Common sense for Catalonia

Regrettably, as we speak, the first arrests resulting from the confrontation between the Spanish State and the Government of Catalonia are taking place. Public officers of the Catalan government will soon be charged.

Nobody can question, legally, that these officers appear to have committed a criminal offence. They are acting against legally binding resolutions by Spanish judges that are technically legitimate. The resolutions adopted by the Catalan Government in order to initiate the referendum have been declared illegal. They are not only in breach of the Spanish constitutional system. They are even in breach of their own rules in Catalonia. The motion passed by the Catalan Parliament in support of the referendum did not respect their own laws, as I explained in my previous article. The Spanish legal system, similarly to the UK system, regards the breach of a legal duty by a public office as a criminal offence. Over here is called “Misconduct in Public Office”.

I don’t think the arrests are part of a campaign of arbitrary police repression. Everyone knows that the Government of Spain is under fire, nationally and internationally, for its inability to deal with all sorts of Catalan political demands in the last decade. The eyes of all commentators in the world are cast on these arrests. That is why I am sure the police and the public prosecutors will act not only proportionally and humanly, but exquisitely. Any allegations of brutality would give strength to those who want straight independence and the Spanish Government, politically clumsy as they may be, are not stupid.

The intervention of the police, confiscating databases and documents that are essential for the celebration of the referendum will most likely render it impossible to hold. Also, as we speak, people in Barcelona and other places are peacefully demonstrating against the arrests, demanding a referendum. The calls for peaceful demonstration and non-violent resistance by Joan Tardá (ERC) this morning suggest that there is a fear that some smaller groups may want to use the public uproar to justify less-than-peaceful actions.

The whole situation is utterly lamentable. Millions of people in Catalonia have been exposed to hard anti-Spanish propaganda by their Government. “Spain is robbing us” was one of the most popular claims of activists in Catalan nationalists parties. They are understandably upset and furious.

Meanwhile, a high proportion of Catalans experience political disempowerment in silence. In the last elections the majority of voters opted for parties that do not support independence. These pro-independence parties have a majority of seats but not of votes.

The case for independence made by mainstream Catalanist parties is based on distortions of history and political interests of the lowest kind. I cited a recent example in my previous article of blatant historic manipulation and explained that independence is being used as a political tool. This is irresponsible. And so is the whole policy of the PP, the Spanish Conservatives, who not only torpedoed the revamped 2006 Catalan Statute of Autonomy, but failed to make a meaningful case for public support of unity of the Spanish State in Catalonia. Nor they considered dialogue with Catalan Governments and other Spanish parties. Their perverse strategy could be summarised as this: relax and Laissez-faire because if things turn nasty, the Rule of Law is on our side.

On the positive side, yesterday, a motion by the Ciudadanos (Citizens) party, who are strongly against any referendum and defend the constitutional unity of Spain (interestingly, this is a Catalan-born party and its leader, Albert Rivera and its main political figures are Catalans) was defeated in the Spanish Parliament. Ciudadanos wanted Spanish MPs to vote in favour of a declaration of support of the Spanish Government and all the public officers dealing, in one way or another, with the referendum, including those majors in Catalonia who are not facilitating the preparations for the referendum in their local authorities and are being pressurised by vociferous pro-independence groups. The reason why the motion was not passed is that PSOE (Socialist Party) voted against it. The Socialists had suggested an amendment to the motion whereby a paragraph calling for both the Spanish and the Catalan Governments to open a dialogue was to be introduced. Ciudadanos rejected the amendment and they, alongside the Conservatives, PP, were consequently defeated.

The majors of Barcelona, Colau, and Madrid, Carmena, are calling for dialogue. The Socialist PSOE have accepted to be part of a parliamentary commission, proposed by left-wing Unidos Podemos, in which Catalan political parties would obviously participate, that would consider the options ahead and initiate a mature conversation.

Now that the referendum game seems to be over, there will have to be elections in Catalonia. It is almost inevitable. It is time for a new concerted progressive action in the Spanish Parliament, where the minority Conservative government have to rely on Ciudadanos and, interestingly, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) for approving their budgets and pass major laws.

My biggest concern is to do with public perceptions and emotions. Think about ardent Brexiters in Question Time and their heated rhetoric and arguments. Who will explain now to their Catalan equivalents, the “Catalexiters”, that the Spanish State does not really steal money from Catalonia? That independence would not actually bring back all those millions a week to their pockets. That sovereignty in the 21st Century is better exercised in a federal way. That Spain is not a Francoist creation, a historic evil monster of warriors and ignorant peasants who live off laborious Catalans. Who will tell them that for most Spaniards Catalonia is also part of their “Spanish Nation”, as much as for many Catalans the province of Alicante (strongly pro-Spanish, in the Valencia region) is also part of their “Catalan nation” (This is called the Catalan Countries)? After a relentless cultural campaign of perverse Catalan nationalism over the years, a lot of hard work to appease and educate is needed.

On the Spanish side, who will be able to persuade those fervent centralists, who wish for the abolishment of the current federal structure of the Spanish State, that Catalonia is, as I believe it to be, also a nation? That nations overlap. They have been also intoxicated by Spanish nationalist right-wing propaganda.

