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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘united kingdom

[LINK] “Scotland’s growing influence on UK foreign policy”

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Kirsty Hughes’ Open Democracy article about the growing influence of Scotland on British foreign policy–and on the growth of a distinctly Scottish foreign policy–reminds me of debates held in Canada over Québec’s international role a generation ago.

Scotland’s policy stances on the EU and on global foreign policy, even in the absence of independence, are set to be of growing importance and influence – but have received remarkably little attention during the election campaign.

And while the outcome of the 2015 general election could transform the UK’s EU and wider foreign policy, one of the few similarities in the different campaigns in England and Scotland is that the focus of debate in both has been primarily domestic.

The probable greater impact of Scotland on UK foreign policy is in part due to the increased devolution of powers to Scotland, promised by the Unionist camp at the time of the referendum campaign and set out further through the Smith Commission Report. It means Scottish views on a raft of EU policies – from agriculture to finance to renewable energy – are going to need to be represented more in Brussels. And there is likely to be growing, quite likely controversial, demands from the Scottish government for a greater role and influence over key UK EU policies.

At the same time, if the SNP ends up with 50 or so MPs at Westminster as the polls predict – a seismic shift in Scottish and UK politics – they would certainly have some important influence over the EU and foreign policies of a minority Labour government. Even a minority Tory government might find that winning some foreign policy votes on sensitive issues that might split their own party could be won or lost depending on the SNP’s stance.

One reason Scottish foreign policy views have received little attention is that there is a general but mistaken view that devolution covers domestic issues only, and that even under ‘devo-max’, foreign policy and security would be excluded from Scottish influence. Yet with the UK part of the EU this domestic-foreign distinction makes little sense. With the EU passing laws from health and safety, age discrimination, competition and trade policy to sanctions, renewables targets and so on, what is domestic or ‘foreign’ is blurred and overlapping, and many of the EU policy areas lie within Scotland’s devolved areas of policy.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 21, 2015 at 10:56 pm

[LINK] “The quiet revolution: why Britain has more gay MPs than anywhere else”

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David Shariatmadari in The Guardian considers at length, with abundant examples from history and from interviews with candidates, why so many British MPs in the current parliament are openly non-heterosexual. Things have changed quite recently, it turns out, the old repressive cultures dying out with some speed.

As turning points go, it was a good one. A young Labour MP claimed the scalp of a senior Tory cabinet minister; the look of surprise and excitement on his face mirrored the mood of the country. After 18 years of Conservative government, everything was to be turned on its head. But that night in Enfield in 1997 was symbolic of more than just the first Labour landslide in a generation. Stephen Twigg was gay – a “practising homosexual”, to use a formula still popular at the time – and though rumours about Michael Portillo’s sexuality had been swirling for years, he was most definitely not. In fact, Portillo was the opposite: a buttoned-up member of a ruling class for whom discretion had long been the rule. His slaying felt like a cultural watershed.

Habits built up over decades, the instinctive default to repression, quickly began to melt away. The day after Twigg’s victory, Chris Smith, an MP since 1983 and out since 1984, became the first openly gay secretary of state – culture, naturally. Later that year, Angela Eagle came out: the first openly lesbian MP since Maureen Colquhoun, who had been deselected in the 1970s. The years rolled by and anti-gay legislation was rolled back. The despised section 28 was ditched, and civil partnerships then equal marriage made it on to the statute books. Now Britain finds itself with the queerest legislature in the world: 32 of the United Kingdom’s 650 MPs calling themselves gay, lesbian or bisexual. At 4.9%, this pretty closely reflects what researchers believe to be the sexuality of the population as a whole: an impressive achievement, still to be matched in matters of gender or ethnicity.

So who are the LGB MPs (the T, for transgender, is still missing, none of the four candidates who stood this election won their seat)? Twelve are Conservative, 13 Labour, the rest Scottish Nationalists. Among them are veterans such as Eagle, Chris Bryant, Alan Duncan and Crispin Blunt. Newcomers include former NUS president Wes Streeting, who follows in the footsteps of Twigg, also an NUS man. Overall, on 7 May, there were 155 out LGBT candidates. And in two constituencies last week – Lancaster & Fleetwood and Milton Keynes South – both the Tory and Labour candidates were gay or lesbian. At the end of the last parliament, the Conservatives had the most LGB MPs, ceding that position to Labour this time around. Proportionally, though, the SNP is now by far the gayest party in Westminster, with 12% of its MPs chalking themselves up as sexual minorities.

We may scratch our heads as to the meaning of these numbers: is it a surprise that there are so many out Tories? What is it about the SNP? But there’s a bigger question: how did we get here? How did a country raised on tabloid scandal end up so at ease with gay public figures? Homosexuality was decriminalised in Britain in 1967 by reforming home secretary Roy Jenkins (Northern Ireland had to wait until 1982), but prosecutions for sexual offences continued to snare many gay men into the 90s. In addition, a vicious press culture of blackmail and exposure made life difficult for gay people who wanted to participate in government and politics.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 14, 2015 at 10:41 pm

[LINK] “Politics and the English Landscape”

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Blogger Kieran Healy originally posted at his own blog and then crossposted to Crooked Timber a brief examination at the reflection of deep history in England in contemporary voting patterns.

That got me thinking about how much the landscape of England is embedded in its political life. In particular, what do the names of places tell you about their political leanings? I looked at English constituencies only, and searched constituency names for some common toponyms like “-ham”, “-shire”, “-wood” and -field”. Then I looked to see what proportion of seats with these features in their names were won by the Conservatives and Labour. For simplicity of presentation, I omitted the Liberal Democrats and UKIP who won a very small percentage of some of these seats.

[. . .]

