SDLP anything but “progressive” on women’s rights

Earlier this month a young woman was handed a three-month suspended sentence effectively because she couldn’t afford to travel to England.

What kind of obscene society would allow this, based on a 150-year-old law?

Yet “Precious Life” took the even more obscene position that the young woman should be imprisoned, depriving a living child of a mother.

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Sometimes a picture (with the “Precious Life” spokesperson Bernie Smith left and the SDLP’s Minister and Deputy Leader right) paints a thousand words.

The Greens have embarrassed themselves too on this issue of course, by trivialising it with plans to legislate to extend the 150-year-old law rather than remove or replace it. But worse than that, remember, every single SDLP MLA went through the “no” lobby on an amendment even merely to allow termination in the event of Fatal Foetal Abnormality. This means the SDLP,  which likes to rant about “Tories”, actually takes both financial and social positions well to the right of the Conservatives.

So if you want a socially progressive option next month, as I do, you will obviously need to look elsewhere.

Scotland not so left-wing after all…

Last weekend saw another march in London against “austerity”.

This really is an appalling abuse of the word. Food rationing post-War was austerity. Perhaps the three-day week with limited electricity in the 1970s was austerity. An ever increasing gap between rising public spending and falling income tax at a time when public sector wage growth vastly outstrips inflation is, quite obviously, not austerity.

Facts, eh?

Marchers claimed they had public support for their cause. Yet in last year’s General Election right-of-centre parties or those in coalition with them received almost two thirds of the vote in England.

There are those facts again…

At least it was different in social democratic, left-leaning Scotland.

Or was it?

Scottish Labour recently adopted a courageous policy of adding 1p to Scottish income tax. If Scots are opposed to “Tory austerity”, they reason, they will not mind paying a small bit extra to avoid it. In any case, have Scots just not had a huge debate about taking on more powers and thus obviously, by logical extension, using them? And of course, 21p income tax with the much higher personal allowance still means less to pay than when Labour left office.

Such a courageous, honest and rational stance would no doubt see a swing towards Labour in a social democratic country keen to model itself on Scandinavia, of course.

Well, no.

All the evidence suggests that Labour’s new policy is courageous only in the “Yes, Minister” sense – unpopular, in other words.

A survey by the very man whose exit poll pointed towards the real result of last year’s UK General Election shows that the comfortable majority of Scots oppose putting taxes higher than in the rest of the UK. In line with this, the SNP (which proposes no income tax rises, although it would change the bands to see 40% payers paying slightly more) remains well out in front. In fact, far from gaining it ground, Scottish Labour’s new policy sees it in serious danger of being overtaken as the main opposition at Holyrood by the Scottish Conservatives (who oppose any income tax rises or band changes at all).

Scotland is perfectly normal in this regard. As ever, people want more money spent on the services which affect them, but are notably unwilling to put their hand up to contribute any more towards them.

“Get those tax evaders and welfare fraudsters instead!”

Funny, you never hear that line in Scandinavia. But then, whisper it quietly, Scotland isn’t like Scandinavia…

Sectarianism and the delusion of objectivity

The Undercover Economist author Tim Harford has a very important article here on the “Delusion of Objectivity“.

It applies to many things, but one is the oft stated contention that “It is not sectarian to take a position on the constitution” in Northern Ireland.

Actually, in practice, it usually is.

The position taken on the constitution by parties made up almost entirely of British Protestants educated in state schools on one hand or by Irish Catholics educated in maintained schools on the other is not objective. It is pre-determined. It just so happens that all of the former, who grew up in a broadly British culture, prefer the British state; and all of the latter, who grew up in a broadly Irish culture, prefer the Irish state. Funny, that.

Such constituonal positions, therefore, are a product of cultural upbringing and not of objective and rational thought.

Now read the article again…

We see the tendency of each side to forgive the other side their constitutional position given that people on the other side grew up in a different culture. At heart, though, we still believe the other side to be misguided; we just don’t blame them personally, but rather their upbringing, for this delusion.