To me, there is an urgent need to increase grass-root educational efforts at all levels, promote alternative media and preach tolerance whilst being open and determined about the distortions and lies of elites of nationalist politicians who are to blame for all this.

The Catalan Countries overlap with other historic and political territories, mainly in Spain and France, extending well beyond Catalonia. Bilingualism is the norm in all those places. A complex set of variable multilayered national-regional identities and loyalties populate those territories.

Image result for España ens roba

Madrid is robbing us. Spain is robbing us. The subsidised Spain lives off productive Catalonia. propaganda from the two main parties of the current Catalan Government, plus newspaper cover.

The Catalan Plot

Fawlty Parliament

Yesterday, 6 September 2017, the Catalan Parliament approved the law that sets in motion an independence referendum to be held on the 1st of October 2017, the so-called 1-O.

The controversial law was supported by the MPs of Together for the Yes (Junts pel Sí, a coalition made up, mainly, by the centre-right catalanist PDeCat, formerly Convergencia, and the moderate left-wing pro-independence ERC). The MPs of CUP, a revolutionary left wing organisation who supports straight disobedience to the Spanish State, also voted in favour.

Sadly, yesterday’s unprecedentedly shambolic session of the Catalan Parliament means only one thing: the Catalan political institutions, which the Catalans themselves have recovered from history and updated to modern times, have lost a great deal of their democratic legitimacy and credibility. The legal advisors of the Catalan Parliament, as well as the opposition parties, had objected to the process chosen to pass this controversial law, as it prevented any debate and amendments. A majority of MPs of the Catalan Parliament (a very slim one which certainly does not represent the majority of voters) have broken the rules of their own institutions and decided that anything goes.

Walk on the wild side

I can see why one would morally object to abiding the law in certain situations. Dictatorial regimes impose their will not only through political violence. Their Rule of Law becomes an instrument of repression. However, this is not the case in Catalonia. The levels of personal, economic, cultural and political freedom in Catalonia are unparalleled in Europe.

Yesterday’s parliamentary session represents a blatant abuse of power. It may carry criminal sanctions for the perpetrators. But why would a sector of the political elite of the right-wing liberal Catalan Regime, well connected with the economic establishment, support a measure such as this in the Catalan Parliament? Why would the moderate left-wing ERC betray their tradition of respecting the Rule of Law?

Mr Fawlty has sacked Manuel. Was it constructive dismissal?

In my view, the Catalan right-centre and moderate left are actually scared of holding this independence referendum. Whatever the result, the outcome will be extremely controversial and hard to deal with. The referendum is illegal and the question of independence is extremely divisive within Catalonia and beyond. The propaganda used to promote the pro-independence cause in the Catalan public media has fueled anti-Spanish hysteria coupled by economic delusion. This state of mind in society will be difficult to handle whether independence is declared or not. Deep down, the two main catalanist parties (ERC and PDeCat) want to pause the independence process and continue using it as a bargaining chip with the main political parties in Spain. The best way to achieve this, in the current scenario, is to foil their own plot by giving plenty of reasons for the public prosecutors and the media to step in and make a full mess of it.

But, why have they gone this far?

The surge of the option for independence, which during the 1990’s and 2000’s always attracted less than 20% of the Catalan population, was orchestrated in 2012 by the Government of Convergencia (now PDeCat). President Artur Mas decided to use the independence threat as a response to the rebuttal in 2010 of part of the 2006 new Statute of autonomy of Catalonia by the Spanish Constitutional Tribunal. It was also in 2012 when Spanish media started to denounce that Jordi Pujol, former president of Catalonia and predecessor of Artur Mas in Convergencia, had amassed notoriously unjustified amounts of money, using members of his family to disguise his wealth. Mas, Pujol and Convergencia are now at the epicentre of a scheme whereby his party, allegedly, used to extract a 3% commission from businesses who were granted public contracts by the Catalan Government. Its party is being surrounded by police investigations and the judiciary. For Mas and Convergencia (now PDeCat) the independence process was a tool to reinvent themselves and confront the institutions of the State in a variety of fronts.

PDeCat later had to concede that their party was in severe decline. They then agreed to form an electoral coalition with ERC, Junts pel Sí, for the 2015 elections whose objective would be to push for the process of independence. Unfortunately for them, they did not achieve an absolute majority in the Parliament and had to rely on the support of the pro-independence revolutionary CUP, whose support to the minority Government of Junts pel Sí came at a price: the independence process must be for real and must be quick.

Whose fault is all this?

I blame first of all the PP, Spanish Conservatives, for having quashed, with their appeal to the Constitutional Tribunal, the revamped 2006 Statute of Catalonia, which so much effort took to negotiate and agree both in the Catalan and the Spanish Parliaments. I also blame them for their wait and see attitude with the Catalan issue for the last 6 years.

I blame the inability of the left in Spain to win elections and engage, from a position of Government, with progressive-thinking Catalans who understand that undoing a political union with the rest of Spain that has lasted, in different formats, more than 500 years is like separating the two eggs of an omelette.