I think that’s rather nice. The Tories are the party of shires and fords, and to a slightly lesser extent of woodland clearings (-ley, -leigh) and woods. Labour meanwhile are the party of -hams (as in, a farm or homestead), of -tons (or towns), and of fields.

I’m intrigued.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 11, 2015 at 10:51 pm

[LINK] “Why The SNP Is Poised To Win In Scotland”

At Five Thirty Eight, John Curtice makes the case why the Scottish National Party is expected to sweep the country come the impending British elections. Despite the referendum setback, the party is credible in a way its peers simply are not.

[M]any voters who back Scottish independence have hitherto not voted for the SNP in a U.K. general election. According to the Scottish Social Attitudes survey, only 55 percent did so in the last election in 2010, for example. Consequently, the SNP won only 20 percent of the total vote in Scotland (and six seats) on that occasion, well below the 45 percent it was to achieve in the devolved election just 12 months later. Labour, in contrast, maintained its dominant position in the 2010 election, with 42 percent of the vote and 41 seats.

However, the referendum has served to make support for independence and backing the SNP more or less synonymous, even in the context of a U.K.-wide election. Last September’s ballot focused voters’ minds — and especially the minds of those who voted for independence — on the future of Scotland. The question of who might be best able to govern Britain as a whole has been put in the shade. Consequently, supporters of independence see little reason why they should not follow up their “yes” vote with a vote for the SNP in May’s general election.

Recent polling evidence suggests that as many as 84 percent of those who voted “yes” in September (and who are willing to indicate how they will vote in May) now say they intend to vote for the SNP on May 7.1 Included among these “yes” supporters are the 40 percent or so of 2010 Labour voters who voted for independence, over three-quarters of whom are now backing the SNP.2 Conversely, only around one in 10 of those who voted “no” in September are now backing the nationalists — though that is still more or less enough to compensate for the limited number who voted “yes” in September but are now not backing the SNP.

However, the increased salience of the independence debate in voters’ minds is not the only reason that many former Labour supporters have switched to the SNP. During the referendum campaign, the SNP was also able to lay out its vision for the country, claiming that an independent Scotland could be a more equal Scotland. This argument directly challenged Labour’s position that it was better able to bring about greater social justice, not least by using the resources and the institutions of the U.K.

It is an argument that seems to have hit home.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 10, 2015 at 9:49 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • At Acts of Minor Treason, Andrew Barton is very unhappy with the misuse of the Hugo Award.
  • Anthropology.net notes that DNA has been retrieved from an ancient and mostly fossilized Neanderthal fossil.
  • Centauri Dreams examines the early history of the Milky Way Galaxy.
  • Crooked Timber looks at the controversies over religious liberty.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze considers how extraterrestrial life can be detected through disequilibria in exoplanet atmosphere and notes the recent Alpha Centauri B study.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that by 2018 a laser will be deployed on a drone.
  • Geocurrents shares slides from a recent lecture on Yemen.
  • Language Hat examines the Yiddish word “khnyok”.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money considers the Republican race.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the unpopularity of political jobs among young Americans.
  • The Planetary Society Blog notes SpaceX’s problem with retrieving the first stages of its rockets.
  • Torontoist looks at beekeeping in Toronto.
  • Towleroad notes a Kickstarter fundraiser for Emil Cohen’s photos of queer life in Providence.
  • Transit Toronto notes the expansion of free WiFi throughout the subway system.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes that divorce papers can be served via Facebook if it is the most practical alternative.
  • Window on Eurasia fears a summertime Russian attack on Ukraine, notes Russian fears of rebellion at home, and looks at Russian Internet censorship.
  • The World’s Gideon Rachman wonders if the Greek demand for Second World War reparations will bring the Eurozone crisis to a head.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell notes the essential lack of difference on government spending between Labour and the Tories and looks at flawed computer databases.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • blogTO notes that the average price of a home in Toronto has risen above six hundred thousand dollars.
  • D-Brief observes an acceleration in the deforestation of the Amazon.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper examining the environment of close-orbiting exoplanets.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money mocks the standards of Rolling Stone, and Jann Wenner.
  • Steve Munro studies the frequency of service on the St. Clair streetcar line.
  • Peter Rukavina notes that the proportion of women running for political office in Prince Edward Island’s election next week is far below their share of the population.
  • Torontoist looks at homelessness and underhousing in the Toronto inner suburbs and explains the rights of tenants.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy explains why a Colorado bakery could refuse to write an anti-gay inscription on a cake.
  • Window on Eurasia looks at the writings of a Kalmyk Eurasianist and examines the popularity of ethnic nationalism in the Russian intelligensia.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell provides more evidence of the poor judgements of the United Kingdom’s Liberal Democrats.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • blogTO shares vintage photos of Weston Road.
  • Centauri Dreams features a guest post on the fast radio bursts that had all astir.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper about the circumstellar disk of AB Aurigae.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes problems with Russia’s development of a stealth fighter.
  • Language Hat links to an examination of the way the words “chikungunya” and “dengue” are used to describe the same disease.
  • Languages of the World takes a look at one dying Russian dialect of Alaska.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money is surprised anyone is surprised Britain is spying on Argentina.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that demand in China and India is already driving research and development.
  • Peter Rukavina looks at the mechanics of the Internet presences of Island political parties.
  • Savage Minds announces the return of the intermittant online anthropological journal Anthropologies.
  • Transit Toronto links to a collection of Greater Toronto Area transit news.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy reacts at length to the finding of the report on Rolling Stone‘s mistaken rape story, noting that the fraternity in question has a good case for libel.
  • Window on Eurasia notes Crimean Tatar news outlet closures and notes that Ukrainian government ministers widely speak English.
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