Tuesday, 18 November 2014

It's Been Fun

I deleted my Twitter account a couple of weeks ago to take a break and think about whether I still wanted to engage in social media.  The immediate trigger for that was someone I thought was an actual friend deliberately being a nasty jerk to me online (subtweeting about my search for a new puppy after losing my dog Oscar, no less...), but I've taken a step back and thought about the bigger picture.

I've had some wonderful times on Twitter and with blogging over the last five years or so.  I've seen Twitter grow from a tiny community where everyone seemed to know each other into a much broader and more popular way of communicating.  In some ways that's a great thing: it's supposed to be about the free flow of ideas, chatting to people in all fields of life that you might not ordinarily have access to, and broadening your horizons.  I've met up with about 200 people from Twitter in real life and developed some lovely friendships.  I've even met the boyfriend of my dreams on here, and in Spring we'll be celebrating three years together.  Somehow I've picked up just shy of 5000 followers, even though I really don't have that much of substance to tweet about.

However, I've noticed that Twitter has also lost much of its innocence over the years.  It's become a place where there's a lot of abuse and nastiness just because people "can".  I remember the shock of this type of thing happening the first time and how it sent ripples of upset through the community I knew online.  Now we've become numbed to it: people throw out threats, abuse, hatred, take it onto themselves to language/thought police strangers, and argue endlessly for absolutely no constructive purpose whatsoever.  It's only the very worst stuff that gets any attention.  The constant low-level criticism, judgmentalism and fractious abusive sniping doesn't even register any more.   It may be amplified for me because of the "curse of the 2000 followers" that people talk about: your tweets get retweeted outside your familiar circle much more widely above this level, and it invites people who don't know you to kick off aggressive arguments and attacks.  Whatever the reason, I'm experiencing it more and more.  I just don't come online to receive abuse from strangers; and even if you block them straight off, a bit of a bitter taste remains.

As an example of this, two weeks ago I had a serious of four anonymous trolling comments on this blog, apropos nothing, calling me a "fucking sodomite", an "anti-white bigoted cunt", a "Muslim lover", telling me to go back to my "London shit-hole and die of AIDS surrounded by my immigrant chums" and calling me "a Euro-loving, bum-banging, left-wing, immigrant-loving, shirt-lifting cunt".  It contained a number of threats and ended by wishing that a Muslim cut "my fucking head off".  This was from someone purporting to live in my sleepy little home village in Suffolk, which I seriously doubt.  In one respect it's completely laughable, but on another it's not exactly pleasant to receive on a Saturday morning visiting your boyfriend, even if I know it shouldn't be taken seriously, and it's just a keyboard warrior wanking him or herself into a frenzy.  I'd like to say this was an isolated example, but it's not: it's happened before, and it will happen again.

I am also capable of putting it into context and know that the nastiness online is less than 1% of all the interactions I have.  This blog has had over 640,000 views since I set it up in January 2011 with my first piece, which was a eulogy to my then recently deceased German grandmother.  That's an average of about 5000 readers per post of my 135 articles, which is staggering.  So many people have commented kindly on my thoughts and writing, and I've loved the positive feedback.  It genuinely makes me happy that people want to read what I have to say, and want to share it with others. 

On the other hand, it is the 1% that sticks in your mind, even if it shouldn't.  I'm so blessed to have a pretty wonderful "real" life.   I have a beautiful home, travel huge amounts, have a lovely family, good friends, am materially well-off and in great health, our work project to build a gorgeous luxury farm spa retreat is progressing beautifully, and I have a boyfriend I adore.  We're about to finally get a new collie puppy together, which just fills me with excitement and happiness.

All that being the case, I have to ask myself why I should let my "real life" be polluted by the online nastiness, the homophobic abuse, and the judgements of others, none of which I would otherwise ever experience offline.  If it's a simple cost/benefit analysis, I'm afraid the costs have just outweighed the benefits for me.  Therefore it's time to close up shop and delete my account for good.  I'll let the minority of unpleasant people I've come across stew in their own unhappiness and unpleasantness.  I just don't want or need to be part of it.  I know others feel very differently about Twitter and I hope you go on enjoying it as much as I once did.  I really like and care about many of you who be reading this.  I'm sorry if you'll miss me, and I'm sure I'll miss you too. 

As for my blog, there's little point in continuing to blog on a regular basis, as my posts won't ever get the readership they did before without a platform to promote them.  That said, I'd like this to be farewell, but not goodbye - so I will be writing the odd personal blog post from time to time if anyone is interested, with updates on the farm project, pictures of the puppy, and photos of our various adventures abroad (For a start, Ste is meeting my entire German family just before Christmas for the first time.  The only German he knows is what I taught him, namely: when you sneeze and someone says "Gesundheit", you answer "Kartoffelsalat".  That might not be entirely correct, so this could be interesting).   You're more than welcome to drop by here and have a look.  I've disabled anonymous comments though, as that's one thing I definitely won't miss. 

Thanks to anyone who's ever interacted with me pleasantly on Twitter, who's amused or cheered me up, taught me something new, or who I've got to know well enough to have considered an online friend. 

And as ever, thanks for reading my blog.

Macht's gut, Nachbarn!


[Insert suitably cheesy smiling pic]

Saturday, 25 October 2014

EU Budget

The right wing press is having a field day.  The papers are full of headlines such as "One Step Nearer to the EU Exit", "Britain closer to quitting EU", "Cameron defies wealth tax" etc.  The language of the press is one of war.  War against our closest neighbours and most important trading partners.  Our prime minister banged his hand down on the table, went red and puffy in the face and spoke of his anger and said "I'm not going to pay that bill!"  Certain backbench Tories screamed that the demand was "illegal" and he was told to ignore it.

Judging by Twitter, Europhiles are left wringing their hands in despair, almost giving up the fight.  This is a gift for the Eurosceptics, must be an inside job by a UKIPer at Brussels, total idiocy by the EU, makes it hard to defend them etc.  Certainly a chunk of Labour is seeking to out Tory the Tories, as they have done on immigration, by rushing to get behind the populist call to stop Brussels in its latest outrage.  Let's just turn the pan off boil for a moment and look at all this a bit more dispassionately.

PM "goes to war"

We're being Singled Out

The first general reaction yesterday seemed to be that Britain was being singled out by "Brussels" by arbitrarily having a bill slapped on it to pay a great deal of money in a completely unreasonable space of time.  People were asking if this was deliberate spite by Brussels, or whether it was designed to push us out.  In total it was, perhaps predictably, a typically UK centric reaction.  It is of course the one that's being carried through in the tabloids. 

I looked at the story and asked myself whether any one else had been given a similar demand.   It turns out that 11 of the 28 member states have in fact been asked to pay more.  So clearly it's not just us.

Our figure, €2.1 billion, is however far larger than any other country's.  Except the British economy and population is far larger than say the Netherlands': we have 64 million inhabitants, they have 16 million people.  So I took the figures that were being reported and did a 3 second calculation.  We are being asked for €2.1 billion extra; the Netherlands are being asked for €642 million (I had to go to the Dutch press for that as the reaction was so uniquely UK-centric at first).

So that's a demand of €32 per person for the year from every Briton and one of... oh, 20% more than that, or €38 per person, from every Dutch person.

Suddenly it's becoming a bit tricky to see this as a hate campaign directed solely at Perfidious Albion, masterminded by a garlic munching Frenchman and a beer-swilling German, over a waffle in a side street Belgian café, determined to get their revenge for our success at Empire and the War.

It's "Brussels' Fault"

Some people talk about Brussels as if it is some huge amorphous blob made up of foreigner bureaucrats that is designed solely to make our lives miserable.   It is all imposed on us from abroad, with no democratic input whatsoever.  They seem oblivious to the fact that all the important decision making, the really key stuff, is made by a body called the European Council.

Who is the European Council made up of?  It's the heads of state or government of the national states.  Yep: it's David Cameron for the United Kingdom.  It's a tiny body: 28 people for each one of the member states, plus the Council president and the Commission president.  This isn't thousands of foreign civil servants.  It's our democratically elected national leaders setting out the political agenda and workings of the EU. 

The Council determines how the EU works, by creating and amending treaties, and by making decisions.  One of those decisions was made back in 2007 and it was unanimously adopted.  It wasn't anything sexy or exciting: it concerned the method for calculating the annual EU budget, and in particular the dreary way statistics are calculated.  Once the rule is made, it's then over to the hordes of bureaucrats at the Commission, Eurostat and other EU bodies.  Remember every one of these bodies was set up as a result of the decisions of the democratically elected national leaders, to carry out their will.

Don't like the rules?  Blame our leaders, who created them.  It's not the fault of people whose job it is to carry the rules as they have been instructed to.  If they're doing their job poorly they deserve criticism, but if they are applying the rules as they are supposed to, it is hard to blame "Brussels".  Unless you're a complete idiot, of course.

(Picture in no way linked to preceding sentence)

Why the Demand?

Britain has been consistently reporting too low values for our Gross National Income over the last years.  Hence there has been a large adjustments upwards.  It's that simple.  We weren't happy with the way the statistics were calculated by everyone, wanted the system to be fairer, and have now found out we've been underpaying. 