In so far as the Catalan nationalist politicians, I can’t help to emphasise that their behaviour is despicable. They constantly misrepresent the relationship between Spain and Catalonia. An example can be found in an interview to Puigdemont, the current Catalan president, in Al Jazeera, in which he suggests very solemnly to a totally unprepared interviewer that Catalonia has been losing political autonomy since the death of Franco in 1975 -That is the year when it started to recover the autonomy, not the other way round! You can see the response from 5’45’ to 6’15’’ in the interview (1)-. The propaganda machine of the pro-independence camp, including the Catalan Government, has created a monster comparable to that of the Brexit. Their pro-independence discourse is based on a concoction of cultural prejudice, historic distortion and the lowest of the survival instincts (all dressed with genuine political indignation, one has to admit, just a pinch of it, though). If at least they had a sincere revolutionary ideology for radical social transformation like the CUP or Catalonia Sí que Es Pot (the Catalan Podemos), I could see some nobility in the pro-independence process, even though I do not believe independence is the way.

Should there be a referendum?

There should be more much more political participation in society, and more referenda, but after the Brexit experience I am inclined to start any discussion on this issue by stating that no democratic revolution can be based on asking people, under the pressure of bigots and powerful media moguls, one-off, life-changing, complex questions, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons.

I believe that Catalonia is a nation, but so is Spain. For many Catalans being Spanish and being Catalan is compatible. For a majority of Spaniards the territory and the culture of Catalonia is felt as part of our own nation. For a substantial number of people in Catalonia their Catalan nation expands beyond the limits of historic and political Catalonia, encompassing the Països Catalans (Places in other parts of Spain and France where Catalan is spoken). The boundaries of nations lie in the eyes and the heart of each individual. Who votes what in which referendum?

Apart from very regrettable expressions of public sorrow, disfranchising and disenchantment, hopefully not much more than that, elections in Catalonia are looming. The left-wing ERC seem to be preparing already their way out the coalition with PDeCat, and a revamping of their whole strategy. They have been holding conversations few days ago, under the auspices of the influential media chief Jaume Roures, with Podemos and PSC (Catalan Socialist, affiliated to Spanish socialist PSOE), for a possible left-wing coalition government in Catalonia after the referendum. This would facilitate new alliances in the Spanish Parliament to push for a new federal Constitution for the whole of Spain that accommodates mainstream catalanists demands. This is the only possible way forward for the Spanish State and its constituent components to secure some emotional-territorial karma for the next decades.

(1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9eI5yfQkFE

#Catalan #independence #referendum #Catalonia #Cataluña #Parliament #Parlament

Cartoon Molecules

Cartoon Molecules (Lulu, 2017) is a brave philosophical and poetic exploration of humanity and the universe, advancing theories of time and space and technological utopias as well as questioning the singularity of humankind.

Hislop’s insightfulness is exuberant. He combines the analysis of the universe through the appreciation of the ephemeral instant with a variety of poetic forms. For instance, he provides sequences of human (or humanoid?) thought, by intelligently staging verse recurrence, notably in the poem “Human Simulation”, when the intertwining of shared words throughout several stanzas provides the baseline of the animation that the alterations of patterns depict, as in the form of sketches for TV cartoons. He also works with infinity mirror effect. The result of this experimental language is a reflection on the relativity of syntax and an invitation to imagine how advanced forms of computers would realise thought.

The cultural references, explicit and implicit, of this book are also worth noting: Kill Bill, the Luddites, Soap operas, Jesus, The Cradle Will Rock, Goya, Alice in Wonderland, Fitterman’s poetry, or Solaris place this book in a constant intertextual conversation full of irony and refinement.

With its ontologically congruent, meaningful and exciting modernism, coupled by more light and luminous verse, such as in the poem “Abandoned Island”, which I had the pleasure to translate into Spanish for CRÁTERA (Autumn 2017), alongside “Dream of the machine”, Cartoon molecules undresses humanity to the barebone to show its place in a world that we believe under our control.

Cartoon Molecules

 

Brexit and Migration

 

I truly dislike talking about human beings solely as resources for the economy. We are not just pieces of business machinery. Each one of us has a heart full of aspirations, emotions and memories. We are loving neighbours, mothers, brothers, sons and friends to other people who love us too. We have talent, culture and spirituality, whether it is religious or not. We share humanity with everyone. We are the Rivers of Life feeding the Oceans of Hope.

However, since the debate about migration in this EU referendum has focused mainly on how migrants contribute (or not) to the economy and on how to “control numbers”, often with demeaning language, I feel the need to share with the readers a reflection, primarily in economic terms, about migration. Sadly, these are the parameters of the debate and responses on these grounds are also needed. Unfortunately, the urgency of the situation requires it. The stakes are high.

The referendum campaign has been tarnished by very sad episodes of political abuse and even violence, including the tragic death of Jo Cox, a brave woman who defended noble ideas and values and served her community and the country with diligence and enthusiasm. Leaving the EU, as we may be about to do, led by a right-wing movement that rides high on the back of the beast of media xenophobia, fanatic patriotism, dubious democratic claims and self-interest (a movement whose messages have surprisingly captured the imagination of millions of decent Britons!), will be catastrophic for our country.

The debate about the effects of EU migration on the UK economy is simply misguided. Many Brexiters do not acknowledge that EU migrants fill in positions that the local workforce cannot. Migrants are also consumers, pumping up Britain’s GDP figures. Crucially, reputable studies have demonstrated that the value of taxes paid by EU migrants in Britain outweighs the value of the public services that they receive. It is true that different methodologies to calculate the net contributions throw out different figures. Quantifying this is not easy, as shown in this study of the University of Oxford. However, nobody  challenges the fact that EU migration into the UK has been, in fiscal terms, beneficial.

