts move out.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes that worlds without plate tectonics are doomed to stop being habitable, and looks at different kinds of cosmic ray environments.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes the Iranian buildup in Syria.
  • A Fistful of Euros has a reading list for Jeremy Corbyn.
  • Otto Pohl talks about the historic role of German minorities in Africa and Asia.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog shares a map of the Middle East’s Kurdish populations.
  • Spacing Toronto looks at campus safety in the age of threatening tweets.
  • Towleroad notes Michael Sam stating he could have had a better NFL career had he not come out.
  • Transit Toronto notes the TTC has taken its tenth new streetcar into service.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy looks at intersections between assisted suicide and religious liberty.
  • Window on Eurasia notes controversy in Belarus over a Russian military base and looks at Circassians in Syria.

[LINK] Two Bloomberg links in separatism in Catalonia

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Maria Tadeo’s Bloomberg article “Catalonia Isn’t Really About to Break Away From Spain, Is It?” looks at the trajectory of Catalonian politics.

is Catalonia really about to break away from Spain?

Probably not, no. But regional President Artur Mas will likely get enough support to begin the process of secession and push for more powers. His mainstream pro-independence alliance Junts pel Si is projected to fall just short of a majority, and a smaller separatist group, the CUP, will probably get the movement over the 68-seat threshold.

While this will most likely be enough for the separatists to push on with their fight, without a majority of votes they will struggle to present this as a clear democratic mandate. Polls show votes for independence coming in below the 50 percent threshold.

What is Junts pel Si?

An alliance of separatist groups. Mas’s party, Convergencia, agreed to join forces with its traditional separatist rival Esquerra Republicana for this election after their attempts at holding a non-binding referendum were blocked last year.

They’ve been joined by figures from across Catalan society such as Bayern Munich soccer coach Pep Guardiola. The aim is to set aside differences on economic and social issues to bring the separatist vote together under one banner and send a clear signal to officials in Madrid.

Mas and Esquerra leader Oriol Junqueras have drawn up a road map that involves setting up a tax agency, a central bank, an army and securing access to the euro before declaring independence in 18 months’ time if they can secure a majority of 68 seats in the 135 strong regional assembly.

Mark Gilbert’s “Scotland Proved You Can’t Scare Catalonia Away From Independence” emphasizes the extent to which Spain has to make a positive case for itself.

Rajoy said this week that the pro-independence politicians have no concrete plans as to how they’d run a government, and that “Catalans aren’t being told the real consequences of independence.” Rajoy even suggested that Catalans would lose their EU citizenship. The Spanish central bank, meanwhile, insisted that cut loose from the mothership, the region would be kicked out of the European Union, barred from using the euro and would leave its banks without the support of the European Central Bank. And Miguel Cardenal, the Spanish minister for sports, has threatened to kick Catalonian soccer team Barcelona out of the national league.

Catalonia produces about 18 percent of Spain’s gross domestic product, so the region wouldn’t exactly be a pauper. Nevertheless, investors have reacted to the prospect of an escalating fight over independence by driving up the yield premium they demand for lending to the region by buying its bonds rather than those of the central government; they now charge Catalonia 3.25 percent for five-year money, which is about 2.3 percentage points more than the government pays. That’s almost double what the surcharge was six months ago

The U.K.’s eventual change of tactics in persuading Scotland to remain part of the union should provide Spain with a better guide as to how to hang on to Catalonia. Devolution — the transfer of tax and spending powers to the regions — has softened (though not silenced) Scottish calls for independence, and seems to have averted a Welsh move down the secessionist path. Andreu Mas-Colell, a former Harvard University economics professor who is the Spanish region’s finance chief, said a year ago that he was open to the idea. “The more attractive is the offer on the table, the more likely that the vote will end up developing as in Britain,” he said in October.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 25, 2015 at 7:43 pm

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

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  • blogTO notes the report that the CBC might sell its holdings.
  • Centauri Dreams observes another search for a Kardashev III civilization that ended in failure.
  • Crooked Timber is fed up with Rod Dreher.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze and Centauri Dreams report on new orbital parameters for Beta Pictoris b.
  • The Dragon’s Tales reports the Permian extinction lasted sixty thousand years.</li
  • Marginal Revolution looks at the dynamics of British inequality.
  • pollotenchegg maps Russification in Soviet Ukraine in the 1920s.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog notes reports of a brain drain from Russia.
  • Spacing Toronto looks at the iconography of city signage.
  • Torontoist reports on a documentary regarding Toronto’s gun culture.
  • Window on Eurasia warns of a crackdown on Crimean Tatar institutions, notes the opening of a new mosque in Moscow, reports on inter-Muslim violence in Russia, and suggests Belarus now is in the position of the Baltic States in 1940.