The reason the story has hit the news is that the FT published a leaked draft report on the statistics.  You can read here in detail why the report says what it does, but here it is in essence:
  • In May of every year the EU Commission is required to meet with representatives of each state to estimate what their Gross National Income will be for the coming year.  
  • Every autumn they meet again to see if there are any revisions to the numbers.  This is a purely mathematical revision.
  • It enables the Commission to set the revised figures in stone on 1 December of each year, as it is required to do.
This year, the difference was that because Heads of Government insisted on it, the statistics provided in May were calculated on a different basis.  The aim was to make sure each country calculates its statistics in exactly the same way, to ensure what everyone pays is fair and above board.  It's not a bad principle.  The calculations used 1995 as a benchmark year.

Patrizio Fiorilli is the spokesman for the EU budget commissioner.  He commented "The timing is far from ideal, but there are rules we have to follow."   As for using 1995 as the benchmark year for calculating the impact of GNI figures: “Member states including Britain insisted on this. It is their decision,” he said.

This is a one-off large scale revision: in the UK's case it actually relates to 11 years of underpayment that works out to £155 million a year on average.  It is a historic correction, not an ongoing demand for massive new contributions as many no doubt think.  The Commission confirmed this yesterday: "With all these issues now cleared, future such corrections will again be rather minor, as they were in recent years."

Addendum: What hope is there when the national broadcaster wrongly claims as it did in this report, that it is an annual additional £1.7 billion that has to be paid?  (They've since corrected it):

The Financial Times by contrast described the £155 million figure as "a sum that would barely deserve a footnote in the annual UK national accounts.

The 1 December deadline

The Commission hasn't plucked this date from the air either.  It is the date that is set out in the rules that are followed every year, as described above.   Apparently the PM found out about the issue on Thursday.  The government admits the Chancellor knew on 21 October, but didn't tell the PM until 23 October.  If this is such a massive issue (more on that below) you'd think George would have texted Dave and warned him WW3 was about to break out.  Maybe he didn't have his mobile number.  In turn, the Commission confirmed member countries were told of the revisions on 17 October.  You'd assume someone would have sent an email off to the Chancellor a bit faster than all that.

Our representatives in all this, the people on the ground, are employees of the Treasury.  A good question was whether they realised that there would be a large revision, or whether it was sprung on them.  They are the ones who prepared the statistics for the meeting in May.  It seems a little unlikely that someone didn't notice the massive difference in the GNI figures that led to the €2bn recalculation.

HM Treasury.  George's patch
Labour’s new shadow Europe minister, Pat McFadden, said last night that he had found evidence that ministers must have been aware of the upcoming changes five months ago when they were sent an Office for National Statistics report which stated that growth figures would be used in a recalculation of Britain’s contribution to the EU budget.

Did the Government delay making news public about this expected revision to the UK’s EU contribution because of fears about how it would play out for the Conservative party?” he asked.  Never!  Our PM would never allow a paralysing fear of UKIP to affect something as important as this just because of his party interests.  Surely.

Turning the Tables

The Prime Minister has ruled out paying the €2.1 billion on 1 December.  He hasn't ruled out paying it entirely on a different date.  He really can't: he is part of the club that has agreed the way all this works.  It's not up for him to argue that rules should be bent: a constant criticism of others is that they don't stick to the agreed rules and should do so.  It is also interesting to imagine a situation where it transpired the UK had been overpaying, rather then underpaying.  I can't imagine we'd be throwing our toys out of the pram if that were the case. 

It's the exact position Germany and France are in, for example.  They have been overpaying for years and are entitled to a reduction on that basis.  I don't see why they should agree to give up that refund of money, in the same way we never would.  In terms of the bigger picture, Germany contributes more to the EU budget than the 19 smallest states do combined.  They contribute not that far off double what the UK does.

It might seem instinctively "cruel" or "perverse" that Greece is being included in the countries that is being required to make an increased payment this year given its economic situation.  But hold on one moment: it is being requested to pay an adjustment of €89.4 million.  That is, with respect, chicken-feed in terms of a national budget, even a country like Greece that has been ravaged by the inhuman policies of austerity.  The fact they are being asked for the payment reflects solely the fact that they have been underpaying previously and there is a fair, objective application of the rules across the board.

Another important thing to note is the stat contained in the bottom right hand of the above table.  This isn't the EU conducting a "cash-grab" as has been suggested.  The budget will actually be €419 million shorter on revenues than had been expected as a result of the application of the rules.  Was it the Prime Minister or was it Farage (I genuinely forget) who excitedly said "This isn't fair, they weren't expecting this extra money!" - the fact is they are going to be working off less money, not more next year. 

Sex and Drugs

Some people in my timeline got terribly excited about the fact that our "black economy" was being included in the statistical calculations for the first time, and that this could be responsible for the increased payment.

It is correct that our GDP was given a £10 billion boost after officials worked out that paid sex work represented £5.3 billion for the economy.  In other EU countries such as Germany and Netherlands such work is legal and taxed, and has therefore been included in the statistics for years.  It is therefore fair (as the national leaders agreed) that everything should be calculated on the same basis.  Another £4.4 billion was added from the sale of illegal drugs.  However, our economy is worth $2,900 billion.  These figures represent under 1% of GDP and are hardly responsible for most or all of the €2.1 billion repayment figure.

Still, a headline of "Sex work and drugs lift EU bill" gets the clicks, I guess.

Huge Numbers

It's so hard for us mere mortals to understand numbers involving multiple rows of zeros on the end.  What does a million anything look like?  A billion?  A trillion?  We can only go on the outrage that politicians express and if they sound terribly cross, assume this must be a massive thing.  €2.1 billion sounds like a huge deal anyhow.  Will we ever be able to afford it?

It is undoubtedly a lot of money.  Just three days ago, however, it became clear that government borrowing was 10% higher than a year ago.  Its spending last month was £11.8 billion.  That's in one month.  The overshoot in spending was - wait for it - £1.6 billion higher (€2.03 billion) in that single month than it had been in September 2013.  The Tories' careful management of the economy involved an overspend that was a full £1 billion over the expectations of the City.

This sparked ABSOLUTE OUTRAGE.  TALK OF WAR.  CAMERON BANGING TABLES.  RIOTS IN THE STREETS.  WITHDRAWAL FROM EVERYTHING.  Oh. Actually, there was a story in the Guardian and one in the economics section of the Telegraph and everyone just carried on.

It's clear that utter double standards apply, and people just aren't applying critical faculties to this.  The EU payment is a one-off, correcting possibly twenty years of underpayment by us, which was because of the statistics we supplied.  It is in accordance with the rules we insisted on.  The Government is slashing spending left right and centre, quite deliberately taking away payments from the long term disabled, and yet they are overspending to the tune of £1.6 billion in a single month.  Hardly an eye brow is raised.

Where are the howls of outrage on the front page of the Mail or the Express over this?  The simple fact is that the howls in the EU case come from the fact that Johnny Foreigner is seen as making the "unfair" demand, and nothing sells as well as xenophobia in today's toxic Britain.

EU Myths and Lies

Whilst we're on the subject of myths let's get something straight about EU spending.  It is not going on an army of fraudulent, lazy bureaucrats in Brussels, and it does not represent a mountain of gold.

The EU budget was €144 billion in total in 2013.  The member states' national budgets were €6,400 billion by contrast.  It stands at around 1% of the 28 EU countries' GDP, whereas the budgets of national governments represent 49% of their GDP on average.  The EU budget is always balanced, so there is no deficit or debt - unlike with national governments.

94% of what we pay into the EU comes back on expenditure in EU countries on policies and programmes that directly benefit people who live in the EU.  That includes to you and me on all sorts of programmes, regional spending etc - £5.2 billion in the United Kingdom every year.  6% goes on administration.  Less than 0.2% of EU spending goes on fraud.

On top of everything the UK still gets an annual rebate on its payments: a legacy of Mrs Thatcher that is worth over €3 billion a year to us.  That's pure special treatment for Britain.

The Commission estimates that in 2013 the average EU citizen paid only €0,89 a day (£0.70) towards the EU budget.  It points out that's less than half the price of a cup of coffee.  It genuinely is hardly very expensive given the benefits that the EU brings its citizens.  The CBI puts the value of UK membership of the EU at between £62bn and £78bn a year in extra trade and intangible benefits.  This means jobs and income for ordinary people.  €8.6 billion in and over £60 billion back out?  That seems a pretty darn good deal to me.

Final Word: over to Carl

So there we have it.  In summary, we asked for these rules.  We've been paying too little for years.   The chutzpah of David Cameron is amazing.  He truly is a showman: he's successfully convincing people in this country that the EU really is a conspiracy that has unfairly singled out Britain (and pretty much Britain alone) to stump up loads of cash unfairly.  This hasn't been known for months: oh no, it's just come to light.  And it's a massive, massive amount of money with loads and loads of zeros (unlike the amount his chancellor and best mate is overspending on literally a monthly basis) that we can't and won't pay.  And Europhiles and Labour supporters are falling hook line and sinker for this utter tosh.

I have no idea who Carl Hornsey is, but this was retweeted into my timeline.  He puts it all much more succinctly than I do.  I like his style.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Carry On Rome

The Lord Giveth

What a week it's been in the Carry On Rome series.  In case, you missed it, an interim draft report on the family came out earlier this week from a Synod of over 200 Roman Catholic Bishops.

This document included some "liberal", "inclusive" language on gay people.  It was only a working draft report for a fuller synod next year, but it was enough for people to speak of an "earthquake" in Rome.   In some respects, an earthquake it was; this move was pretty much unthinkable under John Paul II or the arch-conservative Benedict XVI.  The Catholic Bishops' work certainly got some great responses online from the more excitable faithful:

However, if you're not wrapped up in a bubble of Catholic belief, and aren't entirely sure whether Our Lady of Fatima is referring to:
  • A) the former Olympic British javelin thrower; or 
  • B) the ghostly apparition of a 2000 year old dead Jewish woman, who apparently appeared to some Portuguese shepherd children in 1917
Then this requires further examination.