Anyone who cannot give a clear, rational view as to why someone of a different background should switch to their constituonal position has arrived at it based solely on cultural upbringing. That cultural upbringing was in a society (and, notably, education system) segregated along sectarian lines.

So yes, if you cannot defend your constitutional position genuinely objectively, the practical reality is that your position is sectarian – because it is arrived at solely based on which side of the sectarian divide you are on. Indeed, you may even be deluded…

“Giveaway” manifestos merely offer more of the same

One BBC NI correspondent joked that with the DUP offering giveaways to centenarians and the SDLP offering them to new borns, he was wondering who would give money to those in between!

Such petty populism is, of course, utterly pathetic.

Rather than targeting vital resources towards Early Years programmes in marginalised  communities where they could be accumulated and make a real difference to entire groups of people, the “Social Democratic and Labour Party” wants to give £500 individually to sons and daughters of millionaires.

Remember, this is the same “Social Democratic and Labour Party” which still thinks people living on £1.2 million mansions should only pay a third of their rates.

Thankfully, the evidence is that such ludicrous attempts literally to buy votes (via a programme which once existed across the UK and was abandoned by Labour fifteen years ago) will be seen through by an electorate increasingly tired of silly promises with no delivery.

What is unfortunate, however, is that if we want daft giveaways and mismanaged budgets, we can already vote for the DUP and Sinn Féin, who now have a decade-long record of delivery on such nonsense. The whole purpose of any “social democratic” party should be to offer a clear alternative, with properly costed proposals to help those on the margins, appropriate revenue raising from the better-off, and detailed plans for reform of public services.

Instead we get money for millionaires. You couldn’t make it up.

“Tax returns” and fearing for democracy

The fuss over tax returns makes me despair for democracy, and politicians publishing them is actually dangerous.

Of course, the reason politicians are often hypocritical is that so are the voters. We are hearing frankly ludicrous demands for six years’ worth of tax returns made by people who themselves would never dream of publishing theirs – indeed, often by anonymous trolls on Twitter!

The real problem with our democracy is that it is increasingly a closed shop – people get a job in a constituency office, become a Councillor, and move “up” from there. We end up with Ministers who have never run a business, never managed a charity, never worked in the public sector, never in fact had to manage a household budget on anything like the average salary.

What we need in our legislatures and governments are people who have created jobs, promoted charities, worked at the coal face, succeeded in academia, seen the public sector first hand and so on – professional people, who can provide valuable experience and knowledge to the policy-making process. Already, when seeking public office, they have to deal with risking careers, restricting family time and dealing with public ire with no guarantee of electoral success. Now, on top of that, we want them to reveal details of their private lives which none of the rest of us would even dream of revealing even to close friends and family? That is going to improve the quality of public debate, is it?

There is of course the issue here of public ignorance about taxation and public finance. Basics, like the difference between “tax avoidance” (which most of those agitating about it actually do themselves!) and “tax evasion” are missed. Moreover, the very point of an “offshore” investment is it does not appear on a UK tax return! Worse than that, however, is that a tax return actually tells us nothing about a person’s real interests. We learn nothing about what industries they may invest in, what property they may own, and even what charities they may support – all of which is potentially relevant to decision making as public office holders. That is why we have registers of interests!

Add to this the modern social media world where sanctimonious outrage is King and anyone engaging in the actual complexities of managing public finances, reforming a health system or assessing social housing stock is instantly dismissed. It is of course a lot easier and less time consuming to tweet #CameronResign to feel good about yourself, than actually to engage in the complexities of the issues and to influence real change in the public interest.

The only issue here is whether people making decisions in the public interest are being up front and honest. We can assess that on the public evidence – and not on private and irrelevant tax returns, which are already assessed by the tax authorities.

We have now spent days discussing tax returns – both a practical and political irrelevance – in a way which can only damage the chances of new blood entering the political system. Meanwhile decisions on Health, Housing and everything else that actually affects us have been made completely without scrutiny. What kind of farcical democracy are we creating for ourselves?

Brexiteers – what about the real world?