Nevertheless, one of the important points I want to make about migrants’ contribution is that there is a big elephant in the room that nobody talks about in any of the studies cited during this campaign by any of the camps. I call it the “Migrant Premium”, as there is not an easy straight forward term to define it in econometrics, but the premium falls under the well-known category of “human capital gains”. This concept extends beyond any comparison between migrants’ tax receipts and migrant’s use of public services, as it refers to the impact on the wider economy, not just on the public purse (1).

What is the “Migrant Premium”?

If we look at the figures, the cost of bringing up a child in the UK from birth to adulthood is at least £40,000 at 2016 prices. This figure only covers education and health. The cost of state schooling comes to more than £22,000 (2), whilst health costs are in the region of £1,000 a year for younger age groups (3). If we add health and university fees costs for the 19 to 22 year-old group, we have an extra £30,000 on top.

When a young non-university educated migrant comes to Britain, ready to work and pay taxes, he is saving at least £40,000 to UK Plc. If it is a graduate, just with a 3-year degree, that figure goes up to £70,000. This is the replacement cost of that influx of human capital per person.

There are many different ways to calculate the Migrant Premium and I look forward to old and new studies on this matter, but the above estimate is, if anything, on the low side. Bear in mind that we are not including here any other costs, such as maintenance, housing or any other private or public spending that the young person benefited from directly or indirectly in his or her country of origin.

The Migrant Premium surely plays a role in sustaining the U.K. Economy. Our country has been able to increase, on demand, its working and tax paying population without having to invest huge amounts of money. Migrants land in Britain and start paying taxes as they begin consuming and working.

Conversely, the Migrant Premium is a “migrant loss” for the countries whose public services have subsidised the health and education. Basically, the U.K. and other Western economies “import” ready-to-work human capital for free. Germany, when it comes to EU migration, and the United States are our main competitors in attracting human capital. Regrettably, this important asset migrants bring with them to the UK’s economy is not taken into account in any of the calculations disseminated in the media about the benefits of migration. If you find one, please share it in the comments.

Brexiters with an understanding of economics know, in broad terms, about the Migrant Premium, but they don’t want to acknowledge it because it gives breathing space to the opposite camp.

In my discussions with people who intend to vote Leave, whenever I have been successful to demonstrate the immense benefits of migration to the UK, I have then been confronted with other migration-related arguments that would justify leaving the EU. Here they are:

The all-time favourite Brexit icon: an “Australian point-based system” 

This system does not stop or reduce migration. It just provides a sense of control and allegedly filters migrants according to their “quality”. This is a very classist and perverse idea, as it could create a two tier workforce: the low-paid workers, made up primarily of UK nationals and some pre-Brexit settled down migrants, (the points system would stop people without high professional qualifications to come to the UK) and the better or well-paid workers, which, as the proposers of the points system acknowledge, will be, proportionally, made up of more and more highly educated workers from abroad. The points system would allow to fish for skills in a wider sea and perpetuate the situation of underinvestment in training and education for professions such as doctors, nurses or teachers. If their governments in their respective countries train them for us for free, why bother? I am afraid, business principles dominate Conservative-UKIP political practice.

What is the other problem with the Boris’ and Nigel’s “Australian system”?

In an economy like ours, or Australia’s, younger workforce is essential. Businesses need it desperately. That is the reason why people come here. Make no mistakes, U.K. Welfare is not available for newcomers and is not good enough in itself to justify coming here, anyway. The freedom of movement provided by membership of the EU enables changes in supply and demand for labour in any country to be self-regulated, without State intervention. Additionally, the EU is a massive space of 500 million people where to find the right professional profiles when needed.

I am not a believer of free markets as the best solution for many human needs in our society, but I have to say that I very much value the freedom of taking up whomever one thinks is best for a job, or choosing for whom one works. If I ever set up a business again and need someone to work for me, the last thing I want is to fill in immigration forms, ask prospective candidates to fill in even more forms and expect Boris Johnson’s army of Whitehall Bureaucrats to make a decision about who I should take on for a job based on the points system they have designed. There is not anything as illiberal and centralising as that. Employers know who they need and why, employees know who they would want to work for. It is their decision. The EU enshrines precisely that principle through the free movement of workers in our common space.

Some people argue in favour of this points-based system by defending that non-EU citizens should not be discriminated against EU citizens, despite the fact that non-EU migration in the UK remains stronger than EU migration according to Migration Watch. Fair enough. Let us create a system that gives non-EU citizens easier access to jobs if needed. But leaving the EU and imposing restrictions on everybody is a massive step backwards that do not really benefit anyone at all.

Undercutting and discrimination of UK nationals

The other argument used by many to defend a vote for Leave is the very legitimate concern about  local workers being undercut.