By any normal, non-Church standards the language in the interim church shouldn't have got you praying.  The most positive thing it said was that homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.  Wow, we're human beings who have qualities.  Groundbreaking.  It then posed the question whether the Church was capable of welcoming "these people" into the Church and described us as an "important educative challenge".  Having given these crumbs and posed a question, it went on to affirm that "unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman" and spoke about the "moral problems connected to homosexual unions".

So, the above words, which said our unions are second class and mentioned their moral problems, was heralded as a ground-breaking, liberal, welcoming document that threatened schism within the Church.  Guys, this isn't actually exactly the Pope coming out on stage wearing a rainbow tutu accompanied by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.  Srsly.

And the Lord Taketh Away

But then even the crumbs were scraped back.  This was because of a vocal backlash amongst conservative bishops.  Watered down language was instead proposed that removed the revolutionary statement that we have gifts and qualities to offer.   As the new version really didn't "give" gay people anything that wasn't already the case, it's extraordinary that 62 bishops are so deeply homophobic they felt the need to vote against it.   It therefore failed the 2/3 majority required and a new, third draft was created.  The "welcoming" language was thus entirely removed and we are left instead with a document that states:
There is no basis whatsoever to assimilate or to draw even remote analogies between same-sex unions and the plan of God for marriage and family.
So my steady, loving, same-sex relationship may not have any even remote analogies drawn between it and a marriage.  It does not constitute a family in the eyes of Rome - nor do those of countless same-sex couples across the world, many of whom are bringing up children, very happily and very successfully.

Justified Discrimination

Amazingly, in the same breath, and without seeing any contradiction at all, the document then goes on to say we must be accepted with respect and sensitivity, and every sign of unjust discrimination should be avoided.

I love the insertion of the word "unjust".  The Bishops are at least not so blind that they realise that actively encouraging over a billion of their faithful to treat us as less than everyone else does indeed constitute discrimination.  It's just they think it's okay, and is what their god wants.  It's the kind of statement a die-hard supporter of Apartheid might have said.  Shutting out black people from opportunity and civic life by means of racial discrimination was legal, and in their minds entirely justified.  As long as it was done with sensitivity, no problem at all.

Let's then throw in U.S. Cardinal Burke's comments during the Synod that a couple should keep their grandchildren away from their gay son or daughter at Christmas.  That "moral dilemma" was, he said, "made more delicate by the aggressiveness of the homosexual agenda".  Because, as any reasonable person knows, expecting to be welcomed by your own flesh and blood at Christmas is highly aggressive, and just the type of militant thing we homosexuals so unreasonably demand. 

A time of goodwill to all mankind. Unless they're LGBT.
If you'd like to read the exact texts of the draft report as proposed, and as passed, here's a link.  With typical English understatement, the Catholic commentator Damian Thompson put it like this:

The Catechism

None of this should of course be unsurprising if you're familiar with the language of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was put together in the 1990s by the later Pope Benedict XVI.  It's remarkably recent.  Everything you need to know is there in 2357 and 2358, just below the stuff on incest and rape.  It states that homosexual acts are acts of grave depravity, contrary to natural law and intrinsically disordered.   It says under no circumstances can they be approved of.  We who have "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" have an inclination which is objectively disordered.  It apparently constitutes "a trial" for most of us and is a "condition" the psychological genesis of which remains largely unexplained.  The only way to deal with this trial is celibacy.

As this Catholic priest and psychotherapist comments, "any effort by a gay person to reach out for human sexual love, no matter what the circumstances, is judged as evil.  The Vatican says that "if gay people enter into a human sexual love relation they know evil and will separate themselves from the love of God."  If this isn't religious extremism, I'm not sure what is.  The priest concerned calls the Catechism the worst document issued from the Church since it declared in 1866 that "slavery itself.. is not all contrary to the divine and natural law."

Not just gay Catholics, but all gay men and women around the world are dealt with in this way, in a few lines, following on from the subject of rape.  A nice question mark is vaguely, but entirely deliberately cast over our mental health.  Of course pretty much every reputable psychological association around the world has concluded from actual empirical evidence that homosexuality does not imply psychological disorder, but that didn't stop Benedict.  Having thrown this slur out there, the text then goes on, just as is the Synod discussion paper, to say we should of course be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity, blah blah.

I should like to remain charitable, but I'm struggling.  In both instances there is a massive inherent contradiction: you cannot say we should be treated with respect and sensitivity, when you also systematically state we are worth less than you, that our relationships can in no way be placed on a par with yours, that we have a psychological condition, and that if we have sex with our partners we know evil and cut ourselves off from the love of the god that you're so keen on.  

I just can't don't see how you square a belief in the Catechism or that Synod draft and saying these things to my face, with at the same time being sensitive, compassionate and respectful to me.  You can't.  It's like sensitively inviting a vegetarian along to watch the slaughter of a pig followed by compassionately and respectfully offering them a nice gammon steak. 

We, the Disordered

Oh, but try they do.  A couple of Catholics have tried to explain to me that I shouldn't be offended in the slightest by any of this.  No, no, the words "objectively disordered" is just technical language that carries a special meaning in this context.  It simply means that when gay people have sex they are deprived of "god's gift" of creating a child.  According to Rome, only sex acts which can result in babies are natural: everything else is by definition disordered in the sense that you don't reproduce as a result.

I must therefore, I am patronisingly told by a heterosexual Catholic on Twitter, feel a personal loss that when I make love to my boyfriend because he can't get pregnant as a result.  Except I don't.  Not for one moment.

Not on the top of my shopping list. No, really.

What is lacking here (apart from any sensitivity, compassion or respect) is any understanding that people's moral beliefs and indeed their desires in life differ.  I am not a Catholic.  I am not a Christian.  I do not believe in a magical being who dictates, 2000 years after his son allegedly rose from the dead, through an elderly celibate German man sitting in Rome, what I should or should not do in bed with the man I love.

As positive as some aspects of Christian faith have undoubtedly been during history, I personally find belief in a god as a superstitious, somewhat ridiculous and unfathomable thing.  I don't think sex is about having as many babies as you possibly can.   Like me, millions disagree with the idea that sex is purely for reproduction, and it's extraordinarily arrogant to think only you possess the absolute moral truth, because the institution you belong to has spoon-fed you that "truth".  But that's the Catholic Church in a nutshell, I guess.

What I do feel is a rising amount of anger at trying to twist the meaning of words which have a very normal, natural definition.  You cannot expect to throw terms like "act of grave depravity" and "objectively disordered" at an individual about their life and not expect them to be irritated and offended.   The special Catholic meaning of the words is just not the way I or any reasonable bystander will interpret them.  Let's look at that term "disordered":

It is a little naïve to suppose that anyone outside the narrow little world of strict Catholic belief will not give the meaning "dysfunctional, disturbed, unsound, sick or diseased" to the term.  Looking at the specific context in the Catechism, and the fact this expression follows on from "act of grave depravity" I see absolutely no reason to believe Benedict did not intend the natural, offensive meaning in any case.  The other favourite trick is to say "oh YOU are not disordered/depraved"; it's just what you do that is depraved.  Because that's far better and far less insulting to me, obviously.

The same Catholic went on to describe my love making with my boyfriend as "using him as a sex-toy" for "masturbatory purposes".   He was hardly helping his case of coming across as sensitive and respectful by doing that.  Throw in a later comment from him that "a man who contracepts is using his wife as a sex aid" and 95% people are going to think him a sexist pig, as well as a homophobic idiot.

This is all from a man who claims he is fighting the "REAL" homophobes within the Church.  He says his god's love is limitless (and presumably extends to me if I torture myself by not being in a loving relationship for the rest of my life).  I'm afraid I ended up telling him to fuck off.  I further expressed the wish that said fuck resulted up in a nice baby, because that is all that he is reducing the sex act to.  Shucks, it takes the patience of a saint to deal with these people online.  I failed.  I gather from what he's saying to me it's a career choice which is probably ruled out to me now, anyhow.

Someone else had reserved my name anyway

Joking aside, the actual disorder here is in fact plain for me to see: it's the brainwashing abilities of the Catholic Church which are capable of convincing someone he is being a reasonable compassionate person, whilst spewing this bile to a non-Catholic, who has repeatedly asked him to stop it.  Why should I have to put up with this?  It's hate speech and it's absolute poison.

Why Does It Matter?

If you're therefore wondering why it should matter to me what Rome has decided to do this week, I should have thought it actually rather obvious.  The Churches collectively still wield a massive amount of influence.  Look for example at the way the Tories fell over themselves to give quadruple locks to Christian Churches to allow them to exclude us and discriminate against us legally on equal marriage.  That's in this country, which by large, is not a religious one at all.  Still the Churches are given enormous special treatment and "belief" is still accorded an official respect in our society which I find baffling.

The attitudes of the Church, particularly on human morality, have determined to a large extent what people thought privately for the last two millennia.  I can think of no other institutional driver of  homophobia (past and present) than the Christian Churches.  This homophobic legacy has a very real effect today.  Ours is a country where in 2013 you still can have your life torn to pieces for holding your boyfriend's hand in public.  Read that link, please, and consider the effect of these dehumanising, degrading words by such a powerful institution as the Church.  It's a country where this week a gay couple was thrown off a London bus after the homophobic driver told them they weren't real men and to fuck off.   Sad to say, but without knowing a single thing more about it, my money is instantly on it being more likely than not that "Jesus" was involved in that story in some way.