The vehicle I use most of the time is in fact leased. Although I use it most of the time and refer to it loosely as “my car” because it is registered to me and is parked on my property, strictly speaking it actually belongs to the manufactuer’s UK financial services company. Yet that company has no interest in the car, only in ensuring it is paid for; I am the one with the interest in it. Who owns it in practice, therefore? And does the ownership have any practical relevance?

There is a section of the Russian Far East which is twice as large as India yet contains a population lower than that of the island of Ireland. Yet it has in recent years experienced notable immigration – number hundreds of thousands. These immigrants come not from elsewhere in Russia, but from China. They have come not to leave China, but in fact to set up a Chinese timber company which will send timber supplies back from this small corner of the world across the border for use in by Chinese industry, notably construction. Who owns that part of Asia, therefore?

Nominally, the territory referred to falls within the boundaries of Russia and is thus theoretically under the sovereignty of the institutions in Moscow. However, it is almost depopulated and has no functioning economy except for timber. That economy is entirely dependent on Chinese immigrants sending timber across the border into China. The territory, therefore, is only under Russian sovereignty in the same way my car is under a financial service’s company’s ownership – it is theoretical but has no current practical purpose (for as long as China needs timber and I keep up my payments, respectively). In effect, Chinese industry has “leased” this territory from Russia, and it is now solely within China’s interest for as long as it wants it and can make it economically functional.

China is of course “leasing” lots of the world, often in terms of maintaining or constructing infrastructure – building piers in Mozambique to cricket grounds in the Caribbean in return for “maintaining interests”. The UK, notably last week Scotland, has not escaped its attentions. This is a form of neo-colonialism – complete even with the partition of Sudan into a China-dominated North and a Western-dominated South.

In this context, what on earth is sovereignty?

The world consists of new mega-cities (often in the Far East) and major trading blocs. Sovereign states are no longer of particular relevance, other than as units of nominal, reactionary government.

Why on earth would we leave the economically largest such bloc?!

Steel issue shows limitations of sovereignty

The debate around the future of the UK steel industry has demonstrated just how ludicrously parochial political debate here has become. People lined up to argue over how losing hundreds of jobs in Port Talbot was the UK Government’s fault, the Welsh Government’s fault, the Remain side’s fault, the Leave side’s fault, the fault of any politician I don’t like…

It is just possible that it isn’t any politician’s fault.

The fact is, since the mid-’90s in particular, we have all literally bought into an economy based on cheap supply from the Far East.

We are not necessarily wrong. Upon retirement in 1997 my father bought an Internet-capable (US-built) PC for the modern equivalent of around £5,000. Its capabilities would be comfortably passed by a basic (Chinese-built) £100 mobile phone now.

So it goes on across a vast range of goods – phones made in China, vacuums made in Malaysia, electronics made in Indonesia, etc etc. In such countries, wages are much lower and workers’ rights much inferior (even basic welfare or pension provision is almost unknown).

But we don’t care, as long as we get the goods cheap and can spend the rest of our wages on leisure activities, fancy cars and holidays (perhaps to places like Dubai, largely built by migrant workers on pitiful salaries with no basic rights at all).

Let us be clear, any politician seeking to deny us this standard of living, even though it is in effect based on slave labour (just not our slave labour), would never attain office.

China and other countries have used this income to grow their economies and create a burgeoning middle class – which, just every few years, grows by a size equivalent to the entire population of the UK. One of the inevitable consequences was a construction boom in the Far East (most obviously in China), and then something of a bust, with a further consequence that China had an excess steel supply which it dumped cheaply on the world market.

So it is that Chinese economic decisions affected an Indian company to the extent that hundreds of jobs were put at risk in South Wales. This is globalisation, an inevitable consequence of the cheap supply economy into which we have all eagerly bought – not “politicians”, us!

Such also is the limitation, or indeed near irrelevance, of the concept of “sovereignty”. It was not a current Welsh Government or UK Cabinet Minister’s decisions which threatened the UK steel industry; it was a Chinese economic decision and an Indian company board’s reaction to it.

This is the ludicrous nonsense of “take back control”. This is a globalised world of quality European imports and cheap Far Eastern imports. We need to be part of a big team, not exposed on the sidelines.