I do believe we should work harder to eradicate any business practice that effectively discriminates local workers. David Cameron stated in PM Questions this week that his Government was taking action against agencies that only recruit foreign workers. This was in response to a question by Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who has shown that working conditions and rights are again at the heart of Labour’s agenda. The enforcement of a (higher) decent minimum wage should also be pursued. Finally, as a through study by CERIC Leeds shows (4)  “The Brexit scenario would have even more detrimental effects on the employment and bargaining rights of both UK nationals and migrants.”

Population growth and public services provision

This is of course an understandable concern. In my view, however, the biggest issue about the UK’s alleged overpopulation is that there are areas in the South of England that are real magnets for UK migrants (internal) and non-UK migrants. Their economic growth out-paces everyone else’s in the country. Other areas, particularly in the North, have registered very slow growth in population recently. Blackpool and Sunderland even lost population between 2007 and 2012 (5). The density of population of the U.K. is not that high at all. We are not even in the 50 most densely populated countries in the world (6).

Obviously, the unbalanced distribution of wealth, opportunities and population in the UK has nothing to do with the EU and is a serious problem that will not be solved by leaving the EU. If anything, the poorer areas of the UK will lose out even more by leaving the EU, as the dependency on manufacturing jobs is much greater there than in the South East and this is one of the sectors who would suffer the most. Successive UK governments in the last 40 years have not done enough to redress or alleviate this imbalance. It is their (our) call.

Insofar as the provision of services, the “Migrant Impact Fund”, which was introduced by labour and withdrawn by the Tories, is back on the cards and should be used as a policy tool to ensure that a higher amount of the taxes generated by new local and foreign arrivals in any given area are dedicated to the public services of that area.

Thank you!

All in all, we should be thankful to our migrants for choosing the UK as a destination for their Migrant Premium. We all know they are also grateful and happy to be welcome amongst us. They could have chosen Germany, Holland or Finland, where in-work benefits, public services and wages are better than here, but in instead they joined us. We must be doing something right as a nation. Let us be proud of it.

Let us remain in the EU.

 

Notes

(1) Methodology: The purpose of this part of the article is to highlight the indisputable existance of a substantial Migrant Premium of at least £40,000 at the time of the arrival of the working migrant in the UK. Therefore, the valuation of that premium has been kept on the low side and “replacement costs”, as suggested by Bowman (below), have been used. This is not a longitudinal study of the actual returns of the human capital brought into the economy by each migrant over time and it assumes that the migrant is ready to take a job. There are longitudinal (over the time) studies about the benefits of migration in terms of human capital, but as I suggest when I discuss the question of tax receipt vs public expenditure (Oxford University study cited), the problem is that there are so many different methodologies used to quantify the flows of capital that we run the risk of not acknowledging the existance of obvious magnitudes such as the Migrant Premium for not having found total agreement amongst economists and statisticians on how precisely to measure it. Two recommended readings for those with a professional interest on this question:

Bowman, M.J. “Principles in the Valuation of Human capital”. Review of Income and Wealth. Volume 14, Issue 3, pages 217-246, September 1968

Schaeffer, P. “Human Capital, Migration and Brain Drain”. Journal of International Trade and Development. Volume 14, No 3, 319-335, September 2005

(2) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/10169865/Costs-for-state-school-hits-22500-per-child.html

(3) https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/feb/01/ageing-britain-two-fifths-nhs-budget-spent-over-65s .

(4) https://cericleeds.wordpress.com/

(5) http://www.centreforcities.org/blog/population-growth-and-migration-in-uk-cities/

(6) https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population_density

Picture credits: http://www.weforum.org https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/how-immigration-has-changed-the-world-for-the-better/

 

Brexit Xenophobia

A friend of mine told me last night that she was recently insulted for being a foreign migrant in the UK. As she had finished a phone conversation during which she had to spell her surname, the man next to her on the bus looked at her full of hate and said something rude suggesting she should go back to her own country.

Another friend of mine, who blindly supports Brexit, had told me few days before this happened, in a conversation about xenophobia and freedom of expression of migrants on the issue of the referendum, that if anyone receives ethnic abuse or violence, they must report it to the police.

This is wishful thinking, and quite frankly, naïve. Our police forces cannot deal effectively with this kind of low level, yet highly perverse and hurtful violence. They are overstretched and they would struggle to catch people like that man on the bus and get any kind of meaningful redress from him. Most people I know share this belief. In fact, I have heard of xenophobic behaviour in the past and I cannot recall one single instance in which ringing up the police was even suggested. To me, if things are getting to a point in which police intervention is needed to tackle xenophobia, yet victims do not feel that bringing the police in would help, it is clearly too late for the politicians and the State to tackle the issue effectively.

Of course, many of these xenophobic rude people must feel that they are just expressing their national anger resulting from the horrible effects of migration and membership of the EU. They replicate, in their own language and code, what the right-wing newspapers have been telling them for the last 20 years about migration and the EU. But the same is true of other Tory and UKIP xenophobes who, as members of the middle classes, have learnt to coach their nastiness towards migrants in a way that would not get them into any kind of trouble. No name calling, no swearing. And, of course, this xenophobia can take many other shapes. Do you remember the French Lady in Question Time last week who was shut down by a fervent audience when she said “well, we are all Brussels”. (She was trying to challenge the belief that there is an evil entity trying to control the UK personified in UK Brexit discourse as “Brussels”).

Are there Brexiters who are not xenophobes?