Many British Christians appear to love screaming that they are being persecuted.  They have zero idea of what it is to like to be shouted at, thrown out of a store or to be fearful for their loved one walking down a street.  They have no idea what it feels like to hear the language of violence and hate being spoken in school playgrounds from the youngest age.   They have no idea of the fear that gay teenagers feel that they may be rejected by their parents for simply being themselves: the most unnatural act of all.  They have no idea what it feels like to be bullied.  They have no idea what it feels like to have be told on Twitter their relationship is worth less than everyone else's by a person who doesn't even know them. 

Inside and outside the UK, the Vatican contributes to making the lives of LGBT people utter misery.  The Church, if it cared about the well-being and dignity of all people, should be screaming from the rooftops about the injustices we face.  Instead they remain at its vanguard, perpetuating the hatred and poison in 2014 with their words and acts.  Millions of ordinary people, thoroughly decent souls who actually make up the Catholic Church, disagree with the stance of the bishops: that's part of the background of why this Synod was called.  That's a truly wonderful thing - but look at the result.  Despite a Pope who has achieved some remarkable things, Rome has moved one step forward and two steps back.

1 Corinthians 13

I've genuinely no desire to pollute myself with the bitterness I have experienced from some of the so-called Christians I've encountered, on a routine basis, over the years on Twitter.  So I shall quote Corinthians and try to wash it right out of my hair.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal... If I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  Love.. does not dishonour others..  Love never fails..  And now these three remain: faith hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.
Your Bible may contain the most absurd logical flaws, and a load of stuff I couldn't believe in a million years, but it's sometimes great for a quote.  What truly beautiful words and sentiments.  LGBT people will not go away simply because you wished we didn't exist.   Show some love and show some real humanity, Rome, rather than the farce this week and the utter poison and hatred you've been spewing forth for hundreds of years.  It is, after all, what you're supposedly all about.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Holocaust Tourism

Welcome to Theresienstadt.  150,000 people were imprisoned here, including tens of thousands of children.  Roughly 90,000 prisoners went on to their deaths by cattle car in the Treblinka and Auschwitz murder factories.  33,000 starved painfully to death, died of illness or were murdered in individual acts of brutality by the SS.  The Nazi concentration camp and ghetto are also known by their Czech name, Terezín.


Could we interest you in a souvenir fridge magnet?  We have a number of designs.  The German "Bier Stein" magnet with the Star of David on it is a classy reminder of your visit.  It's actually the Star from the garden of remembrance: look you can see the stones under it that Jewish visitors have left as a sign of respect.  Or, the one with the cycle sign showing "this way to Terezín" might look nice in your kitchen back at home.  They're a bargain: £1.60!  You could buy one as gifts for your friends and family.

Theresienstadt Souvenirs

I wish it were all a bad, tasteless, unthinkable joke.  But it's not.  I'm just back from there and Auschwitz with a group of students on a holocaust education tour.  As you enter the car park at Theresienstadt you are greeted by a sign with SOUVENIRS in large letters and an advertisement for the crystal shops.  Only after that sign has greeted you, do you see the one directing visitors to the Jewish ghetto (left) or the small fortress with the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei sign on it (right).  The souvenir shop has a two metre sign announcing it sells Bohemia Glass, Souvenirs, Jewellery, Playing Cards and Militaria.  "Militaria" at a place where the SS killed thousands of civilians.

Playing cards at Theresienstadt

I've long been unsettled by the weight of tourists descending on the camps.  The backpackers' bible "Let's Go" apparently used to tell people that if they had time for only two things in Munich, they should make it out to Dachau, and the Hofbräuhaus.  There we have the Munich Experience in a nut-shell: a concentration camp and a tacky tourist beer hall.  It's become a tick-box item: a must for any visitor on a tour of Europe to visit the nearest convenient Nazi killing site. 

I wonder about the motivations of those who come: is it genuine remembrance, is it a spiritual pilgrimage, is it to learn, is just to say you've been, or is to satisfy a ghoulish curiosity.  I'm sure for many it's a combination of all those things, though I doubt many would own up honestly to the latter two.  I fear for most the visit is a bit like Disney in reverse: you're not going to be thrilled and made happy; you're going to be upset.  I guess it shows that you are a sensitive being, who cares.  Then in the evening, it's back to the beer. 


In terms of the didactic value, I'm well aware that people learn in different ways.  There's absolutely nothing in the museum at any of these sites that you couldn't learn by watching a TV documentary, looking on the internet, reading a book, or visiting one of the excellent exhibitions at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the Holocaust Museum in DC, the Jüdisches Museum in Berlin, or our own superb Imperial War Museum in London.  I think it's fair to assume that if anyone is bothering to go out to a camp, they're familiar with the background.  It's not that likely they'll come away saying "Wow, the Germans murdered 6 million Jews.  I just didn't know that!"

"Fallen Leaves" at the Jüdisches Museum Berlin

For some actually being there, and seeing the place, might have an effect that the other methods of learning don't.  If we're really honest though, that has to concern a very few people.  Let's consider what there actually is to see.  In most of the camps (I've taken groups to 10 different ones myself, over the years, from Westerbork to Treblinka) there's a big empty space, sometimes huge memorials, and a visitor centre/museum.  The wooden buildings were long since pulled down, and the extermination camp gas chambers were almost all destroyed by the Germans at the end of the War.  In Dachau or Buchenwald the barbed wire has been nicely replaced with fresh supplies, and the watch towers are always kept newly painted.  At Birkenau everything is covered in grass, where before there was mud.  At Bergen-Belsen everything is gone: the place is turned over to nature and there are mounds where the dead lie.

Giant Menorah at Mauthausen

I'm not sure what the few iconic "sights" that remain at the camps actually teach anyone.  We're all so familiar from photographs with the train lines with the watch tower behind it at Birkenau, or the Arbeit Macht Frei signs at Auschwitz, that I wonder if it makes the slightest difference to anyone, in terms of actual learning, to see them in real life.

The same goes for the piles of shoes, spectacles or mounds of hair.  Yes, you're aware that these things each belonged to an individual, whose life was so brutally cut short.  But you already knew that.  I fail to see what viewing some of them in a room actually adds to understanding.  The picture below is powerful enough.  It is undeniably poignant and needs to be seen.  However, you are viewing it on the Internet, or can see it in any book.  You don't need to go to Auschwitz to get any better comprehension of the vastness, or of the personal nature, of the crime.


We can't imagine what the camps looked like in 1942 or 1944: the piles of dead bodies, the selections, the crippling hunger, the illness, the human excrement, the desperation and the cruelty.   We wouldn't want to see them as they were, so what does visiting the santitised version actually add to our knowledge of the time, and the personal lessons we can learn from the period?

Dignity and Respect

These places are both killing places and cemeteries.  At Dachau this summer I watched a teenage boy standing in the centre of the Appelplatz where prisoners were forced to stand for hours in baking heat or freezing cold to break their spirits.  He was taking selfies.  It took him a long time to get the lighting and reflection right.  I do hope he got the right balance of "cute" and "upset" for his Instagram.  Perhaps a mournful tear was involved.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is the largest Jewish cemetery in the world, followed closely by Treblinka, where at least 800,000 were murdered.  I know two Auschwitz survivors personally, both of whom lost close family there.  Even disregarding the behaviour of idiots such as the guy above, I find it hard to see how the dignity of those who died can be preserved with the sheer weight of people coming out to some of the camps.  I stood at the exit of Auschwitz I last week, watching group after group of teenagers came out, plenty of them laughing and goofing around.  It didn't use to be like this: you had to really "want" to go to any of the camps in Poland.  Nowadays there are cheap flights, easy access and all the commercial operators described below.

Auschwitz as a whole is simply sinking under the weight of all the visitors.  This was a weekday, off-season, in October.  The guide told me that sixteen tour buses just from Norway were booked in the following day alone.  1.33 million visitors came last year, which was a 12% increase on 2012.  1.4 million are expected this year.  That's nearing 4000 on average (roughly 100 tour buses) per day, with more coming on a busy peak season day.  Auschwitz-Birkenau is apparently now Poland's single biggest "visitor attraction".  

March in, collect headphones, do tour, back on bus. Repeat.

There is very little opportunity to afford the victims any form of personal respect or dignity, or to have individual reflection, when you are being shoved around in groups at the site with a set of headphones on.  Groups stand close to each other, jostling shoulder to shoulder, as the guides provide their often robotic commentary (I understand why they don't hardly ever show human emotion: working in this environment a strong detachment is a necessary defence mechanism).

Unlike somewhere like Pearl Harbor, there's no attempt to limit tour numbers: everyone just piles on in to hear the stories of atrocities, individual cases of murder, or to file inside the one remaining gas chamber.  No one is sure whether the scratch marks in the walls are original or not.  I wonder whether a system of regulation, i.e. a limited number of places being available on any day at any camp, wouldn't be a very sensible solution.

Buses arrive every couple of minutes to the death camp

The only opportunity you have to breathe is at the vast terrain of Auschwitz II (Birkenau), but most of the commercial tours allow you only 15 minutes there.  That might explain why few bother to go all the way down to the location of the actual gas chambers and cemeteries.  Or, perhaps, it's simply they agree with the girl I overheard who wanted a golf cart because it's just a bit too far to walk.


