Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The referendum.

On the day of voting, we went away for a 2-week holiday in Ireland. This has had two effects - firstly, stopping me having a chance to properly comment, and secondly, giving me a distinct perspective on the result.

I should point out, to anyone who missed it, that I am a passionate supporter of the remain campaign. Of course, some people will assume that my anger and frustration is because I am on the losing side. It isn't. I am a member of the green party, so I am used to having the good arguments but not winning. I also voted on the losing side on the last referendum about changing the voting system. I am quite used to being on the losing side.

The reason I am angry is simpler than that. It is because leaving the EU would be the single stupidest and economically and politically suicidal action that any country has ever done, a position that would not be changed even if the US were to elect Trump as president.

I will explain why this is later, when I explore some of the implications of leaving. firstly, I want to comment on the campaign, which has been a shambles. More importantly, two academics who looked relatively dispassionately at the claims made for both sides said that the leave campaign produced lies on an "industrial scale". The other, who was doing fact checking on the claims found that, while the remain campaigns claims were broadly supported by their sources, the leave campaigns were totally unsupported - they lied about their claims in every single case.

That seems to me to be deceit of the British public on an unprecedented scale.

I did try to be as balanced as I could and consider the opposing arguments. I wanted to understand them, even if I fundamentally disagreed. There was, eventually, one that I could support. Just one.

The biggest claim, regularly repeated, was that we paid £350M into the EU a week. This was, as many people said, utterly false - after the rebates, we paid something more like £250M.

I should be clear here, I am no expert on EU economics, I am trying to find some real figures that show the actual values, not the headline values.

The rebates are applied before anything is paid, so this is not money we will save - it is money we have already not been paying in. It's more like if you have to pay a speeding ticket. The headline cost of the speeding ticket is £100. If you pay without contesting it, you are eligible for a 50% discount (rebate). So the actual cost of the speeding fine is £50. To argue that it is £100, so by paying early you have £50 spare is obtuse at the least.

On top of that (as I understand it), the EU provides subsidies to a number of businesses in the UK - in particular, farm subsidies under the CAP. The leave campaign promised to continue to pay these, so they have to be removed from the equation, leaving around £170M a week that we pay in. Vastly different from the £350M. And to the farmers who supported the leave campaign - why do you believe that these subsidies will be continued indefinitely? They won't under a right-wing government, because the state should not be providing financial support to any business.

 What do we get for this? We get membership of the EU, and all of the indirect financial benefits that this brings. It serves to attract multinational businesses to our soil, because they can then sell within the EU. It serves to provide a far larger amalgamation of countries to negotiate international trade treaties with, which provide us with far better deals than we could ever negotiate on our own. The current crop of political leaders do not seem to be particularly good negotiators, and I very much doubt that any of them could get good deals from our trading partners across the world.

I have seen some complaints that "we never receive as much from the EU as we put in." This is true, and, as one of the largest economies in the world, is absolutely reasonable. The final figure that we pay is probably around £6B - which sounds like a large figure, but is not in terms of a national budget. For comparison, it is a very conservative figure of the amount lost through tax evasion in the UK in a year. Total tax avoidance - the legal but morally compromised non-payment - is vastly higher than this (I am not quoting exact figures, because they vary from source to source, and depend on how you calculate them).

It is rather like paying to be a member of a golf club. Nobody expects to get back the money they pay to be in the club, because they see it has other benefits. Some of these are the ability to play golf, but others are the chance to discuss business with potential partners. For many, the indirect benefits they receive are far more than the cost of membership. So it is with the EU. I have seen quoted that a 0.5% drop in the economic growth of the UK would wipe out the entire payments we make (although I don't know what figure for payments this uses). So membership has to provide a boost of 0.5% - not much - to balance the payments.

This brings me onto the second issue raised - that we could control our borders. Even aside from the blatant racism that is inherent in this, and the implication that immigration is purely negative (it isn't - on the whole, immigration has proven very positive for our country), this is blatantly untrue. Our biggest trading partner is the EU, and if we were to negotiate an agreement with them, it would be on the basis of having open borders. In fact, it would be on a very similar basis to what we currently have. Leaving the EU would impact our trading relationship mainly in that we would no longer be on the inside to negotiate ourselves - we would have to accept whatever the EU insisted on. That seems a very poor deal in real terms. And it would do nothing to impact immigration from the EU. If we want to impact it from other places, we can do that anyway.