 

Sinn Féin fails Irish unity test at Glasnevin

For a party which bangs on about “Irish unity”, there are few parties more committed to division than Sinn Féin. This was demonstrated again by its hysterical reaction to the basic notion that everyone killed during the Easter Rising should be treated equally.

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Photo courtesy BBC.

The howls of indignation are made worse by the sheer hypocrisy of it all.

This is the same Sinn Féin which talks of an “Ireland of Equals”, but then wants “Irish rebels” treated favourably to “Irish civilians” and “Irish soldiers”.

This is the same Sinn Féin which protests against the notion there should be a “hierarchy of victims”, and yet then specifically tries to create one to suit its own historical myths.

This is the same Sinn Féin which tells British people on the island of Ireland that they have “nothing to fear” from a United Ireland while retweeting sentiments that the “British” are nothing but murderers, rapists and slave traders (and of course that the “[native] Irish” have never been any of these things).

Actually the British people in Ireland’s northeast probably have little to fear from a Fine Gael Government committed to genuine equality, as demonstrated at Glasnevin, and whose previous Taoiseach openly regrets the Easter Rising as a divisive and illegitimate act of unnecessary violence.

Fine Gael and many others recognise that “Irish unity” is more than a geographical concept. People have to be brought together too. Overt protestations that some are of better historical stock than others (as represented by the argument that some dead should be treated better than others) is no way to achieve that unity.

Indeed, is the notion that some people should have preferred status based on their bloodline not precisely what so-called Republicans are supposed to oppose?!

#Brexiteers – how would we recover lost public spending?

Brexit fans are keen on the “£500 million” figure that would apparently be the annual saving to Northern Ireland of leaving the EU.

Of course, actually this is the proportion by population of the UK’s contribution, which does not then take account of the rebate, CAP, CFP, infrastructural funding, peace programmes and cross-border project funds. Then there is the point of “Brexit” – our “own” border control and trade deals – all of which the UK would now have to administer alone, meaning the recruitment and training of lots more bureaucrats. That is before we get to the cost of tariffs – which would take up to £1.5b out of the Northern Ireland economy (three times more than the initial but not actual “saving”).

But none of that is the question. The question concerns the fact that the UK as a stable EU economy can currently borrow money over 10 years at an interest rate of under 2%. However, ratings agencies have clarified that the uncertainty of leaving the EU would see this rise. Already more of our tax goes to repaying interest than to policing. This gap would rise further.

Northern Ireland would not gain from any “saving” (there is no saving in our case, and anyway Europe is an excepted matter so there is no reason to believe this would go to devolved administrations), and would of course lose considerably from the withdrawal of payments, infrastructure grants and programme funding. But on top of that households, already forced to pay more for goods due to tariffs, would need to contribute more in tax to maintain public spending at current levels because the cost of government borrowing would rise.

Actually there isn’t a question here. “Brexit” would cost every man, woman and child in Northern Ireland. End of.

UK should leave UN

The United Nations was well intentioned, but the fact is it has failed to deliver peace to the world – an objective which should be easy given there are only 7 billion people in the world and some do not even particularly have competing interests.

At its burdensome headquarters in New York, the UN is a burocrat’s dream. Its complex voting system means nothing ever gets agreed anyway. It is undemocratic, with five countries favoured over all others based solely on their status in 1945, and with decisions taken by administrators and other second-class diplomats not good enough to get a real embassy.

You and I pay into this failed organisation and frankly I am sick of it. The UK should take its own decisions on its security and military operations – who needs cooperation with bigger countries, shared intelligence and new emerging technology anyway? Indeed, the UK would be free to build new armed alliances with other countries which are free from the shackles of the UN – emerging powers like Abkhazia, Somaliland and Northern Cyprus.

Besides, it’s NATO which keeps us safe, not the UN.

It’s time to stop living in the real world and pretend nothing that anyone else does affects us – “taking back control” as some would call it. Let’s get out of this failed, unaccountable, unelected bureaucracy. Let’s leave the UN.

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