Of course there are, I know some nice normal people who want to leave the EU, but they should acknowledge that if it was not for all the “patriotic”, anti-EU and anti-migration propaganda of newspapers like The Sun and The Daily Mail over the years, UKIP and the Brexit campaign would not have prospered in terms of number of supporters and voters as much as they have. Perhaps that would give them a better understanding of what type of country they are promoting by supporting Brexit.

What about the Brexit right-wing elites, the ones behind all this, the ones who would never share a bus with the man who insulted my friend?

We must remind them that they have come this far in their political and business aspirations on the back of a rabidly xenophobic horse which their media have spurred. It is their responsibility, more than anyone else’s, to help us to put down the beast they have nurtured as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I don’t think these elites are up to the job. Besides, if Brexit wins, they will be too busy over the next ten years trying to desperately negotiate new business and trade deals, for themselves and/or for the country as a whole, to care about anything else, never mind social cohesion and peace.

Image credits: Hope not Hate

Remain. Stand for Democracy.

“Ah, thanks to the EU referendum we are going to see some democracy at last. In fact, we are recovering our democracy. We have had enough of the European Union”, said a Leave supporter to me last week.

What a misguided idea!

The EU is an organisation made up by National Governments. All the important EU laws, the EU Treaties, have to be passed by each one of the European Governments, including our own Government in the UK.

It is up to individual countries (the EU has no say on this) to decide how these European Treaties are approved internally, at the national level. In our case, it is our MPs in Westminster who have voted in favour of every single one of the EU treaties, often following tough negotiations, for the last 40 years. The Treaty of Maastricht, The Treaty of Nice, The Treaty of Lisbon were signed by a British Prime Minister following parliamentary debate in the UK.

In other countries like Ireland, for the approval of the EU treaties a popular referendum is required. In the UK, we trust, naively, the solidity and transparency of our national parliamentary system.

People who think that our lack of democracy in the UK comes from being part of the EU do not understand where the problem stems from. Someone said to me recently:

“We (the British) are the architects of democracy”.

I said to myself:

“I can’t see the architects of this fine building in need of serious refurbishment around. They must be dead by the age of the construction. This guy has not ever heard of Private Eye”.

We are at the heart of Europe. That is an economic, social, historical, cultural and political fact that we cannot hide under the carpet by detaching ourselves from the EU. We are no Switzerland or Norway. We are the second largest member of the Union. It is true that we need to build a better EU, but that only can be done from the inside, not by leaving.

And what about our sovereignty?

In order to have a better national democracy and a more effective control of our UK affairs the first thing we need to do is to vote for Remain and don’t distract our attention with painful and economically uncertain renegotiations of trade treaties, which could take many years, and huge internal changes to our EU laws, which frankly, are there for a reason (protecting the environment, consumers, workers…) and do not prevent us from improving our national democracy at all.

This EU referendum is not part of a plan to improve the way the UK political system works. The Tories and UKIP, promoters of this plebiscite, have no intention to hold any more referendums on other matters. If anything, sadly, this “democratic” referendum experience may put people off direct democracy, and democracy altoghether.

Bear in mind that it is very difficult to make an informed and rational decision in complex issues such as leaving the EU in such a short period of time. One thing is voting for your MP, who you can meet and like or dislike. Another is being asked to make a one-off, one-in-a-life-time decision which would test anyone’s combined critical understanding of History, Economics, Politics, Business, Human Geography and Law, all in a UK, European and international context.

The vast majority of people in this country are not used to research, debate and decide anything political. We are only expected to vote every 5 years in the General Elections. Only a tiny minority of people are actively involved in political campaigning and debate. The percentages of participation in the General Elections are not impressive. Around 40% of people don’t bother. In the case of local elections and the referendum on proportional representation (2011) the levels of engagement are simply a shame in our UK political system (around 25% vote in local elections). We live, like in most other Western countries, in a very “laid back democracy”.

For those who believe in democracy, here is our priority:

We must tackle apathy, our democratic institutions need to connect with people, we need to build a better democratic fabric in society, with more direct democracy on issues we can and should have a say like education, jobs, health or transport. Let people take more responsibility on more manageable, tangible, local and national, matters.

Interestingly, progressive popular empowerment is the only way to have UK Governments that have the strength, legitimacy and honesty to defend our interests in Brussels, within the EU, in coordination with other democratic governments and movements of other EU countries.

The last thing we need is a ToryKIP Government, fired up by Brexit, that runs away from the top tables in the World and turns its back on their own people and on the rest of our allies and friends in Europe.

Democracy in the UK is possible, Another Europe is Possible, but only if we vote Remain.

If you love this country and its people, as I do, (not necessarily its political system), don’t vote Leave.

Brexit Titanic Now Boarding

This is a response to the article published in the Telegraph on 24 February 2016 by Gerard Lyons, economic advisor of Boris Johnson, entitled “The EU is like the Titanic, and we need to jump off before it sinks“. The extracts of the text of Dr Lyons are in italics.

The European Union is like the Titanic. Imagine being in Southampton harbour the day the Titanic set sail. Its size gave the impression of invincibility: safe and secure. It wasn’t. Despite receiving warnings of impending danger it didn’t change course, hit trouble and sank.