Visits to the camps can be lucrative businesses it seems.  In Cracow you can hardly go anywhere without seeing posters for operators offering "all inclusive" trips out to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Given entry to the camp is free, that is a little puzzling.  The museum does charge a fee for its guides, but it's only £55 total for a group of 30, for the full 3.5 hour tour.  That works out at £1.80 a head.  The "excursions" from Cracow are charged out at £25 upwards, with transport provided on a 50 seater coach.  Trips to Auschwitz-Birkenau appear alongside fun tours of the Old Town and the Wieliczka Salt Mines.  It's a must for any stag or hen party in town - and again, would that were some tasteless joke.

In Germany the camps are, at least, apparently far more mindful of the acute criticism they would attract if items such as the Terezín fridge magnets were permitted to be sold in the concentration camp car parks.  For some unfathomable reason, the town of Oświęcim (present day Auschwitz) has  no such qualms about allowing a huge pizza, burger and other fast food complex to be built and exist directly opposite the main entrance to the camp car park.

The bus on the right is in Auschwitz I car park

Wait for it... why there's even a set of amusement machines inside.  After all, we all need to have a go on a pin-ball machine, having heard how painful and terrifying a death it was being crammed into a dark gas chamber, breathing rat poison into their lungs for 20 minutes, until they collapsed down dead upon the bodies of their elderly parents or children.  This is well under 100 metres from the entrance to Auschwitz I camp.  Just across from here there's a souvenir shop.  A set of 20 postcards of the camp is only £3.00 and you can buy lots of other stuff from around Poland too!

This commercialisation is grotesque.  It leaves me feeling sick writing about it.  Oświęcim and Terezín are towns where the inhabitants were expelled from their homes at gunpoint by the Germans, when the camps were built.  It is their right to come back and to bring their families up here, work here, and make their living here.  That could be done without the municipal authorities permitting fast food restaurants or tacky gift shops in such sensitive locations, so close to the sites.

Personal Irony

I'm aware of the enormous irony of this post, given the fact that I personally lead students on tours of the camps and have done so now for 20 years.  Every year, however, I become more and more uneasy with the fact that the camps are becoming tourist sites.

It is enormously and critically important that this chapter is never forgotten, which is ultimately I suppose why I keep on coming.  I can see the "positive" argument for so many people wanting to come here.  It's better I guess than the opposite, which would be no one caring and no one being interested in the subject at all.

Some visitors may get something profound out of their visit: if only one person in a hundred reflects on the nature of their own prejudices as a result of coming to a camp and does something about it, then that is a good thing.  I still can't get away from the feeling, though, that the vast bulk of visitors will learn little here that they didn't know before, or that I couldn't communicate without an actual visit.

More importantly, the sheer volume of them is utterly destroying the dignity of a place that means so much still to survivors, their descendants, and the family members of the victims.  I'm part of that and I'm very troubled by it.

Closing the Camps

One aspect of the ongoing crime that the 3rd Reich committed when it perpetrated the holocaust was the fact that it built many of the camps on foreign soil.  The Germans came to Poland, for example, created killing centres, murdered millions, and then left.  The Poles are now stuck with this in their country, and the obligation to keep up the buildings in all likelihood for eternity.  I don't envy them that at all.

For the first time in my life, for all the reasons above, I find myself having sympathy with the view others have expressed that when the last survivor dies, thought should be given to closing the camps and letting them go back to nature.  The chapter must clearly never be forgotten, but it can be kept open very effectively through museums, lessons, documentaries and books. 

May their souls rest in peace

All photos are my own.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Indian Summers (and the death penalty)

Earlier this week my car was showing 26C outside.  I braced myself for the inevitable "Indian Summer" comments in the press and on Twitter... and yep, they came.  So, let's clear this matter up once and for all.  I trust you're listening carefully!

Define It

So what is an Indian Summer?  The first thing to point out is that it's nothing to do with India, as I once thought.  It's not because people in 1800 happened to look on their iPhone weather app and said "Oh it's sunny and the temperature here in London today is the same as it is in Bombay.  Let's call this an Indian Summer!"  Nope, it's the other Indians: the "Red Indians" of the cowboy movies - or more properly the Native American "Indians" in the eastern part of the New World.  The phrase was already kicking around in the 1780s, but it's clear it was in common usage by colonial settlers already by then.  The phenomenon is expressly and inextricably linked to the Native Indians after whom it's named.  It probably refers to the fact the warm, dry weather allowed them to continue hunting.

It's definitely nothing to do with this India

The US National Weather Service definition for an Indian Summer is a period of unseasonably warm, dry weather, occurring after the end of summer.  Conditions are sunny and clear, with temperatures above 70°F.  The phenomenon follows a brief early period of wintry weather that occurs in the autumn (a "Squaw Winter") during which there has been the first sharp frost (and possibly snow).  This usually occurs, for obvious reasons, in November or December.

Here's an exact description of the phenomenon in terms of the winds, air pressure and locations involved:

"A typical weather map that reflects Indian Summer weather involves a large area of high pressure along or just off the East Coast. Occasionally, it will be this same high pressure that produced the frost/freeze conditions only a few nights before, as it moved out of Canada across the Plains, Midwest and Great Lakes and then finally, to the East Coast. Much warmer temperatures, from the deep South and Southwest, are then pulled north on southerly breezes resulting from the clockwise rotation of wind around the high pressure. It is characteristic for these conditions to last for at least a few days to well over a week and there may be several cases before winter sets in. Such a mild spell is usually broken when a strong low pressure system and attending cold front pushes across the region. This dramatic change results from a sharp shift in the upper winds or "jet stream" from the south or southwest to northwest or north. Of course, there can be some modifications to the above weather map scenario, but for simplicity and common occurrence sake, this is the general weather map."
Right.  I could stop this blog right here.  But I shan't, because I really quite enjoy needlessly labouring an unimportant point.

New England, where this glorious weather phenomenon actually exists

Applying the Definition

Let's get these key pointers listed in no particular order:
  1. High pressure off the East Coast of North America
  2. Occurs after early wintry weather and the first sharp frost
  3. After the end of summer
  4. Unseasonably warm and dry weather
  5. Temperatures above 70F (that's 21C in proper money)
How many of these fit the period of warm weather we enjoyed in Britain this week?

Well, last time I checked, I live in East Anglia, and that's several thousand miles from North America.  It's like saying a monsoon or a sub-tropical cyclone happened in Ipswich.  No, this is actually a weather phenomenon that's linked geographically to a particular place.  Indian Summers happen in New England.  That's why it's expressly named after the Native Indians from there.  Answer to 1 = FAIL.

However, if we have to continue... did we have a sharp frost and snow last weekend?  Must've missed it.  Answer to 2 = FAIL.

Was it even after the end of summer?  Well,  there are two different definitions used for when the seasons run.  The first is the one used by the Met Office.  It uses the months, and according to it Autumn begins on 1 September.  Autumn runs through the whole of September, October and November.  Winter begins on 1 December; Spring begins on 1 March; Summer begins on 1 June.

The second, more traditional, definition focuses on the Earth's journey round the Sun.  It uses the solstices and equinoxes, and is the one I was taught at school when I was but a wee pedant.  According to this, Autumn begins on the Autumnal Equinox, 21 September.  Winter begins on the Winter Solistice of 21 December; Spring begins on the Vernal Equinox of 21 March; Summer begins on the Summer Solstice on 21 June.

According to this, the beautiful season of Autumn, the transition season between summer and winter, which is characterised by the changing colour of leaves and the bringing in of the harvest, began just today.  I prefer this definition.  The leaves really are still mainly green on the trees and are still partly on the trees well into December.  If we get any snow it comes in January and February, never in December.  On 1 March it often still feels like Winter, whereas by 21 March the flowers are out, the frosts are going and it's warming up.

Therefore by one widely accepted definition we were still in Summer until today.  Answer to 3 = FAIL.

THIS is autumn.  Look outside: autumn has barely begun.

Was it unseasonably warm and dry last week? Well September certainly has been dry this year in many parts of Britain (though 1997 and 2003 were drier in England).  But was it unseasonably warm?  Was it bollocks.  September is one of the warmest months of the year.  I always tell my German relatives it's the best month to come and visit.  Temperatures have actually hit an amazing 35.6C in September before, and even 29.9C in October (the latter was in 2011 in Gravesend).  Looking at recorded temperatures for London, they've been a bit warmer some days than the historic average, but there's no freakish deviation from the norm.  August was crap this year, September has been nice.  One isolated day of 26C is hardly a record-breaker.  Unseasonable means what it says on the packet.  Answer to 4 = FAIL.

So, by my reckoning we've fulfilled one of the five tests I've set out.  It was indeed 21C on several days.  STOP THE HEADLINES.

The Headlines

Oh yes, I'm not joking.  The Press loves this shit.  As I've noted before, we're just obsessed by the weather.  A quick Google search shows that the Daily Express has been running an Indian Summer related article at least once every year in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and surprise (!) they even did one this year too.   How exactly can this be called unseasonal weather when they call any sunshine in September an "Indian Summer" every single year?  If it happens annually at the same time every year it can't be an unseasonable phenomenon.

While we're at it, every noticed the formula they use when we have a warm day?  Someone looks at world holiday destinations on the internet and tries to find a place that is having an off-day.  For example, Sharm-el-Sheikh will be 32C, Majorca 29C, Bahamas 34 C, Cancun 31C, Malta 31C, Crete 30C and somewhere that's usually really, really warm is having a milder day.  BINGO, FOUND IT: it's "only" 24C on the Costa del Sol.  Prepare the headlines..