The one argument that held some weigh was that the EU is an irredeemable bureaucratic mess. I can see this point, in that the EU is rather red-tape heavy. I don't believe it is irredeemable though. I do believe that if we in Britain had been wholly in and supporting the EU for the last 10-15 years, and working with others to make it better, more streamlined, more efficient - rather than simply trying to get what we could for ourselves - it might be in far better shape.

So what is - and will be - the impact of the vote and of leaving (assuming nobody decides to actually do something useful and stop this ridiculous process)? I think we saw on the day after the vote the impact it will have on our economy - the stock market and the pound crashed. They have recovered since, but I suspect, if it became clear we were going to go through with this, they would crash and stay crashed. The banks think this is a stupid thing to do.

But that is short term. More importantly, multinational business will stop investing in the UK, because they may as well invest in a country inside the EU, where they can gain all of the benefits. Even those companies who have claimed that they will not leave will, I suspect, withdraw further investment, because their payback is so much greater by investing elsewhere. That in itself will cause us long-term damage. We took many years to attract companies like Toyota to the UK, but we can lose them very quickly, and then will have to spend many years encouraging them back.

Maybe more importantly than that, it is clear that Scotland and Northern Ireland want to stay in the EU. I fully expect that they will try to block an exit, at least until they can separate from England and Wales, and remain as members independently. Being in Ireland, it is interesting that there are even questions about reuniting the country - apparently, people may be prepared to put aside centuries of religious conflict and fundamental disagreement to not be a part of the insanity.

Scotland, of course, were far closer in their vote whether to stay or leave. Being in the North of Ireland, and having been just 12 miles from Scotland, I do wonder whether a "Western Nations" grouping could form - Scotland and a united Ireland. It would leave England as a very minor player in the area.

But it is not only businesses that will leave, though. The fact that all of the academics whose specialism is the EU said that leaving would be disastrous, and they were ignored. The anti-intellectualism we have seen is liable to lead more and more academics to consider whether this is a place they want to work. Additionally, the ease of communication and travel across the EU means that collaboration is comparatively easy, and for many, the ease of this will outweigh any provisions at a particular institution. More and more top level research is done internationally, and this will be impacted. Additionally, of course, the EU does put money into academic research, and if the projects aren't available in the UK, the researchers will move elsewhere.

Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg. This is just identifiable sections of the community who may consider a change in circumstances. There are many others, like myself, who would seriously consider it, but I don't have the resources or ability to make a move. But most of all, and saddest of all, I think this entire process, and the decade of chaos that is to come from it, will disillusion many people about the whole of politics. The politicians are in a shambles, and they have utterly lost the confidence of the public at large. That is a dangerous and problematic situation.

Finally, from an Irish perspective, you would have thought the people of the UK would have learned that identifying oneself in opposition to others, vilifying them and spreading hatred does not tend to lead to a happy situation. That is the lesson of history that nobody seems to want to learn.

Friday, 1 July 2016

"Person first" language

I noticed an interesting article recently, and it prompted me to think again about a posting I had been considering on this topic.

It was several years ago that I first encountered this, in relationship to my son who is diabetic. Or as I was told at the time, who has diabetes. It had me thinking about my own depression and how I consider this.

So I was told that I shouldn't say my son is a diabetic, because that defines him by his illness. Then I consider that he has to test and inject several times a day, a routine that impacts his life hourly. It affects his health, and, when he is not good at controlling his levels and ends up in hospital, that takes him out for a day or so.

So his illness affects every part of his life, every day, and will for the rest of his life. It seems to me that describing him as "a diabetic", in the sense that this aspect does define a lot of his life, it is an important and significant aspect of who he is. Now it is not all he is, but it is one aspect that defines him. He is a diabetic, he is a boy, he is a geek, he is my son. None of these define him totally, all of them seem like valid aspects that are defining - and will be for the rest of his life.

In the same way, I am happy to define myself as a depressive. I cannot remember when I first started to suffer from this illness, but my age was in single figures. I have battled with this for some 45 years, through my "formative" teenage years, through my working life, through my marriage and children. It would be disingenuous at the least to try to identify myself apart from an illness that has been present for most of my life.

That doesn't mean I welcome the illness, but that I accept that it is formative and critical to who I am. To pretend that I now have an existence that is not impacted by my illness is to live in a fantasy. My illness does not totally define me, but it impacts everything about me. I am more than my depression, but everything about me is impacted by it. I might not like it, but that is the truth.

So I can see the appeal of "person first" language, but I think it is a dangerous approach to chronic illness, because it is pretending that life is different from what it is. So for me, I will continue to describe myself as a depressive. That is who I am, and I am quite happy to acknowledge it.