Because it is huge, some in the UK feel we would be safer and economically stronger in the EU. This is wrong. We now have the opportunity to jump ship to safety. An opportunity we are never likely to have again. Not a leap into the dark, but for those able to look ahead, a move to safety.

It is true that the EU is complex and needs deep reforms for it to be more democratic and effective, but let us ask ourselves this question: who are about to board on a very proud and apparently seaworthy vessel, full of enthusiasm and self-belief, in search for better seas away from the European mainland? The Brexiters.

I love metaphors, but only when they are used with care and wisdom. The Titanic was a British RMS ship.

In so far as the substance of these claims by Lyons, I would say that the EU is home to countries like Germany or Finland where the standards of living are higher than in the UK and whose enterprises in a number of key sectors are better equipped, technologically and financially, than their UK’s counterparts. They have to work under the same EU regulations than us, but they know how to deal with them.

These include returning sovereignty and having a meaningful immigration target that can be met.

On EU matters, sovereignty is shared. By being part of the EU we extend our sovereign powers to the rest of the Union. It is called influence and co-responsibility. EU Treaties are approved by national governments and parliaments, including ours. There is not a single piece of legislation in the EU that does not stem, originally, from a British-backed rule.

Immigration is the result from British firms not being able to find sufficient workers to fill in positions. Immigration is fuelled by the stupidity of our establishment, the functioning of the markets and the inability of successive UK Governments to get things right on a number of policy areas. Here are three sectors, not the only ones, where immigration is a necessity for the UK:

1) Health: The lack of Government investment in training doctors and nurses is the direct result of Britain being a “low tax” country for invisible entities of all types.

2) Services: The wages of UK working classes in relation to the cost of living are very low. A waitressing job in London is only suitable for people who don´t have a family to look after and are “happy” to survive in shared low quality accommodation.

3) Education: The stress of school teachers, widely reported by Unions, and the failure of our system, is motivated by a managerial approach to Education, by an excessive workload and by a plethora of rules and protocols that do not allow the professionals to get on with the jobs of educating young people. These rules do not come from the EU, but from the department that Mr Gove, another Brexiter, was running until not so long, and from previous governments, to be fair on him. Regulatory diarrhea (from the Spanish “diarrea legislativa”, used by the Spanish liberals to mock over-regulation) is also a UK home grown disease.  Teachers from abroad are in high demand as UK teachers are increasingly dismayed and not many young people pursue a career in education.

So, will there be an army of UK public servants telling UK employers how many people from abroad they can hire in each case, in each type of business, in each city? Is this the idea of a free-enterprise Britain? How many regulations, quotas and forms will this generate? Will they be second class workers, with less rights for similar positions?

We can focus attention on what is needed for small firms and for ordinary workers across the whole country. Outside the EU we can position the UK to be outward looking.

No way. You cannot trust the Tories on this. Ordinary workers in the Northern and Central countries in the EU are better off than their UK counterparts. If it was not for the European regulations, UK workers would be even worse than now in terms of social rights.

Leaving the EU will come with transition costs. While the UK public may want quick wins, the most important thing will be stability, a road map for the future and a clear strategic vision. Just as a new government may require one or two full terms to implement its manifesto […]

Brexit will be an economic shock. We encounter such events throughout our own lives, when we move house or change jobs. Unless planned for they can be disruptive. That doesn’t mean growth will contract or jobs will be lost, but investment plans may temporarily be put on hold.

Well, at least the author of the article is honest on this, but does he have a figure for the transaction costs? Are we going to pay it pro-rata, or would there be job losses resulting from these costs? Is he offering himself to give up his job as economic advisor of Boris Johnson so that we can cover them?

One way to picture this growth is the letter “V”, or better still, a tick – a short fall in growth followed by a much larger rise. Pre- and post-referendum would resemble the downward stroke of the V. A rebound would follow later.

A Churchillian slip there with the “V”. Perhaps it is a V of another kind what we would get. This is all speculation. Hot wheels on thin ice.

The first stage will be an agreement on our terms of exit. We could invoke Article 50 that triggers a two-year process. Or, depending upon the politics, engage in a major renegotiation. As we are the EU’s biggest export market, economic incentives suggest they will negotiate sensibly and agree a deal on goods and new guidelines on movement of people. However, the EU has not acted sensibly in recent years and they might not do so in any exit negotiations. This fear of a tough negotiation should not be a reason to vote to remain in the EU, but highlights the difficult near-term path ahead. But many countries outside the EU trade with it, we would be another, and one with a very competitive service sector. This renegotiation period also allows time to put in place other necessary Brexit measures. One is a timetable to repatriate powers.

Well, on paper it looks great. It is like one of these rehearsed moves in football. Or like the famous run of the minies out of the Italian vaults with the gold, with the “self-preservation society” song in the background”. Now, the politics of these negotiations are not so cinematographic. This article by Dr Lyons in the Telegraph is being read by thousands of people abroad, including negotiators from other EU countries, so this is no slick cunning secret plan any more, I am afraid.