It makes me want to torture cute little innocent fluffy animals.  Every paper, every year.  Never mind that this is happening on one isolated day, and the weather in Spain is far warmer and sunnier 99% of the rest of the time.  "Oooooh Ethel, did you see?  I read it's warmer here than in Marbella?"  "Ooooh, I know! Bit too hot for me."  Even quality papers like the bloody Daily Telegraph and The Guardian do it routinely.

The Met Definition

Some smart arse will be reading this and will already have looked up what the Met Office's definition of an Indian Summer is.   It was first published in 1916 and is "a warm, calm spell of weather occurring in autumn, especially in October and November."  The Met Office mentions it here as being a warm, calm spell from the end of September to the middle of November.

There's no mention of the fact that strictly speaking it's only really a North American weather phenomenon, and there's no mention of it coming after wintery weather and a frost, which is one of the key points in the original definition.  However what's clear is that calling warm weather in the first week of September an "Indian Summer" is just wrong even by the Met's definition.  Really, really, really wrong.  Helena Kealey of the Daily Telegraph, I refer you to the portrait of Homer by Edvard Mvnch above for my views on your article.

Now I'm enough of a linguist to realise that if enough people go round calling an orange a "banana", the accepted word to describe the orange will change to banana.   That doesn't make it accurate.  It doesn't make it right.  It doesn't make it clever.  But it will happen eventually.  That is what happening with the definition of Indian Summer - thanks in part to the Met Office and thanks in part to our beloved Press.

If YOU object to oranges being called bananas, now is the time to start taking a stand.  When it's warm and sunny in September for a couple of days, that's because it's just late summer and every single year it's warm and sunny for a couple of days at this time of year.  I'm a liberal man, but there are limits.  I refer you, dear reader, to the suggestion in parentheses in the title of this piece.

Happy autumn!


Thursday, 11 September 2014

An Independent Scotland

Until a month or so ago, it seems relatively few people were considering the ins and outs of what an independent Scotland (and by extension a rump UK) would look like.  That's not least because of the assumption most of us have had that it wouldn't happen anyway.

BOOM! One recent poll showing "Yes" in the lead and that's all changed.  I don't have a vote to cast either way, and as an Anglo-German Europhile I also don't really have too much of an axe to grind in either direction.  I find the whole thing utterly fascinating though, on multiple levels.  Not least of these are the practical details of what independence might look like: the little things in our lives and how they tie in to the bigger issues.  I've cobbled some thoughts on some of these below.

United Kingdom, rUK, or simply FUK?

There's currently a little GB symbol along with the European flag in a strip on my car licence plate.  You're allowed to display a number of symbols there (including the English or Scottish flags), but it's only the European one that exempts you when you're on the continent from carrying a big ugly GB oval sticker on the back of your car in addition.

Great Britain is simply the name of the biggest island in the British isles and it's not called that because we're somehow considered fabulous.  Ptolemy used it over 1850 years ago and it was originally coined to distinguish it from Ireland (Little Britain).  In French it still serves to distinguish us from Brittany.  It also, of course, has a political meaning too: the Kingdom of Great Britain was the name of our State after the 1707 Act of Union between England (which since 1536 had included the principality of Wales) and Scotland. When Ireland joined in the fun on 1 January 1801 the whole thing became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; when Eire obtained independence our State took the name the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or UK for short.

It's infuriating how many people don't understand the above and (particularly Americans and Germans) who refer to the whole thing as "England".  No wonder half the Scots want out. I constantly have to select "Großbrittanien" as my country of residence in German drop down menus on the internet, which leads me to temporary outrage on behalf of the Northern Irish, even though I've not even been there.  I really ought to go, not least to see if they really do pronounce power shower like everyone says, though.

One thing is clear: if Scotland goes independent, there won't (or shouldn't logically) be a GB signifier for the remainder of the state.  That's because a lark chunk of the part of the island of Great Britain will be an independent power.  What will what's left over be called?  I heard a Scots nationalist arguing that the UK no longer had the right to call itself a United Kingdom after independence.  That's balls for two reasons. 1) The "United" actually clearly refers to the union with Ireland, if you look at the paragraph before last.  When it was just England and Scotland that was no "united" in the title. 2) Harsh as it may sound, we're entitled to call ourselves whatever we like after secession by Scotland.  That's the whole point about independence: we're not supposed to interfere in the sovereign affairs of a foreign state.

The "United" bit therefore survived the independence of Eire, so there's no reason why we shouldn't be called the United Kingdom in the future: it's the union of a kingdom, a principality and the remainder of a kingdom.  It would probably be called the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland in full.  I've seen "United Kingdoms" suggested as an alternative but fail to see the logic in that.  It made much more sense in "name our country" postal competition that took place in 1801 than it does now.

The signifier rUK is just being used now to signify the UK post-independence and no one is suggesting it seriously as a sexy new option.  Thanks to my friend Peter who suggested "FUK" (former United Kingdom) would be a good alternative.  I can imagine that was the reaction in Westminster when news of the YouGov poll came in.  And even more thanks to Catherine for suggesting "FUK EW" (former United Kingdom of England and Wales).  We should probably get a petition going for that one.

I'd expect UK to start replacing GB everywhere on car licence plates etc in due course.  As for iScotland? Well, S has been taken by Sweden, so SC or SCO are obvious choices and I'd imagine plenty would be keen to get these on their cars sooner rather than later.


Countries have a country code for telephone communications.  The one for the UK currently is +44.  The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) keeps a record of these at the United Nations under ISO 3166-1.  When new countries obtain independence, and after they've been listed in the United Nations Country Names Bulletin, they have invariably wanted to obtain a new code.  For example, Slovenia took the number +386 after breaking away from Yugoslavia (+890).  When Czechoslovakia (+42) ceased to exist, the Czech Republic took +420 and Slovakia took +421 respectively.

Would iScotland want a new country code?  On the contrary, it seems they wish to keep the UK code of +44.  It's true that the United States, Canada, Bermuda etc decided to go together under the +1 regional code when the system was set up way back when, but this is interesting.  Every other new state that has come into existence since the ISO system was created has taken a new country code.  It is, if you like, an obvious international symbol of statehood and independence.  It's a statement to the world.

When the .Scot Internet domain launched in July 2014, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon seemed to get exactly that point and welcomed the launch.
"It is entirely right that Scotland should have its own distinctive and recognisable internet domain - in particular, one that will resonate internationally, helping to promote Scottish business and culture throughout the world," she said.
Hmm.  I develop thoughts on this below.

Could iScotland change its mind and later apply for its own country code?  Of course.  However, could it force "rUK" to take a new country code on the Czechoslovakia model (eg. rUK takes +440 and Scotland takes +441)?  That all depends on whether this is viewed as a secession by iScotland or a complete break-up of the existing state of the UK and creation of two new ones.  That didn't happen when Eire left the then United Kingdom: a new Republic came into existence and the UK jollied on as before.  I imagine the act of independence would be done by means of a declaration by iScotland and an Act of Parliament in Westminster in essence simply undoing the 1707 Act of Union.  rUK would certainly strongly argue it was a secession, not a creation of two new states and it's my guess that it's the obvious conclusion the international community would share.  Therefore the answer is no.

Passports and the Queen

There's a set of quite liberal proposals about obtaining Scottish citizenship, but there's no question the physical passport would change for both countries.  This wouldn't be a replacement job (too expensive and it would swamp the system) - you'd just get a new design when you came to renew in due course.  The rUK one would in all likelihood carry either the "United Kingdom" or "United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland" with one probable difference. 

The emblem on the passport is technically the Queen's Royal Coat of Arms. As such, it predates the Act of Union of 1707, and goes right back to the Union of Crowns of 1603.  That's when King James VI of Scotland also became King James I of England because someone had chopped his Mum's head off.  The Lion represents England and the Unicorn is Scotland.  They switch positions according to which country they're used in.

Now there's absolutely no intention (currently) to dissolve the 1603 Union of Crowns: the Queen will become the Head of State of iScotland, just as she is the Queen of independent Australia, Canada or Jamaica.  However, keeping the very identifiable symbol of the UK on passports for both countries seems somewhat odd in the long run, after the Unicorn has pranced off into the moonlight.  The Australian passport doesn't have the Royal Crest: they've got a much cooler version with a kangaroo and an emu.   Here's a more detailed explanation of the issue and the place I've lifted the rather wonderful suggestion above of a Lion and Red Dragon for the rUK and two Unicorns for iScotland.  That could well appear on your passport some time in the future.

Just a passing thought on the Queen.  She's officially neutral and I believe that she may not be quite as upset about the "break up of the Union" as the press is assuming.  What ultimately matters far more is the survival of monarchy and the crown.  The key point is that the Windsors be assured to sit on the throne of the new kingdom.  Some SNP politicians are of course republicans, and polls show support for republicanism is somewhat stronger in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK, but it's still nowhere near a majority.  

Nonetheless, when Princess Elizabeth was born the British Empire was at its zenith, and her parents were a King-Emperor and a Queen-Empress.  She may well live to see the UK as it currently is bite the dust.  How times change, so very rapidly.

The Union Flag

Scotland has a flag: the fair Saltire.  If you haven't already seen it, watch Downing Street bollocks up hoisting the thing on live TV earlier this week here.   The UK also has a flag which includes the Saltire.  There have been various horrific suggestions for what might replace it.  I've included my personal favourite below, which brings to mind what watching Magic Roundabout on a bad acid trip with a hangover from the night before must be a bit like.  GOD IT'S HORRIBLE.