[URBAN NOTE] “Affordable housing and the future of London as a creative city”

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Our Democracy hosts an essay by one George Context arguing that the increasing unaffordability of housing makes London increasingly inaccessible for artists and other creative types. This argument, I note, is applicable to other world cities.

The question of how to mitigate, let alone solve, the problem of London’s cost-of-breathing crisis, sorry, cost-of-living crisis seems inescapable, like a perverse and all too real Millennium Prize Problem. It appears as though we have bound so far down an economic cul-de-sac, justified on the quasi-religious neo-classical truths of supply and demand and global competition, that advertising a £450,000 one bedroom flat as ‘ideal for first time buyers or as a pied-à-terre’ is apparently perfectly acceptable. The problems this plight presents are real and well discussed – homelessness, families evicted by unscrupulous buy-to-let landlords (who are perhaps second only to investment bankers in the UKs Most Despised Persons list), and overcrowding. What estate agents gleefully herald as ‘gentrification’, the newly elected Labour leader evocatively decries as ‘ethnic cleansing’. However, I want to consider this housing crisis from an alternative perspective, one informed as much by my career as a musician as it is by my academic desire to understand the operation, and consequences of, contemporary creative markets in urban contexts. I want to question the cultural ramifications of this housing crisis; the artistic implications of a farcical situation whereby, for example, Help to Buy is required by magic-circle lawyers – as per a great friend of mine recently. In short, what does the housing crisis mean for art, and for the future of London as a creative city?

Jeremy Corbyn’s recent election as leader of the Labour Party has, for the first time for many young voters, made the ideological distinctions between the two leading parties in Britain reassuringly apparent. When one strips away the policy detail and the White Papers and the Select Committee’s and the noise of political detail, the most salient opposition lies in conflicting perspectives about the dreaded, Marx-tainted ‘C’ word; capitalism. Osborne’s neo-liberal belief that markets, supply and demand and competition, are corrective, self-rectifying and have a morality of their own – don’t worry about the subjugation of the cost of labour globally, lets remove tax credits under the auspices of ‘if you don’t earn enough money, get another job’ – versus Corbyn and McDonnell’s interventionism. Nowhere is this ideology more apparent than in the sphere of housing. Labour’s pre-election ‘solutions’ involved ‘use it or lost it’ powers being given to councils, ensuring new homes would be advertised to UK citizens first, and rent controls in the private sector, and whilst Corbyn has not outlined his policy suggestions as yet, his commitment to council house building is well-known. The flagship Conservative policy however was not to challenge a failing marketplace, but to invest ever greater faith in that marketplace by selling off council housing stock under their ‘Right to Buy’ scheme; a perverse, free-marketeers Escherian Penrose stairs whereby the marketplace engenders a crisis, and simultaneously the solution. Friedman himself would applaud. The bottom line is, faith in the market is great for business; Foxton’s share price opened over 10% up the day after the general election buoyed by a confidence that prices would continue to rise. In this context however, as house prices in London continue their dizzying spiral, what will happen as those who struggle to earn large salaries become priced out of the city?

The rich don’t create culture. Grayson Perry nailed it. And people will, at some point say, ‘you know what, it’s not worth me breaking my neck to pay 2/3’s of my meagre salary to live in a dystopian, industrial wilderness 45 minutes from London’ and just leave. The question is, what will remain from this nihilistic apathy amongst artists, whether they be the graduate Pips who have left their parochial forges to follow a costly dream, or the native Londoners giving up on living in their home town, both of whom are having their ambition undermined by an inability to scale an insurmountable financial mountain? We will be left with some neo-Parisian fiscal apartheid with a door policy to make Mahiki look like Woodstock. As I drive down City road between Angel and Old Street and see these Manhattan-style glass-fronted cathedrals to international capital, with ‘One beds starting at £800,000’, my thoughts are often ‘I don’t want to be neighbours with anyone who can pay that’. If urban spaces cease to be creative spaces, with the time and freedom to be expressive, and to both build and pull-apart culture, then what do they become?

Some may say ‘so what’ if artists are priced out? The logic of the supply and demand of housing is almost beautiful in its simplicity – demand is high as everyone wants to live in London, and supply is low. Simples. Besides, the economic use-value of some bloke splattering paint on a wall in Shoreditch, or rapping about Norwich from a flat in Hammersmith (humble plug there), is at best negligible and at worst unquantifiable. However, this entire attitude is, I think, the crux of this current problem.