Also, after so much disrespect shown to EU governments, after so much British supremacist claims about democracy and self-reliance from people like Janet Daley, or so many unfortunate statements like the one by Boris Johnson, who said in his Brexit article of 22 February in the Telegraph that “We have spent 500 years trying to stop continental European powers uniting against us”, does anyone think we can have a normal friendly negotiation on Brexit? It will be harsh. The outrage in the continent about the arrogance of Brexiters is growing. Try to see it from their point of view: Cameron goes to Brussels to meet 27 heads of government. He shows a half-baked shopping list of reforms aimed at appeasing the right-wing media, rather than improving the working of the Union. His vision of the EU membership is purely economicist. He insists on slashing workers rights. Then, on his return to London, half of the country, full of pride, wants to leave, ignoring what the EU means in terms of cooperation, inter-cultural understanding, solidarity and friendship and belittling the efforts that those other governments of those countries have made to allow the UK to get some of its demands, in the way of a especial status, in a complex scenario.

Between 2013-14, Whitehall produced 32 detailed reports on the competences that the UK has transferred to Brussels in different areas. This provides a basis from which to work.

Whitehall? They love regulations as much as the EU Commission. 32 reports! The transferral of powers will be simply a change on the header of the documents from the EU. Rules are necessary, unfortunately. Any exports to the EU, even if we are totally out of the EU, will have to comply with the consumer protection standards and safety rules of the EU. Repatriation of powers is a copy and paste job of EU law.

Another is to how better spend our EU contribution. This should go towards funding our public services properly. We also need to identify areas where EU funding may be withdrawn, such as scientific research, on students and the arts, and ensure this is covered fully with some of our previous EU contribution earmarked for these.

One of the beauties of the EU research funding schemes for universities is that they emphasise cross-border collaboration between different institutions. That type of research is highly valuable because a diverse pool of expertise can be shared at European level. Synergies. Economies of scale. By having UK only research funding, we would be killing another hen of golden eggs. We would end up cooking ourselves in our gravy, freshly prepared in the kitchens of the Titanic, of course (we shall have no stock cubes).

We have a great opportunity to make trade deals that boost exports, but first we would need to rebuild the skill set to do so. Inside the EU our demands are only one of 28 when it comes to trade. Outside, we would have to replicate existing deals, and learn from the likes of South Korea and Singapore, and make trade deals that play to our strengths, that are iterative and are with the fast-growing regions of the world.

Again, this is hot air. It sounds very good, but we have to understand that the success of any trade deals between the UK and other countries is also determined by the deals that those countries have already with our competitors. Brexit means that the list of our rivals will include the EU itself, and everyone else, for that matter. What we need is more influence in the EU to ensure our interests are respected there. But for that to happen, we need to be a serious partner.

With Brexit we have the opportunity to safeguard workers’ rights, ultimately determined by Parliament and by UK voters, not bureaucrats in Brussels. It is not possible to protect workers’ rights with mass migration.

This is the most cynical claim one can imagine. The tendency of the UK Governments since the 1980 has been to stop employment laws from the EU, depriving British workers of rights. Blaming mass migration for the lack of willingness by UK Governments to protect UK workers’ rights is tantamount to racism. It is like saying, “we would give you better rights if we did not have to give those same rights to the foreigner workers in the UK too”.

But low migration does not mean no migration. An excellent Civitas report last December by Cambridge Professor Bob Rowthorn showed mass migration suppresses low-skilled workers’ wages, and adds to pressure on housing and public services. The gains go to the migrants and to the employers. We need to control the scale and ensure we let in only the skilled migrants we need.

As I said before, workers with all types of skill-sets come here insofar as they are actually needed. If there were no jobs, they would not come. Are you going to force employers not to take the best person for the job?

We should not kid ourselves that the City of London is somehow safe in the EU when we did not achieve a veto to protect it from greater control by the eurozone and from decisions of the European Court of Justice. Leaving creates initial challenges over passporting of financial services, and possible loss of euro clearing, but I am optimistic. London is so much more competitive than any other financial centre in Europe, with its concentration of skills, knowledge and expertise. Also, more regulation is being set at an international level, which is important as London’s competition is global.

Well, parts of the City are starting to brexit Brexit. The London Stock Exchange (LSE) is again negotiating a merge with the main German Stock exchange to become one single entity. With the Germanisation of the LSE, as the German partner would have 52% of the shares of the new company, an important British institution will protect itself from Brexit. They are clever. I am sure they have great economic advisors. Will there be other companies, or institutions or people allowed to opt-out Brexit without having to physically leave? I don’t think so.

The vision is to be a globally competitive economy, based on low taxes for firms to succeed, leveraging off our universities and talent, and founded on rising productivity through increased investment, infrastructure and innovation.

Low taxes? For whom? I can see no chance for working people to prosper in a low-tax Brexit. How will investment in education, in infrastructure or in research and innovation be paid for? Those are essential ingredients for increased productivity. Ask the Germans.

Brexit is a neo-victorian, romantic, unrealistic, ill-informed, overconfident outburst of the wrong type of patriotism that has been brewed for a number of years by irresponsible media. Call it off. Let us concentrate our energy and our patriotism in building together a better Britain as part of a better Europe where working people do not see themselves forced to migrate or rely on tax credits to meet ends, a Europe with fruitful and responsible trade focused on innovation, sustainability and quality of life, more democratic European institutions accountable to the European people. This would deliver long-term stability for Britain and the continent. I would be happy to join that romantic, yet safe enterprise. No life jackets required.