The answer is of course that it's entirely up to rUK what flag they want and no pressing need to ditch the Union Flag... though keeping it in the long run would definitely seem odd.  That in turns makes you wonder what all the other ex-colonial countries with the Union Flag incorporated into theirs might do.  New Zealand is already considering a completely new flag with the super cool silver fern.  It might just be the impetus for anyone else to cut ties with the "Motherland" if the Union Flag has technically become an anachronism.

Car Licence Plates

UK licence plates currently can have that GB/EU symbol discussed above.  I can't imagine it lasting with the meaningless "GB" on there for too long.  Since 2001, vehicles first registered in Scotland bear an S as the first letter of the registration (just as those in Wales bear a C for Cymru).  What would the situation be post-independence?  Here's Scotland's deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP, on the subject:
“The thing about independence is that it gives you the ability to do these things differently if you want to. But it also gives you the ability, in discussion with others, to share your sovereignty. And I think the DVLA is one of those things we would sit down and have a grown-up discussion with the UK government and decide that’s something we should do”. 
Hmm again.  This is interesting.  In the case of the break-up of other states I can remember in my lifetime (Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia) and the unification of Germany (the other way round) there was a rush to emphasise nationhood by the rapid adoption of obvious symbols such as licence plates.  Even during the Bosnian war of independence, when Sarajevo was being blown apart in daily bombardments, I remember seeing a car that showed someone was even issuing licence plates with "BIH" for Bosnia and Herzegovina on them during the shelling.  It's similar thinking to the +44 phone number issue, and it definitely doesn't seem to match the statement on the .Scot domain.

DVLA is based in Swansea.  It's a UK governmental agency.   To say that you want to "share sovereignty" (i.e. use a foreign country's governmental agencies) implies a number of possibilities.  One is that neither side in this debate thought with a week to go we would realistically be dealing with a "too close to call" situation.  Therefore issues like this just weren't ever given serious consideration.  Another is the intention is actually to deal with issues such as this over time, but there's a realisation that many people are inherently conservative, and it's considered a vote loser to emphasise too many changes in things people are familiar with.  

Personally it seems to me a weird stance to want fully fledged national independence and not want to deal with every day symbols of national identity like this.  If I were a Yes voter, I don't think I'd want foreign licence plates on my car: I'd want ones of my newly independent nation.  The last possibility runs counter to that and suggests that this is actually a very different movement to other nationalist movements that we've seen across Europe.  I'll develop that though further when I come to some thoughts on the type of people who are voting Yes.

European Union

The politicians in both camps have been spinning this question left, right and upside down to suit their own ends.  The SNP position is that Scotland is already a member of the EU, so it wouldn't need to reapply for membership.  Based on very loud noises from Brussels, that seems unlikely to be the case.  Of course the EU has its own vested interests in a "No" vote (stopping similar independence movements across the continent) and so common sense dictates that anything any politician says before a "yes" vote may well not end up being the case afterwards.

I'm a mere lawyer with some understanding of the EU treaties and law.  It seems to me that a new application for membership is the most likely course and find this summary by Professor Murkens of the LSE to be quite persuasive.  The simple fact is none of us knows for sure, though, and I don't quote that to add to the fear-mongering of the No campaign.  Faced with a prosperous Western European nation asking for membership, with all the necessary EU rules in place, I don't think there's any prospect of the answer being "no".  The EU will want iScotland as a member.  When other countries joined (even the likes of Sweden and Austria) they had to pass literally thousands of pieces of legislation.  That won't be the case here, so in theory the process should be more straightforward than for any other new member.

There is a big "but" though: EU law sets out as clearly as it could be that all new members have to join A) the Euro; and B) the Schengen Open Borders Agreement.  I really wonder why hasn't this been discussed more, because it's pretty significant.  Reading Süddeutsche Zeitung, iScotland's obligation to sign up for the Euro isn't even a discussion point: it's assumed they will join up. 

Only the UK and Denmark have an opt out from the Euro, which they secured at the time before the currency was a reality.  To secure a similar concession, Scotland would have to get the unanimous agreement of all 28 EU members.  Getting admisssion to the EU in principle might not be tricky, but obtaining an opt-out could well be.  I don't see why Spain and Belgium (and to some extent, Italy), fearful of their own independence movements, would be terribly well-inclined to give Scotland special favours on admission.

There's a 18 month period between any Yes vote and independence.  That represents a huge time pressure to lobby and convince all 28 governments if there is to be a seamless transition that avoids iScotland being outside the EU for some time whilst this is resolved.  In politics anything is of course possible, but as a lawyer, I'm clear what the legal situation is (assuming new admission is required).  It presents a very real challenge to get the job done in time.

What about rUK's position in the EU?  We were just given a top economic job at the EU Commission.  Scotland would expect its own Commissioner in due course and there would inevitably be some loss of influence in Brussels by the reduction in size of our state.  However given it would still stand at 58.8 million population (a loss of 5.3 million), with 90% of its GDP intact, I can't imagine this will be too significant.  The continuing attitude of our Europhobic government pissing of all of its partners is much more of a factor in my book.

If rUK returns a Tory government next May and they hold a referendum in 2017 on the EU, pro-Europeans will be faced with the loss of supporters in iScotland.  The Scots are generally held to be far more pro-EU.  That could well be a game-changing problem for those of us who want the rUK to stay firmly in the European Union.

The Scotto, the Pound, or the Euro

This shit is complicated and my A-level Economics isn't really up to it.  I refer instead to Frances Coppola's very clear and sensible (if anti-Euro) piece, written over 2.5 years ago, on the "currency conundrum".  Little has changed.  It is, as Frances is keen to point out, not a "No" piece: she simply ultimately believes Scotland requires its own currency.  That's one option, and it's what Slovenia did with the Tolar, and what Croatia did with the Kuna: let's call it the Scotto.  It has its obvious risks, but on the other hand there are plenty of far small economies that survive with currencies of their own quite successfully.

The other options are 1) a currency union (all English party leaders say no - who knows if they will change their position post a Yes vote); 2) the "Panama"/ "Kosovo" model of using the British £ unofficially (an EU commissioner unambiguously said entry to the EU would be impossible if this were the case because of the lack of a central bank); and 3) entry to the Euro.

Latvian €1.  Will the Queen's head make it onto a Euro after all?

What interests me is whether the Euro is not the stealth option that Salmond has up his sleeve.  He repeatedly said he favoured this option until the 2008 crisis.  The press in the UK has thoroughly and probably fatally poisoned popular opinion towards to the Euro, including in Scotland where just 4% favour it as a currency as soon as possible post independence.  This isn't the case everywhere in the EU however.  Estonia joined the Eurozone on 1 January 2013, Latvia became the 18th member on 1 January 2014, and Poland's government is broadly in favour of entry in 2016.  All are successful, dynamic, growing economies.  It is the default legal position on entering the EU, as discussed.  It would be truly fascinating to see Salmond returning from Brussels telling Scottish voters "we have to join the Euro, or we don't join the EU".

The simple fact is none of us has an idea which option will happen post independence.  It's a leap into the unknown, but then so is life.  The global economy unexpectedly went down the plug-hole in 2008 and there's for sure no guarantees of a "safe-existence" in life.  It's down to voters whether pro-independence supporters think the risk of the unknown is fatal to their voting Yes.  I can't make their mind up on that and wouldn't presume to.

As for rUK?  Yeah we'll be stuck with the Pound Sterling for the foreseeable future.  I know that if Scotland did join the Euro, and Schengen, (and went fully metric for good measure) I'd seriously consider moving up there.

Border Checks

How to win hearts and minds?  Threaten to put border guards on the Scottish border.  Bravo, Ed!  That certainly isn't going to happen overnight, but thinking things round it is a possibility.  It is an exercise of a State's sovereignty to control its borders in whatever way it thinks fit, subject to any international agreements it has made on the subject.  The reason there isn't an external border crossing with Scotland currently is that we're one State.  That will clearly change on 24 March 2016 if there's a Yes next week.  Put bluntly, if the rUK wanted to introduce border checks with its new foreign neighbour, iScotland couldn't stop it.

When Eire became independent there was a desire not to impose border controls, and therefore to require people to carry passports, when crossing into Northern Ireland.  Accordingly in 1923 what later became the "Common Travel Area" was born between the UK and Eire.  The Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey are also members.  The SNP says it wants iScotland to be a signatory to this agreement, and on the face of it that's a likely and desirable outcome.  Some of our politicians can be desperately petty, but the prospect of people having their passports systematically checked on the London-Edinburgh East Coast train, or on the M6 just north of Southwaite services, isn't an attractive one for anyone involved.

Actually, Mail, the border would have EU flags on it. Bog off.

However, we've got the complicating issue of Schengen.  It's just like the Common Travel Area, but bigger.  You can set off in a car from SE Portugal and drive 6000 km up to the Russian border in NE Finland without having your passport checked.  Every member of the 26 member Schengen Area has the obligation to check people entering the zone from outside, and then they're free to travel about in accordance with the EU principle of free movement of people.  As we know from above, all new entrants to the EU have to sign up to Schengen.  Only the UK and Eire got opt-outs at the time of incorporation of the agreement into EU law, because the UK didn't want to join (yay, Daily Mail!) and Ireland didn't as a consequence want to erect a physical border with Northern Ireland that the Common Travel Area had prevented for over 70 years.