We live in an age where cultural expression is an economic inconvenience; a use-value-free indulgence. The UK Film Council doesn’t even exist anymore. This utilitarian idea that everything needs to be ‘useful’ is utterly tiresome. University is an exemplary contemporary illustration of this. I spent nine years at University and I never spent a single day there thinking about a ‘job’ or how I could ‘use’ a degree. But maybe this was a generational fortuity – the year I went was the year before ‘top-up’ fees were introduced, and so while I paid nothing, the next-year people paid over £3,000. And of course now, sickeningly, £9,000. For this money, students expect ‘something’. I don’t blame the students one bit. I’ve deviated, but the two parts of this argument are aligned. Use-value, and money, and supply and demand are all well and good, but the market distorts, and almost everyone in the UK implicitly acknowledges this. After all, we say ‘there’s no place for the market in the NHS’ – we don’t really know why we think this, but we know this to be true. Yet, when it comes to housing in London, the market appears to be being trusted by the Tories, the ring masters of a circus propped up by an aging electorate; a teacher I once knew quite casually told me ‘I’d vote for Hitler if it meant house prices would continue to rise’.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 23, 2015 at 5:09 pm

[LINK] “The PM, the Pig and musings on Power”

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Rob Fahey’s post analyzing the bizarre scandal surrounding David Cameron’s alleged actions with a pig is a must-read.

I suspect that David Cameron will limp on in 10 Downing Street, not least because he will understand the historic shame of being the Prime Minister who resigned over the thing with the pig, but his authority will be weakened to the point where a leadership challenge over a rather less intimate issue in the relatively near future will give him an opportunity to bow out with some grace. Whether this scandal is ultimately his undoing or not, it is clearly a calculated attack. Lord Ashcroft feels snubbed and sidelined by Cameron, who seemingly declined to offer him the cabinet position to which he felt entitled; the billionaire’s revenge is to dig up this singularly humiliating moment from the prime minister’s past and ensure that it is splashed on the front page of the Daily Mail, the preferred scurrilous tabloid rag of the very heartland of Conservative voters.

Lord Ashcroft, pollster and political guru in his own right, knows as well as anyone else what this will do. This is not a playful aside in a fun little unauthorised biography that he’s putting together as a hobby with his journalist pal, Oakeshott; this is a carefully targeted, focused attack designed to wreak career havoc upon, and cause huge personal embarrassment for, a man whom Ashcroft sees as disloyal, or as having stepped out of line. And here, I think, is something much bigger and more interesting than the scurrilous details of Cameron’s vivid indiscretion; here is a rare public example of how power is wielded by Britain’s elite, of how control is exerted over those they wish to manipulate, and of how those groomed for success from a young age can be destroyed should they be seen to diverge from the steps they’re told to dance.

Initiation ceremonies or “hazing” rituals, often of a painful, humiliating, transgressive or sexual nature, are a well-documented part of the culture of many organisations run by and for young men, especially those from positions of privilege or in elite institutions. Hazing is a fixture, albeit usually in less extreme form than many might imagine, of “greek life” at US colleges; initiation rituals of some description are relatively common in elite societies at top educational institutions elsewhere. Such rituals seem to be an especially important part of extremely disciplined groups such as certain military units. The primary social function served by these rituals is to accelerate and deepen the bonds shared by members of the group, and the sense of loyalty to the group each person holds. By committing transgressive acts together, members develop a sense of sharing in a mutual secret, thus instantly creating trust; by overcoming some humiliation or pain, new members deepen their commitment to the group, as their internal logic reasons that if they are willing to endure such an ordeal, it must mean that the group is important and deserving of loyalty (otherwise, they would have made a terrible mistake and gone through all of that suffering for nothing). Through these acts bonds are forged, networks established; the “old school tie”, used as a metaphor for Britain’s elite networks, is also a metaphor for the actions and rituals, transgressive or otherwise, which created those networks during the formative years of their members.

That much is somewhat understandable; in truth, few of us are not part of a “network” based in some way on the same psychology, even if our networks are perhaps less likely to involve prime ministers and billionaires. Bearing witness to one another doing embarrassing things, usually if not always under the influence of alcohol, is a fairly standard part of the socialisation process, especially for young men; it may not be quite as ritualised or organised as ceremonial events which require very specific orders from local butchers, but moments of embarrassment or transgression shared with close friends are a basic building block of many of our relationships.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 22, 2015 at 6:19 pm


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