So, unless Scotland can secure an opt-out on Schengen by getting all 28 EU members to agree to it, it's going to be in the zone.  That means it has, by law, to secure and check its land border with England - this will be an "external border" in Schengen terms.  Committees of the House of Lords have twice recommended that the UK sign up to Schengen in order to improve border security, by the way.  The primary advantage is full access to the vast electronic Schengen Information Systems that keep police records and data on prospective entrants to the area.  There's also a huge advantage to travellers who don't appreciate hour long queues at airports when they're on a 35 minute flight over from Amsterdam to London.  Our entry to Schengen is of course currently about as likely as Nigel Farage wearing a European onesie singing Ode to Joy on the 6 o'clock news, given the present "the immigrants are invading" mentality most Brits seem to have.

As with the Euro, we don't know whether iScotland would get a Schengen opt-out.  Anything is possible.   I hope they don't, and that it will spur Eire to ditching the Common Travel Area to join Schengen too.  It would put massive pressure on rUK to join the rest of the EU and stop pretending we're an impenetrable fortress because of a load of Border Agency staff holding up the millions of legitimate travellers entering the country.  I can but dream.

The other issue is iScotland's stated intention of a far more liberal immigration policy.  They need to do this to attract more tax payers to support spending plans (particularly pensions).  The Common Travel Area relies on broadly similar agreed immigration policies and levels.  If iScotland became an "open door" to immigrants, who then in significant numbers sneaked across the border at Berwick without checks, in time an rUK government might consider border controls.  Realistically I think this is a very distant prospect and potential problem, but it has been mentioned by politicians.  The Schengen issue looks much more likely to me.

Residence Permits and Visas

Don't be silly.  You don't need residence or work permits as an EU citizen in any other EU state (unless you're a Croatian, in some states, just for the moment, because they only joined last year).  You won't need one for iScotland, assuming they get into the EU as is almost certain, and they won't need one for the rUK.  Nor will you need a visa: you don't require one for Romania, so why would you?  It's far from certain there will even be a border control as we've seen.


It seems the plan is for iScotland to have around 100 embassies or consular offices around the world which is similar to Eire's number (97).  That compares to the UK's 270.  Fair enough.  One would be in London, except it would be called a High Commission, just like all other members of the Commonwealth.  Similarly rUK would have a High Commissioner (ambassador in all but name) based in Edinburgh.  We would be separate, foreign nations and so diplomatic representation and consular services for citizens abroad would be required. Weird to think of going to Edinburgh as "going abroad' isn't it?  But that's what it would be.

UK embassy in Berlin.  Start looking for office space, iScotland?

Government Agencies

In a fantastic admission that the Westminster establishment never expected independence to happen, Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood admitted on Monday that absolutely no contingency plans had been drawn up if there's a yes vote.  "Whitehall won't know what to do".  Untangling the mass of intertwined civil administration would be a massive task.  In Keynesian economic terms it could represent a wonderful boost to both economies in terms of the multiplier effect of reversing all the austerity cuts in the public sector in order to deal with it all.

Let's go back to the DVLA.  Vehicle licence plates are one thing that the UK-wide agency handles.  The other is it issues driver licences and keeps driver records.  That means that unless the Scottish part were untangled, Scottish driver licences would be issued by a foreign country's governmental agency.  Isn't that genuinely odd? 

With their infinite Little Englander wisdom, the Tories have opted out of an EU directive that allows cross-border data sharing for speeding and other motoring offences.  Next time a German or French car goes at 90mph through a 30mph speed camera endangering your and everyone else's lives, you'll know who to thank. How would fines and points work with iScotland?  If DVLA continued serving both countries, and there were a cross-border treaty on mutual enforceability, there would presumably be no issue. 

Free Speeding for all EU nationals c/o our government. Yay!

But that isn't by any means assured.  Why? Because there seems to be a certain naivety in assuming that an rUK government would agree to any use of any of its agencies and institutions.  Despite all the smarmy protestations from English politicians currently that we are best friends and that they will love Scotland beyond the grave, I wouldn't be terribly surprised to find both a Tory and a Labour led Westminster government remarkably short of goodwill, particularly regarding sharing their national governmental resources and institutions.  Remember this will be in respect of an SNP administration that had just successfully broken up the Union.  When I pointed this out to a Yes supporter I was chatting to on Twitter, he seemed genuinely surprised and disappointed. 

Back to the original point, this doesn't just apply to the DVLA of course: there are hundreds of governmental institutions that do work across the UK currently.  None of this is, of course, of itself to vote one way or the other.  It can be sorted out without question.  If Scotland needs its own DVLA it can set one up.  Every other newly independent country in Europe has created a complete set of its own institutions, after all.  What's of note is that we don't know the answer to any of it - and with a week to go that in itself is perhaps a little remarkable.

24 March 2016

The date for independence has been set for 24 March 2016.  It's a date resplendent in historical significance.  It's the day in 1603 when Elizabeth I died and with James' accession to the throne of England, the Union of Crowns occurred.  It's also the date in 1707 when the Act of Union was signed and the Kingdom of Great Britain was "born".  It will be exactly 309 years old when it kicks the bucket, if Yes all goes to plan.  It's perfectly likely to become a national holiday for iScotland.

James VI/I's shag buddy, George. Why not?

24 March is also the Old New Year's Eve under the Julian Calendar, and is the reason why the tax year still ends on 5 April.   The Old New Year's Day was 25 March, which is when Mary apparently got up the duff, exactly 9 months before Christmas Day (a totally fictitious and arbitrary date as everyone knows: no one knows what date Jesus was actually born).  So there's a neat symmetry in it all.  Kinda.

Nationalism and Support for Yes

During the spadework for my rambling discourse I've picked up on several practical examples of something I hadn't expected.  It is the point that came up first with the telephone codes, then with the car licence plates, the continuing use of DVLA and other government agencies, the retention of the British £, membership of the Common Travel Area, and even wanting the Queen as the Head of State.  This seems to me to be a remarkably conservative and not at all typically "nationalist" movement in many respects.

This isn't by any means the aggressive, symbol-rife, old-fashioned nationalism which was found in plenty of independence movements during the collapse of the Empire, when emblems of Britain were pulled from buildings and statues of monarchs removed.  This isn't even Slovenia, a quiet Alpine nation which moved, as rapidly as it possibly could, to introduce all the outward signs and symbols of nationhood: "SLO" on its licence plates, its own currency and its own border crossings.  There's (apparently) remarkably little of the (not unreasonable) sentiment that Nicola Sturgeon expressed about the .Scot domain to be found anywhere else.

The Auld Bitch as Joyce called her. Once in Dublin, now in Sydney

There are of course plenty of vocal "frothingly nationalist" Scots about (I've encountered some myself on Twitter, and have heard stories from Scottish friends of aggressive Anglophobia at the moment) who seem driven by hatred of the English. 

I've been amazed, though, at the amount of people I know and respect from all manner of backgrounds who are Yes supporters.  They're Green party members, liberals, Europhile cosmopolitans, feminists, moderate open-minded lefties.  These are people you'd never lump into any traditional understanding of "nationalists".  As Suzanne Moore pointed out in a superb piece today, the knocking of "Scottish nationalism" by the elite is in any case inherently a bit ridiculous:
"The language of the no camp – Westminster, bankers, Farage, Prescott, the Orangemen and Henry Kissinger – is innately patronising. Do not give in to petty nationalism, they say.  Just stick with the bigger unionist nationalism; it’s better for you."
What I'm therefore getting from my observation of the whole debate is that many people who support "Yes" in Scotland actually just fundamentally want Westminster out of their lives and that's pretty much the extent of it.  They want to have full control of taxation, immigration, nuclear weapons, benefits and privatisation (the last four of which they incidentally wouldn't receive under Devo-Max).  They don't necessarily want to cut all ties with rUK at all: in fact, being the inherently conservative creatures that many of us are, they would rather most things stayed exactly the same as they are now.  The SNP may be exploiting that fact by deliberately not being open about what changes they do intend to bring about, or they may share the sentiment.  I don't know enough to judge. 

Those wanting everything to remain as it is, absent Westminster's control, may get a rude awakening in the first few months of iScotland.  That might come when they realise they are part of a country with a foreign, Tory run neighbour that is feeling rather bruised by its rejection, and isn't terribly generous or well-disposed to allowing use of its governmental agencies, for example.  Time will tell. 

Inevitably, also, as things go on the two nations will develop separately and will grow apart.  You can already clearly see that in Czech Republic and Slovakia just 21 years after the "velvet divorce".  My friend Paul asked if those English who are currently vocally expressing a personal bond with Scotland, feel the same connection to Eire, 90 years after its independence.  The answer was generally no, which is quite interesting.  Being part of two separate sovereign states will lead to differences growing.

Best of Luck

I really get how divisive this debate is for many people.  I've had people genuinely upset about what is going on (as well as excited and engaged, it must be said).  It looks like the outcome is going to leave almost exactly half the population deeply unhappy and that's a sad thing.   I understand and have sympathies with both sides of the debate.  It is a massive leap into the dark, with plenty of problems and pitfalls, and in addition I personally really cannot stand Alex Salmond.  On the other hand it's an exciting potential for change and very much a once in a lifetime opportunity.  It has the potential to bring about change for better in rUK too.

I hope I haven't been too flippant in my blog post and it's been of some interest in bringing together the type of nitty-gritty detail I'm always interested in.  I wish everyone in Scotland, or the iScotland of the future (I should TM that before Apple does) the very best.  This whole thing is certainly absolutely fascinating if nothing else.